5 Ways to Burn More Calories During Your Strength Session

Mackenzie L. Havey
by Mackenzie L. Havey
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5 Ways to Burn More Calories During Your Strength Session

Since the days of Jane Fonda workout videos, aerobic exercise has been crowned as king when it comes to weight loss. Running, biking, swimming and aerobics have all been widely cited as the best ways to burn calories. Recent research, however, offers credence to another method: resistance training.

In fact, a new study out of Arizona State University suggests that resistance exercise (aka strength training) may actually burn twice as many calories as we once thought. These researchers hypothesized that the energy-expenditure equation traditionally used to determine the calories burned during resistance training is misguided. The long-held method involves measuring oxygen consumption constantly during resistance training to estimate caloric expenditure, which is identical to the method used for determining those numbers for activities like running and biking. The issue is that resistance training is an anaerobic activity, involving short bursts of effort followed by recovery, rather than a constant aerobic effort.

In this new study, the researchers figured that it made more sense to measure oxygen consumption after resistance training, not during, to more accurately determine caloric expenditure. To do this, they had participants do three trials of a circuit that included push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups and lunges. Lo and behold, they discovered a major discrepancy in the number of supposed calories burned depending on how oxygen consumption was measured.

When they measured oxygen consumption during the rest periods between the strength exercises, nearly twice the caloric expenditure was reported. Instead of burning 4.09 calories per minute of sit-ups, participants burned 7.29. Instead of 4.03 calories torched per minute of pull-ups, they burned 9.95 calories.

This is important because while most resistance-training exercises weren’t considered to be “vigorous” activities under the old energy-expenditure equation, the new one shows that most of these exercises should be considered just that. Keep in mind that while caloric expenditure for activities like running varies depending on things like body weight and speed, the Mayo Clinic reports that a 160-pound individual running 5 miles per hour burns around 606 calories per hour. Considering this, it makes sense to do resistance training in conjunction with aerobic exercise if you’re hoping to lose weight.

Here are five tips to help guide your resistance training in order to maximize weight loss:

1. Focus on muscular endurance.

There is much debate as to whether fitness-minded folks should work more on muscular strength or endurance. When it comes to resistance training, this is the difference between lifting a heavy weight a few times versus a lighter weight a lot of times. While both approaches are important, recent research hints at the fact that resistance-training programs that focus on muscular endurance contribute more to weight loss. With that said, the researchers emphasize that while this means you’ll be lifting lighter weights, you should also be performing the exercise many more times to get the desired results.

2. Increase Intensity.

Occasionally upping the ante in workouts can help spur fat loss. In particular, much research has honed in on the effectiveness of high-intensity interval training (HIIT). While HIIT is often associated with cardio training, strength and resistance work can be thrown into the mix for a great workout. The idea is to push yourself at a high intensity for a short period of time and then take a break. This type of structure is often utilized in boot camps that include exercises such as squats, burpees and mountain climbers, allowing you to work the various energy systems in a single workout.

3. Do compound exercises.

By choosing “compound” exercises, you target multiple muscle groups all at once. For instance, exercises like body-weight squats have been shown to decrease body fat significantly and increase lean body mass. Done with a barbell or dumbbells, you work both the upper and lower body, getting more bang for your buck.

4. Increase your protein intake.

Research has revealed that resistance training is more effective in prompting weight and fat loss over simply cutting calories alone. Along with that, swapping some of your carbs for protein magnifies these results further. In particular, studies suggest that taking in protein right after resistance training can help improve body composition and enhance recovery.

5. Lift weights before cardio.

While studies have demonstrated that a combination of aerobic and resistance training contribute to weight loss more than either method alone, it is important that you’re strategic about the order in which you do things. Since research shows that people tend to do fewer weight-lifting repetitions after cardio than if they lift before cardio, most coaches will recommend the latter (always with a warm-up prior). What’s more, when you lift or do body-weight training feeling fresh, you’ll be more likely to maintain proper form and do exercises correctly. This may mean alternating days that you do cardio and strength training or simply performing one in the morning and the other in the evening.

About the Author

Mackenzie L. Havey
Mackenzie L. Havey

Mackenzie is a freelance journalist and coach based in Minneapolis. She contributes to a variety of magazines and websites, including TheAtlantic.com, OutsideOnline.com, espnW.com, Runner’s World and Triathlete Magazine. She holds a master’s degree in Kinesiology from the University of Minnesota, and is a USA Track and Field certified coach. When she’s not writing, she’s out biking, running and cross-country skiing around the city lakes with her dog.


19 responses to “5 Ways to Burn More Calories During Your Strength Session”

  1. Avatar Dade Dyana says:

    Hi Mackenzie
    Thanks for the great tips – I will definitely be making some changes at the gym. I know that you suggest alternating days or doing one in the morning and one at night. But, do you suggest at least a little cardio to finish up your work out?

  2. Avatar Marco Ermini says:

    “New” study? It’s from 2014…
    Also, never ever use a smith machine for squats, if you hope to lose weight AND keep an healthy body…

    • Avatar Peter Payne says:

      Why are Smith machines bad? I love the idea of them, not that they have them out here in rural Japan.

      • Avatar Andy Marshall says:

        The general thinking is that smith machines don’t allow a natural movement for the squat and so increase the risk of injury.
        As to no Smith machines in rural Japan, that depends where you are, they certainly had them in my local gym in rural Fukushima when I lived there. Now being back in Tokyo my gym here has one but I avoid it…

    • Avatar Ki-Ki the Good Guy says:

      Agree 100%. Smith machines force you to travel a given path, and that might not be the right path for your body. And put some weight on the bar. I’m 57 year old female and I can squat 220.

    • Avatar turtle14 says:

      To all criticizing Smith machines…How do you know if the given path (angled slightly backwards) is right or wrong for your body? What is considered a “natural” movement for a squat? I like the idea of turning my wrists to secure the weight if I go down and can’t squat back up. I don’t have a training partner – if I used a free-weight barbell, what are my options at the bottom of my squat if I can’t get back up? I’m concerned about 1) having the weight crush me and/or 2) getting injured trying to escape and/or 3) damaging my concrete garage floor if I drop them. Apart from telling me to join a gym, what should I do for my home gym?

    • Avatar Summer Beach says:

      Hi Marco…
      A study takes long time to both conduct, and get approved so it can be referenced as a legitimate and acknowledged study, so it actually pretty cool to get bonafide results that are only one year old when it comes to anything dealing with health.

      – Summer

  3. Avatar Aarti Deshmukh says:

    Hi Mackenzie, I have come across so many women who regularly hit the gym and yet fail to lose any weight. Even when they hire a personal trainer to help them, they do not lose calories. Your blog with tips on how to burn calories is very helpful to them.

  4. Avatar Chinadollrosie says:

    I am so happy to see “lift weights before cardio” as one of the tips. The healthiest I ever was included a routine where I lifted weights before my cardio session. I had never seen such results and my body literally transformed! My gym days looked like this: (1) Warm-up (usually 5-7 min on an elliptical), (2) weights (lifting heavier, 10-12 reps) OR Calisthenics (3) cardio for 20-40 min (typically stairmaster intervals). Minimum of 5 days per week. It was the BEST I’d EVER felt physically and I saw such wonderful results that way.

  5. Avatar ravenrdr says:

    If you don’t get the results you want, alter the measuring technique! Next, we will have the “new” way to measure weight–not with scales this time!

  6. Avatar Emma Richter says:

    With resistance training, your body weight and and weights your using are also important factors. The study’s results seem very amplified, and it’s different for different people. HIIT training burns more, and regular resistance trains might burn more than once thought, but not as much as they’re making it seem.

  7. Avatar Mary Merrington says:

    I find that it is better to do strength training before cardio workouts finishing with 5 – 10′ of beautiful stretching which also incorporates yoga moves as well.
    For warmup at the beginning, it is probably good to do a few min. of rowing or jumping jacks but I often do not because I find that the strength training is sufficient as long as I do not push myself too hard in the first few minutes.
    Cardio is interval training on the treadmill or bike or stepper.
    Total time is 1 hour twice weekly.
    Any more than that has an ageing effect on women apparently as I have seen on a couple of friends of mine who are gym junkies.
    They may have slim bodies but with wrinkly and haggard faces.

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