Getting strong is by far the most long-lasting way to drop body fat and lose weight. Fat is nothing more than fuel, and stronger engines burn many times the fuel of weaker ones.
Most people understand this -- that a body carrying more muscle will require more calories/fuel, and therefore will be easier to maintain at a healthy weight. But there are other important reasons why getting strong will help you lose fat and get the body you want. Here are three.
Cardio burns calories, yes. So does vacuuming, sleeping, and checking Facebook. Your body burns calories from the moment you're born until the moment you die.
Certain activities burn more calories than others -- an hour on the elliptical burns more than an hour watching TV. But that's kind of the problem. The body auto-regulates its caloric expenditure depending on your activity. So if you spend an hour on the elliptical and burn a few hundred calories, once you step off and your heart rate goes back to normal, your increased calorie burn is over.
Lifting weights, on the other hand, is a different process. It allows you to load your entire body in a way the cardio machines cannot emulate. It results in a physiological event that lasts days, and as your body works to recover from the training, it's blasting through calories at an elevated rate.
Two to three days later, when your body has recovered and begins to shift down the calorie burn, what do you do? You train again, and ratchet the calorie burn even higher. This process is called supercompensation, and it's why athletes like Michael Phelps can eat 10,000 calories a day and not gain a pound. Over his years of training he has driven up his metabolism to the point where he would have trouble gaining weight even if he wanted to.
Actually, if he wanted to, the first thing he'd have to do is drastically reduce his training frequency. Can you imagine that? A training regimen so good it actually won't allow you to gain weight? Phelps is a world-class athlete, but he illustrates the point perfectly.
In a nutshell, nothing demands more energy (calories) from your body than building and maintaining tissue -- so to crank up your internal thermostat, get to work building muscle and strength.
2. Increased capacity = the ability to work less but achieve more
When it comes to exercise, strong people get more bang for their buck. Why? Because their capacity for exertion is much higher.
Remember, calories are nothing more than units of energy. What it might take a weaker person an hour to expend on a treadmill, a strong person can torch in 15-20 minutes with kettlebells, a battling rope, or weight sled. And to top it off, the strong person's body keeps burning extra calories for days. It's a double-whammy of efficient training.
One of my favorite clients is named Jeannette. She's in her 50s, short, energetic, and funny. She has lost a LOT of weight and looks great. She's learning this firsthand, as over the past few months her capacity for exertion has gone up dramatically. In her last session with me she performed five sets of FIFTY kettlebell swings with a 30lbs kettlebell -- in about 15 minutes.
That is an incredible training "density" and is only doable through a massive mobilization of calories by her body. A weaker person could not even get close to this calorie burn in 15 minutes.
What is "weight"? It's a measurement of gravity's pull. That's it.
When it comes to gravity, what matters is not its force against us, but our force against it.
We measure that force through plates on the bar, pounds on the sled, and repetitions in the kettlebell swing.
When we let go of a preoccupation with a number on the scale -- which comes to define us -- we begin to realize our capacity to define ourselves. We begin to measure our "fitness" not by how much we weigh, but by what we can achieve.
That's the wildest trick of getting strong: you will reach the weight you want, but not before the day you walk past the scale and realize -- you don't actually care what it says. You love the way your body looks, and even more so, you love what it can do.