Resistance training is an important component for both initial weight loss and the maintenance of your goal weight, for several reasons. You've probably heard people say things like "muscle weighs more than fat" and "muscle burns more calories," and you've also probably heard people talk about being "skinny fat." Let's break down these three common statements from a scientific standpoint, so you can better understand why muscle-building is so important on your weight loss journey.
"Muscle weighs more than fat." Technically untrue - I mean, a pound is a pound, right? What this statement is really referring to is density - if a pound of fat is grapefruit-sized, for example, a pound of muscle is more like a clementine. Your weight loss journey may be about more than a number on a scale - it may be about fitting into certain clothing, or just feeling more comfortable in your own body. When you incorporate strength training along with your cardio, even in the weeks you don't see a big drop on the scale, you'll feel your weight loss in other ways, as you exchange low density pounds for high density pounds.
"Muscle burns more calories" Muscle tissue is metabolically more active than fat tissue, which technically means that while at rest, the more muscle you've built, the more "passive" calories you'll be burning. In addition, protein synthesis, a key component of the muscle building process, consumes a lot of energy on the cellular level -so you're not only building muscle during your workout, but after it as well. (p.s. - your body needs calories to go through this process, so maintaining a balanced nutrition program rather than mercilessly cutting calories trying to lose weight will help you here!)
"incorporating resistance training is a key factor in being able to maintain your ideal weight and your ideal fitness program, because a balanced resistance training program can help you avoid overuse injuries that commonly lead to people needing to take a break from cardio activities such as cycling, running, and swimming."
"Skinny fat" - this is a relatively new term, and it's often used to refer to people who are slim, but don't have definition. If having "muscle tone" is one of the reasons you're looking to lose weight, cardio and light weights won't cut it - you'll want to incorporate a true resistance training program that challenges you to achieve both the number and the aesthetic you want.
So now that you better understand how strength training plays a role in your weight loss plan, here's another little bonus - if resistance training is fairly new to you, be happily surprised to know that you'll see improvements in strength much faster than you'll see them with your cardio performance! This is due to something we call neuromuscular adaptation - and it's powerful from a mental and emotional standpoint as well as a physical one. Your strength workouts can quite literally be the push you need to keep going when your weight loss journey seems tough, because you'll be able to feel the changes even if you can't quite see them yet!
Still having trouble getting motivated to add resistance training to your schedule?
One tip I give my clients is to find the strength training exercises that correspond to something they enjoy doing, or aspire to try/get better at. Whether it's taking a spin class, learning to surf, or playing basketball with your children, there's resistance training exercises out there specific to that. Correlating the two could be the push you need to incorporate this type of work into your program.
Olympic Bobsledder, Aja Evans makes lifting a foundation of her training regimen
One more thing - with my background in sports rehab, I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you that incorporating resistance training is a key factor in being able to maintain your ideal weight and your ideal fitness program, because a balanced resistance training program can help you avoid overuse injuries that commonly lead to people needing to take a break from cardio activities such as cycling, running, and swimming. Once you've established a good fitness habit, the last thing you want is something that sets you back, so consider your resistance training routine both weight management and injury prevention!
Erica Marcano, MS ATC, CSCS, also known as The Notorious ATC, is certified Athletic Trainer and Strength & Conditioning Specialist with 15 years of experience in her field. She currently coaches clients in person throughout Brooklyn & NYC, and due to recent events, now sees clients virtually as well. Learn more about Erica and her holistic fitness practice here.