Resistance training and weight loss. The phrase of 2019. When it comes to resistance training and weight loss most everyone’s first thought is cardio, cardio, cardio.

I get it. Cardio is king. Or is it?

People associate those high intensity sweat sessions with lots of calories burned and there’s usually a pretty nice “feel good” effect that comes with finishing up a kick ass conditioning session.

Cool.

But I know from personal experience this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (burpees will one day be the death of me), and all you weightlifter types are probably asking “What about resistance training?” “Can my daily weight training sessions help out with a weight loss goal?”

Long story short yes. But maybe not in the way you’re expecting.

image from builtwithscience.com

CALORIES EXPENDED IN RESISTANCE TRAINING

Before we get to the good stuff let’s make some things clear, for starter’s the overall calorie burn effect of resistance training is…wait for it…not that great.

Yeah sorry to burst your bubble this early but resistance training is simply lackluster when it comes to overall calories burned. Now it’s near impossible to perfectly guess how many calories you’re burning there’s just too many variables in play (i.e. what movements your doing, the intensity it’s at, your rep scheme, how long you’re working out, all that stuff), but if I were to give a very generous guesstimate, the higher side of the calorie burn equation for resistance training would be about 250 calories an hour.

And you’re probably thinking “now hold on that’s a decent amount of calorie burn I work out 2 hours a day so that’s 500 calories”, but just consider that you can erase those calories in legitimately 2 mins of eating. Now that 500 calories for 2 hours of work payout doesn’t seem like that much anymore does it? The follow up to this is usually “well resistance training burn’s more calories after the fact”…yeah…let’s uh…let’s look at that.

THE REALITY OF THE “AFTER BURN EFFECT”

The AFTER-BURN EFFECT! Touted by fitness influencer’s all over Instagram and YouTube as this super poweresque effect that come’s packaged in with resistance training.

What is this super power you ask?

Well after you finish up your bout of resistance training your body stay’s in a state of increased calorie burn for around 24 hours after your workout burning hundreds of extra calories while you rest.  And to be fair, these influencers aren’t exactly wrong the effect is very much real. It’s just almost always overstated. Like, very overstated. Like, very very overstated.

Like, so seriously overstated that I have to close my eyes and try and will away entire content pieces through the power of my mind alone overstated. Hasn’t worked. Anyways…here’s the reality of the situation, what everyone is referring to with the “afterburn effect” is called EPOC (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption). And here’s the first plot twist, while this effect is commonly attributed to resistance training it can be achieved through any “sufficiently intense” bout of exercise.

So, resistance training, conditioning, sport’s, all fair game here it’s not unique to resistance training alone. The other and more notable plot twist is the calorie burn of this effect is laughable compared to what people post on the internet. While it’s commonly purported that this effect will net you hundreds of extra calories burned hours after your workout, you’re realistically looking at around 50-60 extra calories burned. Depending on the exercise you do/ the intensity it’s at I’d be willing to stretch that to 100 calories.

The absolute most I’ve seen being 150 calories with the kicker being that it was after the individual’s had worked out for 80 minutes at 75% of their VO2 max (that’s a whole bunch of work for an extra 150 calories).

The effect is real, and yes even though the extra calorie burn is slight it IS helpful, just not nearly as helpful as individuals say it is.

This is another situation where you are one snack away from erasing this extra calorie burn.

BODY COMPOSITION EFFECTS

Okay so up to this point it’s probably looking like I’ve been pretty negative thus far. Fair. But I don’t like leading people the wrong way for the sake of a flashy article title (*Insert title* LOSE POUNDS OF BELLY FAT FAST WITH RESISTANCE TRAINING).

So, what are the actual benefits of resistance training and combining it with your weight loss goal? My favorite and most notable would be sweet sweet muscle gains. Most notably increasing your lean mass vs. fat mass on your body.

The one big downside to losing weight is, unfortunately we don’t have much control over the fact that while we are losing bodyfat, we will inevitably lose some muscle along the way, this is 100% okay and normal. One way we can largely attenuate this fact is that with resistance training our body will be motivated to hang onto as much lean mass as possible. This mean’s that while you are losing weight you are also improving your overall body composition (translation: more and more of you is going to be made up of muscle as compared to fat).

For those of you that want to look a certain way the resistance training is going to help as well.

The overall shape of our body is largely determined through the shape of our muscles so by tailoring your training to bring up certain body parts you can effectively modify the shape of your body the way you want it (within reason of course there will always be genetic factors in play here).

But this is largely what the sport of bodybuilding is all about, building up certain body part’s, thinning out other body part’s (think waist measurement/abs) to create an “ideal physique”. Now your ideal physique may not be that of a bodybuilder but you can use this same mindset to build the body that you want to have.

image from PhillyMag.com

MUSCLE IS MORE METABOLICALLY ACTIVE THAN FAT

Cool so now we are losing weight, and we are building up some solid lean mass along the way, as well as creating our “ideal shape” any other benefit’s here or…? Kind of… so the cool thing about increasing your overall lean mass is the fact that overall muscle will burn more calories over the course of the day than fat.

Just like the afterburn effect this is another fact that is usually way overstated so I would urge caution in how many extra calories you think you are burning. The current guesstimate is that a pound of muscle will burn about 6 calories in a given day whereas a pound of fat will burn around 2-3 in a given day. This makes muscle about 3x more metabolically active than fat which sounds cool, but again the end of the day calorie burn isn’t all that high, but better is better so there’s that.

CONCLUSION

This whole article may seem like I am bashing on resistance training.

I’m not.

I love everything about resistance training (wouldn’t have gone into this field of work if I didn’t), but at the end of the day with the goal of weight loss in mind both resistance training, and even high intensity conditioning training are just side pieces to assist in the overall goal that is weight loss.

The biggest piece of the puzzle will always be your diet and simply creating a calorie deficit for you to lose weight in the first place. Yes, both resistance training and conditioning can help aid with weight loss but the bulk of the work is going to be put on your diet and no amount of resistance training or conditioning is going to help you outrun that.

This, however, will never discount the fact that resistance training and conditioning alike hold so many other physiological benefits that help us lead long and healthy lives so never think your training is “useless” simply because it doesn’t have as many weight loss benefits as you may have thought.

Matt Molloy

Matt Molloy

I'm a graduate the University of Pittsburgh with a major in Exercise Science. I’m a local guy (North Penn) and athletics has dominated my life. I've led teams in basketball, baseball, soccer, golf and my passion, long distance running. I've been strength training for 6 years with a focus in power-lifting but have recently stretched to strongman since joining the pride here at the Den. When I’m not in the gym I enjoy, spending time with my friends, music, and relaxing and playing some video games.