Since the days of Jane Fonda workout videos, aerobic exercise has been crowned as king when it comes to weight loss. Running, biking, swimming and aerobics have all been widely cited as the best ways to burn calories. Recent research, however, offers credence to another method: resistance training.
In fact, a new study out of Arizona State University suggests that resistance exercise (aka strength training) may actually burn twice as many calories as we once thought. These researchers hypothesized that the energy-expenditure equation traditionally used to determine the calories burned during resistance training is misguided. The long-held method involves measuring oxygen consumption constantly during resistance training to estimate caloric expenditure, which is identical to the method used for determining those numbers for activities like running and biking. The issue is that resistance training is an anaerobic activity, involving short bursts of effort followed by recovery, rather than a constant aerobic effort.
In this new study, the researchers figured that it made more sense to measure oxygen consumption after resistance training, not during, to more accurately determine caloric expenditure. To do this, they had participants do three trials of a circuit that included push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups and lunges. Lo and behold, they discovered a major discrepancy in the number of supposed calories burned depending on how oxygen consumption was measured.
When they measured oxygen consumption during the rest periods between the strength exercises, nearly twice the caloric expenditure was reported. Instead of burning 4.09 calories per minute of sit-ups, participants burned 7.29. Instead of 4.03 calories torched per minute of pull-ups, they burned 9.95 calories.
This is important because while most resistance-training exercises weren’t considered to be “vigorous” activities under the old energy-expenditure equation, the new one shows that most of these exercises should be considered just that. Keep in mind that while caloric expenditure for activities like running varies depending on things like body weight and speed, the Mayo Clinic reports that a 160-pound individual running 5 miles per hour burns around 606 calories per hour. Considering this, it makes sense to do resistance training in conjunction with aerobic exercise if you’re hoping to lose weight.
Here are five tips to help guide your resistance training in order to maximize weight loss:
1. Focus on muscular endurance.
There is much debate as to whether fitness-minded folks should work more on muscular strength or endurance. When it comes to resistance training, this is the difference between lifting a heavy weight a few times versus a lighter weight a lot of times. While both approaches are important, recent research hints at the fact that resistance-training programs that focus on muscular endurance contribute more to weight loss. With that said, the researchers emphasize that while this means you’ll be lifting lighter weights, you should also be performing the exercise many more times to get the desired results.
2. Increase Intensity.
Occasionally upping the ante in workouts can help spur fat loss. In particular, much research has honed in on the effectiveness of high-intensity interval training (HIIT). While HIIT is often associated with cardio training, strength and resistance work can be thrown into the mix for a great workout. The idea is to push yourself at a high intensity for a short period of time and then take a break. This type of structure is often utilized in boot camps that include exercises such as squats, burpees and mountain climbers, allowing you to work the various energy systems in a single workout.
3. Do compound exercises.
By choosing “compound” exercises, you target multiple muscle groups all at once. For instance, exercises like body-weight squats have been shown to decrease body fat significantly and increase lean body mass. Done with a barbell or dumbbells, you work both the upper and lower body, getting more bang for your buck.
4. Increase your protein intake.
Research has revealed that resistance training is more effective in prompting weight and fat loss over simply cutting calories alone. Along with that, swapping some of your carbs for protein magnifies these results further. In particular, studies suggest that taking in protein right after resistance training can help improve body composition and enhance recovery.
5. Lift weights before cardio.
While studies have demonstrated that a combination of aerobic and resistance training contribute to weight loss more than either method alone, it is important that you’re strategic about the order in which you do things. Since research shows that people tend to do fewer weight-lifting repetitions after cardio than if they lift before cardio, most coaches will recommend the latter (always with a warm-up prior). What’s more, when you lift or do body-weight training feeling fresh, you’ll be more likely to maintain proper form and do exercises correctly. This may mean alternating days that you do cardio and strength training or simply performing one in the morning and the other in the evening.