Are You Running Away from Fat Loss?
Jack Curtin, CSCS
Getting lean is often associated with slow, long-distance cardio and conjures up images of endless running sessions. While longer duration exercise has its place in an exercise program and is undoubtedly beneficial, one of the most important factors in improving body composition is a properly designed resistance training program.
Body composition is essentially a function of the ratio of muscle mass to fat mass. That is, we want to maintain or increase muscle mass while losing body fat. On the surface, slow, long-distance cardio seems to be the best way to lose fat as it typically requires the expenditure of large amounts of calories. And, initially this may be true, but it doesn’t account for the adaptations that take place outside of exercise in and of itself. The muscle added through resistance training actually increases the number of calories your body uses at rest. In addition, our metabolism is elevated after resistance training in an effort to add the muscle in the first place. Assuming your goal is a leaner, healthier physique, these are both good things.
Another added benefit is the ability of resistance training to take advantage of the body’s capacity for efficiency. By changing exercises every few weeks or so, the body has to continually adapt and use more muscle mass to perform a given movement. When more muscle mass is used, more calories are burned. In contrast, slow, long-distance cardio often uses the same muscles over and over, leading to more efficient movement and, ultimately, less caloric expenditure. At the very least, switching exercises every few weeks will keep things fresh and make going to the gym an exciting part of your day.
While resistance training is the best modality to increase lean tissue mass and resting metabolic rate, it’s important to not throw the baby out with the bathwater with regards to slow, long-distance cardio. Not only does this style of aerobic training burn calories and contribute to fat loss, it also improves blood flow and aides in the recovery process between resistance training sessions. In reality, slow, long-distance aerobic training is still an important piece of the training puzzle when it comes to getting lean.
Improving body composition is a long-term process that requires focused attention to both exercise and diet to achieve substantial, lasting results. Many people with outstanding physiques supplement their resistance training with running, cycling, or rowing. Resistance training is not a one stop shop to a leaner, better-looking body, but it is a very good option if you are looking for a new direction with your training.
With all that being said, exercise is only one part of the equation when it comes to getting lean. Sleep, diet, stress, and hydration status all play factor to physique changes. If your recovery process isn’t optimized, your physique won’t be optimized, and there really isn’t any way around this. Check back next week when we will address the recovery process in a new blog post.