In addition to being That Salad Lady I’m also an exercise scientist. As an exercise scientist, I’m often asked about the best types of workouts, especially for weight loss and general fitness. Truth is, all workouts are good workouts. However, if you’re specifically trying to lose weight or achieve a certain level of physical fitness, resistance training (also known as strength training or weightlifting) is by far one of the best – yet it’s all too often overlooked.
When it comes to losing weight or even just getting more fit, a lot of people turn to cardio exercise. Whether walking, jogging, biking, swimming and group exercise, it’s just something about getting the heart pumping that triggers a genuine feeling of achievement. Trust me, I get it. While these are all great ways to work out, I can’t stress enough the importance of engaging in resistance training.
This type of training can boost weight loss and improve physical fitness in ways that simply can’t be achieved with cardio exercise alone. Whether you’re trying to lose a little weight, a lot of weight or achieve long-term fitness success, here are five ways resistance training is uniquely helpful.
1. Prevents Muscle Loss
Resistance training is the only way to preserve muscle. This is especially important if you are constantly dieting, performing a lot of cardio exercise or even just aging – and we’re all aging. All these factors cause muscle loss. Now, when you think of muscle, you might think of toning or bulking up. But it’s so much more than that. Muscle plays a part in everything we do, from standing, moving and lifting things, to pumping blood, digesting foods and breathing too.
Muscle by itself is also an important component of body composition. Body composition essentially refers to the amount of fat and lean weight in the body. An ideal body composition is one that encompasses a low percentage of fat weight and a high percentage of lean weight in relation to overall body weight.
Fat weight itself is pretty cut and dry, but lean weight is much more complex, as it includes all the water, blood, bone and muscle inside the body. While dieting and cardio can both favorably alter your body’s fat weight, they have no beneficial effects on the lean stuff. Resistance training, however, can preserve and increase lean muscle and help prevent bone loss. These effects ultimately support an overall healthy body composition.
2. Revs Up Metabolism
Since resistance training helps preserve muscle, it’ll inherently keep your metabolism in check. Also known as the “metabolic rate,” metabolism is the rate at which your body burns calories. The more muscle you have, the higher your metabolic rate. This essentially means that, over time, you’ll burn more calories on any given day. Ultimately, you’ll also lose more weight with any type of activity you do. You’ll even burn more calories when doing absolutely nothing.
A lot of people don’t realize that performing hours of cardio day in and day out can actually burn muscle, specifically if you’re not training with resistance. The same is true for extreme dieting. So, while you’ll lose some fat weight with both methods, it’ll be at the expense of lean weight. As a result, your metabolic rate will surely take a hit. This is why I suggest eating sensibly and always cycling cardio exercise with resistance training sessions.
Believe it or not, just one moderate-to-high-intensity resistance training session can elevate your metabolism for up to 12 hours. This means you’ll continue to burn calories long after you’ve stopped exercising without losing precious muscle.
3. Improves Cardio Performance
Now, as I’ve already mentioned, resistance training can substantially boost the number of calories your body burns throughout the day. But it’s also worth mentioning that regular resistance training will ultimately improve the overall effectiveness of other workouts too. This is especially true for cardio workouts. If you’re trying to lose weight or boost your fitness level, you’re going to need a certain amount of muscular strength and endurance to get the job done and to get real results.
Problem is, if your muscles are weak, you won’t have either the strength or the endurance necessary to perform cardio at levels high enough to elicit significant results. Luckily, it doesn’t take much. You can improve your strength and endurance by simply performing one or multiple sets of at least 8-12 different exercises. The goal is to target all your body’s major muscle groups over the course of a week. So, you don’t have to train with resistance every single day. Just a few days a week is plenty.
4. Reduces Body “Flab”
If you’ve lost a significant amount of weight with dieting and/or cardio exercise, you might still have excess back fat, jiggly arms or a muffin top. This is a tell-tale sign of insufficient resistance training. Unbeknownst to many, extreme dieting and cardio results in losses in body water, fat AND muscle, as I’ve already mentioned. Since muscle contributes to the body’s shape and form, losing this precious tissue can make your body look “flabby,” especially after weight loss.
On the flip side, building and/or maintaining your muscle with resistance training during (and after) weight loss naturally counters body flab. When combined with cardio and sensible eating, resistance training is the absolute best method for sculpting your body. Whether you want a more defined back or backside, a slimmer waistline or shapelier arms, it’s the only non-invasive, non-surgical method by which you can make your body look the way you want it to look.
5. Lowers Stress Levels
You’re probably thinking, what does stress have to do with weight loss or physical fitness let alone resistance training? If so, I’m here to tell you that it has a whole lot to do with it. In fact, stress is one of the biggest culprits behind weight gain, chronic disease and poor health overall. This is mainly due to excess production of cortisol in the body. Often referred to as the “stress hormone,” cortisol is best known for bringing about the body’s “fight-or-flight” response.
The body releases cortisol in response to any and all stressors – whether it’s something as simple as a flight delay or an argument to something as life changing as a divorce or a death in the family. Believe it or not, extreme dieting and/or cardio exercise can even trigger excess cortisol production. Over time, these stressors can set off a cascade of events that not only trigger weight gain, but also lead to increases in blood pressure, blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels.
Luckily, resistance training is an excellent way to channel stress into fitness in ways that naturally support weight loss and lifelong weight management. It’s a highly effective stress-relieving drug with wide-ranging benefits that go even far beyond body weight.
And there you have it! You’ve read about five unique ways resistance training can support successful weight loss, physical fitness and overall good health.
As you can see, there’s just no way around it. But you don’t have to put in hours and hours of resistance training every day. As little as 2-3 days a week of training with free weights, machines, rubber tubing or your own bodyweight is all it takes. Start today with some of these exercises and in no time, you’ll notice a significant change in how you look and feel.