By Dr. Mercola
If you want a flatter stomach, you may think you need to log some serious hours on the treadmill or elliptical machine to burn off the extra fat. You may want to consider weight training instead.
New research from the Harvard School of Public Health revealed men who engaged in weight training for 20 minutes a day had less age-related abdominal fat gain than men who engaged in aerobic activities.1
Those who engaged in aerobic exercise had less weight gain overall, however, which suggests that a combination of both aerobic activity and weight training may be best for fat loss and muscle gain.
Technically this occurs because there is a transcription factor known as Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma coactivator 1-alpha (PGC-1α), which is involved in mitochondrial biogenesis.
When you turn up PGC-1α, you make more mitochondria. This increases your sympathetic muscle tone, which then turns on PGC-1α. This increases muscle mass, which increases mitochondria, and this in turn is what improves insulin sensitivity and helps one burn body fat.
Why Weight Training Is So Important for Burning Belly Fat
Less than 25 percent of Americans over the age of 45 engage in strength-training exercises,2 which are actually among the most important exercises to stay fit and healthy, especially as you age. As Rania Mekary, PhD of Harvard, the study's lead author, told Endocrine Today:3
"To combat sarcopenia [age-related muscle loss] that is inevitable with aging, older adults are recommended to engage in physical activities that achieve the most favorable changes in their body composition, such as loss of fat mass while preserving lean body mass...
Because long-term weight training leads to this concomitant fat loss and muscle gain, this has been shown to prevent and treat many chronic diseases, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease and osteoporosis."
In addition, strength training is an excellent way to get rid of that stubborn, excess body fat, because working your muscles is the key to firing up your metabolism.4 The more muscle mass you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate.
Unlike traditional cardio, strength training causes you to continue burning more calories for up to 72 hours after the exercise is over through a process known as afterburn. Said study author Frank Hu MD, PhD:5
"This study underscores the importance of weight training in reducing abdominal obesity, especially among the elderly… To maintain a healthy weight and waistline, it is critical to incorporate weight training with aerobic exercise."
Weight Training Can Be an Aerobic Workout if You Slow It Down
You can actually turn your strength-training session into a high-intensity fat-busting workout simply by slowing down your movements.
The super-slow movement allows your muscle, at the microscopic level, to access the maximum number of cross-bridges between the protein filaments that produce movement in the muscle.
High-intensity strength training, or super-slow weight training, also has profound effects on your insulin and leptin sensitivity and gives you an excellent boost in human growth hormone (HGH), otherwise known as the "fitness hormone."
This is another reason why super-slow weight training may help you burn belly fat, as HGH plays an important role in maintaining health, fitness, and longevity, including promotion of muscle growth, and boosting fat loss by revving up your metabolism.
The fact that it helps build muscle while simultaneously promoting fat loss explains why HGH helps you lose weight without sacrificing muscle mass, and why this type of weight training can help you slim down quite quickly.
You only need about 12 to 15 minutes of super-slow strength training once a week to achieve the same HGH production as you would from 20 minutes of Peak Fitness sprints, which is why fitness experts like Dr. Doug McGuff are such avid proponents of this technique.
You can perform the super-slow technique using hand weights, resistance machines, bodyweight exercises, or resistance bands. The key to really making the super-slow workout work for you is to make sure you reach muscle fatigue.
Your goal therefore is to use enough weight that you cannot do more than 12 reps, but not so much that you can't complete at least four. Ideally, you will be somewhere in the neighborhood of seven to eight reps.
Try This Next Time You Strength Train...
The super-slow weight training technique is quite simple – deceivingly so because it's also quite effective (and challenging). While I have long recommend high-intensity interval training (Peak Fitness) using an elliptical machine or a recumbent bike (and this is still a phenomenal exercise for fat burning), super-slow weight training may have superior benefits, and may be a more suitable form of high-intensity exercise for older individuals.
I recommend using four or five basic compound movements for your super-slow exercise set. Compound movements are movements that require the coordination of several muscle groups—for example, squats, chest presses, and compound rows. Here is my version of the technique:
- Begin by lifting the weight as slowly and gradually as you can. In the video above, I demonstrate doing this with a four-second positive and a four-second negative, meaning it takes four seconds, or a slow count to four, to bring the weight up, and another four seconds to lower it. (When pushing, stop about 10 to 15 degrees before your limb is fully straightened, then smoothly reverse direction)
- Slowly lower the weight back down to the slow count of four
- Repeat until exhaustion, which should be around four to eight reps. Once you reach exhaustion, don't try to heave or jerk the weight to get one last repetition in.
Instead, just keep trying to produce the movement, even if it's not "going" anywhere, for another five seconds or so. If you're using the appropriate amount of weight or resistance, you'll be able to perform four to eight reps
- Immediately switch to the next exercise for the next target muscle group, and repeat the first three steps
Another newer variation is Super Super Slow developed by Ellington Darden, who was director of research of Nautilus Sports/Medical Industries for 20 years, which he calls negative accentuated exercises. They can be done with bodyweight or weight equipment. I started this type of strength training last fall and am impressed with its efficiency and the science behind it.
This is only a 1.5-rep exercise done with the same weight as in Super Slow, but instead of eight or 10 seconds up and down, it is 30 seconds down, 30 seconds up, and 30 seconds down for a total of 90 seconds for the exercise. Ideally, 10 exercises would be completed once a week. I am experimenting with 16 exercises, about half are bodyweight exercises (push-ups, chin-ups, dips, sit-ups) and the other half I use dumbbell weights. I do one-third of them on one day a week. I used to do all 16 of them in one week but after reading Body by Science by Dr. McGuff I realized that I needed to have more recovery, which is why I now take three weeks to do all 16.
Think You Don't Like Strength Training? Try These 9 Different Exercises
Many are under the impression that strength training is boring or monotonous, or that it's only for body builders looking to "bulk up." As the Harvard study showed, however, strength training is an essential form of exercise if you're looking to slim down as well, and it's important at all life stages, from adolescence to your golden years (and actually, even kids can benefit). The key to keeping strength training interesting is finding a technique that appeals to you and, ideally, mixing it up from time to time.
Here are nine such options to try, in a variety of "flavors" to appeal to virtually anyone. Remember, these aren't just for building big muscles; they'll help you achieve a variety of fitness and health goals, including maintaining your ability to live independently as you age, slowing the aging process, and even promoting fat burning and weight loss.
Body weight exercises Body weight exercises have the advantage of being very flexible and convenient, requiring no equipment and no special place or schedule, and the price is right—they're free. They are great to do at your office or while traveling, because you always have your "exercise gear" with you! Some of my favorites are squats, pushups, and planks. Hand weights Hand weights are inexpensive, portable, and readily available for purchase in just about any department store. Keep them next to your sofa and do a few sets of shoulder presses, bicep curls, and tricep presses during commercial breaks. Kettlebells A kettlebell is a cast iron weight that looks like a cannonball with a handle. The kettlebell allows for ballistic movements and swinging motions you can't do with traditional weights. Kettlebells can help you develop power in your hips, legs, and glutes as well as strength, flexibility, and stability for your back and shoulders. Kettlebells also build wrist and forearm strength. Resistance bands Resistance bands allow you to get a full-body strengthening workout without weights. They are inexpensive, easy to store, and perfect for exercising while traveling—just toss them into a pocket in your overnight bag. Medicine balls (exercise balls) Medicine balls look like a kickball—but much heavier! They come in varying sizes, from a couple pounds up to 150 pounds. Medicine balls can be thrown, swung, caught, or lifted. Since they have no handle, you have to coordinate a number of different muscle groups to maneuver them. Water jug workouts These are basically "poor man's dumbbells." A plastic gallon jug weighs about eight pounds when full of water and 13 pounds if filled with sand. The unevenness of the weight produces the benefit of strengthening your smaller, stabilizing muscles, which you must engage to maintain control of the bottle. Resistance machines at the gym If you have access to a gym, you may want to experiment with some good-quality resistance equipment. The benefit of a machine is that it will allow you to focus your mind on the effort, as opposed to the mechanics of the movement. The various machines each feature a different muscle group and usually bear diagrams explaining how to use the equipment, but don't hesitate to ask for assistance if you are a newbie. Strength classes at the gym Gyms often offer a variety of strength training classes, and if you are more of a "social exerciser," this might suit you well. Group fitness is evolving and now you can find some very interesting classes, such as Smart Bells, Forza, Urban Rebounding, water–based exercise, Pilates, and Bosu. Rope climbing or rock wall climbing There is a reason climbing has been a staple exercise in military training and combat fitness for thousands of years—it's one of the best upper-body strength exercises. Climbing targets many muscle groups (hands, arms, shoulders, abs, and back), and builds coordination and agility skills.
To Really Burn Belly Fat, Address These Pernicious Diet Mistakes
When 24 adults did seven abdominal exercises, five days a week for six weeks, they did not lose any belly fat, or fat anywhere on their bodies, for that matter.6 This is because about 80 percent of your ability to reduce excess body fat is determined by what you eat, with the other 20 percent related to fat-burning exercise and other healthy lifestyle habits. If your diet is based on sugar/fructose and processed junk food, your chances of getting rid of your "beer belly" in favor of flat, ripped abs are quite slim -- even if you work out religiously.
You simply will not see defined abs unless you reduce your overall body fat, and a poor diet will cause your body to hold on to excess fat, despite all your exercise efforts One of the most pernicious dietary influences on your weight loss goals is fructose, which hides in so many processed foods and beverages, it can be near impossible to avoid unless you alter your shopping and cooking habits.
By avoiding processed foods in general, and focusing instead on whole, preferably locally grown organic foods, cooked at home, you can circumvent one of the greatest dietary obstacles there is today. The good news is once you make the change, the cravings for the foods you have removed will fade away. This is especially true with intermittent fasting, which is one of the most profoundly effective ways to lose body fat. For more details, I suggest you review my optimized Nutrition Plan, which is a comprehensive and step-by-step guide to help you make health-promoting, fat-busting food and lifestyle choices.