Does Weight Training Burn Fat?

We used to think that to shrink our fat cells we needed a brisk walk, run or cycle to burn up the excess calories. But the thinking has shifted. Working with weights may be an even better option for getting rid of unwanted fat.

Cardiovascular exercise will always be essential part of getting and staying fit. Amongst other benefits it strengthens your heart and reduces your blood pressure.

Our muscles need attention too. Including two sessions of resistance or strength training per week will increase muscle mass and strength and improve bone density. Evidence indicates that weight training can help us avoid an early death, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity, and reduce our risk of cognitive decline and injury. It can also help with weight and fat loss.


What is resistance exercise?

Resistance training is when you make your muscles work against a weight or force. It involves using weight machines, exercise bands, hand-held weights or your own body weight (such as push-ups, sit-ups or planking) to provide your muscles with enough resistance that they can grow and get stronger.

The link between muscles and fat

Resistance training increases the size and tone of your muscles. This doesn’t just look good, it also helps you control your weight in the long term. That’s because muscle size is important in determining your resting metabolic rate (RMR), which is how many calories your body needs to function at rest. Studies show that weight training is more effective than aerobic exercise at increasing RMR.

Other studies have found weight workouts increased energy expenditure and fat burning for at least 24 hours afterwards. Even people who occasionally lift weights are far less likely to become obese that those who don’t.

In a process called mechanical loading, muscles get stressed through lifting, pushing, or pulling. In response to this, cells in the muscles release a substance that sends instructions to fat cells, prompting them to start the fat-burning process, explained study co-author Dr John McCarthy, associate professor of physiology at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine.

“We think this adds a new dimension to the understanding of how skeletal muscle communicates with other tissues,” said Dr McCarthy. The results remind us, he said, that muscle mass is vitally important for metabolic health.


Resistance training for beginners

  1. Warm up first. Do some light aerobic exercise such as walking, cycling or rowing for about five minutes.
  2. Use proper technique to avoid injuries. You can learn this from a registered exercise professional. Many gyms offer experienced personal trainers, or your could see a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist.
  3. Start slowly. New to weights? Then you may be able to lift only a few kilograms. As your body gets more used to the exercises you can start to progress. Once you can easily do 12 repetitions with a particular weight, gradually increase the weight.
  4. Use your breath. Breathe out when you are lifting or pushing; breathe in as you slowly release the load or weight. Never hold your breath while straining.
  5. Be sensible. Don’t be so eager to see results that you risk injury by exercising too long or choosing too heavy a weight.
  6. Rest. Rest muscles for at least 48 hours between strength training sessions. If you have been sick, don’t return to training until one or two days after you have recovered.