Everyone wants to search for that one pill or food that will melt the fat away. But there are a few who want a permanent and ultimate solution. The answer is resistance training.
Resistance training, as the name suggests, is working against resistance to develop strength. Resistance or weight is used to contract muscle in order to build strength, endurance and skeletal muscle.
It involves improving efficiency and strength of muscles by progressively increasing weights. It uses a number of exercises and equipments to target specific muscle groups.
Different types of resistance are used such as free weights, weight machines, resistance bands, medicine balls and even your own weight. Different exercises are performed with different weights and repetitions. Recovery between workouts is required to allow muscle to grow.
Resistance training causes weight loss in the following ways:
- Contraction of muscles leads to burning of calories and fats.
- Muscle mass consists of metabolically active tissue so increase in muscle mass means burning excess calories.
- It elevates metabolism and fat burning rate.
- It causes secretion of hormones like ephinephrine and norephinephrine which breakdowns of fats.
- It causes breakdown of muscle and other tissues for which the body takes effort to recover and expends energy at the same time.
Resistance training has a number of health benefits: increasing bone and muscle strength, prevents age related decline in muscle mass, improves metabolism, reduces cholesterol and blood pressure and improves heart function.
What does research have to say about resistance training for weight loss?
Plenty of research has been conducted in relation to resistance training and weight loss and the results are absolutely positive.
1.Resistance training helps lose fat and save muscle
Weight training program lasting for 12 weeks resulted in increased muscle mass and strength in untrained young women. Individuals gained approximately 2 kg muscle mass and body fat percentage decreased by 2%.
Similar results were seen in older adults where fat free mass increased by 1.4kg and fat mass decreased by 1.8kg. Energy intake to maintain body weight increased followed by increased energy expenditure.
Research on effect of resistance training in postmenopausal women showed that weight training resulted in weight loss only in obese postmenopausal women but increased energy expenditure and fat free mass in both obese and non obese.
Resistance training prevents loss of fat free mass during dieting. Donnelly et al showed that size of muscle mass increased in those following weight training along with liquid diet in comparison to those on diet alone. The study also reported a 76% loss of fat mass.
The frequency of resistance training sessions does not need to be intense in order to see results. Twice weekly strength training is said to be sufficient for middle aged women to prevent age associated weight gain.
A study reports that strength training once or twice week results in similar muscle gains as thrice a week in older adults.
What does this mean?
Resistance training is one of the best weight loss techniques because: It results in fat loss. It increases muscle mass and strength. It is good for adults as it prevents age related decline in muscle mass. It prevents loss of muscle mass during dieting.
2.It raises metabolism
Resistance training is said to be advantageous over other workouts since it increases metabolism not only during the exercise but up to several hours post exercise.
26 week of resistance training is found to raise resting energy expenditure by 6.8% in older adults. Resting energy expenditure is the energy utilized by independent activities breathing, heartbeat etc.
Similar results have been obtained exclusively in older women and it was also proven that resistance training increases rate of fat oxidation. Short term resistance exercise in trained men is found to cause breakdown of fat from abdominal tissue as well as increase in whole body fat oxidation and metabolism.
Lemmer et al compared the effects of age and gender on metabolism. Strength training program was carried out for 24 weeks. Average increase in metabolism was 7% in both young and older population. In comparison to women men experienced a significant increase in metabolism which was around 9%.
What does this mean?
Resistance training preserves and elevates metabolic rate as well as rate of breakdown of fat. However the effect is dependent on gender: men experience a higher rise in metabolism than women.
3.It gets rid of harmful visceral fat
Visceral fat is the harmful fat that wraps around your organs. Subcutaneous is the fat under your skin. Visceral fat forms a major component of abdominal adiposity.
14 healthy older women were recruited for a study involving 16 week resistance training. No significant change in body weight, total body fat or fat free mass was observed.
But significant reduction in abdominal fat tissue and midthigh fat tissue was observed. Increase in muscle of midthigh region was also observed.
Abdominal resistance training along with energy restricted diet helps increase muscle thickness in abdominal region in obese or overweight people. Combination of weight loss diet and resistance training is found to reduce both subcutaneous and visceral fat in obese individuals.
Resistance training done for as little as 80 min/ week prevents weight regain and gain of visceral fat after diet induced weight loss.
What does this mean?
Resistance training done once or twice a week for around 80 minutes is sufficient for loss of harmful visceral fat and belly fat.
4.It enhances weight loss outcomes of diets
The principle of resistance training is to wear out the muscles to an extent that repair and regenerate themselves better and increase in size. And to build muscle mass you need protein.
A review of 9 clinical trials shows that protein supplementation during resistance training results in gain in fat free mass.
Even as little as 0.8g per kg per day of protein is adequate to result in gain of muscle mass due to resistance training.
A study showed that high protein diet combined with resistance training resulted in significant weight loss. The values for the group following both high protein diet and resistance training were as follows: weight loss of 13.8kg, loss of fat mass of 11.1kg and reduction in waist circumference of 13.7cm.
Resistance training works well alone with or without calorie restriction in causing weight loss. Research states that the duo works well in maintaining muscle mass. Green tea combined with resistance training results in greater weight loss and reduction in fat mass and waist circumference.
What does this mean?
It is advisable to drink a protein shake after resistance training because there is increased protein uptake for muscle synthesis. High protein diets and green tea along with resistance training result in better weight and fat loss.
5.It improves metabolic health
Obesity is linked with a number of metabolic disease and cardiovascular risk factors. Resistance training maintains improvement in metabolic health during weight regain. In these study participants initially lost weight by dieting and following aerobic exercise after which they regained 50% of their weight and followed resistance training.
During weight regain, most of the weight was due to increase in muscle mass and lean body tissue. Body fat and other metabolic parameters were maintained.
What does this mean?
Apart from aiding in weight loss, resistance training also improves metabolic parameters such as blood pressure, lipids and cholesterol. It is effective in ameliorating dyslipidemia and diabetes.
6.It improves body composition of overweight children
The effect of resistance training on weight in overweight and obese children has been studied but this definitely requires supervision and guidance of an expert.
8 week resistance training program is sufficient for improving body composition and strength in overweight and obese children. A clinical trial was conducted where children of the age 8-12 years were recruited for the study including moderate intensity training for 12 weeks. Increase in body weight, lean mass and height was observed.
What does this mean?
Resistance training results in favorable body composition in overweight and obese children and is safe for them.
Which parts of the body are affected by resistance training?
Resistance training exercises affect are designed to specifically affect a particular set of muscle. The body is divided into ten different muscle groups:
- Deltoids: shoulders
- Biceps: front of arms
- Triceps: back of arms
- Lats and trapezius: back
- Lower back
- Abdomen and obliques: belly
- Quadriceps: Front of thighs
- Hamstrings: back of thighs
Resistance training program followed thrice weekly focuses on different muscle groups on each day and this variety makes your routine inefficient that is your muscles don’t get tolerant to the exercise but keep developing.
What exercises are involved in resistance training?
Depending on muscle groups involved different exercises are practiced. But a particular exercise can result in a workout of number of muscles at the same time.
For example a squat involves holding a weight and squatting down and rising up again. This mainly tones the buttock region but also affects hamstrings and calves.
Barbara Strasser and Wolfgang Schobersberger in their paper ‘Evidence for Resistance Training as a Treatment Therapy in Obesity’ present a few suggestions for beginners:
- For first two weeks use minimal weights so that your muscle adapts and this would prevent soreness.
- Third week should focus on increase in muscle size or hypertrophy. Follow three sets for each muscle group with 10-15 repetitions on three non consecutive days.
- The training load should be systematically and progressively increased.
- The number of sets for each muscle per week should be increased progressively every four weeks.
- Further they suggest the following exercises targeting every muscle group: bench press (pectoralis), chest cross (shoulder joint), shoulder press (trapezius), pull downs (latissimus dorsi), bicep curls, tricep extensions, exercises for abdominal muscles (sit-ups) and leg press (quadriceps femoris).
For older adults here is a great resource about strength exercise . But I’d again mention consult your health practitioner before training.
Primarily consult a doctor before you practice strength training to know if you are fit enough for it. For example if you are anemic, have bone related diseases or asthma then hardcore workouts won’t be the best option for you.
Resistance training is great for muscle gains for older adults but their overall health should be constantly monitored and increment in loads. It is said to be safe for children but they are likely to be clumsy so they need constant supervision.
Always do a few simple warm up exercise prior to training. Focus on the form of exercise rather than the weight and ensure adequate recovery period is given to each muscle group. Harvard Med School also lists a few details which will ensure a smooth workout.
If you are ready to put in the extra bit of effort for weight loss then resistance training will deliver 100% results. In a few weeks time you will be way more confident of yourself image and definitely fitter.
But yes it’s a ‘no pain no gain’ formula so be ready to buckle up some extra will power. Apart from weight loss, resistance training also improves metabolic health and increases strength and endurance.