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Questions About Weight Training and Burning Fat

Answers to Questions About Burning Fat with Weight Training

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Updated October 10, 2010

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

The following questions and answers provide useful information about burning fat with weight training. For a more detailed article, you should read Burn More Fat - Secrets of Exercise Physiology.

Can I Burn Fat Doing Weight Training?

The answer is yes, of course. You will burn some fat as a percentage of total energy expended with any activity, even sitting still. Fat is used as an energy fuel for movement and overall metabolism.

Weight training, performed within an appropriate program, will build muscle, use some fat as an energy source during the weight training, and also burn some fat in the period after weight training when your metabolism is increased, perhaps for several hours.

Body muscle has a higher metabolic rate than body fat, so having more muscle should mean having a higher metabolism. While this is theoretically sound, in practice this does not amount much extra fat-burning.

The main determinants of burning fat most effectively are the intensity and duration of any exercise, including weight training.

Do I Need to Combine Weight Training with Other Exercises to Burn Fat?

It's not a matter of one or the other, but rather about how much work you do in targeting weight loss and burning fat. The best strategy is not to be concerned about targeting burning fat, but to target energy expenditure, especially in relation to energy intake, which is the food and drink that you consume. Any energy expenditure in excess of what you take in will result in fat loss and weight loss over time.

Thinking that weight training will produce a superior fat loss to other exercise disciplines could be a mistake. For example, one hour of even vigorous weight training is unlikely to expend nearly as much energy as one hour of jogging at moderate pace. The reason for this is that traditional weight training means resting between exercises and sets, and non-exercise time as you move about equipment. Various so-called "metabolic programs" in which circuit weight training includes a lot of movement and little rest is much more likely to match steady-state aerobic exercise for energy expenditure.

Finally, the idea that weight training will induce an "afterburn," in which you burn fat after your exercise session, has merit, but is most likely equally matched by aerobic exercise of similar intensity. It's the intensity of exercise (and the duration) that promotes afterburn, not necessarily the exercise type itself.

How Much Fat Will I Burn with Weight Training Compared to Other Exercise?

Lifting weights is not consistent, steady-state effort and does not generally burn as much energy as a good run on the treadmill, cycle or row machine at moderate pace. For example, here are the energy expenditure calculations for weights versus cardio for one hour of exercise from the Calorie Count web site. I've based this on a 150-pound person (just under 70 kilograms).

  • Running at 9 minutes a mile pace (5.6 min/km) -- burns 770 calories/hr (kilocalories)
  • Weight lifting, vigorous, free weights or machines -- burns 420 calories/hr (kilocalories)
  • Walking at 15 minutes a mile pace (9.4 min/km) -- burns 350 calories/hr (kilocalories)

Even if you calculate in some afterburn from the weight lifting, you are still behind a solid aerobic running session for energy expenditure.

The Best Weight Training Exercises for Burning Fat

There are no magic exercises for fat burning. It depends on how much effort you put into any particular exercise. Here are four programs that will give you a decent energy expenditure, fat-burning workout if you do them with vigor and intensity.

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