Fat loss is the biggest source of misconceptions concerning strength training. And the number one misconception and false statement made about strength training in regards to fat loss is that strength training is the key to fat loss. Fatloss and strength training bloggers alike get droves of people to their sites by telling them what the KEY to fat loss is. But strength training is not it.
Can You Lose Weight By Lifting Weights?
Still, even though strength training may not be the number one key to losing weight, that doesn’t mean you can’t lose weight by lifting weights, right? First, let’s keep in mind that by losing weight we mean losing fat. I just read on LiveStrong, that unqualified and ridiculous bloat of a wellness site, that while you can lose weight while strength training, it tends to build muscle and muscle weighs more than fat. These sorts of observations are silly and, in fact, misguided. You’re not going to put on pounds and pounds of muscle in a couple of weeks or even a couple of months unless you intend to and the idea that a person would resent some healthy lean mass because it weighs more than fat is assinine. Lean mass is good for fat loss and fat loss without a gain of lean mass is not as healthy. So, a focused fat loss routine with weight training can help change your body composition to a more healthy one and in so doing, will help insure that you are able to keep the weight off.
But, here is the question that nobody seems to ask. If you were to observe the strength training careers of people who have no intention of losing weight, would you notice that most of them lose fat regardless? I can tell you from experience that you would not. And this is a valid question! If strength training was the key to fat loss, then people would lose a lot of fat while strength training even if they did not intend to lose fat. In reality, you can strength train your butt off for years, becoming incredibly “strong” and still have your gut proceed you into every room. Anyone who has been both strength training for a while and who has problems with body fat will tell you that strength training will not magically melt pounds off your body because of all the “fat burning muscle”.
Yet, people are still hearing things like:
“A pound of muscle burns thirty calories a day!”
Not true. A pound of muscle burns maybe 6 calories just by virtue of its existence.
“Strength training stokes up your metabolism and turns it into a roaring furnace!”
BS. This myth probably stems from a phenomenon called EPOC (Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption). EPOC is one of the processes involved in recovering from high-intensity exercise like strength training. During this process, oxygen is consumed at a greater rate for a certain time after exercise while the system returns to homeostasis. This means that a greater percentage of fat is burned during this period.
EPOC is the claim to fame for HIIT (high-intensity interval training) versus steady state cardio. However, the effect is easily overestimated and widely overindulged by “fat loss experts” who want to re-invent the exercise wheel because they are too lazy or simply unqualified to do what needs to be done FIRST. What is the first thing? The first order of business is to help people get their diet in line and to change their eating (lifestyle) habits. Movement is a big part of fatloss and a big part of health. But EPOC won’t make up for a bad diet. And it won’t erase the effects of sitting around 23 hours a day.
Preservation of Lean Muscle Mass
One role that exercise has in fat loss, and especially strength training, is the preservation of lean muscle mass. Preserving lean mass while losing fat can be very important. Another very important factor that exercise seems to play a key role in is controlling visceral fat. Lifting weights, therefore, is very supportive of losing weight up lifting weights TO lose weight is misguided. The primary focus should be on your diet, with exercise playing a supportive role.
The different kinds of fat in our body are basically named by where they are located. So visceral fat refers to the fat surrounding our organs. Even very thin people can have a problem with visceral fat and lack of exercise does seem to be a primary factor. You can have very low subcutaneous fat and still risk your cardiovascular health because of visceral fat. To be clear, however, this problem has been somewhat misrepresented in various reports. While thin people can have an accumulation of visceral or “intra-abdominal” fat obese individuals will tend to have more of it, especially men. Unless their activity levels are very unusual for an obese person, such as with sumo wrestlers, who have been found to have a remarkable lack of visceral fat, probably due to their training (although dietary practices could play into this as their diets are fairly unusual for athletes, although very high in calories). For more on this see Metabolically Healthy Obesity and The Almighty EWAG and Some Big Old Belly Fat: How Strength Training Justifies Being Overweight.
You Cannot Work Off a Bad Diet
In general, you cannot work off a bad diet. The way you eat or don’t eat is the KEY to fat loss and the key to keeping off the fat. Exercise is a factor in that. All strenuous physical activity is a factor. A big one. But not the KEY. The person telling you that strength training will make you thin…has probably never been overweight. Maintaining a caloric deficit passes the question I asked above. That is, if you have a caloric deficit for a long enough period of time, you will lose weight even if you do not intend to lose weight.