Lift Weight to Lose Weight

Why aerobic exercise isn't always the best way to shed pounds

Shannon Dougherty
Reviewed by 
Charlie Merrill (MSPT)
September 3, 2021
 min. read

Lift Weight to Lose Weight

If you've ever struggled with your weight, you're not alone. More than two-thirds of American adults are either overweight or obese. And, the older we get, the harder it becomes to keep off the extra weight. And if all that wasn’t enough, marketers have found ways to promote a near constant temptation to consume food that isn't healthy – and too much of it. 

So how do we combat the pounds we are trying valiantly not to pack on? We might search YouTube for "weight loss workouts" or Google "best weight loss exercises" or “aerobic exercise to lose weight.” All of which may lead us towards running for weight loss or attempting other forms of aerobic exercise (like cycling, swimming, walking, or using an elliptical). If we can just burn more calories, we reason, then maybe the scale will go down instead of up.

A recent study published in The FASEB Journal raises questions about whether aerobic exercise is the way to go when trying to lose weight. Perhaps, it suggests, lifting weights might be a more effective than aerobic moves to lose weight because doing so may actually shrink and break down fat on a molecular level.  

Sounds interesting, right? Let's jump in and investigate this claim to see if we should be modifying our workouts. If the ticket to losing weight faster and easier is to lift more weights, maybe it's time we turn off the treadmill.


Why Do We Think Running Is The Answer?

During the pandemic, a lot of us took up running to stay in shape. After all, it arguably is the best aerobic exercise to lose weight because it can be done outside/socially distanced. And it does, in fact, initially burn more calories than cycling or even strength training. 

But the number of calories someone burns while running is largely dependent on how long and fast they run. Also, if you're looking to lose weight from running, you really have to pay attention to what you're eating. A bad diet will quickly wipe out any results you might hope to see from keeping up with a running regimen.

Many of us immediately think of running as a great way to lose weight. This may be the result of hearing so many people tout running as an equipment-free way to get results. Doctors recommend it, friends talk about it, and we constantly see articles written about its benefits. 

While running is beneficial in many ways (improving sleep quality, mood, and heart health, etc.), when it comes to weight loss, in many cases a runner may initially drop fat (and muscle mass) but as their body adapts to their running routine their weight loss typically plateaus. This is because their body learns to function without needing as much energy as it did before (i.e., their basal metabolic rate, or the amount of energy their body burns while resting, slows down). To keep losing weight, a runner needs to continually increase the intensity and duration of their runs. 

Debunking the Aerobic Exercise Myth

So if running (or aerobic exercise in general) isn't the answer to our weight loss dilemma, then what is? Perhaps we should take another look at weightlifting (i.e., strength or resistance training).

Just because running initially burns more calories than strength training, it is not necessarily the better option. According to a newly published study, lifting weights doesn't only increase the size and strength of your muscles. It can also boost fat burning for a minimum of 24 hours after a workout and potentially even assist in dissolving and breaking down our fat. 

Many of us are already aware that muscle burns calories. So lifting weights and building your muscle mass will increase your resting metabolic rate and how much energy you're expending in general, thereby helping you lose weight. 

This study, however, sheds light on another apparent (though unseen) advantage of strength training: after a workout, muscles create and send little packages of genetic matter called vesicles to fat cells which kickstart fat-burning processes. So while it takes time to reap the calorie-burning benefits of building big muscles, in this case, the molecular change to fat occurs immediately after a workout.

While sometimes it feels great to get your sweat on by running, and there are lots of benefits to doing so both mentally and physically, resistance training should be considered as part of any weight loss exercise plan. The muscle you build will keep burning calories long after you've stopped working out, while right away on a molecular level your fat will be targeted too. If you're looking to start losing weight or if your weight loss has plateaued, contact Lin today. We can help you by designing customized care plans and exercise regimens that will include the right weight loss techniques specifically tailored to you - we even have a partnership with a weight loss app and device company!

Free mini-course: Learn what getting out of chronic pain is all about

Watch Now

Want to take your pain recovery to the next level? Get our free mini-course here

Watch Now

Don’t miss a thing!

Know more, feel better. Sign up for our newsletter and keep up with the latest in pain science.

Want to join the Pain Rewired Community?

100% free.

100% focused on recovery.

Learn more

How do you want to chat with us?

(We’re available!)
Thanks for you message!
A member of our team will get back to you ASAP.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Have any questions?
Our team is here to help

Charlie Merrill / PT and clinical advisor
Live podcast

Join leading PhD researcher & pain psychologist for an outstanding conversation

Healing Chronic Back Pain: The active ingredients

Charlie Merrill / PT and clinical advisor
Nov 2
1-2pm EST/10-11am PST
Join now
Charlie Merrill / PT and clinical advisor
FREE: Exclusive round table

Join leading PhD researcher & pain psychologist for an outstanding conversation

The truth about fibro recovery

Charlie Merrill / PT and clinical advisor
Oct 26
1-2pm EST/10-11am PST
Join now