Weight Training and Fat Loss

Is Cardio Really Needed?

Walk into any gym or fitness center in the country and you will see throngs of people lined up on every piece of cardiovascular equipment available. Just try and sign-up for the new elliptical machine or the treadmill with the best view of the T.V. during peak hours, or worse yet, after the first of the year. Slaving away with hours of cardio, most people hope that they are melting off the pounds with every stride they take.

But is it the best way to get that lean and healthy physique that many long for? What if I told you that weight training could not only be equally as effective at fat loss as cardio, but that it could potentially be better? "Crazy" you'd probably say. "Terrible advice coming from a personal trainer" is probably one of my favorites. Read on and see just how it can be done.


Energy balance is the reason why people either gain, maintain or lose weight. Take in more energy in the form of calories than you expend, and expect your waist line to suffer the consequences. Expend more calories than you take in and you'll lose weight. This news isn't revolutionary nor new. But I'm still amazed at the sheer number of people who can't grasp this simple concept. Walking at a leisurely pace on the treadmill for hours on end will surely cause a caloric deficit, but not if you follow it up with those delicious foods we've all come to comfort ourselves with.

You could just drop your calories in hopes of creating this deficit, but current research shows there could be a better way. A study published in Medicine Science Sport & Exercise reported that the addition of exercise is more effective than dropping calories to create the negative calorie balance. Exercise elevates your metabolism while cutting calories slows your metabolic rate and reduces your body's ability to burn calories.

 According to this study, the real key to effective weight management and fat loss is the metabolism. In basic terms, your metabolism is how much energy your body burns just to support itself and your daily activities. It would reason that if you could increase your metabolism, then the negative energy balance you require to strip your body of unwanted fat would be a result of this elevation.

Weight Training vs. Cardio, the EPOC factor

Anything that increases Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC for short) will result in an increase in the metabolism and thus burn more calories every day, week, month, and year. This is the real "secret" to effective weight management.

Researchers from Cal State and Cedarville University (J Strength Cond Res) showed that weight training and vigorous aerobic exercise both trigger excess EPOC; a measure of the increase in metabolic rate and calories burned in the hours after exercise. According to this study, weight training was equally as effective at increasing the metabolism as very high intense cardiovascular exercise. I don't know about you, but I would much rather push myself to the limit in the weight room than on the treadmill any day of the week.

What Type of Weight Training?

We've already established that weight training increases the metabolism as much as high-intense cardiovascular activity, and that increasing the metabolism will cause the body to burn more calories over the course of time. But will any form of weight training cause this effect?

When people typically think of weight training for fat loss, lightweight high-rep minimal rest training is the first thing that they turn to. "But my trainer said so" and "I read it in a magazine" are usually their arguments for such a pathetic style of training. If you're going to train, train heavy, hard, and intense.

High intense exercise of any kind will jack up the metabolism. The more extreme the deviation from the bodies homeostasis levels (rest), the more profound this effect. In my opinion (and many researchers' as well), very high intense, heavy weight training with longer rest periods works best at keeping the metabolism stoked. Remember, this is the key to effective weight management. Let's look at some research that supports this.

Researchers (Med.Sci.Sports Exerc.) examined the difference in exercise energy expenditure (measured with our trusty old EPOC) between performing weight training with 20 seconds and 60 seconds rest between exercises, respectively. The findings in the study support the fact that the longer rest periods actually induced a greater increase in EPOC. The group that rested 60 seconds between sets expended a total of 277.23 kcals as opposed to the 20 seconds-rest group's 242.21 kcals. The longer rest period burnt more calories.

How can this be? Intensity is the word that comes to my mind. With increased rest, you can put forth more effort on each successive set, resulting in greater overall intensity of the workout.

One study (Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology) has shown that performing two 15-minute aerobic exercise sessions a day produce a much higher EPOC reading than one 30- minute session. Since we've already established that weight training can cause this same effect, we need to address how to increase weight training intensity.

What is Intensity?

Intensity to many people relates to the feelings of effort and fatigue in the gym. Certainly if you're exhausted at the end of your workout and you felt like you worked hard then your intensity was high. But how can you really be sure you pushed yourself hard enough? What if we could measure intensity levels during our weight training workouts without resorting to using expensive and impractical EPOC devices each and every weight training session?

Intensity is both mental and physical and the connection between the two. Maximum intensity is a short- term, extremely focused and concentrated exertion of energy involving 100% mental and physical effort.

Increasing mental intensity can be done with techniques such as visualization during a workout. We've all read about Arnold using visualization to increase intensity during his workouts. He would think about mountain tops while training his biceps, and imagine them growing to superhuman proportions during every repetition.

Physical intensity is the easier of the two to keep track of. The easiest way of tracking this is to use numbers. All smart bodybuilders keep track of their workouts using a training log of some sort, but did you know that this is also a great intensity increasing tool? Simply increasing reps or weight on a given exercise week-in and week-out is effectively an increase in intensity. Coupled with enough rest and you have a powerful metabolism boosting effect not only from the sheer intensity of the workout, but also the fact that having more muscle will also burn more calories.

Jack up your metabolism by training heavy and intense, and keep it up by increasing muscle mass through a series of productive workouts.

Next time you step into the gym, read over last week's workouts. Notice how many reps you did with a given weight, if you required a spotter or not, and how powerful you felt on each rep during each set. Then sit down and decide what you will need to do to beat those numbers. If you can walk out of the gym at the end of the day not just physically drained, but satisfied in knowing you beat your old numbers, then you can rest assured that fat loss and weight management will be a pleasant side effect.

Don't like doing cardio, no problem. Remember to train heavy and intense and follow a sound nutrition and supplementation program, and that stubborn fat you have been holding onto might just get lost in the shuffle.

Ben Hartman
ON Reps and Sets Athlete
Nationally Certified Personal Trainer

The author is a compensated ON Athlete, however, the views, opinions, and comments expressed here are those exclusively of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Optimum Nutrition.
Leave a Comment
Jun 29, 2007
What a great, complete article. I'm a new fan of ON products and after reading this article, a new fan of their website.
Apollo Sirelli
Jul 04, 2007
I have been doing a routine similar to this for years, but the few adjustments that you give in this article are AWSOME!!! I am a true believer in this philosphy and it truly helped me get past a difficult plateau. I have lost 6 pounds of bodyfat in the last 3 weeks utilizing these methods and I look and feel GREAT!!!! Thanks