When we hear the term “weight training,” many of us still think of big, bulky body builders flexing muscles we didn’t even know could grow so big.
But it’s time we got over this myth and started understanding that weight training can actually help you get smaller – by helping with weight loss, that is.
Research has shown that weight training is crucial for long-term weight loss maintenance, and a new study finds that weight training actually helps you burn more calories, even when you’re not working out.
The study conducted by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham was published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
“Exercise, [especially weight training], is very important if you wish to keep the weight off”
In the study, 140 overweight and sedentary women were put on an 800-calorie-per-day weight loss diet. The women were divided into three supervised groups:
- The first group was instructed to do 40 minutes of aerobic exercise on a treadmill three times per week.
- The second group engaged in resistance training (two 10-repetition sets of exercises including squats, leg extensions, leg curls, biceps curls, triceps extensions, lateral pull-downs, bench presses, overhead presses, lower back extensions, and sit ups) three times per week.
- The third group simply did not exercise.
The women in all three groups also took part in tests to analyze their body composition, resting metabolic rate, daily levels of N.E.A.T. (non-exercise activity thermogenesis, a measure of calories burned in activities other than exercise), and walking economy.
They stayed on their diets until they lost 25 pounds. At that point, they were switched to a less stringent, supervised diet plan calculated to be at a level that would not cause additional weight gain or loss. The participants also continued their prescribed exercise regimens for another four weeks.
The women were tested for how much energy they used outside of their exercise sessions, including when at rest.
Predictably, the women who did not exercise burned fewer calories at rest than those who did exercise. But researchers found that they also moved around less than they did before losing the weight, and accordingly, their levels of N.E.A.T. dropped considerably.
On the other hand, the women who did exercise did better. While their metabolism saw a small drop, as expected, they actually moved more outside of exercise time and their N.E.A.T. levels dropped only by a little bit.
N.E.A.T. increase was most prevalent in those who engaged in resistance training, even compared to those who did cardio. The strength-trainers also had better walking economy, while those who didn’t exercise had worse, despite weighing less.
Gary Hunter, Ph.D., professor of kinesiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and lead author of the study, said that while one might expect to be tired and therefore, more sedentary after exercise, resistance training has the opposite effect and gives you the strength to walk around with more ease, allowing you to be more physically active throughout the day.
“It seems clear that exercise is very important if you wish to keep the weight off,” he concluded.
The Bottom Line
Long story short, weight training after weight loss helps stave off weight regain. This is an important consideration because while many dieters successfully lose weight, a majority of them gain it all back and then some!
The techniques required for weight loss are different than those required for weight maintenance. Among successful weight loss maintainers, they were two times more likely to follow a consistent exercise routine and two times more likely to reward themselves for sticking to a diet or exercise plan. And they were almost 2.5 times more likely to think about how much progress they’ve made – all habits associated with keeping the weight off, not losing it in the first place.
Many women, particularly older women, shy away from weight training. But for numerous reasons, including supporting bone health, maintaining muscle mass for better mobility, improving heart health, enhancing brain function, and increasing life span, weight training is very important. And, now here’s another great reason – maintaining that weight loss that you fought so hard for!
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.