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“How Many Days A Week Should I Lift Weights For Fat Loss?”

No, you can’t workout in the gym shirtless. Sorry.

I think resistance training is one of the most misunderstood factors in body composition.

It’s really simple. You can pretty much go onto any magazine website (Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, Muscle & Fitness, Women’s Health, Better Homes and Gardens) and find a section devoted to workouts. Hint: It’s usually found somewhere between the shirtless photos of men performing bicep curls and bench presses and women in sports bras and spandex performing squats and other “glute-centric” exercises.

And these magazines are getting pretty good too. They’re featuring more and more great coaches who take the time to dispel many traditional fitness myths (you know, the ones that have left gyms filled with Nautilus machines, Bosu balls, and very few foam rollers).

The workouts on these magazine websites almost always center around weight lifting and get readers moving in the right direction. But in many cases, these websites are overrun with articles pertaining to The #1 Exercise to Make Your Biceps Look Like Basketballs or How To Burn Calories By Petting Your Cat (which, for the record, is not a real article, or a real thing).

Though it may not burn many calories, it’s probably great stress relief.

If anything, it can make things really confusing. Which exercises are the best if there’s an article for every exercise on Earth claiming it to be the best?

You wouldn’t buy a book if the pages weren’t in order. That would ruin the experience and profoundly affect your ability to understand the story. So why would an amalgamation of exercise articles get you to your goal?

Like I began to say, resistance training is one of the most (if not the most) misunderstood factors in body composition (that’s your ratio of lean mass to fat mass a.k.a. your bodyfat percentage a.k.a. your Sexiness Quotient). If a lower bodyfat percentage is your goal, you need to be lifting. More importantly, you need a program to guide your workouts.

And the first step to creating a program is to determine how many days we’ll devote to the gym. So how often do we need to lift weights in order to see results? I think the answer lies somewhere in the ability of weight training to stimulate our metabolism.

Below, I’ve illustrated the effect of our workout on our Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption and post-workout metabolism.

What Is Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption?

Known as EPOC, Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption is related to our oxygen-deficit during exercise … blah blah science … blah blah. In short, the oxygen deficit is about equal to the amount of work that we perform without or before our aerobic energy system kicks into gear.

*Side note: the term oxygen deficit has been disproven as a a measure of anaerobic energy expenditure, but the important factor here is that anaerobic energy expenditure is what leads to EPOC.

IMG_1436This creates an elevation in our metabolism post-exercise and is due to the need for hormone balance, replenishment of energy substrates (a.k.a ATP & muscle glycogen), and general tissue repair.

It’s difficult to measure, but most sources generally agree that this EPOC elevates our metabolism for anywhere from 24 to 48 hours post-exercise. ~36 hours seems to be the most common number, so I’ve stuck with that in my illustration.

In the bottom graph,  we can see two weight training or interval workouts (I did not include steady-state cardio workouts in the illustration because they do not stimulate EPOC in the same way that heavy weights or heart-pumped intervals do). After each workout, I’ve shaded the 36 hours of elevated metabolism that you would be rewarded with.

In the top graph, we see three weight training workouts, allowing for an additional 36 hours of EPOC! If we assume that EPOC increases our metabolism by approximately 20% (which is a conservative number by many accounts), a typical 180 lb individual could experience an extra 10 lbs of fat loss each year simply by lifting three days instead of two.

But looking better naked isn’t all about caloric burn. If it was, we would all look like marathon runners.

Instead, lifting helps stimulate the anabolic processes of our bodies that build muscle while simultaneously stripping off bodyfat. Lifting heavy things stimulates growth hormone and testosterone, which are some of our best friends when it comes to body composition, whether you’re male or female. Lifting weights can also help us become more “sensitive” to insulin by putting our carbohydrate intake to better use.

Most importantly, muscle doesn’t just hang off your body as fat does. It keeps it shape no matter what you’re doing. And the only way to build muscle is to lift weights and sprint.

Can I Work Out More Than Three Times Each Week?

Want to up the ante? Try four days. At four days per week, we gain an additional 24 hours of EPOC! (Again, it’s not all about calorie-burn. EPOC is also promoting things like protein synthesis.)

You could split this up in a few ways:

  • Two full-body lifts with two days of high-intensity interval training sessions
  • Three full-body lifts with one day of HIIT
  • Four lifts, split into two upper and two lower body days

Probably just did some intense, Tabata-style training.

By the way, high-intensity interval training not only promotes the EPOC that we’re looking for, but can increase your Vo2 max, improve your aerobic capacity, and make you sweat worse than a pig in a bacon factory. A common work-to-rest ratio is 2:1, as in Tabata sessions, but you should vary your intervals. You ratios could be anywhere between 2:1 and 1:5. Generally, high-intensities require longer rest (in order to continue working at a high level).

And if you want to take it a step further, you could even add a fifth day of HIIT to any of the schedules I mentioned. (I feel like I should note that, if you’re currently working out two or three times per week, it would be smart to add extra days slowly and give your body time to adapt to the increased workload.)

Conclusion

When it comes to losing fat, you cannot beat lifting weights and interval training. By creating a significant oxygen-deficit during exercise, we stimulate Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption, which does a few good things for us:

  • An increased overall metabolism makes it easier to create a caloric deficit, which is the ultimate factor in weight loss
  • Increased protein synthesis, which helps us build or maintain muscle, even in a caloric deficit
  • Increased free fatty acid release, leading to increased oxidation (a.k.a. less fat)
  • The direction of carbohydrates into our muscle cells to replenish fuel stores
  • Increased Sexiness Quotient as a result of more muscle, less fat, and greater confidence

Don’t be concerned about building too much muscle. It takes years to build large and bulky muscles. (And quite frankly, it’s insulting to muscle-y guys everywhere when someone says they don’t want to become too muscle-y. It takes hard work.)

Building muscle should always be the goal.

Don’t worry, I promise that the cute girl in your Intro to College class will like you better when you look more like Thor and less like Justin Beiber. (Plus, Thor has an electric hammer and, you know, who wouldn’t want an electric hammer? I mean, it can also make him fly and stuff, so … case closed.)

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