We live in an appearance focused culture. Unfortunately, how we look often determines how good we feel about ourselves. For this reason, many focus on losing weight and weight is often strictly associated with fat. Weightlifting to lose fat is an effective way to reduce the amount of fat in our bodies. But, does weightlifting to lose fat actually lead to weight loss? Let’s explore that topic.
History of Weightlifting
It’s not hard to imagine two Bubbas centuries ago wagering some mead or a chicken or a prized hog on who could lift the most weight. Weightlifting competitions are reported to have been held by ancient Egyptians. While the first Olympics did not specifically have a weightlifting event, it’s hard to believe the ancient Greeks didn’t have some sort of weightlifting competition or other “feats of strength”.
In the first part of the 20th century, weightlifting competitions enjoyed wide appeal. National Championships drew tens of thousands of spectators and weightlifting experienced significant growth among a newly health-conscious public. Weightlifting’s popularity led to it becoming one of the most popular Olympic events. Americans dominated early competitions, followed by the Russians, and now the Chinese rule over Olympic weightlifting competitions.
As the health consciousness of the public grew, so did local workout establishments begin to pop up everywhere. Next to stationary bikes and ellipticals, multiple surveys have indicated the next most popular section of your local fitness establishment is the free weights followed by weight machines.
Is Weightlifting Beneficial?
Just because it became popular does that necessarily mean lifting weights to lose fat is actually beneficial? To answer that we need to look at what happens to our bodies when lifting weights.
In the simplest of terms, when you stress muscles by lifting weights you actually break down the muscle fibers. In turn, your body uses resources (water and energy) to build those muscle fibers back in even more plentiful numbers so the next time they are stressed lifting a weight, they will perform better. The energy used to build back those muscle fibers is provided in the form of food and, in certain circumstances, by burning fat.
Like any cells in the body, muscle cells require oxygen to operate correctly. That means more muscle fibers require more oxygen. That forces your cardiovascular system to become more efficient. Weightlifters often “double-up” on this cardiovascular benefit by structuring their workouts so that there is minimal rest-time between sets of the same weightlifting exercises and/or transitioning between different exercises.
Similarly, increased muscle mass requires an increased number of calories. These calories can come from the food eaten or from fat already in our body. Among many other benefits, increased muscle mass is the body’s “rock star” when it comes to regulating blood sugar. This serves to keep Type II Diabetes at bay, a disease that disproportionately targets the elderly. Not only are the blood sugar-regulating benefits of weightlifting instant they also are lasting. Your workout today can help your muscles use blood sugar more effectively for up to 72 hours. And more of the puzzle is revealed…
How Much Fat is Too Much?
According to Web MD:
“In June 1998, in an effort to make sure doctors, researchers, dietitians, and government agencies were all on the same page, the National Institutes of Health announced its BMI [Body Mass Index] guidelines. They replaced the old life insurance tables as a method to gauge healthy weight.”
BMI is measured by dividing your weight in pounds by your height in inches squared and multiplying by a factor of 703. As an example, for someone who is 5 feet 5 inches tall (65 inches) and weighs 150 pounds, the calculation would look like this: [150 ÷ (65)2] x 703 = 24.96.
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH) definitions, a healthy weight is a BMI of 18.5-24.9; overweight is 25-29.9; and obese is 30 or higher.
Some people swear by the BMI and others prefer a less math-intensive method of determining if you’re too fat. It’s called the “chubby-wubby” method. Basically, the method requires you to strip naked and look at yourself in a full-length mirror (if you dare). When your fat-rolls are too plentiful, you can “pinch more than an inch”, or you just LOOK too chubby, you’re probably caring too much fat.
Weightlifting for Fat Loss
According to the Cleveland Clinic:
“Your muscles first burn through stored glycogen for energy. After about 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic exercise, your body starts burning mainly fat (If you’re exercising moderately, this takes about an hour).”
When we think about weightlifting for fat loss, this is where structuring your weightlifting sessions for maximum aerobic benefit comes into play. If while weightlifting you are stressing your muscles through the weightlifting motions, but resting between sets and taking your time setting yourself up for new exercises, you are probably not going to burn much fat. This process doesn’t fulfill the requisite 30-60 minutes of aerobic exercise in order to start the fat-burning process.
For maximum effects of weightlifting for fat loss, I’ve found what I call the 10-70-5-2 method works best for me. That’s 10 repetitions of an exercise at 70% of my maximum lifting capability for that exercise while completing five sets with no more than a two-minute rest between sets. It may sound intimidating; but, you will find once you establish a rhythm, you will be rocking a stupendous fat loss weightlifting program in no time.
Hide Your Scale
There’s an old saying that “muscle weighs more than fat”; but, the real story is a little more complicated. For a given volume, yes, muscle weighs more than fat because it’s denser. Hopefully, you didn’t just eat lunch. Consider if you were holding a handful of muscle in your right hand and a handful of fat in your left hand, the difference in weight would be stark. Your right hand is going to feel like it’s holding more weight because the muscle has a higher density than the fat.
So, if we are replacing less dense fat with more dense muscle fiber, what does that mean for what we see on the scale in the morning? The answer is simple: WHO CARES? That’s why the title of this section is “Hide Your Scale”.
Your weightlifting for fat loss program is building that lean fiber aerobically to help your body process oxygen more efficiently. It’s burning more calories. It’s helping to regulate your blood sugar during and after your workouts. It should also be noted that muscle mass is a key factor in healthy aging. You can lose 1% to 2% of your muscle mass starting at about age 45. Known as sarcopenia, this decline in muscle mass as we age is a major factor in older adults needing help to do relatively simple tasks. Simply put, if you have more muscle mass to lose, you can stave off the effects of sarcopenia longer.
Putting It All Together
Weightlifting has been around for centuries as a friendly competition, as a competitive sport, as an Olympic event, and finally as a means for the average person to help improve their fitness and health. Lifting weights to lose fat requires structuring your weightlifting sessions in such a way that you also improve your aerobic health while you are building lean muscle mass through the weightlifting process.
For the person who wants to know what is the fastest way to burn fat, that answer probably isn’t weightlifting. You’re not going to see that loss from your fat loss weightlifting program in the first week or probably even the first month. But, if you make weightlifting a regular part of your exercise program, structure your weightlifting sessions to achieve the most aerobic benefit, and stick with it, you will burn fat. That can lead to you looking better and feeling better about yourself while also helping to regulate your blood sugar and building muscle mass to promote healthy aging.
Just remember to put away the scale. It’s how you look and feel that matters, not some number. Your BMI be damned.