Fundamentals of Fat Loss Part III: The Strength Secret

Fundamentals of Fat Loss Part III: The Strength Secret


Welcome to Part III of the Fundamentals of Fat Loss!  In Part I, I gave an overview.  In Part II, I broke down what nutrition needs to look like.  Today in Part III we are going over the secret weapon of fat loss: strength training.  


As a reminder, you need to consistently do 3 things to make your body burn fat:

  • Burn more calories than you take in
  • Strength train 3 days per week
  • Get plenty of protein

So why strength training?  Why not any form of exercise or activity?  What defines strength training?


If you aren’t getting measurably stronger over time, it isn’t strength training.  A lot of options get marketed as strength training.  Very few of them actually track your progress or make you measurably stronger over time.  Yes most HIIT style classes say they’ll make you stronger but the reality is, speed is the priority in that training setting, not strength.  After 3-6 months, you’ve gotten all of the strength you’re going to get out of that format and now it’s just cardio.  The same light-medium weights doing the same type of exercises quickly will only go so far. 


Here is what progressive strength looks like.  When you start, it looks like a goblet squat with a 26lbs kettlebell, after a few weeks you’ve worked up from 26lbs to 53lbs.  Nice!  Now we might give you a more challenging variation like squatting with two kettlebells in the front rack position.  After a few weeks you’ve worked your weights up in that variation as well.  Now we might progress your variation to a barbell front squat and continue increasing your load.  There are other variations and other progressions but you get the point.  You are always challenged and that brings continuous increases in strength and continuous adaptation to the challenge.  Without that progressive overload, you’ll stagnate.  We track all your progress and update your training routine as you get stronger thanks to our high speed programming app.  


Now that we are on the same page about what strength training is, let me tell you why strength training is the fat loss secret weapon.


Progressive strength training preserves and builds muscle.  Weird sentence, but when you are burning more calories than you are taking in, your body needs to cannibalize it’s tissue to survive.  If you just do a bunch of cardio while you’re in a calorie deficit, you will lose a lot of muscle with the fat.  Sometimes it can even be more muscle than fat.  It’s because your body will try to cling to it’s energy stores unless you tell it that muscle is important.  That is where strength training shines.  It sends the signal to your body that muscle is important and can’t be cannibalized as fuel in that calorie deficit.  With the energy need present, and muscle isn’t an option, your body has no choice but to (finally!) start burning off your excess fat.  This is the most important part of this strategy: The combination of calorie deficit, strength training, and getting plenty of protein FORCES your body to burn fat.  


Progressive strength training burns comparable calories during the workout to other modalities.  The idea that cardio burns more calories than strength training is based on junk science with two massive blind spots.  This is the first blind spot: Heart rate monitors have been used to measure calories burned during a workout.  But that’s not what they measure.  They measure your heart rate, make an estimation of how much oxygen you’ve used, and then estimate how many calories you’ve burned.  But what about calories burned without the use of oxygen?  Aka Anaerobic training?  The monitors can’t measure how much sugar in your blood or liver you’ve burned or how much ATP in your muscle cells you’ve burned.  It’s measuring only one piece of your body’s energy puzzle.  Without real time muscle biopsies (ouch!) it’s impossible to know exactly, but you are likely burning comparable calories to cardio when you are engaging in challenging, progressive strength training.  


Progressive strength training supercharges your metabolism.  The other MASSIVE blind spot is that it’s not about how many calories you burn during your workout.  It’s about how many calories you burn after your workout too.  This is known as EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) or the “after burn”.  The point of strength training for fat loss is not just the calories during your workout.  The recovery from that progressive strength challenge turbocharges your metabolism and your body pulls from it’s fat stores to get the energy needed to recover your muscles.  


With wearable technology like smartwatches, whoop straps, and fitbits, you can see the difference.  Rather than just measuring the calories during the workout, these devices are also using heart rate variability to track your metabolism all day.  For the last 5 weeks I have alternated between strength days and cardio days.  My strength days are 50 minutes of strength and conditioning.  I haven’t done a metabolic finisher during this time.  My cardio days are 60 minute rucks, aka a fast walk with a 30lbs pack on my back.  During the workouts, the calorie burns were similar, around 500 calories average for each.  The big difference?  Overall, I burn 300-500 more calories on my strength training days than on my cardio days.  That is a massive difference!  Because I alternate, the cardio days are also probably getting the benefit of some leftover after burn from the strength workout the day before.


Progressive strength training is less injurious than other forms of training.  When you have a program written for you, you have correctives in place for injuries or movement deficiencies, and you have a personal trainer watching and guiding you every step of the way, strength training is incredibly safe.  Compared to the high injury rate of running, there is no comparison.  Getting you moving well and getting you strong throughout your ranges of motion helps you avoid injuries with the other things you do.  While we want you working hard, its also lower impact than other forms of training.   If you’re a female over 40, the high impact nature of an hour of HIIT style training can have a negative impact on hormones like cortisol, further undermining fat loss goals.  


Getting stronger makes you more confident.  The last reason strength training is key for fat loss.  The problem with excess fat isn’t just the fat or extra weight itself.  Its what it does to how we feel.  When clothes don’t fit right and we don’t feel like we can physically keep up with whats important, it kills confidence.  Strength training builds confidence.  Every time you master a new movement or you hit a new personal record, confidence skyrockets!  It’s a beautiful thing.  Let’s face it, no one ever felt more confident after a bout on an elliptical! 


If strength training is so great, why not do it more than 3 days per week?  More is not always more.  Because the recovery from the workout is so important, at much more than 3 days per week its hard to recover properly.  At 3, especially if you do some active recovery the day after, you’ll be able to push yourself hard all 3 days, recover for a day, and then you’re ready to get after it again.  Our number one core value is “do what works” and 3 days is simply what I have seen work best for the vast majority of my clients.


When you are ready to see what personal training can do for you, fill out the form at the top and bottom of the page! Looking forward to chatting with you!

Our first location serves Portsmouth, Kittery, and the broader Seacoast community.  Our new location serves Kingston and the broader southern New Hampshire community.   We help people strength train, walk daily, and eat real food.


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