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12 Oct 2021

Researchers prove strength training reduces body fat even if weight stays constant
BY Tom Walker

Up until now, the link between strength training and fat loss has been unclear

Up until now, the link between strength training and fat loss has been unclear
photo: Shutterstock/Flamingo Images

A new study has suggested that strength training can result in people losing around a similar amount of body fat as they do when undertaking cardiovascular exercise.

The research – a systematic review and meta-analysis that reviewed existing evidence – pulled together the findings from 58 research papers that used highly accurate forms of body fat measurement to calibrate the outcomes from strength training programmes.

Altogether, the studies included 3,000 participants, none of which had any previous weight training experience.

While the strength training programmes differed between the studies, the participants worked out for roughly 45-60 minutes each session for an average of 2.7 times per week. The programmes lasted for about five months.

The team of researchers behind the study – led by Dr Mandy Hagstrom, an exercise physiologist at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia – found that, on average, the participants lost 1.4 per cent of their total body fat after their training programmes, which equated to roughly half a kilo in fat mass for most participants.

Up until now, the link between strength training and fat loss has been unclear.

Studies have investigated this link in the past, but their sample sizes tend to be small – a side effect of not many people wanting to volunteer to exercise for months on end.

Smaller sample sizes can make it difficult to find statistically significant results, especially as bodies respond differently to exercise.

“It can be difficult to discern whether there’s an effect or not based on one study alone,” said Dr Hagstrom.

“But when we add all these studies together, we effectively create one large study and can get a much clearer idea of what's going on.

"More often than not, we don't gain any muscle mass when we do aerobic training. We improve our cardiorespiratory fitness, gain other health and functional benefits, and can lose body fat.

“But when we strength train, we gain muscle mass and lose body fat, so the number on the scales won’t look as low as it would after aerobics training, especially as muscle weighs more than fat.”

To read the full study, The Effect of Resistance Training in Healthy Adults on Body Fat Percentage, Fat Mass and Visceral Fat: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, click here for the Sports Medicine journal.



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