Can Resistance Training Lead to Weight Loss?
— By Dawn M. Sweet, Ph.D
Including resistance training as part of one’s weight loss program offers benefits.
There are many factors that contribute to weight loss1 and weight gain.2 Living at an unhealthy weight is not merely a matter of an energy imbalance — taking in more energy than is expended; we now know that weight gain is multifactorial and is underpinned by genetics, environment, and physiological, behavioral, and sociocultural factors.2 Lifestyle changes are often discussed as efficacious, with changes to diet and exercise at the top of the list of interventions. Aerobic exercises such as walking, jogging, swimming, and cycling, are often recommended as a primary approach to weight loss while resistance exercise, performing repeated movements against resistance, have received less attention.1 There is now evidence to suggest that resistance training, rather aerobic exercise alone, may be a valuable addition to weight loss programs of patients with obesity.
Resistance Training and Lean or Fat Mass
Resistance training uses body weight instead of one’s overall body composition; this can make the efficacy of resistance training difficult to parse because resistance training can lead to an increase in body weight.1 The increase in body weight is a result developing more lean mass, a known indicator of metabolic health and physical function.1 While clinicians routinely use BMI and body weight as common metrics to assess health, neither differentiates between fat mass and lean mass or adiposity deposits. To date, little is known about whether resistance exercise alone — or when combined with other types of exercise and dietary interventions — can significantly affect lean or fat mass
The Role of Resistance Training in Weight Loss
Randomized control trials were examined to revie the role of resistance training in weight loss.1 The reviewed studies specifically examined resistance programs alone and in combination with dietary and exercise interventions. The outcome measures included body fat percentage, whole body fat mass, trunk fat mass, lean mass, and visceral and subcutaneous adipose tissue. The studies reported on here include participants with obesity who were ≥ 18. Participants classified as young adults, ≥ 18 to 35, middle-aged adults, ≥ 35 – 59, and older adults. ≥ 60.
Results suggest that resistance training alone or in combination with aerobic exercise yielded significant reductions in fat mass. The reviewed studies also found that the most successfully pairing for body fat decreases was resistance training and calorie reduction diets for adults with obesity. These results are promising because the 5 kg reduction in fat mass following resistance training paired with calorie restriction is important for metabolic health and can lower one’s risk for hypertension and cardiovascular disease.1
Reductions in visceral and subcutaneous adipose tissue were observed when resistance training was paired with aerobic exercise. In the context of visceral and subcutaneous fat, aerobic exercise on its own also resulted in reduced adipose fat tissue. Resistance training alone was also found to be increase lean mass. Although the greatest effects were observed in groups who combined resistance training with aerobic exercise, it is important to note that calorie restriction is also efficacious in adults with obesity. Including resistance training as part of a weight loss program for patients with obesity provides clinicians and their patients one more weight loss strategy.1
There is now evidence to suggest that resistance training when paired with a Low Calorie Diet (LCD) and aerobic exercise can lead to reductions in key metabolic indicators of physical health. Resistance training also leads to lean mass. Considering the results, clinicians should encourage their patients with obesity to include resistance training as part of their weight loss management strategy instead of relying solely aerobic exercise. Adding resistance training in conjunction with a LCD can mitigate the complications associated with fat mass and higher than recommended body weight.