The vast majority of individuals training regularly in the gym are most likely doing so to make changes to their body composition. And while there are those few people who train to improve performance and athleticism, I would suggest that they are also pretty happy with the changes occurring in their body in response to that training.

For most, these changes ultimately come down to increases in muscle mass, with subsequent reductions in fat mass.

These changes lead to a slimmer waist, increased muscle definition (which ultimately describes that ‘toned’ look that everyone likes to talk about), and ultimately, a lean and muscular physique.

Interestingly, most people trying to make these changes in body composition, with specific emphasis on fat loss, they use a variety of training methods. These include high-intensity interval training, metabolic conditioning circuits, and lifting light weights for absurdly high reps. And while these methods may have merit in some certain situations, they are by no means the most effective methods of promoting fat loss, irrespective of gender or fitness level.

And this is where strength training comes in.

While it may go against the information that the mainstream media promotes, strength training can have a host of benefits on the body that promote long-term and sustainable fat loss. These benefits create an optimal environment for permanent fat loss, and are so much more effective than the traditional recommendations of ‘eating less and exercising more’.

In the following article, I will outline why strength training is so incredibly effective for fat loss, and how it can be implemented effectively to promote that fat loss.

Strength training builds muscle

Something that most people are unaware of is the fact that our ability to lose fat is greatly determined by our Basal Metabolic Rate (commonly referred to as metabolism, BMR describes the amount of energy we use each day to function – irrespective of physical activity levels).

The higher our BMR, the more energy we burn each and every day, even before we have introduced exercise or physical activity. If our daily energy expenditure is quite high (as a result of a high BMR), it becomes increasingly easy to create a daily energy deficit (which is essential to promote fat loss), and that deficit can actually be greater without having any negative implications to health or cognitive function (which is often associated with very low energy intakes).

man strength training with dumbbells

Now, our BMR is greatly influenced by the amount of muscle we have on our body. Muscle tissue is what is commonly referred to as active tissue, which ultimately means it needs the energy to function (as opposed to fat tissue, which does not). By participating in regular strength training, we can build muscle tissue, which will jack up our BMR.

In the long run, this will make it much easier to lose fat, and keep it off

And for those of you who are concerned that strength training will make you ‘big and bulky’, I can assure you that it won’t. When it comes to females, in particular, you will have a very difficult time putting on large amounts of muscle mass. This ultimate comes down to the different hormone profiles between men and women.

While you are likely to put on some muscle mass, you will not turn into a body builder. And as this muscle mass will lead to fat loss (and subsequently a more defined look), you have absolutely nothing to worry about.

Strength Training Burns a Heap of Energy

The second reason that traditional strength training methods are so effective at promoting fat loss is because they are extremely taxing on the body. We tend to forget that strength training is in fact exercise, and as such requires a large amount of energy to perform.

Additionally, strength training does differ from other exercise modalities in that it requires a fairly lengthy recovery period. It is commonly accepted that muscle tissue takes 24-72 hours to completely recover after a workout (this recovery time is dependent on the intensity and volume of work performed during that training session). During this entire period, the body is using additional energy to build and repair damaged muscle tissue, and promote recovery.

Man Sweating from strength training

As a result, strength training promotes fat loss by increasing our energy expenditure both during, and after, our training session.

Practical Considerations

Using strength training to promote fat loss specifically does require a few considerations from a practical perspective. These ensure the modality of training is best suited to both promoting muscle growth and strength development (thus jacking up our metabolism) AND create a huge energy demand during the workout.

1.Use full body training sessions

When it comes to strength training, most people make the mistake of opting to use a bodybuilding style, body-part training split (in which each muscle group is trained only once per week). This method of training is extremely ineffective when it comes promoting fat loss as we don’t use a whole lot of energy per session.

By opting for a full body training split (where every muscle group in the body is trained in a single session) performed 2-4 times per week, we can maximise the amount of energy we use per session by training the entire body in that session.

This also increases the energy required to recover from that session, which can lead to substantial increase in fat loss over time.

2. Prioritise large compound movements

The seconds key to promoting fat loss through strength training is to prioritise large compound movement over anything else (think squats, deadlifts, presses, rows, and split squat variations). These exercises go hand in hand with full body training splits and are incredibly effective for two key reasons.

Firstly, they require the use of multiple muscle groups at a single time. This vastly increases the energy required to perform that movement, creating a greater demand on the system, and increased fat loss as a result.

Secondly, these movements allow us to use the most physical load. As such, they place significant stress on the tissue of the body, which promotes the most amount of muscle growth while also maximising the amount of energy required to recover from a given session (both of which greatly contribute to fat loss over time).

Practical example

So using the above considerations, we can put together an example strength training program that is geared towards promoting fat loss. This program can be completed anywhere from 2 to 4 times per week, and hits every major muscle group each session, while also prioritising large compound movements.

1ABarbell Front Squat5X6
1BChin Up5X6
2ADeadlift4X8
2BDumbbell Bench Press4X8
3ASplit Squat3X10/side
3BOverhead Press3X10
4APush Ups3X12
4BLat Pull Down3X12
4CAnti-rotation press3X12/side

In this example, we incorporate all the principals outlined above, while also super setting antagonist muscle groups as a way to reduce the time of the session, and create increased metabolic demand (which increases energy expenditure).

It is important to note that this example is just that, an example, and as such won’t be suitable for everyone (as it does not provide any individualisation) – but in saying that, it does provide  a good example of how to structure a full body training program to stimulate maximal fat loss.

Summary

Strength training has been used for decades by physique competitors and athletes alike as a way to make changes in body composition. While it is often overlooked for newer (see: flashier) methods of training, that does not make it any less effective.

Strength training is a great way to promote long-term sustainable fat loss, while also improving work capacity and performance. By implementing full body training sessions, and prioritising compound movements, we can optimise our strength training protocols to maximise fat loss.

While it won’t necessarily be easy, I can guarantee it will be effective!


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Sources

Zurlo, Francesco, Karen Larson, Clifton Bogardus, and Eric Ravussin. “Skeletal muscle metabolism is a major determinant of resting energy expenditure.” Journal of Clinical Investigation 86, no. 5 (1990): 1423. Viewed at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC296885/

Schoenfeld, Brad J., Mark D. Peterson, Dan Ogborn, Bret Contreras, and Gul T. Sonmez. “Effects of low-vs. high-load resistance training on muscle strength and hypertrophy in well-trained men.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 29, no. 10 (2015): 2954-2963. Viewed at: http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Fulltext/2015/10000/Effects_of_Low__vs__High_Load_Resistance_Training.36.aspx

Dolezal, Brett Andrew, Jeffrey A. Potteiger, DENNIS J. Jacobsen, and STEPHEN H. Benedict. “Muscle damage and resting metabolic rate after acute resistance exercise with an eccentric overload.” PhD diss., University of Kansas, Health, Sport, and Exercise Sciences, 1998. Viewed at: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Stephen_Benedict/publication/12406701_Muscle_damage_and_resting_metabolic_rate_after_acute_resistance_exercise_with_an_eccentric_overload/links/0c960529e67309e2ff000000.pdf