Fitness & Nutrition Tips

Gain Muscle. The Most Efficient Way to Lose Body Fat

Gain Muscle SF

Most people don’t understand strength training; it’s hard to get a clear picture with all the media gimmicks and conflicting information out there.

Years of muscle magazines touting “10 Best Exercises for Ripped Abs/Arms/Shoulders”, or “10 Days to a Bigger Chest/Back/Bench Press” have permeated fitness culture for decades, and that’s just for the men.

“Flatten Your Tummy/Sculpt a Better Booty/Lengthen Your Legs/Slim Your Middle/blah blah blah all in 10 days/a weekend/hours/minutes!” have been the taglines for nearly every women’s magazine for quite some time now.

These catch phrases have done nothing but hold back the truth when it comes to what strength can do for your body. While these promises may be enticing, they hold little relevance, and even less factual value for the average person wanting to get muscular and/or lose body fat. (I mean, go ahead and try to write a paper using Cosmopolitan and Men’s Health as a reference and see how that goes…).

Facts show strength training will burn body fat better than cardio, and do it in less time.
The calories burned during 10 running steps is far less than the calories burned during 10 squats. If you run a mile, that’s about 2,000 steps. As your running improves, you can run for longer periods of time resulting in more steps. Welcome to sustained, steady state cardiovascular exercise. This is what traditionally pops in your head when you think of the term “cardio.” The problem is, this type of exercise burns more than just fat, it burns muscle and other tissue through a process called oxidation.  By increasing your mileage to increase the demand on your body, you increase the amount of time you spend in oxidation.

Your squat on the other hand uses completely different metabolic process, using energy stored in your muscle, liver, and blood, vice breaking them down for energy. So instead of running 2,000 steps for a mile, you could do 10 squats weighted with 100 pounds across 5 sets, resting in between. As you get stronger, you can increase the load keeping the time you spend squatting and resting the same. You do greater work, in the same amount of time.  Simple physics explains that this is more efficient (average power  = work x distance / time, yes?)

Your body will change based on the demands you place on it, hence the SAID principle (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand). The greater the demand, the greater the change. Due to the nature of running (short steps, small range of motion, repetitive nature), the body adapts quickly to it. When you want more of a change in your body, you need more demand, so you may run more by adding miles. Eventually, there are more miles than hours in the day, and you must reduce caloric intake if you cannot increase the number of miles you run to make a change. Or you could just move something heavy. You choose.

Muscle burns more calories per pound than fat.
Muscle is more metabolically active than fat, meaning it takes more energy to maintain per pound than fat does. This is due to how your body regulates blood sugar via the hormone insulin, and muscle takes more of that sugar to refuel itself. Excess blood sugar is typically stored as fat, the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn and the less likely excess blood sugar will be stored as fat.

The best way to gain muscle is to avoid steady state cardio.
A Norwegian study performed a 12-week trial of two groups: a strength only group, and a strength-endurance group.

The strength group performed only lower body strength exercises, but didn’t do any endurance work like running or cycling. The strength group gained just over 2lbs of muscle and increased the cross-sectional area of their upper leg musculature by 50% more than the other group. Putting on two pounds of muscle sped up their metabolism and prevented their bodies from storing extra fat.

The strength-endurance group performed the same lower body strength exercises in addition to a cycling routine. They did not gain any muscle weight. The cycling and running put the strength-endurance group into a steady state of cardio that prevented them from building any muscle. Ultimately, this group did not burn fat any faster and still stored fat at the same rate.

Bottom line: Learning how to lift heavy things, and doing it often will help achieve fat loss goals more efficiently than any treadmill can.


Ronnestad, B., et al. High Volume of Endurance Training Impairs Adaptations to 12 Weeks of Strength Training in Well-Trained Endurance Athletes. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 2012. 112, 1457-1466.

Cakir-Atabek, H., Demir, S., Pinarbassili, R., Bunduz, N. Effects of Different Resistance Training Intensity on Indices of Oxidative Stress. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. September 2010. 24(9), 2491-2498.

Skoluda, N., Dettenborn, L., et al. Elevated Hair Cortisol Concentrations in Endurance Athletes.Psychoneuroendocrinology. September 2011. Published Ahead of Print.



3 thoughts on “Gain Muscle. The Most Efficient Way to Lose Body Fat

  1. Does this mean we shouldn’t do cardio? What about the cardiovascular benefits from running, biking or other typical forms of cardio exercise. Are those cardiovascular benefits equally obtained through weight training alone?

  2. It means that prioritizing strength training is more effective at fat loss than any other method in the long term. You can use sprint intervals, or circuit style training to elicit the same cardiovascular response if you desire, and the benefits will be superior to that of steady-state cardio. Again, this is entirely dependent of your goals, as if you are training to be a high level triathlete or marathoner, the prescriptions change. This will all be addressed in detail at the upcoming Sustainable Health Seminar on October 5th, hope to see you there!

  3. Pingback: » Ask a Coach Q & A: Will Strength Training Make Me Bulky? By Katy Jercich, Head Health Coach » STUDIOMIX