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Why Getting Stronger Matters for Weight Loss

By Paul Kriegler, RD

“Strong is the new skinny.”

It is a proclamation you may have seen plastered over marketing and social media in recent years, but it is more than a catch phrase. Studies show that strength training can play a critical role in achieving maximum health benefits and weight loss success.

Getting stronger means getting leaner as well as fitter. It allows you to be healthier and more resilient. It lets you look and feel slimmer, more vital and younger. But don’t just take my word for it. Check out what the research has to say on why getting stronger matters for your weight loss and health journey.

For the Look

In my years of health and fitness consulting, it’s perhaps the most common goal I hear from clients: a leaner, more durable and slimmer look. As much as the weight loss industry likes to tout the handy ideas of portion control, home-delivered meals and point calculations, fitness specifics are often an afterthought. This is especially true when it comes to any discussion of heavy exertion.

Yet, it’s through heavy resistance training that we can often induce the most notable changes in our appearance, confidence and success.

Numerous studies examining the differences between calorie restriction and its combined effects with aerobic exercise and heavy resistance training yield some telling results. In truth, once you achieve decent nutritional habits (i.e. eating more un-processed than processed foods), the next “to-do” item may not be hopping on the treadmill for long, steady sessions but rather picking up the barbell.

Changing your appearance or sculpting your physique depends on a certain type of physical stimulus, and the stimulus can’t just be food change alone.

When comparing 12-16 week efforts to alter body shape and composition, it seems combining heavier resistance training with focused dietary efforts is superior for reducing waist circumference, maintaining lean tissue, and increasing quality of life.[i]

Dieting alone may produce weight loss on the scale, but it doesn’t prove to be as effective for maintaining a leaner, muscular look as are programs that include consistent strength training.

Even among obese and diabetic subjects – those who have the most challenging metabolic patterns – waist circumference and body fat loss were best in those undergoing three times weekly supervised strength training vs. those just undertaking caloric restriction.[ii]

In fact, this study of obese and overweight participants with diabetes showed that the combination of resistance training with modest carbohydrate restriction (to just 45% of total calories) and higher protein intakes (31% total calories) resulted in the most remarkable changes to physique and overall body composition metrics conducive to health.

Overall body changes in the highest-protein + resistance training group averaged a 13.8 kg weight loss (30 lbs – 24 lbs of which came from fat tissue), while the standard dietary group doing the same training protocol lost less weight and less total fat.

In all, the higher dietary protein combined with resistance training exhibited greater net effect on weight and fat loss than outcomes in the next closest group and also resulted in the biggest reduction in waist circumference.

For the Feel

I often ask people how they want to feel when they achieve their sought-after goals. Among the most common answers  are “fit,” “lean,” “confident” or “strong.”

To date, I’ve not been able to guide someone to these ends without incorporating relatively intense resistance training, be it body-weight plyometrics, advanced yoga practice, or significant devotion to consistent weight lifting – with heavier weights than they would have chosen themselves.

There’s something to be said for feeling confident and sturdy by breaking strength barriers or setting personal bests at the club.

Many weight training experts advise, “To know you’ve strength trained properly or to force a change in the appearance, size or strength of your muscles, you must lift heavy enough so you can’t put forth that same effort on successive days.” Sure, it may leave you a bit sore or unable to match those efforts for a few days. However, for strength training to be effective, it must be hard enough to force us into a rest and recovery period. This pattern actually indicates recovery and repair efforts will bring us to a stronger level within a week’s time.

In the highest-protein, weight lifting group mentioned above, the pure strength gain over just 16 weeks was impressive. The average increase in one-repetition max (1-RM) for bench press was 10.9 kg. (~24 lbs.) higher. To boot, the 1-RM max lat pulldown increased 9.3 kg. (20 lbs.) on average in subjects previously unaccustomed to formal strength training. I don’t know many people who wouldn’t feel stronger after quickly gaining these push and pull abilities in just four months.

Other research following men over a similar 12-week training protocol measured an increased maximal squat by nearly 30% and also showed higher maximal oxygen consumption – a marker of overall fitness capacity – in the group that combined diet with both aerobic exercise and strength training.

Again, not only were weight loss and fat loss best in those with the highest amount of strength training, but overall muscle function and fitness were most improved!

To feel stronger, it’s pretty clear you must channel your inner strong-man/strong-woman to reap the maximum benefits.

For Your Health

So far, the evidence has pointed to improved body weight, body composition, strength gains and fitness capacity, but how does weight training translate into better health? It’s a critical question.

The studies mentioned above (and others) have demonstrated positive outcomes from strength training that significantly influence long-term functional health.

With improved blood pressure, better balance, more positive mood, improved blood glucose control, and better bone health, proper and consistent strength training has a multifaceted way of enhancing longevity and quality of life.

Objectively, the study groups mentioned above with the best fitness and fat loss results also demonstrated the best glycemic (blood sugar) control, lowest fasting insulin, lowest triglycerides, and best cholesterol ratios – again, when combining moderately reduced carbohydrate dietary patterns, aerobic exercise, and three-times weekly resistance training.

These impressive improvements, though achieved over just twelve to sixteen weeks, are sure to have lasting effects on longevity.

To underscore that it’s never too late to start, these groups were middle-aged, and many had no prior experience with formal exercise.

Just think: by following their footsteps during the 90-Day weeks, you could be up to two dozen kilos lighter, leaner and able to push, pull and squat at least that much or more!

Are you new to resistance work? Learn to move better under your own body weight first by focusing on large muscle groups and whole body movements. Keep progressing to higher and higher resistance with multiple tools and training or class instruction. Before you know it, you’ll be a regular in the “noisy” side of the club. Don’t be afraid to ask for some professional guidance. Make a fitness professional’s day by showing interest in maximizing your transformation.

When you find yourself with limited time at the club, consider doing a short 8-10 minute warm-up (which can be tailored to your metabolism through Active Metabolic Assessments) and some mobility/postural exercises. Then spend the majority of your quick session (safely) lifting heavy weights intermittently. Finally, be sure to move around plenty the rest of the day. Whether you want to look, feel, or age leaner and stronger, challenging yourself to regular resistance training is definitely your best ticket.

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[i] W. J. Kraemer, Volek, J .S., Clark K. L., Gordon, S. E., Puhl, S. M., Koziris L. P., McBride, J. M., Triplett-McBride, N. T., Putukian, M., Newton, R. U., Hakkinen, K., Bush, J. A., Sebastianelli, W.J. Influence of exercise training on physiological and performance changes with weight loss in men. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise [1999, 31(9):1320-1329)].Find all citations in this journal (default).

[ii] Thomas P. Whycherley, Noakes, M., Clifton, P. M., Cleanthous, X., Keogh, J. B., Brinkworth, G. D. A High-Protein Diet With Resistance Exercise Training Improves Weight Loss and Body Composition in Overweight and Obese Patients With Type 2 Diabetes Diabetes Care May 2010 33:5 969-976.



The posts on this blog are not intended to suggest or recommend the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease, nor to substitute for medical treatment, nor to be an alternative to medical advice. The use of the suggestions and recommendations on this blog post is at the choice and risk of the reader.
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