Strength training is for building strength and muscle size, but if you’re trying to get leaner, you’ll need to burn more calories too. Strength training doesn’t burn as many calories as aerobic exercise, at least while you’re doing it, but if you lift heavy, it creates an after-burn, a phenomenon whereby you burn more calories after a challenging workout is over.
Strength training places stress on your body, so your body blasts more calories during the recovery phase after a workout. Now, let’s look at some ways to burn more calories while you’re strength training.
Do More Compound Exercises
Compound exercises are exercises where you work more than one muscle group at the same time. These exercises are also multi-joint movements, meaning multiple joints work together to complete the movement.
The more muscles you work, the greater the calorie burn and this works in your favor if you’re trying to get leaner. Examples of compound exercises are squats, deadlifts, bench press, push-ups, pull-ups, bent-over rows, triceps dips, and more.
In contrast, isolation exercises work a single muscle group at one time. Examples are triceps extensions, biceps curls, leg extensions, and more. These exercises burn fewer calories since you’re working only one muscle group. Keep the ratio of compound exercises to isolation exercises around 8 to 1 to maximize calorie burn.
Focus on Large Muscle Groups
The bigger the muscle, the more calories you burn when you contract that muscle. The muscles in your lower body, hamstrings, quads, glutes, and the large muscles in your back are the largest and use up lots of energy when they contract.
Some of the best exercises for hitting these large muscle groups are deadlifts and squats. In fact, deadlifts top the list of exercises that work the most muscle groups, including large ones in the lower body.
As mentioned, heavy lifting creates an afterburn whereby you burn more calories after your workout is over. In contrast, lifting lighter weights doesn’t offer the same degree of afterburn. Lifting heavier is also more effective for building strength.
To increase the afterburn (and the calorie burn), choose a weight you can only lift 4 to 8 times before your muscles fatigue and you have to stop. When you lift heavy weights, it breaks down more muscle fibers and your body needs more energy to repair. Therefore, your body burns more calories.
Take Advantage of the Rest Period Between Sets
What do most people do when they’re resting between sets? Stand around! Put that time to use and burn more calories by jogging in place, doing squat jumps, jumping jacks, or some other form of light cardio.
Keep the intensity light to avoid zapping your strength on the next step but don’t just stand there! You’re wasting precious time when you do.
Push a Little Harder
Too often, we get into a comfort zone when we strength train and do the same exercises over and over at the same intensity. Your body becomes stronger at first but adapts over time so that muscle gains slow and the calorie burn goes down.
When your body adapts to certain movements, it becomes more efficient at doing them and burns fewer calories. Introduce some new strength-training exercises into your routine or increase the intensity of the ones you do.
Don’t let your body get too comfortable with how you’re training it. Extending the length of your workouts will also burn more calories.
The Bottom Line
Strength training is for building strength and muscle size, but it doesn’t hurt to burn a few more calories if you’re trying to lose weight. Use these tips to boost the calorie burn and get leaner as you build strength. Watch your nutrition though.
What you eat is even more important for weight control than exercise, but you need both for a lean, healthy physique.
PLOS One. “Energy cost of isolated resistance exercises across low- to high-intensities” July 24, 2017.
WebMD.com. “Get More Burn From Your Workout”