How Effective is Resistance Training for Weight Loss?

While there is no doubt that exercise is an important part of long-term weight management the exact role of resistance training (as opposed to aerobic or endurance training) remains unclear.

A paper by Barbara Strasser and colleagues from the University of Hall i. T., Austria, just published in Sports Medicine, describes a systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of resistance training on metabolic risk factors in patients with abnormal glucose metabolism.

The authors identified 13 randomised controlled trials (RCTs) published between January 1990 to September 2007.

The number of participants in the individuals studies ranged between 17 to 120, with a pooled total of 425 participants in studies reporting HbA1c; of these, 219 participants received the resistance intervention. The mean age of the groups was between 46.8 and 67.6 years.

While resistance training reduced glycosylated haemoglobin (HbA(1c)) by 0.48%, fat mass by 2.33 kg and systolic blood pressure by 6.2 mmHg, it had no statistically significant effect on total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, triglyceride or diastolic blood pressure.

The authors concluded that resistance training has clinically significant effects on various components of the metabolic syndrome and should therefore be recommended in the management of type 2 diabetes and obesity.

While the paper only reports the effect of resistance training on fat mass (and not body weight), it does allude to the fact that participants also increased muscle mass, which will likely have made the actual change in body weight even smaller than the rather modest reduction in fat mass (~5 lbs).

Nevertheless, given the positive effects on glucose metabolism and blood pressure, these findings should certainly not discourage people from engaging in a reasonable amount of resistance training, even if the benefits are perhaps not measurable on a scale.

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Strasser B, Siebert U, & Schobersberger W (2010). Resistance training in the treatment of the metabolic syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of resistance training on metabolic clustering in patients with abnormal glucose metabolism. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 40 (5), 397-415 PMID: 20433212