Why weight training is your fat loss friend

Her Spirit Lifestyle coach Jesse Lambert-Harden demystifies some oft he myths about weights and weight-loss.

Lifting weights has often been avoided by women and the weights room at the gym dominated by men. Times have a changed a lot and more and more women are recognising the many benefits of resistance training including improved strength body composition, health markers, mental health and injury prevention.

The brand new Couch2kilosCouch2Kilos campaign is here to help women of all levels in their training to move to the next level of lifting and reap the rewards that it brings.

Most women who start a fitness journey do have a goal of ‘toning up’, which essentially means losing fat and gaining muscle, so if this resonates, read on.

Knowledge and empowerment is a key part of our offering so we try to encourage our community members to ask themselves why and how we can practically offer you our help.

Understanding your “why’ is a key part of the journey. Why, because often women think that losing ‘scales’ weight will make them happy (it won’t), so think about your mindset and loving yourself just the way you are first. There are health benefits to not having high levels of body fat, particularly around the organs and midsection, and you may want to lose a bit to become faster when running, cycling, or swimming. The reason has to come from within and it isn’t enough to simply shed the pounds as fast as possible. Short term goals rarely sustain.

Before I move to the how, it’s important to understand that weight loss is not the same as fat loss.

Weight vs fat loss

At Her Spirit we believe that women should be moving away from being fixated on the weight on the scales and instead look towards the health benefits, both physically and mentally, that improved nutrition, exercise, sleep and mindset bring.

Weight is exactly that: how much your body weighs. It is made up of both lean body mass/ fat free mass and fat mass. Fat free mass refers to your bones, fluid, muscles, and organs, whereas fat mass is the fat tissue.

What scales cannot tell you is how much of that is fat vs fat free mass, which it why it is better to focus on body composition instead. Your weight can fluctuate so much, particularly for women who still have a monthly menstrual cycle.

When you gain muscle through exercise, you may put on scale weight or just stay the same if you lose fat, but the scales do not reflect that change in body composition. So instead of screaming at the scales each week and getting disheartened, look to using alternative methods of measuring progress such as photographs or taking body measurements with a tape measure.

So how does resistance training help with fat loss?

Firstly, it Is important to recognise that exercise alone is not a great strategy for fat loss. This is where many women end up having a poor relationship with exercise, using it at a tool to burn calories.

If you have a fat loss goal and want to tone up, you need the following three factors to be in place

1. Energy (calorie) deficit
2. Sufficient protein intake
3. Training

You can find out about the first two in our 6 Week Learn to Fuel programme, but to summarise, during a calorie deficit phase, the body may also loss muscle mass, so it is crucial eat sufficient protein and to stimulate the muscles using resistance training, to prevent this from happening.

When it comes to training, women often turn to excess cardio, spending extra hours pounding the streets to burn calories. Excess cardio is counterproductive (note, excess, some is good and the health benefits are endless) as it will increase your appetite, make you tired and want to sit down all day, and have a catabolic effect on those muscles. Therefore if you want an improved body composition and to protect that important muscle mass, then doing resistance training is essential.

A point to also note here is that there is often an overstatement, particularly if you use fitness watches as to how many calories are burned both during cardiovascular and resistance training exercise so do not rely on these numbers to be accurate nor exercise as a fat loss tool by itself.

Resistance training and building muscle does helps to increase your body’s basal metabolic rate or BMR, albeit by a small amount. Your overall BMR is determined by your body mass, thus the heavier you are, the higher your BMR, so it is an incorrect assumption that one has a slow metabolism when overweight. Actually, it is the opposite. However, muscle is more metabolic than fat, so as when you lose fat and your BMR reduces, resistance training is another factor in keeping a higher metabolic rate. For each pound of fat one burns approximately 2 calories per day at rest vs 6 for muscle. This is sometimes overstated, and once again, I reinforce the ‘not to be relied upon’ message, but it is worthy of noting.

I think I’ve made my point here. Resistance training is important, but for the protective health and body composition properties, not for the calorie burn.

How and where do I start?

Fear not, it doesn’t have to be a hard slog for hours each day and you’re not going to end up looking bulky.

If you are a beginner, just two, YES TWO, full body sessions per week at a medium intensity has been shown to be enough to maintain and even increase muscle mass in overweight women who are in an energy deficit. They don’t have to be long sessions, just 30 minutes is enough.

If you are at an intermediate level, then three to four sessions is still plenty. No need to go overboard. By the time you get to intermediate level, you may not even be focused on fat loss anymore anyway and be shooting for muscle gains or performance instead.

An effective session consists of movements that include more than one muscle group or compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, press ups, rows and so on. You can use body weight as a beginner, resistance bands, dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells and many more.

What is especially important is that you enjoy the sessions and want to do them again, because consistency is what will reap the most rewards. As with all health and fitness related goals, working on the enjoying the process and learning about what works for you, creating new sustainable, fun habits will increase your chances of maintaining that fat loss.

This is why we have created the Couch2kilos programme, to get more women lifting weights. All the programming is done for you, so all you need to do is sign up and get stuck in.

Getting stronger, regardless of fat loss makes you feel awesome and more resilient. Don’t get hung up on the scales, enjoy the process and the results will follow.

Join Couch2Kilos Free for 6-Weeks starting the 3rd January 2022.