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When most people want to get lean and shed body fat, their initial instinct is to take up cardio exercises like running. However, if you read my previous post on how strength training will speed up your metabolism , then you’d be familiar with the fact that the more muscle you have on your frame, the more calories you will burn. Cardio exercise does burn calories and will get you lean; however, resistance training is superior. 

One study measured the results of endurance-training (steady-state cardio) and high intensity interval training (HIIT) on body fat and metabolism. They separated young male and female adults to either a 20-week endurance-training regimen or a 15-week HIIT regimen. Not only did the HIIT participants burn more fat over the entire day, they increased metabolic function and built more muscle, while the endurance participants lost muscle mass. During exercise, they did find that the endurance participants burned more calories, however the HIIT participants worked out for less time and they lost more fat overall.

With steady-state cardio exercises, you are sending a signal to your body to be efficient with calories. With strength training, you are sending a signal to your body to build strength. The essence of strength training is building muscle, and building muscle is the most metabolically efficient strategy to shed body fat.

The most effective exercise to get lean is metabolic resistance training which combines lifting heavy weights at a high frequency with short rest periods – essentially high intensity interval training (HIIT) with weights. Short rest periods in combination with high frequency and volume of repetitions will burn fat and keep muscle. You want to maintain rest periods between sets because you don’t want to be doing continuous circuit HIIT training which would resemble a cardio workout. 

With high frequency and volume, the intensity of the exercise will signal your body to burn fat in response to the stress and the intensity of the repetitions. According to integrative physician and personal trainer Dr. Jade Teta, “in order for you to burn fat you have to register a stress in your physiology so the body goes uh oh I better stand up and take notice and release some glucose and release some fat and make sure after this bout of intensity is over I can put on lean tissue and stay leaner so I can perform better“. Essentially, by lifting heavy weights, your body will turn on a survival mechanism to increase lean muscle after the exercise to withstand such a stress in the future. By including weights in your HIIT training, you will send a signal to your body that it needs strength and so your body will expend energy by allocating calories to repair the muscles from training and to build new muscle. Due to the afterburn effect of HIIT training, you will even continue to burn fat for hours after you’ve completed your workout.

When you focus on building strength in the gym by lifting heavy weights, you will gain more muscle, increase your metabolism and ultimately your body will become leaner. Therefore, if you want to get lean and get rid of the fat, combine resistance training with HIIT and proper nutrition. These combined strategies will burn fat and get your body lean faster than cardio and any other form of exercise.