Weight Training for Weight Loss
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Weight Training for Weight Loss

Despite its association with bodybuilding and muscle gain, weight training has been shown to improve health and reduce fat.

It is often debated whether or not weight training might be beneficial for weight loss. Whilst many people argue that weight training is more appropriate for muscle gain, this form of training has also been associated with reductions in body fat and maintenance of lean mass.

Here we will discuss what weight training is, how it can be incorporated into your weight loss plan and whether or not it will be the most effective form of exercise for you.

What is Weight Training?

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The term weight training refers to exercises that are performed using objects, such as bars or dumbbells, being lifted against gravity. It is a form of strength training and might also be referred to as resistance training. Weight training exercises are generally targeted at increasing strength, in contrast to other types of training, such as endurance training that focuses on increasing aerobic capacity and flexibility training that focuses on stretching.

Weight training is a form of anaerobic exercise. This means that the activity is high intensity but lasts only for short periods of time (up to a couple of minutes) – any longer than this and the activity requires oxygen to be performed by the muscles, and therefore becomes known as aerobic exercise. Exercising at a high intensity in short bursts is said to have benefits for the body. It is often claimed that the metabolism stays raised (and so the body continues to burn more calories than usual) for hours after a person finishes a weight training session. This is thought to be because anaerobic exercise causes excess post-exercise oxygen consumption – a notable increase in the metabolism caused by heightened oxygen intake following strenuous exercise.

Weight training is also thought to have longer-term benefits for the metabolism. As discussed later in the article, resistance exercise encourages the burning of fat and the growth of muscle tissue; your body composition may therefore be altered to a higher percentage of fat-free mass. Fat-free mass, or muscle tissue, is thought to burn significantly more energy when at rest than fat mass. Muscle tissue is harder to maintain, and the cells require more energy to maintain the tissue. As such, having a greater proportion of muscle mass in comparison to fat mass is thought to result in an increased metabolic rate, and so resting energy expenditure.

Weight Training vs Cardio

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Cardiovascular training is aerobic in nature; it involves exercising at a fairly low intensity for long periods of time. Examples of cardiovascular exercises include jogging, cycling and swimming. People commonly ask whether cardiovascular or weight training is more effective for weight loss. Whilst many people select the cardio option, others argue that the choice is not that simple, and that weight training might benefit the body in ways that cardio training would not. The primary difference between the two forms of exercise for weight loss is the impact on body composition.

Cardiovascular exercise is undoubtedly a very good way to burn calories and can be very useful to help people reach their weight loss goals. Depending on your precise exercise regime, it is generally claimed that cardio exercise will burn more calories than weight training. It is said that cardio will result in the loss of both fat and muscle however, whilst weight training will help to burn fat whilst maintaining lean mass – potentially resulting in a different body shape. As a result, personal trainers often recommend that people wishing to lose weight do a combination of cardiovascular and strength training.

Clinical Studies on Weight Training for Weight Loss

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A number of clinical studies have been undertaken on weight training with regards to its potential health benefits, including for weight maintenance, fat loss and body composition. Clinical studies are trials performed by scientists under controlled conditions to test the effects and/or safety of a substance or behaviour – in this case, weight training. They will usually involve a treatment group and a control group of human participants, helping to ensure that the results of any tests are reliable and accurate.

A study published in 2009 reviewed the evidence regarding the amount and types of exercise that adults should undertake to lose weight and to prevent weight regain. The authors noted that a reduction in weight of 3-5% could result in a significant reduction in health risks, and that physical activity is key to weight loss and management. For weight loss in overweight and obese adults, 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week is recommended, though this should be increased to 200-300 minutes for long-term weight loss. In terms of weight training, the authors reported that resistance training could be beneficial for increasing fat loss, though it will no boost overall weight loss. Resistance training has also been associated with improvements in health, even without changes to body weight.

A study published in the journal ‘Obesity’ investigated the effects of resistance training and diet-induced weight loss on body composition and energy expenditure. For this trial, 94 overweight female participants underweight significant weight loss with dieting alongside aerobic, resistance, or no exercise training. Resistance training was found to be more beneficial for maintaining fat-free mass after weight loss than the aerobic training or no training treatments. The aerobic and no training groups were seen to have reduced resting energy expenditure, whilst the resistance-training group did not. Unlike aerobic training, resistance training also maintained strength in the participants.

A 2010 paper in the European Journal of Applied Physiology reported a trial on resistance training in overweight and obese older adults. The participants were randomly divided into two groups; the first followed a Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet for weight loss, whilst the second followed the same DASH diet and also underwent moderate intensity resistance training. After 10 weeks of the treatments, no differences in weight loss were reported between the two groups. The subjects who were performing resistance training alongside the diet did however lose more body fat than the diet-only group and showed increases in lean mass and strength. It was concluded that moderate intensity resistance exercise could improve fat mass during weight loss.

Another study looked at the effects of progressive resistance training on weight loss in older men with type 2 diabetes. The participants did not follow a weight loss diet, but were all assigned a 16-weel programme of resistance training. Measurements taken before, during, and after training indicated that progressive resistance exercise could increase maximal strength and reduce subcutaneous and abdominal fat considerably. Furthermore, the resistance training seemed to account for an increase in insulin sensitivity and a reduction in blood glucose levels.

As mentioned previously, it is also understood that muscle tissue requires more energy to be maintained than does fat tissue. Weight training encourages the maintenance and growth of muscle, and having a more muscular body composition can result in increased resting energy expenditure. This means that more energy will be burnt when the body is at rest and so weight training could help to boost the body’s metabolism in the long-term.

Overall, the results of clinical studies have confirmed that whilst unlikely to improve weight loss, following a resistance-training programme might help an individual to reduce fat levels. It has also been associated with reductions in blood glucose levels and increases in insulin sensitivity, lean mass, and muscle strength.

Dieting whilst Weight Training

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What food you eat whilst undertaking a weight-training programme is considered to be a very important factor, particularly if you are training with the aim of losing weight. For effective results, many sources recommend consuming a reduced-calorie diet that is high in protein. Dieting and exercise go hand-in-hand and should both be considered if you are aiming to lose weight. To lose weight, a person must expend more energy than they consume; put simply, you should reduce your calorie intake whilst simultaneously increasing the number of calories burnt through exercise.

Whilst a calorie deficit is important, this should not be taken to the extreme. If you are undergoing regular exercise, it is important that you consume enough healthy food to fuel it. This is where protein comes in; protein is a macronutrient that plays an integral role in the maintenance and growth of muscle tissue. Since resistance training involves the breakdown and replacement of muscle fibres, it is important that you consume plenty of protein to aid the process.

Studies have shown that following a high-protein diet alongside a resistance training regime can be beneficial for weight loss and can also improve body composition, cardiovascular disease risk, and control of blood glucose. Other studies have highlighted that this type of diet and exercise programme can improve weight loss in both men and women, and that it is not associated with deleterious effects.

Weight Training Supplements

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Some people will also choose to use supplements whilst weight training – either to improve athletic performance or to boost fat loss. These could be in the form of protein shakes or diet pills. There is a very large market for these types of supplements and many different products are available to consumers. Whilst there is some evidence available in support of certain products or ingredients, for example, whey protein for muscle recovery, other products and ingredients have not been clinically studies and so their effects might not be known; more importantly, some can be dangerous. It is recommended that you take the time to research supplements in detail before you begin taking them, and consult a doctor if you are unsure about their potential effects.

Weight Training Safety

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There are a number of factors that should be taken into consideration before an individual begins a weight-training programme for weight loss. Lifting weights is not recommended for all groups of people; in particular, those who are under 18 are not advised to follow a strict weight lifting regime.

Weightlifting can take its toll on your bones and joints, as well as causing injuries to muscle tissue. To avoid these issues, it is very important that you perform the training exercises with accuracy and do not over-exert yourself. We would recommend consulting a professional before beginning weight training; this should help to educate you on the correct weight training methods. A personal trainer will be able to work with you to design a personalised training regime to be followed alongside a diet plan to maximise weight loss.

Conclusion

Weight training is a common form of exercise that is primarily understood to increase muscle mass, but has also been shown to reduce fat mass and so to improve body composition (despite not necessarily causing a reduction in overall body weight). Clinical studies have indicated that resistance training can improve body composition and fat loss, helping to reduce the risk of certain conditions that are associated with obesity. If you are going to undergo a weight-training regime, it is important that you consult a professional to ensure that you are doing so safely, and that you alter your diet accordingly to get optimal results.

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