You may think of strength training as a way to boost lean body mass, which does weigh more than body fat. But if you use strength training for weight loss, you’ll reach your goal weight in no time.
Consider committing several days of mainly cardiovascular exercise to get excess fat off and condition your body for strength training. You can mix in light resistance training as well to tighten and tone as you go.
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Basics of Muscle Building: Why It Works for Weight Loss
When beginning a new muscle building regimen, you may notice initial weight gain as lean body mass increases. However, you’ll ultimately lose fat when you strength train a specific way and follow the right diet plan, and here’s why:
- Lean body mass helps your body burn extra calories throughout the entire day, because muscle burns more calories than body fat even when you’re resting.
- Strength training makes you stronger, giving you extra energy to burn more calories all day long.
- Resistance training increases muscle definition, so you'll lose inches even in the absence of weight loss.
- Diet is the most important component of weight loss success, so eating right while strength training is the key to success.
If you begin a new muscle building workout, keep track of the inches you lose in addition to pounds on the scale. Measure your waist weekly using a tape measure, or pay attention to how your clothes fit.
Benefits of Strength Training for Weight Loss
The benefits of resistance training are endless, even when you're strength training for weight loss. Some examples include:
Changes in Body Composition
When you strength train you’ll likely experience decreases in body fat, even in the absence of weight loss.
Your clothes, especially around your waist, may become baggier on you.
Better Cardiovascular Workouts
Strength training makes cardiovascular workouts better. You’ll feel stronger when jogging, walking uphill, cycling, swimming, and or using an elliptical machine when you strength train regularly.
Better, more intense aerobic workouts means you’ll burn extra calories to accelerate weight loss.
More Muscle Definition
Increases in muscle definition from strength training, even in the absence of weight loss, is a perk most men are excited about.
You’ll look more muscular, tighter, and toned despite what the scale says.
A Slimmer Waistline
When you strength train, you’ll notice a slimmer, trimmer waistline. That’s because you use core abdominal muscles, which tightens your midsection, during just about every strength training exercise you complete.
Full-body functional fitness exercises, such as burpees, planks, rope jumping, and squat to shoulder press (or weighted jumping jacks) are especially beneficial.
A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that beginning a strength training program, involving all major muscle groups three days weekly for 10 weeks at low or moderate intensities, helped improve depression in middle aged adults. In fact, any form of exercise is generally a mood booster.
How to Shed Pounds with Strength Training
The key to shedding pounds with strength training is to carefully plan your diet, and combine resistance training with aerobic exercise.
Sets and Reps Recommendations
Instead of lifting heavy weights using just a few repetitions, choose weights you can lift at least 8 – 20 times using proper form. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) suggests the following sets and reps recommendations for building muscle endurance or boosting muscle definition.
- 8 – 15 reps to improve muscle definition
- At least 12 (to 20 or 30) reps to increase muscle endurance
- Supersets (working the same muscle group back to back with minimal rest periods) to enhance weight loss
For best results, aim to complete 2 – 4 sets of each strength training exercise.
Major Muscle Groups
When you're strength training for weight loss, work each major muscle group eat least twice weekly. Muscle groups include:
- Legs, butt, and calves
- Biceps and triceps
You can work your core, or ab muscles, most days each week by doing planks, stability ball exercises, and other ab-strengthening routines.
Strength Training for Weight Loss: Diet Recommendations
One key to success when strength training for weight loss is to focus on what you’re putting in your body. Diet is one of the most important predictors of weight loss success.
Diet Tip #1 Boost Protein
An ideal diet plan when using strength training for weight loss involves eating extra protein. Doing so helps:
- Boost your body’s metabolism and reduce slowed metabolism associated with calorie restriction during weight loss
- Minimize or prevent lean muscle loss during weight loss
- Help you feel full from fewer calories
You might be wondering how much protein you’ll need when strength training for weight loss? The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NCSA) suggests:
- Consume 1.5 – 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily during calorie restriction.
- This equates to 0.68 – 0.91 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily.
- So, a 240 pound man would aim to eat 163 – 218 grams of protein daily when resistance training during calorie restriction for weight loss.
- Increase protein consumption when regularly performing intense physical activity
The best sources of protein are meat, dairy/meat products, nuts, seeds, oats. and leafy greens:
- 3 ounces of baked chicken (skinless): 26 grams
- 3 ounces of very lean beef: 24 grams
- 3 ounces of grilled salmon or tuna: 21 grams
- 1/2 cup of low-fat cottage cheese: 14 grams
- 1 cup of low-fat yogurt: 12 grams
- 3 ounces of firm tofu: 8 grams
- 1 cup of cooked quinoa: 8 grams
- 1 cup of low-fat milk: 8 grams
- 2 tablespoons of peanut butter: 8 grams
- 1 large egg: 6 grams
Diet Tip #2 Burn More Calories than You Eat
The NCSA also provides calorie intake recommendations for creating a calorie deficit (burning off more calories than you eat), which are:
- Burn 500 to 1,000 more calories than you eat using a healthy diet, aerobic (cardiovascular) exercise, and strength training — such as weight lifting, resistance bands, or using your own body weight as resistance.
- Use a food journal to identify areas that need improvement. For example, you may not realize how many calories you’re getting from soda, other sugary drinks, sweets, or fast foods until you record foods (and calories associated with them) in a food journal.
Use a free online resource, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Composition Database, or free calorie counting apps such as:
- MyFitnessPal Calorie Counter
- MyPlate Calorie Tracker
Record your usual intake first so you have a baseline of how many calories you normally consume. Then, work toward reducing that number by 500 to 1,000 calories per day.
You can also boost daily calorie expenditure by increasing the duration or intensity of cardiovascular exercise (aim for a minimum of 30 minutes most days of the week).