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Strength Training for Fitness and Weight Loss
When it comes to losing weight, few approaches can deliver the long-term weight loss results that a concise weight-training regimen can. There are many ways to lose weight, but first, it’s important to get clients’ heads in the right space. The number on the scale lies—clients shouldn’t be using it as anything more than a guide.
The goal at the end of the day isn’t so much weight loss as much as it is fat loss. Many people assume these two concepts are the same thing, but in reality, they are giving two different bits of information. Weight isn’t nearly nuanced enough to really tell you how things are progressing. A weight-loss program could be more accurately called a fat-loss program. So, let’s dive into that difference and why the type of physical activity your clients engage in makes the difference in how they lose weight.
Fat, Muscle, and BMR
When most people want to “lose weight,” what they usually are looking to do is lose fat, build muscle, and look trimmer. Your job as a personal trainer is to educate and motivate your clients while showing them what right looks like.
To begin with, metabolism is your body’s processing of calories. One’s basal metabolic rate, or BMR, is the rate at which a person burns through energy. This is the rate at which the body burns calories when at rest, not counting exercise and the like. One’s metabolic rate is really based on the amount of lean muscle mass in the body. For instance, the more lean muscle mass a person has, the higher their basal metabolic rate. The higher their BMR, the more calories in the day are burned through, even before exercise is taken into account.
The opposite is also true. So, for instance, someone with less lean muscle mass will have a lower BMR and burn fewer calories. This is why it’s important to taper your aerobic exercise as well, based on your goals. You shouldn’t cut cardio workouts out completely, but if you go too long in your pre or post workouts, you can end up counteracting the goal of losing fat. Just remember that balance is important in this respect. High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, can be a great way to get both out of the same workout, but we’ll get more into that later.
Resistance is the Goal
As a personal trainer, when your clients bring their weight-loss goals to you, you will want to start thinking about building muscle with resistance training. This is because nothing builds muscle quite the same as resistance exercises like lifting weights. Now, this doesn’t mean that you must be the bench press champion—in fact, there are much better resistance exercises that will do more in less time.
Make sure you don’t ignore the important muscle groups. Start off by doing more whole-body exercises. Then, as you progress through to the end, use lighter weights and focus on more isometric exercises. By focusing on whole-body exercises, more muscles in the body will be developed. As such, their energy expenditure through their BMR will be higher which will, in turn, burn calories more quickly.
It might not feel like it to them at first, so reassure your that you know your stuff and that they will get there. It can be tough to stay motivated, which is why it is part of your job to help them stay on track. Help your clients understand that, if they keep pushing themselves, they can succeed!
Rest, Recuperation, and Recovery
When you’re putting together weight loss workouts that will burn more calories throughout the day and not just the workout itself, you want to take a more holistic approach to programming. For instance, depending on your schedule with your client, you need to make sure that they have enough time to rest and recover. Recovery is where all the gains come from. This is the process through which the muscle tissue will grow and supercharge your client’s BMR.
With resistance training, you want to give the muscles exercised a solid 48-hour period of rest and recovery to be the most effective. The problem with shorter periods is that you end up cheating the body.
If the muscles exercised only get 24 hours of recovery before use again, in addition to the increased risk of injury, you’re effectively giving them twice the work for not quite twice the benefit. When it comes to exercise, make sure your muscles get their money’s worth!
Another strategy to make this more effective is to alternate muscle groups exercised. So, you might work the upper body muscle groups one day, then lower body muscle groups the next.
With strength training workouts, like weight lifting, you also want to make sure your client is eating properly. You can’t out-train your diet. If your client isn’t focused on proper nutrition, no amount of lifting is likely to help them lose weight.
HIIT for Cardio and Resistance
When it comes to balancing cardio and resistance training, one amazing way to go is high-intensity interval training (HIIT). It isn’t necessarily “high-intensity cardio,” but more of doing resistance training in such a way that your heart rate goes into an aerobic and even an anaerobic threshold.
This allows your client to build muscle and burn fat. This is also known as metabolic conditioning, as the purpose of HIIT is to push your client’s BMR through the roof. HIIT, simply put, burns more calories.
It’s important to note, however, that you must be doubly careful regarding safety when conducting HIIT. This is because anytime you engage in high-intensity workouts, you increase the risk of injury—and, as we all know, injured clients likely can’t train. It’s lose-lose for everyone.
So, when conducting HIIT, make sure that you’re paying special attention to your client’s form. Weak joints can also be susceptible to injury with increased intensity. Make safety your primary focus.
HIIT can also be more fun than some boring workouts. Try putting on some great music and let that help focus your client’s energy to really push themselves.
Strength Training for Weight Loss Without the Gym
One wrong assumption about strength training for weight loss is that you must lift extremely heavy weights to see the benefit. This isn’t the case. In fact, you can train a client effectively without even stepping foot in a gym.
The human body has more than enough weight on it to effectively challenge anyone. It’s usually just a matter of increasing repetitions or intensity to bring the exercise to the necessary point for someone to lose weight.
As is the case with HIIT, please make sure that you are being mindful of their joints. Also, be prepared to modify exercises to make them easier as your clients begin to approach muscle failure. A great example of this is moving from a high plank to the knees when doing push-ups once they can no longer perform repetitions. This way, they get a nearly identical range of motion and still perform the exercise. This way, once they’ve recovered, they will be able to do even more.
Safety First, No Matter What
Always make sure your client has the approval of their physician before beginning training. You never know when someone might have a condition that prevents them from weight training or HIIT. If we cause harm, we’ve failed in our primary objective as trainers.
When you focus on safety, you are truly putting your client’s needs first. The whole reason we as personal trainers are in this profession is because people need expert advice on how to exercise without hurting themselves. But, if we don’t follow our own guidelines, we’ve failed them. So, make sure and ask the right questions, and make sure that they have spoken to their doctor before beginning!
Ready to make a difference but not yet a personal trainer? Check out the ISSA’s course on Personal Training. You’ll learn more on the topics you just read about—strength training, fat loss, fitness—and how you can use that knowledge to help other people build healthier lives.
Click HERE to download this handout and share with your client!