By Dr. Patrick Jean-Pierre MD
When someone says weight-training, do you immediately visualize body-builders? You shouldn’t. The primary side effect of weight-training isn’t bulking up—it’s slimming down. When you start a new project, you need to define your terms properly so you can maximize your results. When people say weight loss, what they really mean is fat loss. But they also want to improve their muscle tone and definition. This means they want to add the right amount of muscle in the right places until they reach their ideal shape, both for health and aesthetics.
When you say you want to get in shape, you mean you want to exchange the current shape of your body for a more pleasant looking shape—and the increase in performance won’t hurt your feelings, either. Here is what you need to know to get started with weight-training for fat loss.
The first thing I want to say is that weight training will not make you gain weight. Lots of testosterone is required to build large, bulky muscles, along with enormous amounts of protein. Bodybuilders lift so much weight they can only do three to five repetitions before they reach muscle failure.
Female bodybuilders aren’t able to put on a lot of muscle because their testosterone levels are not high enough, but they do remove extreme amounts of fat.
You have to workout very specifically to bulk up—you won’t accidentally gain unintended bulk by lifting weights. So if you want to lose weight, you shouldn’t be afraid of lifting weights. In fact, you should make strength training part of your weekly routine.
If you haven’t used your muscles for much more than light lifting, in the first week or two you will gain some muscle mass as your body gets used to a new kind of work. But at the same time as your body is putting on muscle, it is also aggressively burning calories. If you are eating a sensible diet, many of those calories will come from fat.
The muscle you do add, pound for pound, takes up a lot less space than the fat, so even if you were to add a pound of muscle for every pound of fat, your overall body measurements would still shrink.
And every pound of muscle brings with it significant benefits. The more muscle on your body, the more calories you burn when you are working out. Even when you are not working out, muscles burn more calories than fat. Think of having muscles as diet pills, but without the health risks: just having more muscle increases how many calories you burn, even if you’re just sitting at your desk at work.
Most people who want to lose weight and get in shape should do strength training two to three times a week. This won’t just maximize metabolic burn; it will also lead to improved cardiovascular outcomes and healthier blood sugar levels.
The best weight training to do for weight loss involves high-intensity resistance training or HIRT. If you are just starting out, go slow so you don’t injure yourself. You can still follow a HIRT program, just turn it down to a slow and easy pace. But as you get more comfortable and confident, you should ramp it up until you reach peak intensity.
When you do resistance training, your body doesn’t burn as many calories as cardio, but your metabolism burns at a higher rate for the next two days. This is because your muscles actually break down during resistance training, and your body burns a lot of calories to repair the damage and build more muscle. Think of it as a free calorie burn for two days just because you lifted weights instead of cardio. Yes, you will feel a little more sore than usual, but over time the soreness will go away and you’ll have an elevated metabolism and better-looking curves.
So it’s time to go lift weights and you’ve never done it before. No fear! First off, don’t fall into the trap of worrying about other people. You do you. Get a light weight. Choose something you feel like you can lift 20 times in a row. When in doubt, always go lighter. If you pick a weight that is too heavy, it will sap your motivation and performance, and you might hurt yourself, too. Always go lighter. The lightest weights are there to be used, and they can and should be used by everyone.
Here are a few resistance training examples:
Lifting weights can be intimidating when you’re new to the idea. Reading through these bench press tips can help you get informed and reduce your anxiety before you get started. But strength training doesn’t have to mean lifting weights. Resistance bands have much the same result as weights but are not as bulky, and you can’t hurt yourself if you drop them on your toes.
Five of my favorite resistance band exercises are:
Whichever way you go, bands or weights, adding resistance training to your exercise routine just may be the trick that turns your body into a fat-burning machine.
Motivation and consistency are vital to a successful exercise program. When you are accountable to someone else, you’re more likely to follow through, so I recommend a partner workout. Workouts are more fun with a buddy, and in the beginning, having a partner can be the difference between success and failure.
It’s hard to stay in a routine, and it can be hard to get back into a routine after a trip. Whether you need to keep up with upper body or squat workouts, putting together a bag of travel workout equipment can help. You’ll be able to stay on track, even when you’re on the go.
How much fat do you want to lose, and what other positive results are you hoping for? If you develop a consistent routine and follow it over time, you will move ever closer to your fitness and wellness goals.
Take a few minutes right now to schedule your first session of weight-training for fat loss, and start your journey to health and happiness today.