Fat Burning and Resistance Training

By: Yuri Elkaim, BPHE, CK, RHN

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As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, your ability to burn fat depends on several factors, none more important than your resting metabolic rate (RMR). RMR is an important source of fat burning because fat is the body’s primary fuel source at rest and during low-intensity exercise.

And one of the biggest determinants of your RMR is fat-free mass, which is a really a reflection of the amount of muscle on your body. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn because muscle is much more metabolic than fat. And since your RMR increases as you increase your muscle (or lean body mass), you will inevitably burn more fat calories.

Unfortunately, long and boring cardio has little effect on your resting metabolic rate because it doesn’t promote muscle development. Resistance training is the key.

Not too long ago a study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology showed no difference in the body’s ability to burn fat after 16-weeks of cardio training among lean and obese women.

The researchers hypothesized that cardio training (walking at 70% of VO2 max; 3x/week for 16 weeks) would lead to an increased ability to burn fat, especially among the obese participants.

Other studies have shown that obese individuals actually burn more fat during exercise because they have more free-fatty acids (FFA) circulating in the blood. This tendency was predicted to be even more pronounced after 16 weeks of cardio training. But unfortunately, there was difference in the obese (and non-obese) participants ability to burn fat during their post-training test.

Although their discussion of the study was interesting, the researchers failed to mention that one of the limiting factors that possibly could have accounted for little change in their results was the fact that neither the lean or obese women showed any improvements in lean body mass after the 16 weeks of training.

But how are we supposed to expect an increase in lean body mass simply as a result of walking on a treadmill? It just doesn’t happen. That’s why resistance training needs to be an integral component of any fat loss exercise program – especially for obese individuals.

Research has also demonstrated that in lean individuals, the ability to burn fat increases with endurance training. In obese individuals however, the findings are controversial. Both a decreased and increased fat oxidation has been reported after endurance (cardio) training.

In the present study, the group of obese women did not alter their fat burning capability but did increase their carbohydrate oxidation. This is an interesting finding since endurance cardio training usually enhances the body’s ability to spare carbohydrates and, instead, use fat as a more predominant source of fuel.

Apparently there are mechanisms (still unexplained) that inhibit this from occurring among obese individuals.

The take-home message from all of this is that resistance training is an essential component to burning fat (not just losing weight), and especially among obese individuals.

Fat burning resistance training can take the form of bodyweight and a multitude of other weight-bearing movements. The key is to engage in resistance training workouts anywhere from 2-4 times per week.

The result will be an increase in lean body mass, which in turn, will increase your RMR. Since your RMR accounts for roughly 70% of all the calories you burn on a daily basis, even a small increase can make a huge fat burning difference.


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Trueth, M.S., G.R. Hunter, R.L. Weinsier, and S.H. Kell. Energy expenditure and substrate utilization in older women after strength training:24-h calorimeter results. J. Appl. Physiol. 78:2140–2146. 1995.

Kanaley, J. et al. (2001). Substrate oxidation during acute exercise and with exercise training in lean and obese women. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 85: 68-73


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