Fundamentals of Fat Loss – Part III
The Strength Secret
Welcome to Part III of the Fundamentals of Fat Loss! In Part I, we gave an overview. In Part II, I broke down what nutrition needs to look like. In Part III we are going over the secret weapon of fat loss: Strength Training.
As a reminder, you need to consistently do 3 things to make your body burn fat:
- Burn more calories than you take in
- Strength train 3 days per week
- Get plenty of protein
So why strength training? Why not any form of exercise or activity? What defines strength training? These are all the questions we will be answering below. Strength training, is in fact, the “cheat code” to fat loss among many other things.
If you aren’t getting measurably stronger over time, then it isn’t strength training
A lot of things get marketed as strength training. Very few of them actually track your progress or make you measurably stronger over time. Yes, most HIIT style classes say they’ll make you stronger but the reality is, speed is the priority in that training setting. After 3-6 months, you’ve gotten all of the strength you’re going to get out of that format and now it’s just cardio. The same light to medium weight training doing the same type of exercises quickly will only go so far.
What Progressive Strength Training looks like
It is called “Progressive Resistance Exercise” for a reason. When you start, it looks like a goblet squat with a 26 pound kettlebell, after a few weeks you’ve worked up from 26lbs to 53lbs. Nice! Now we might give you a more challenging variation like squatting with two kettlebells in a front rack position. After a few weeks you’ve worked your weights up in that variation as well. Now we might progress your variation to a barbell front squat and continue increasing your load. There are other variations and other progressions but you get the point.
(Here is Gwen deadlifting “The BEAST” (106 pounds). She didn’t start here…)
You are always challenged and that brings continuous increases in strength and continuous adaptation to the challenge. Without that progressive overload, you will stall out and stagnate. We track all your progress and update your training routine as you get stronger every 4 or so weeks thanks to our customized digital programming app.
Now that we are on the same page about what strength training is, let’s tell you why strength training is the fat loss secret weapon, the “cheat code” to fat loss.
Progressive strength training preserves and builds lean muscle
When you are burning more calories than you are taking in, your body needs to cannibalize its tissue to survive. If you just do a bunch of cardio while you’re in a calorie deficit, you will lose a lot of muscle along with fat. It’s because your body will try to cling to its energy stores unless you tell it that muscle is important. That is where strength training shines.
It sends the signal to your body that muscle is important and can’t be cannibalized as fuel in that calorie deficit. When you prioritize strength training, and when protein as a primary fuel source is present (we will get more into this strategy in the next blog post!), your body has no choice but to start burning off your excess fat.
This is the most important part of this strategy: The combination of a calorie deficit, strength training, and getting plenty of protein FORCES your body to burn fat.
Progressive strength training burns comparable calories during the workout to other modalities
The idea that cardio burns more calories than strength training is based on junk science with two massive blind spots.
Blind spot #1 – Heart rate monitors have been used to measure calories burned during a workout. But that’s not what they measure. They measure your heart rate, make an estimation of how much oxygen you’ve used, and then estimate how many calories you’ve burned. But remember, this is just an estimate.
But what about calories burned without the use of oxygen? AKA – Anaerobic Training (also known as Anaerobic Threshold training). The monitors can’t measure how much sugar is in your blood or liver or how much ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) in your muscle cells you’ve burned. It’s measuring only one piece of your body’s energy puzzle. Without real time muscle biopsies (ouch!) it’s impossible to know exactly, but you are likely burning comparable calories to cardio when you are engaging in challenging, progressive strength training.
Blind Spot #2 – Progressive strength training supercharges your metabolism
The other MASSIVE blind spot is that it’s not about how many calories you burn during your workout. It’s about how many calories you burn AFTER your workout too. This is known as EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) or the “after burn”. The point of strength training for fat loss is not just the calories during your workout. The recovery from that progressive strength challenge turbocharges your metabolism and your body pulls from its fat stores to get the energy needed to recover your muscles.
With wearable technology like smartwatches, whoop straps, and Oura rings, you can see the difference. Rather than just measuring the calories during the workout, these devices are also using heart rate variability to track your metabolism all day. For the last 4 weeks I have alternated between strength training days and cardio days. My days are 60 minutes of strength and conditioning 3 days per week, and my “cardio” is 2 rucks (a fast walk with 25-30 pounds on my back) per week. During the strength training workouts, the calorie burns were similar, around 500 calories average for each. The big difference? Overall, when tracked on my Oura ring, I burn 300-500 more calories total on my strength training days than on my cardio days. That is a massive difference! This is 100% due to EPOC, your body’s ability to burn extra calories even after your workout.
Progressive strength training has a lower injury risk than other forms of training
When you have a program customized and written for you, you have corrections in place for injuries or movement deficiencies, and when you have a personal trainer watching and guiding you every step of the way, strength training is incredibly safe. Compared to the high injury rate of running, there is no comparison. Getting you moving well and getting you strong throughout your ranges of motion helps you avoid injuries with the other things you do.
While we want you working hard, it’s also lower impact than other forms of training. If you’re a female over 40, the high impact nature of an hour of HIIT style training can have a negative impact on hormones like cortisol, further undermining fat loss goals.
Getting stronger makes you more confident (Maybe the most important of ALL!)
The last reason strength training is key for fat loss is how it makes us feel. The problem with excess fat isn’t just the fat or extra weight itself. It’s what it does to how we feel. When clothes don’t fit right and we don’t feel like we can physically keep up with what’s important in our life, it kills confidence. Strength training builds confidence. Every time you master a new movement or you hit a new personal record, your confidence skyrockets! It’s a beautiful thing. Let’s face it, no one ever felt more confident after a bout on an elliptical!
If strength training is so great, why not do it more than 3 days per week?
More is not always better. Because the recovery from the workout is so important, when you get much more than 3 days per week of focused strength training, it’s harder to recover properly. At three, especially if you do some active recovery the day after, you’ll be able to push yourself hard all 3 days, recover for a day, and then you’re ready to get after it again. This is also what we have seen truly work the best for our hundreds of clients that come in week after week.
We help people finally get fit, feel confident, and have all day energy even if getting everything done is a constant struggle. When you are ready to see what personal training can do for you, click the link below to schedule your complimentary discovery call with us. We look forward to chatting with you real soon!