Not only does it make us stronger, improve our posture, and help shape and sculpt our muscles, it has several other less-mentioned benefits

By Harley Pasternak
August 14, 2013 06:15 PM
Courtesy Harley Pasternak

Whenever I meet with new client, I explain to them that there are three main areas we focus on.

The first two – diet and aerobic exercise – I’ve written about in great detail in previous blog posts. The third, resistance exercise, is essential to achieving a leaner, fitter, healthier body.

From dumbbells and barbells, to resistance machines and body weight movements, to yoga and Pilates, there are many different types of resistance training.

Not only does it make us stronger, improve our posture, and help shape and sculpt our muscles, it has several other less-mentioned benefits. A few recent studies shed light on even more reasons you should resistance train. Here are three:

1. You’ll be more likely to stick to your diet
A recent study conducted at the University of Pittsburgh showed that when we do resistance training, we’re more likely to stay on track with our diets. Not only do we boost our metabolism and burn more calories, we also reinforce the positive behavior in ourselves.

Moreover, when we exercise, we feel better mentally and physically. When we feel our best, we’re most likely to perform our best – even when it comes to sticking to a diet.

The other key factor here is that resistance training burns calories and boosts our metabolism without leaving us famished when we’re done. My clients often complain that after they are done with a heavy cardio session – like a spin class or a cardio boot camp – they leave starving and end up eating whatever they can get their hands on first.

Do yourself a favor – in lieu of ultra intense cardio, do a mix of moderate aerobic activity (walk, jog, etc) and incorporate some resistance training into your daily routine.

2. You’ll lose up to 40 percent more fat
Here’s the truth: Doing cardio burns more calories than (non-high intensity) resistance training per minute of activity. The catch: This is true only while you’re actually doing the activity.

After you step off the elliptical or bike, or stop jogging, your calorie burn goes very quickly back to your resting rate. When we do resistance training, studies show that we continue to burn calories at an elevated rate for hours (and even days) after we’re done.

The other major factor to consider is resistance training’s effect on calorie burn and fat loss is, when we do resistance work, we’re building muscle which increases our base metabolic rate. This means the more muscle we have, the faster we’re burning calories, because muscle takes more energy to sustain than fat.

For every three pounds of muscle you build, you’ll burn approximately 120 more calories a day. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a ton, but think of it this way: over a year, that’s about 10 pounds of body fat!

Research shows that when we go on a diet (and don t do resistance training), 75 percent of our weight loss is fat, but the other 25 percent is actually muscle! Yes, that means a drop on the scale, but we’re losing our ability to continuously burn calories, too!

Researchers at Penn State University investigating this principle took a group of overweight individuals and put them all on a reduced calorie diet and then split them into three groups: One did no exercise, one did cardio only, and the third did cardio mixed with resistance training.

They found that while all three groups lost a comparable amount of weight, the group that did cardio mixed with resistance lost about 40 percent more body fat than the cardio-only group. If we resistance train while we’re dieting, we’re building and protecting our muscle while losing fat. Its a win-win!

3. You’ll be more productive
Perhaps the most surprising effect of resistance training is that it increases our productivity both at work and at home. Exercise keeps our brains sharp. A group of recent studies found that subjects who did regular resistance training exhibited improved cognitive function in the form of better verbal reasoning, attention span and especially memory.

Specifically, resistance training seems to specifically benefit the part of our brain devoted to “executive functioning” or task management.

A study done by researchers at the University of Bristol in the U.K. found that workers who did strength training on work days had an increase in productivity and performance. They also found that general mood and interpersonal skills increased markedly.

A lot of people, especially women, are reluctant to embark on resistant training programs in fear of “bulking up.” Let me dispel this exercise myth once and for all – our bodies don’t do that!

In order for that to happen, one would need to consume a considerably larger amount of calories. The beauty of resistance training is that it won’t spike your appetite. So unless you are seeking to pack on pounds of muscle, adding a small resistant training circuit will make you look leaner, longer and more toned.

Do you have any questions about exercise or healthy eating? Tweet me @harleypasternak.