Lifting and losing

by Karl Lenser

Losing body fat is a challenge for many individuals. Many will agree that you have to reduce your caloric intake and increase your energy (calorie) output in order to lose weight. Your body weight fluctuates primarily due to the amount of food you eat and the amount of activity you do. This energy balance (or imbalance) is one of the key factors in losing weight.

As far as employing some strategies in this energy management task, the one tactic that you do not want to employ is the “no exercise” plan. Despite the plethora of solid literature available, some folks believe that simply dieting and not exercising will accomplish their weight loss goal. Starvation/ultra-low calorie eating programs will not work in the long run. They slow your metabolism to a crawl, and that is counterproductive to weight loss. A person who needs to lose weight has to rev up their metabolism and keep it revved up.

Reducing your caloric intake without exercise will lead to a reduction in body weight, but the weight that is lost will be about half from fat and half from muscle. Muscle tissue is metabolically much more active than fat tissue, which means muscle requires more energy (calories) to keep it alive. When one loses muscle tissue, you lose strength, functionality and a great calorie-burning machine! In addition, your body and framework begin to look soft and unhealthy. Muscle is your friend! Our muscle mass usually peaks in our 20s, and then it slowly begins to decline over the upcoming decades.

Fat cells, on the other hand, require a tiny amount of energy (calories) to stay alive and well. In essence, the more fat you have, the slower your metabolism. Are you an elephant or a cheetah? We want to have the metabolism of the cheetah! A slow metabolism means your body requires a minimal amount of calories (energy) to maintain its tissues and cells.

One way to expend a lot of calories is through cardiovascular activities such as walking, running, swimming, cycling and cardio-oriented group exercise classes (Zumba, Hip Hop, Jazzercise). These will burn a lot of calories for the time invested, which is a must for weight loss. If one continues to do the same workout at the same intensity, one’s body becomes more efficient, and when that happens, your caloric output shrinks a bit.

For example, folks who take up jogging will slowly become more and more efficient as their muscles and nervous system learn to work together as the mileage and training continue over time. For a given speed or pace, the calories burned per minute may decrease a bit due to the efficiency factor. Folks who need to lose fat need to become fuel inefficient! This is where the resistance training comes into play.

The missing link for many individuals in the fat-loss equation is resistance training. Besides aiding in your physical appearance, performing this type of training gives your metabolism a huge boost that lasts for hours. Lifting weights is a perfect compliment to cardio workouts.

The key to resistance training is the intensity of the workout. Doing light weights for 20-30 repetitions is not going to be nearly as effective on altering your metabolism as a higher intensity plan that shocks your system. Generally speaking, one has to put a moderate to heavy load (70 percent of the maximum) to really acquire the benefits of strength workouts. Stimulate the tissue and it will respond with greater metabolic boosting as opposed to an easy workout.

I have known many individuals who disliked cardio activities but loved the weight room. They would rarely spend more than 15 minutes on a treadmill or bike but would invest more than an hour in the weight room. What surprised me was that when I measured their body fat, it was very low and as good as marathoners or triathletes! If you look at track athletes (sprinters and jumpers) or gymnasts, they usually have a ripped, chiseled body that was created with doing hardly any cardio activity. I believe the ideal exercise program is doing cardio and strength training.


A Conway resident, Karl Lenser is the director of wellness programs at Hendrix College. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse. An accomplished runner, he can be reached at [email protected].