Post by Emily White
You hear it time and time again, if you are trying to lose fat, the cardio room in the gym is your best bet. Many women avoid weights because they don’t want to get bulky. This is quite possibly the biggest misconception when it comes to the gym. Men find it hard enough to put on size and they have the testosterone levels to support that muscle growth. Women just simply were never designed to be ‘bulky’ and therefore as a woman a normal strength training routine is not going to be sufficient to do so. For example, a study published in the European Journal of applied physiology showed a group of women undergo a 20-week heavy resistance weight-training program focusing on the lower extremities. After the twenty weeks, there was a decrease in body fat percentage, an increase in lean body mass, but no overall change in thigh girth (1).
So now that we have got past the weight room bulking anxiety, in terms of fat loss which practice is better? The great thing about weight training is that it increases muscle mass. The advantage of having more muscle is higher resting energy expenditure. Basically what this means is that your body burns more energy just to keep you alive then it would otherwise (2). Whilst aerobic exercise such as cardio is just as effective for weight loss as strength training, hitting the weight room is most effective over the long term. This is due to weight training resulting in greater fat-loss and greater muscle retention (3; 4). Other long-term positive effects of weight training are improvements in insulin sensitivity (increasing your ability to use carbohydrates more effectively) and also the desirable lean, athletic look.
Whilst strength training is superior for fat loss over cardio in the long run it does not mean that there is no place for cardio in a weight loss routine. Both high intensity and steady state cardiovascular exercise are still a great addition to your training schedule! Performing at least 1-2 HIIT (high intensity interval training) sessions per week and if time allows, some form of slower sustained movement for at least 1 hour per week can complement a weight lifting program perfectly.
So if you’re trying to lose weight, avoiding strength training is certainly not going to do you any favours. For those females who are worried about getting ‘bulky' just remember, weights don’t make you ‘big’, cookies and pizza do.
1. Staron, R. S., Malicky, E. S., Leonardi, M. J., Falkel, J. E., Hagerman, F. C., & Dudley, G. A. (1990). Muscle hypertrophy and fast fiber type conversions in heavy resistance-trained women. European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology, 60(1), 71-79. doi: 10.1007/BF00572189
2. Schoeller, D. A., & van Santen, E. (1982). Measurement of energy expenditure in humans by doubly labeled water method. J Appl Physiol Respir Environ Exerc Physiol, 53(4), 955-959.
3. Geliebter, A., Maher, M. M., Gerace, L., Gutin, B., Heymsfield, S. B., & Hashim, S. A. (1997). Effects of strength or aerobic training on body composition, resting metabolic rate, and peak oxygen consumption in obese dieting subjects. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 66(3), 557-563.
4. Kraemer, W. J., Volek, J. S., Clark, K. L., Gordon, S. E., Puhl, S. M., Koziris, L. P., . . . Sebastianelli, W. J. (1999). Influence of exercise training on physiological and performance changes with weight loss in men. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 31(9), 1320-1329. doi: 10.1097/00005768-199909000-00014
Research and popular science articles by the members and faculty of the Holistic Performance Institute.