A fitness expert explains why strength training is important for keeping muscle when trying to lose body fat.

When people start to exercise because they want to lose weight, they generally have a goal of changing their body shape. That means simply losing weight is less important than losing body fat.

By itself, eating less may result in the loss of body fat and muscle.

So, working for physique change is less about what the scale reads than what the mirror shows.

Opinions differ on what constitutes an appealing physique, but many people strive for a somewhat lean, athletic look. Keeping muscle while reducing body fat is not only important to obtain this look, it supports progress by preserving metabolism.

Lose Body Fat

If you want to lose body fat, you must burn more calories than you take in each day, so a simple solution is to just eat less food. But, by itself, eating less may result in the loss of body fat and muscle. This is counterproductive because muscle contributes to resting metabolic rate (the energy used by the body when not exercising), and it’s what gives arms and legs the shape people want. The body needs a reason to preserve muscle, so working to sustain it should be a priority to keep the metabolic motor running.

Add two to three days of strength training to your diet adjustments.

Lift Weights, Do Push-ups

Because the body responds to demands placed on it, we can “trick” it into doing what we want. One stimulus that signals the body to keep its muscle is strength training.

Challenging muscles to produce force prompts the body to hold onto them because there is a need. If we never challenge muscles, they tend to waste away. If you’ve ever had an injury that prevented you from moving an arm or leg for several weeks, you probably have seen the difference in the injured versus non-injured sides upon returning to using the limb.

There are many ways to modify a push. You can go on your knees or use a step of raised box.
There are many ways to do push-ups. One variation is to use a box or steps.

A full-body strength training program will fit the needs of most people. It’s most effective to choose exercises that work lots of muscle at the same time and challenge yourself with weight loads heavy enough so you can’t do more than 8-to-10 repetitions in good form.

For beginners, a body-weight squat is a good choice for lower body muscles and a push-up is a good choice for the upper body.

Physique change takes persistent work and habits that may not be easy for some to master.

But if you add in two-to-three days of strength training to your diet adjustments, you might find that your muscles are stronger and you are more satisfied with what you see in the mirror.

Mike Bento is an advanced trainer at The Clubs at Charles River Park and Massachusetts General Hospital. He holds a master’s degree in human movement and is certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine as a corrective exercise specialist and performance enhancement specialist.