Most people I come in contact with are under the impression that they need to be doing endless amounts of cardiovascular exercise in order to lose fat. The common misconception is that you need to burn a ton of calories during exercise in order to see results. People think that the higher the calorie count goes up on the elliptical or treadmill, the better. Unfortunately, many people learn the hard way that this does not produce the best results. I follow the best trainers and coaches in the world. They all talk about mobility, conditioning, and corrective exercises being important. However, the number one thing they always come back to is strength training.
Let me share with you some great quotes from some great coaches and trainers.
“Getting stronger makes everything in life easier.”
– Dan John
“Absolute strength is the glass. Everything else is the liquid inside the glass. The bigger the glass, the more of everything else you can do.”
– Brett Jones
“Strength is a skill.”
– Pavel Tsatsouline (the guy who brought the kettlebell to America)
No matter what your goal is, getting stronger will help you get there.
What You Need to Know
The first thing that you need to do is stop focusing on how many calories you burn in the gym or on a long run and instead focus on how your body expends calories outside of the gym. You burn calories throughout the day regardless of what you are doing but exercise helps increase the rate at which you burn those calories. With most forms of traditional steady-state cardio, you expend calories while you’re exercising but once you stop you quickly go back to your normal metabolic rate.
Strength training, however, builds muscle, and more muscle helps you burn more calories—even when you’re doing nothing but sitting at your desk. Strength training is a critical component of any program that emphasizes long-term fat loss. The more muscle you have, the more fuel you are constantly burning. Your muscles are “thirsty” from a metabolic perspective after you are done strength training.
Optimizing Hormones With Strength Training For Fat Loss
A solid strength-training program also optimizes key hormones that help burn fat and build muscle tissue. Large compound exercises, such as Olympic lifts, deadlifts, and jump squats have been shown to produce large elevations in testosterone as compared to small-mass exercises.
Growth Hormones and Factors
Growth hormone (GH) is also a key hormone that elicits a great response in promoting tissue anabolism. To increase muscle size and fat loss, GH is key. Research shows that strength-training protocols that elicit high levels of blood lactate tend to produce the most substantial GH responses. Lactate training is often affiliated with the common parameters of hypertrophy training. Growth hormone (GH) promotes tissue anabolism and is key to increasing muscle size and promoting fat loss. To increase muscle size and fat loss, GH is key. Research shows that strength-training protocols that elicit high levels of blood lactate tend to produce the most substantial GH responses. Lactate training is often affiliated with the common parameters of hypertrophy training.
Insulin-like Growth Factor (IGF-1) is also another key hormone that helps with shedding body fat and building muscle. IGF also aids in protein synthesis (production of new muscle tissue) during strength training. Therefore, it enhances hypertrophy (muscle growth).
Cortisol is another key hormone that can have a dramatic effect on fat loss and muscle tissue building. As opposed to the hormones I discussed above, cortisol is actually catabolic (breaks down muscle tissue) in nature. So, we want to try to minimize this effect to build more muscle. In order to minimize this effect, you need to train hard and intense, but not too long.
You also need to take recovery into account. Overtraining, (a common problem with runners and other endurance athletes) can cause a dramatic increase in cortisol.
If you overdo the metabolic training, you may end up with some muscle loss. Too much cardiovascular exercise and even too much exercise, in general, can wreak havoc on your pursuit to build muscle and burn fat. Make sure you choose quality over quantity and avoid long bouts of cardio. Also, make sure you take in the proper amount of nutrients and sleep 6-9 hours each night to induce proper recovery.
You Can Include Cardio, Just Don’t Overdo It
As you can see, strength training is #1 in order to lose fat and build muscle tissue. It’s not that running is bad but it puts a fair amount of stress on your muscles and joints. Instead of jumping off the couch and engaging in a running program, make sure you take the time to strengthen your hip and core stabilizers as well as other muscles in order to prevent injury and build strength and muscle.
Many of us need activities that are a bit more joint-friendly. I like the Airdyne bike and Concept 2 Rower as a much better option for cardiovascular training. They more friendly to the joints and cause a greater “metabolic disturbance” that produces more fat loss without the stress on the joints. Running can still be an option for exercise; it just shouldn’t be the only form of exercise for fat loss. You need to focus on building muscle tissue in order to see a real long-term fat loss. Making strength training the base of your fitness plan is the way to go. And for the record…strength training does NOT make you bulky, ladies!