Muscle Up – Is weight training the answer to successful weight loss?

weight train group

We all want to know the secrets to weight loss and successful weight management and, as you are fully aware, we truly believe here at Waetugo that the magic is in the mind. Understanding how the mind works and taking control of those little grey cells is at the heart of any successful endeavour. Well that and healthy eating of course. And we have questioned at length whether exercise plays a role in helping us achieve our target weights too and have found the ‘evidence’ to be contradictory and difficult to assess although we aren’t doubting it plays a part in having super good health alongside mind and body confidence. That can’t be bad now. Some of those articles can be seen here in The Exercise Myth, here in HIIT – Fraud or Fantastic, here in Endurance Training – Is the effort worth it and here in NEAT – Exercising without exercising. Motivation is massively affected by doubt and faith so knowing what the facts are is important to us when undertaking a weight loss or weight management journey.

With this in mind, we wanted to explore if weight lifting itself burns enough calories to assist in our slimming efforts. Those body builders don’t seem to be carrying too much excess fat now do they? So we grabbed our Deer Stalker hats and magnifying glasses and went out on the sleuth.

Back to basics. If we want to build muscle we need to exercise or work as a hod carrier on a building site, so unless you’re after a career change, exercise it is. Now just about any exercise will build muscle but without a doubt some kind of resistance training whereby the resistance can be increased over successive sessions is undoubtedly the most effective. And resistance training for muscle building usually comes in the form of weight training although some HIIT enthusiasts and Crossfit exponents have built some pretty strong frames too. Crossfit is of course laden with heavy resistance exercises laced with explosive and / or enduro work and we do love our Crossfit here at Waetugo but for the purpose of this article we will concentrate on weight training per se.

weight train squat

So, what’s the evidence? In 2011, a group of scientists in Newcastle wanted to address the problem of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and the problem that people seem to have with maintaining aerobic exercise regimes. Reading between the lines, they seemed to accept that aerobic type exercises would have benefit on a fatty liver but were hoping a more sustainable alternative might be the way forward. With this in mind they took a number of participants in hand, put them through an eight week resistance training programme and found that all but one of the participants lost no weight at all. Absolutely zero. Not so good so far then. However, they all lost fat from around their livers and in significant amounts. And in just eight weeks. Other interesting things of note were that each participant only trained three times a week, never on consecutive days and only trained for between 45 and 60 minutes during each session. These scientists also identified that overall muscle growth massively contributed to a sequestering of both fatty acids and glucose (removing it safely). And I repeat – in just eight weeks (24 sessions). If you set yourself a goal in the short term of just 24 short sessions over eight weeks knowing that your liver will get a supercharge my guess is you’ll sail it. Just go for two weeks and know that you’ve done yourself a big favour and are already 25% of the way there. Losing weight at Waetugo keeps throwing up some healthy surprises! So, weight training is great for removing fat from around your liver, but eight weeks of iron pumping won’t shift the belly fat. But what about a longer regime?

In the journal of applied physiology a group of the brightest and best reported on their study examining the contrast between aerobic and resistance training on fat mass in obese adults over eight months. The findings were simple. Those engaged in aerobic exercise only lost significant fat mass. Those engaged in aerobic activity and resistance training lost about the same fat mass for twice the work. Those engaged in resistance training only lost little or no fat mass but did increase lean muscle mass. So if you want to build some muscle then weights it is but if losing fat mass is your main goal then leave the weights in the racks and do an aerobics class.

But then another surprise was thrown up by those pesky scientists. A team presented a study in Washington DC which showed the effects of getting people in their 90’s to start weight training. Most of us will readily accept that muscle wastage is a by-product of getting old and this comes with its own problems such as falling more often, slowing down and general frailty. But does this have to be the case? Do we slow because we get old and lose muscle or do we slow because we stop exercising and reduce our activity levels? The study highlighted in DC identified that the participants described as frail by the authors increased their strength by as much as 174% over just eight weeks. Now consider the low baseline that they were starting from and contrast this with maintaining muscle throughout our lives and the impact this will have on keeping us more active and confident. Ok, so this study doesn’t offer anything convincing about lifting weights for weight loss but for health and longevity it speaks volumes.

elderly weight train

One of the issues many people raise about choosing weight training as an exercise programme is the fear that they will gain mountains of muscle and begin to bulge a little too much. These fears are largely unfounded. Let’s return to realistic expectations. Those giant body builders we occasionally see in the gym will have worked for hours and hours, day in, day out, year after year after year before they started to look anything like that. Just think of your own body for a moment. Now think about how much work you might have to do to firm up a few body parts yet alone begin to bulge out all over the place. We are really thinking about adding six or seven resistance exercises and doing these well not pumping iron for a career.

So, it seems we have weighed up the evidence and found some interesting conclusions. Resistance training or weight lifting has untold benefits for us now and into our old age including reduced frailty and improved liver health. There seems however, scant evidence for weight training having much of an impact on weight loss but it definitely does increase lean mass and improve body shape. If we are increasing lean mass, we need to be aware that our target weight might need to change as muscle does weigh heavily albeit in a positive manner so body analysis which is increasingly available in gyms and clinics will be of considerable value.

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