Why Strength Training is Essential for Weight Loss

By Kyle McFarland

Photos by Austin Tucker

Walk in to a gym on any given day, and I promise you will see at least one poor soul trudging along on some form of cardio equipment in a dire attempt to lose weight. That’s how it works, right? Do cardio, lose weight. Right?


…and wrong.

When we set out to lose weight, the idea is to burn calories. But how exactly do we burn calories? Yes, you can slave away on the treadmill, and you will burn calories, ultimately leading to a decrease in body fat. However, cardio, in all its glory, doesn’t do much in the calorie burning department after you step off the treadmill/bike/etc. This is where strength training comes in.

Let’s start with some common concerns and misconceptions. I often hear, “Oh, weight lifting? Yea, I don’t want to bulk up” or “I’m trying to lose weight, shouldn’t I just run a lot?”.

Okay, let’s do this…

Bulking up… Unless you are consuming a ridiculous number of calories and lifting in a very specific way, bulking up is typically not an issue. Then there is the timeless “shouldn’t I just run a lot?” question. Cardio is great, and a great deal of people see great results in the weight loss department from running. However, a lot of people end up putting that weight back on. This is where strength training comes in.

What is often an overlooked side effect of strength training is that lean mass (muscle) is a fat eating machine! Yup, muscle eats fat, and it loves fat. In fact, long after you have finished a lifting session your metabolism (which has just been boosted from your workout) will continue to burn calories at a higher rate for up to 36 hours after your training session. Cardiovascular activity i.e. running, doesn’t provide this same effect.

There is a magic formula that shows that 1 pound of muscle will burn 50 calories a day at rest. This means while you are literally doing nothing and burning calories. So, if we increase the amount of lean mass in the body, we can increase the number of calories being consumed at rest. How do we increase lean mass in the body? Strength training.

By incorporating a strength training program into your weekly routine, one can typically begin to see results with 3-5 weeks. For best results if you are new to strength training, start with 1-2 days per week and progress up to 3-4 days per week, taking time to listen to your coach and your body’s needs. Not only with you be decreasing your fat mass, you will also be increasing your functional strength. This means you can play harder with your kids, lift heavy objects more safely, or just open that pickle jar. Whatever the case, adding a strength training component to your plan is a win-win.

I’m not saying that you should all go light your treadmills on fire and buy a squat rack. Cardiovascular exercise is still enormously important for your heart’s health, and will provide you with a much-needed endurance base. In fact, you should absolutely incorporate cardio into your week. The ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) recommends at least 150 minutes of high heart rate exercise per week. Adding a healthy dose of structured weight training will help you tip the scales in your favor and shed some extra weight, and keep it off.

*Originally Posted on February 20, 2017