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Does lifting weights burn calories

Does lifting weights burn calories?

With all the time you put into the gym, you’ve probably thought to yourself: does lifting weights burn calories? The answer isn’t as clear cut as you would think. Lets go over the pros and cons of cardio and weight lifting for burning calories so you can choose which is best for your training needs.

Cardio For Burning Calories ‘Pros’

Most people associate vigorous cardiovascular work, like running, as the best means for burning calories. Prolonged running usually rates 12+ METs (metabolic equivalents of resting metabolism, so your body consumes 12x more oxygen then when at rest) and uses a lot of energy during exercise. Cardiovascular programs can develop some very beneficial, chronic health adaptations, and burn a lot of calories in the process.

However, you must take into account the name of this mode of exercise: cardio. Cardiovascular work primarily causes hypertrophy of the heart’s cardiac muscle. This way you have a a greater systolic stroke volume per heart beat, effectively carrying more oxygen to working skeletal muscle. 

Cardio for Burning Calories ‘Cons’

Cardio work does develop skeletal muscle, but not in a way to help you burn calories. Long, slow distance (LSD running, no joke, that’s what it’s termed), or any steady-state cardio work no matter the modality, develops type-I, slow-twitch skeletal muscle. Increased mitochondria density, capillary density, resistance to oxidative stress, etc. But no significant hypertrophy (growth in size) of the muscle.

In fact, when you undergo a vigorous cardio-intensive training program, you will lose a fair amount of lean mass; your muscle will shrink. This means your basal metabolic rate may diminish. So with cardio work, you will burn a lot of calories during bouts of exercise, but you’ll be burning fewer calories when at rest.

Does Lifting Weight Burn Calories? The ‘Cons’

Depending on the person, your basal resting metabolism (BRM) is 60-70%. That means if you just laid in bed all day and didn’t move, you would still burn 60-70% of your daily calorie requirements (breathing, body temperature regulation, circulation, digestion, etc.) The remaining 30-40% is used for physical activities (walking, washing dishes, fidgeting at work, exercising, etc.)

Does lifting weights burn calories in and of itself? Not as much as you’d probably like. Lifting weights is about a 6 on the METs scale. Despite what your fitness tracking device strapped to your body tells you, your elevated heart rate from lifting is superficially inflated (the heart is making up for inhibited venous flow since you held your breath during that last heavy set).

Does Lifting Weights Burn Calories? The ‘Pros’

Lifting weights for a long period of time brings about anaerobic adaptations. Subjected to a greater external resistance, skeletal muscle will hypertrophy (grow in size) and develop a greater neuromuscular cross-section. Since anaerobic work requires massive amounts of energy for a short burst, your body doesn’t have time to extract the needed ATP from the oxygen you breathe in.

Your body will develop large type-II, fast-twitch skeletal muscle which stores anaerobic fuel substrates in the muscle. Building and maintaining these larger muscle fibers will significantly increase your basal metabolic rate. That means, the rest of the day when your sleeping in bed, sitting and fidgeting at work, or sitting in a traffic jam, you’re burning more calories at rest than a person who primarily trains with cardio.

Here’s a silly analogy to help you visualize: Imagine an army installation with nuclear ICBMs. They have to be ready to launch at a moment’s notice. Energy has to be supplied without interruption. Personnel have to be on duty around the clock. A supply chain has to support the personnel constantly. In the instant that major firepower has to be delivered, the ICBMs are already prepped and ready for deployment.

A lot of calories has to be allocated to maintaining large muscles, even if their not in use. Due to past high-intensity, short bouts of resistance training, your body knows more is to come and adapts in order to be ready for the external stress.

Does lifting weights burn calories? Yes, exponentially more than running over a long period of time. I can tell you from experience, I lost 135 pounds by lifting weights and strategic dieting. If you want to lose a lot of weight and get into shape with weight training, sign up for a training program or contact me if you have any questions.

Do you have any fitness questions for me? Send me a message below and I’d be glad to answer!


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