Lifting for Fat Loss - Why Less is More
Strength training is one of the best tools for shredding fat.
Strength training improves fat loss, improves glucose tolerance, increases metabolism, increases lean muscle mass, and improves body composition. It is one of the best tools we have for fat loss.
Yet when many people decide they want to shed fat, they tend to focus on cardio (vastly overrated – more on that later in a later post) and diet. Why do we neglect strength training?
“I don’t have time to go to the gym and lift weights six days a week!”
There are many misconceptions around strength training – especially lifting weights.
One of the most prominent – and harmful – is the idea that an “ideal” weightlifting routine requires five, six, or even seven days in the gym, every week.
Where does this idea come from? Why do so many of us believe it?
If you’ve ever walked by the magazine rack (yes, these still exist) at a grocery or department store, you’ve likely seen the covers for bodybuilding magazines promoting freakishly huge athletes, with headlines promoting routines “guaranteed” to get you HYOOGE in just six weeks! The articles promote 2+ hour bodybuilding routines, often requiring you to spend every day and every waking hour in the gym. No one has time for that! But, for many people, these magazines are the first introduction to weight lifting.
We also hear this concept from friends and family. Maybe it comes from “that Uncle”, the old football star who never tires of telling about his glory days, notorious for making rants about his seven-day, five-hour high school lifting routine whenever someone makes the mistake of discussing exercise at the Thanksgiving table.
Then there’s the “work one muscle group per day, every day” concept coming from your ripped buddy from college, who never accounts for the sharp decline in flexible free time after graduation (we can’t be too harsh – maybe he still hasn’t graduated).
A Harmful Misconception
The idea that resistance training requires 5 – 7 days per week is very harmful, for several reasons:
1. It leads to overtraining
Overtraining results when the body is pushed and worked too hard, and cannot properly recover from a work out.
When you overtrain, your energy levels decrease, fat loss halts, your mood goes down the toilet, and you lose motivation to workout.
The amount of training your body can handle depends on many factors – genetics, your current stress levels, and nutrition, to name a few. Unless ALL factors are perfectly controlled, there is a strong chance lifting weights seven days per week will quickly tire you out and lead to an overtrained state.
Burnout and overtraining typically go hand-in-hand. Overtraining refers to the physical stress the body experiences from being pushed beyond its ability to recover. “Burnout” is the mental fatigue that comes along with it.
We experience burnout in many facets of life – burnout from work, burnout from school, burnout from being social. Working out is no different.
I LOVE lifting and being in the gym. Beyond the awesome benefits I derive from it, I really enjoy the experience of being there, pushing myself, trying to be better than my last session. I get sad when I can’t go. It is one of my favorite hobbies.
That being said, I know, from experience, that if I lift more than three or four days per week – four being the MAX – I will burn out. My progress will stall, and I’ll begin to loathe going to the gym. While I’ve gotten good physique results from lifting 6-7 days a week, it’s not worth the mental and physical drain. Remember – this is supposed to be fun!
Through experimenting, I’ve found 3-4 days each week to be my “sweet spot”. This is where we avoid burnout, and strength training continues to be an enjoyable experience.
3. It creates a mental “roadblock”.
Almost all of us know there are benefits to getting stronger. So why do we struggle to get started?
The mountain seems insurmountable, so we don’t get started. We see the “professionals” lifting every day, for hours and hours. It seems like a full-time job. And to them, it IS a full-time job.
We are not Ronnie Coleman, or Lebron James, or J.J. Watt. We are not athletic professionals. We get paid to care for patients, win cases for clients, develop new marketing campaigns, and educate students. We workout to better ourselves – but we have to find time to do so outsideour full-time jobs.
You don’t need to spend seven days in the gym to look good, feel good, and perform at the top of your field. Unfortunately, this misconception keeps many from starting in the first place.
The Truth: 120 minutes to a better you
By now, the illusion of needing seven days in the gym per week to look and feel good should be shattered.
Strength training two or three days per week will lead to fat loss, a leaner body, and higher confidence.
Turns out that less can be more. Many of us will see better results lifting two or three days per week compared to six or seven, especially during times of high stress. Our body has finite resources to use for recovery. When we go through a period of high stress, such as an increased work load, or final exams, or having a new child, we have less resources available to recover from exercise.
Muscle growth and fat loss occur outside the gym. Our bodies MUST have adequate time and resources to recover. Otherwise, progress will grind to a halt.
You don’t need to work out every day. We can see amazing results from strength training two or three days per week. Strength training will increase your muscle:fat ratio. More muscle = higher metabolism. Higher metabolism = more fat loss. Want to shed fat? Lift weights. Get stronger. Recover hard.