This article is part of Club Industry's report, "America's Obesity Crisis and the Fitness Industry's Role in Resolving It." The report can be downloaded for free by going here.
Worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975. Most of the world’s population now lives in countries where being overweight kills more people every year than being underweight, according to the World Health Organization.
Evidence shows that strength training, particularly with free weights, can deliver better results for fat loss than just using diet and aerobic training, according to a 2010 study, “Resistance Training Predicts Six-Year Body Composition Change in Postmenopausal Women,” in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.
Strength training can contribute to fat loss in a number of ways. Although the calories used by resting muscle are often overstated, muscle does use around three times as much energy as the equivalent mass of fat. The resulting increase in long-term resting metabolic rate has been demonstrated in studies, including in this October 2018 study, “Effect of an 18-wk weight-training program on energy expenditure and physical activity,” published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). In addition, strength training has been shown to increase excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) more than steady-state cardio exercise. This means that the body will use even more calories for a period of up to two days after training.
Strength training also can reduce or even reverse reduction in bone density and muscle mass caused by weight loss, according to a 2017 article “Aerobic or Resistance Exercise, or Both, in Dieting Obese Older Adults,” published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
Machines or Free Weights?
Free weight exercises, such as the barbell squat, induce greater hormone responses, according to the article “The Acute Hormonal Response to Free Weight and Machine,” published in The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research in 2014. Free weight exercises also activate more muscle fibers than their machine equivalents, according to “Effects of technique variations on knee biomechanics during the squat and leg press,” published by NCBI.
When using strength training as part of a fat loss program, the goal should be for the client to change their body composition by gaining lean body mass, which means that the focus should be on hypertrophy. Another study published by NCBI, “Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” found that training two to three times per week is optimal. For novices, multiple-joint exercises that target the bigger muscles at rep ranges of eight to 12 give the best results, per the 2009 American College of Sports Medicine study “Progression Models in Resistance Training for Healthy Adults.”
So, go-to exercises should be the big compound movements, such as the squat and deadlift for the lower body, along with exercises such as presses and rows for the upper body.
The ACSM study also showed that a strength training program needs to incorporate progressive overload in order to avoid diminishing returns.
How to Deal with Common Objections
People initially can be uncomfortable with strength training. Following are common objections and strategies that fitness professionals can use overcome them:
I find the weights area intimidating. This is usually about perception. Once clients realize that other people using the weights are not going to judge them for their lack of experience, small weights on the bar or body shape, they usually settle in fine. It’s a good idea to introduce clients to some of the regulars – it’s amazing how much less intimidating someone can be when you know their name.
I don’t want to get bulky. This is a common concern for women. Make sure they understand that, with natural hormones at least, it takes a long time for women to gain a lot of muscle size. Also explain that because muscle is more dense than fat, the likely initial result will be that they will get smaller as they gain muscle and lose fat.
I’m not losing weight. If a client is using the scales to measure their progress, they may be misled into thinking they are not losing fat. Help them understand that they can change their body composition without necessarily losing weight. Switch their focus from the scales to their belt size or other measurement that will demonstrate that they are becoming leaner.
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