Programming for weight loss is (or would be) simple. Eat less, move more.
However, I say ‘would be’ because for most people, a weight loss goal would perhaps be better defined as a fat loss goal. Losing fat while maintaining or even building muscle is what most people strive for. If you were to lose weight by losing an equal amount of body fat and muscle, your body composition (your ratio of fat to muscle) would remain the same. Meaning you’re essentially in the same position you started, just smaller and most likely hungrier!
Fat loss is therefore more complex than simply being in a calorie deficit. Cutting calories too drastically and not paying attention to the balance of macronutrients can lead to excessive muscle loss.
A proper ‘weight loss’ program takes into account not only the energy balance, but also macro nutrition and body composition.
Strength training for weight loss
If you’re in a calorie deficit, your body needs to get its energy from somewhere. Therefore it starts burning the energy you’ve got stored up in your body. Ideally, this would be from fat stores. Unfortunately, in practice it may also come from muscle. When you’re in a calorie deficit, your body is essentially in self-preservation mode. It doesn’t know that your end goal is to get shredded, for all it knows you’re in a situation where food is scarce.
The type of activity you do will determine how well you build or maintain muscle in a calorie deficit. Some form of resistance training is a must when it comes to building muscle and changing body composition. The energy our muscles use while exercising comes from their ability to break down fat and carbohydrate with the help of oxygen.
After we’ve finished exercising, oxygen uptake remains elevated in order to restore muscles to their resting state by breaking down stored fat and carbohydrates. This is called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). Commonly termed ‘after-burn.’
Resistance training is more effective than low or medium intensity cardio at elevating both short and long-term after-burn.
It helps to think of your activity as a signal you’re sending to your body. If you perform regular strength training workouts, you’re telling your body that you need muscle mass. If you don’t use it, you’re telling your body you don’t need it. Your body is great at adapting, you just need to send it the right information.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t do any cardio. Low intensity activities such as walking are fantastic for burning fat while maintaining muscle mass. Just save the intensity for the weight room!
What does a Fitness Lab weight loss training program look like?
The key to a successful weight training program is data. We need to know where you are currently, in terms of weight and body composition, where you want to be and what your dietary habits look like.
Regular check ins are a must, and that means measurements that go beyond just weight, it’s important to know how your body composition is changing week by week. If all we know is weight, we’re not seeing the whole picture. That’s why we also factor in BF%.
In the training session itself, strength training is key. It doesn’t take much skill for a trainer to put you through a hellish 60 minutes where you burn 1000 calories but this won’t get you where you want to be. Your body likes homeostasis (staying the same) and will do what it can to resist change. Running yourself in the ground for an hour may lead to a decrease in your Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) through the rest of the day as your body tries to ‘make up’ for the calories burnt. Furthermore, you may even set yourself back by increasing your levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, which can lead to fat gain.
Increasing muscle mass through strength training will increase your Basal Metabolic Rate (the calories your body burns at rest), setting you up for sustainable, long term success and improve your body composition.
Where the real changes will be made will be in the 23 hours outside of the studio. This is where your trainer can provide guidance to ensure you stay on track.
During that time you’ll need to address:
1. Your calorie consumption. Your trainer can suggest an appropriate number of calories to consume each day, as well as giving tips for healthy swaps or effective strategies to avoid overconsumption.
2. Your daily activity. One of the most effective weight loss strategies is to increase your daily activity outside of the gym. That doesn’t mean adding in a jog everyday, that means increasing the amount you walk, take the stairs or any other day to day activity. This will increase the amount of calories you burn without adding an extra stressor that could undo your good work.
3. Sleep. As mentioned above, if you get everything right during the day but only sleep 5 hours during the night, you’re adding a huge extra hurdle to your journey.
Now you know a little more about what a weight loss programme might entail – why not contact the Fitness Lab team about visiting our studios for a more detailed look at what we can offer?