From a training standpoint, there are many ways to approach fat loss. There is no one-size-fits-all approach; no magic program that will guarantee results. However, the one approach that consistently produces results when done properly is strength training.
Now when I talk about strength training, I don’t mean doing circuits on the weight machines you see in most gyms; or performing a lot of reps with light weight to get “lean and toned.”
When I talk about strength training, I’m talking about old school barbells and dumbbells. I’m talking about lifting heavy weights; weights that push you outside of your comfort zone. Weight that forces your body to grow and adapt, and make you stronger in the process.
The beauty of strength training is that, while primarily associated with building muscle, it can be utilized for a variety of different goals, including fat loss.
Strength Training and Fat Loss
Some people will say that in order to increase your strength, you need to be in a caloric surplus. And while yes, that is the ideal scenario, with the right program you can increase strength while losing body fat… especially if you haven’t been training that long. [Read more about this phenomenon in Can I Lose Fat AND Gain Muscle?]
The key is to focus on movements such as the squat, deadlift, press and rows, keep volume low enough that you are able to recover properly, and have built in progression, meaning that you are aiming to increase weight or reps each session.
Now, you wont be able to continue to build strength indefinitely while in a deficit. At some point it will become more about maintaining your strength until you achieve your desired level of leanness. That doesn’t mean the program is no longer working. When it comes to dropping body fat, maintaining your strength is just as important as increasing it.
The Benefits of Strength
So you may be thinking, “Why should I use strength training for fat loss?”
Strength training is not just for power-lifters, bodybuilders, and athletes. With my clients, strength training is a regular part of their programs. Building a foundation of strength, both physical and mental, is an important step in achieving your goals; whatever they may be.
Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of a strength training program:
- Strength is the foundation for everything we do. Whether that be picking your toddler up off the floor, or shoveling snow in the winter, our level of strength determines how well we can perform everyday tasks. Increasing your overall strength not only makes these tasks easier, but reduces our risk of injury while performing them
- Strength training helps maintain and build muscle. People often mistakenly believe that if they want to lose fat, they need to be performing lots of cardio. And while there is nothing inherently wrong with cardio, it simply cannot match strength training when it comes to preserving muscle tissue. Why is this important? The more muscle tissue we have, the higher our metabolic rate. Strength training will help preserve this muscle tissue while in a caloric deficit.
- Strength training elicits unique hormonal responses in the body. Specifically, it increases the body’s production of Growth Hormone and Testosterone. Testosterone is the main hormone behind sex drive and muscle building (yes, in both men and women). And while testosterone gets all the love, growth hormone is equally important. Like super important! Growth hormone is a huge factor in your body’s ability to burn fat and build muscle. The more you have, the better you will be able to do those things. And growth hormone production is at its highest following super strenuous activity, i.e. strength training.
- Strength training does more than help you burn fat and build muscle. Strength training will increase joint flexibility & stability, as well as increase bone density. This can help increase our quality of life as we age. Its also been shown that strength training can slow or help prevent diseases and conditions like arthritis, osteoporosis, diabetes, and back pain.
And while the physical benefits alone are reason enough to take up strength training, to me the psychological benefits are even greater.
Strength begets strength. Physically becoming stronger makes you mentally stronger. The feeling of becoming stronger increases your self-confidence. It gives you a feeling of empowerment…that you can do anything. It gives you confidence in yourself and your abilities; the confidence that you can tackle anything head on, in or out of the gym.
A note for those worried about getting “too bulky”:
The biggest misconception about strength training is that lifting heavy weights automatically makes you big and bulky, especially from people who’s main focus is losing weight. Nothing could be further from the truth. Your diet will determine whether you gain or lose weight; your training method will determine where that weight comes from.
No one who has ever done a strength training program woke up one morning and said to themselves, “Oops, I got too big.” If you don’t like the direction your program is taking you, you can always make adjustments, be it in your diet or training. Besides, if you are eating in a caloric deficit, like you would be if you’re trying to lose fat, it will be almost impossible to gain any appreciable muscle mass without some amazing genetics.
Yes, in the beginning you may seem a small increase in muscle mass, especially for novice lifters. However, this gain in mass is very small and will actually help shape your body, giving it that lean, sexy, toned look. This muscle will also help raise your metabolic rate. Like I said above, one of the main purposes of strength training while trying to lose body fat is to help maintain muscle and keep your metabolic rate high.
Strength training is not the end-all-be-all of training. Different strokes for different folks, as they say. But, like I outlined above, the benefits of strength training reach far beyond that of just getting physically stronger. It can improve every aspect of your life, not just how you look.
If you’d like to discover your true strength, and shred body fat in the process, I have positions open in my new coaching group True Strength Fat Loss. I’d love to help you reach your goals!