How Important Is Weightlifting in Trying to Lose Weight?

Lifting weights to lose weight is controversial. There is no shortage of fitness experts claiming that weight training burns too few calories to be effective for weight loss. If you want to lose weight, they say, you need to increase the length and intensity of your cardio workouts--the more, the better. But not everyone agrees. Keep reading to learn why weightlifting should be an integral part of your weight loss regimen.

Weightlifting vs. Cardio for Weight Loss

A frequent claim is that cardio workouts burn more calories than weight training and are hence better for weight loss. It's true that an hour of high intensity cardio can burn over 500 calories, but most people don't push themselves nearly that hard. The typical cardio workout burns closer to 300 calories an hour, which is comparable to an hour of fairly intense weight training with short rests between sets.

But the calories you burn while exercising are only part of the story. High intensity workouts result in what is known as the EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) effect. Sometimes referred to as afterburn, EPOC raises your resting metabolic rate for up to 38 hours after you've completed your workout. And intense anaerobic forms of exercise such as weight training or running sprints have consistently been shown to produce a more pronounced EPOC effect than traditional aerobic workouts.

However, the main reason weightlifting is absolutely essential to losing weight and keeping it off is that both dieting and cardio workouts result in the loss of lean muscle mass. When you lose muscle mass, you are lowering your body's metabolic rate. That is a key reason why so many dieters end up heavier and flabbier than they were prior to embarking on a weight loss regimen. It works like this: When you lose weight, you shed fat as well as muscle tissue. This lowers your metabolic rate, making it easier to gain weight on less calories. And when the weight starts coming back, it's all fat, not the combination of fat and muscle you initially lost.

Muscle Makes You Lean

Weightlifting builds muscle, and the more lean muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn while resting. Indeed, research shows that regular weightlifting workouts can prevent the loss of lean muscle mass and the decrease in metabolic rate resulting from dieting and cardio workouts. Better yet, resistance training can actually raise the metabolic rate of dieters by adding lean muscle mass to their bodies. Not only will weightlifting help you lose fat, but it will make it much easier to keep the weight off after you've reached your goal.

It's really quite simple: In order to get lean and stay lean you need to burn more calories while resting. Most of us can't devote hours a day to working out, and that means the number of additional calories we can burn through exercise alone is severely limited. What we need to do is increase our resting metabolic rate (RMR). Unfortunately, as we have seen, the typical dieting and cardio combo has exactly the opposite effect on our RMR. That's why weightlifting, with its twin RMR boosters of increased muscle mass plus EPOC effect, is such a powerful weight loss tool.