importance of strength training for fat loss

Understanding the importance of strength training for fat loss

If I was to tell you that incorporating strength training into your training regime will decrease your levels of body fat and increase your life expectancy, would you believe me?

Understandably, the conventional thought process to losing unwanted bodyfat, is that one must partake in a typical cardiovascular programme and explore the latest fad diets for quick results. I have witnessed first-hand how ineffective these “quick fix” techniques can be for many reasons, including the following;

Firstly, cardiovascular training coupled with an unsustainable low-calorie diet can in fact increase hunger and cravings, which over time can ultimately lead to weight gain.

Secondly, you put yourself at risk of losing lean muscle. Inappropriate dieting and increased cardiovascular training without the inclusion of resistance training, can cause up to 50% of your weight loss to come from lean tissue. Here, you are essentially lowering your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), which is why over time you’ll find it more difficult to actually burn calories and lose bodyfat.

Lastly, low calorie diets can have a major impact on your thyroid hormones by decreasing the levels in your body. Since these hormones are responsible for regulating your metabolic rate, maintaining a healthy thyroid function is important for successfully burning unwanted bodyfat.

Resistance training builds muscle and muscle burns more calories than fat, fact

Strength training is commonly overlooked in regard to fat loss as many people are unaware of the benefits. The more muscle mass you have, the more unwanted bodyfat you will burn. Adults who are physically inactive can lose approximately 3–5% muscle mass every decade after the age of 30 (DerSarkissian, 2018). This is known as age-related sarcopenia. In order to decrease the rate of muscle degeneration over time, it is vitally important to incorporate resistance training into your weekly workouts to increase the life expectancy of your muscle tissue.

When you stop looking at ‘weight loss’ as a goal and start focussing on ‘fat loss’, it becomes clear how building lean muscle can help you get results. After all, “A larger more efficient engine is able to burn more fuel”.

Of course, cardiovascular training is also an effective way to torch calories, and there are many health benefits that come with it. It is no secret that aerobic exercise has an important part to play in your training regime and I would be wrong to tell you otherwise, however the added benefit of lifting weights is that your metabolism remains elevated long after your workouts has finished, unlike aerobic training.

Known as the ‘Afterburn Effect’, high intensity strength training delivers what is also known as a high EPOC or ‘Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption’. EPOC is the amount of oxygen the body consumes following a workout. Immediately post workout, your body returns to its resting state and energy is used in this recovery process to replenish and repair the muscle damage that has occurred. This leads to an increase in caloric expenditure post exercise, and studies show that a well-designed strength programme can elevate your metabolism for up to 48 hours post workout, however factors that may influence EPOC include training frequency, training intensity and gender (Vella and Kravitz, 2004).

To achieve the greatest fat loss results, I would highly recommend introducing compound lifts to your training programme. Training multiple muscle groups at once, requires a vast amount of energy, putting a greater demand on your body. By recruiting and engaging a number of muscles simultaneously, you will subsequently increase your calorie burn and enhance your fat loss potential by stimulating muscle growth and increasing your metabolism over time.

4 compound exercises I regularly include when designing programs for my clients

Barbell Deadlift

The Deadlift is a full body exercise which engages major muscle groups throughout the body. Targeting your posterior chain in particular, this specific exercise is designed to increase the fluidity of your hip extension, by strengthening your gluteus maximus and your hamstrings. Performing this high intensity movement will also recruit a cluster of other muscle groups, known as synergistic and stabilization muscles. These include your soleus, quadriceps, erector spinae, latissimus dorsi and trapezius.

Barbell Back Squat

The barbell back squat is a lower body exercise that demands total body control under tension. This specific movement is predominantly designed to strengthen and challenge your quadricep, gluteal, hamstring and adductor muscles simultaneously as you move through hip flexion and knee extension. In addition to developing your lower body strength, your upper body synergistic muscles such as your abdomen, obliques, erector spinae and trapezius are working tremendously hard collectively to stabilise and support your body through the movement. Posterior chain development is essential to build a strong foundation of strength and a well-rounded body.

Pull Ups

Pull ups are a demanding and versatile exercise focusing on developing your upper body functional strength and endurance. This vertical pull movement is designed to target your latissimus dorsi, trapezius, deltoids and biceps, as well as multiple flexor muscles in your hands and forearms as you grip the bar. Furthermore, you are engaging your abdomen, oblique and erector spinae muscles throughout the exercise for complete control and stabilisation.

Bench Press

The bench press is a classic upper body compound exercise that builds strength and muscle endurance in the pectoral, deltoid and tricep muscles. Variation of this lift includes swapping the traditional barbell for dumbbells, and changing the angle of the lift from a decline position to an incline position, to target different aspects of the muscle tissue. In order to maximise your core engagement and develop your stability, it’s possible to defer the exercise to a single arm dumbbell variation, thus creating further instability which ultimately asks more questions of your upper body strength and control.

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This article was written by Kristian Phillips.
You can read more of Kristian’s articles and learn about his specialist areas and experiences using the link below.
More about Kristian


  • DerSarkissian, C., 2018. Sarcopenia With Aging. [online] WebMD. Available at: [Accessed 10 July 2020].
  • Vella, C.A. and Kravitz, L., 2004. Exercise After-Burn: A Research Update. IDEA Fitness Journal, 1(5), pp.42-47.

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