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In-Your-Face Fitness

The myth of ripped muscles and calorie burns

Sorry to say, but gaining muscle doesn't make your metabolism skyrocket. Put down that Haagen-Dazs.

May 16, 2011|By James S. Fell, Special to the Los Angeles Times

But wait! When you factor in "after burn," couldn't weightlifting still be some miracle calorie-consumer? Sorry, Conan, but after-burn — technically called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC — does exist, but only to a small degree. As I've covered in an earlier column, the EPOC of interval training is insignificant. And the same holds true for weightlifting.

A quick scan of the research:

• In 1995, researchers at the University of Limburg in the Netherlands published a study in Medicine & Science in Sport & Exercise on 21 male subjects and determined that weight-training "has no effect" on RMR.

• In 1994, researchers at the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University in Denmark compared 10 bodybuilders with 10 lean (you are so puny!) subjects. Published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the report found that intense weight-lifting did not result in any measurable EPOC.

• In 1992, researchers from the University of Texas at Austin compared intense weightlifting with intense aerobic exercise on 47 males and reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that "RMR did not significantly change after either training regimen."

Certainly the act of weightlifting burns calories, but intensity makes a big difference. In 1988, researchers at the University of Alabama in Birmingham published a study in the Journal of Applied Sport Science Research that used 17 subjects to compare the caloric burn of light versus heavier weightlifting.

When accounting for the same total volume of weight lifted (lifting 100 pounds three times is the same "volume" as lifting 300 pounds once), they found that when people lifted at 80% intensity, they burned three times as much energy as lifting at 20% intensity.

All of this, in any case, ignores the most important part of weight loss: what you eat. "The bottom line is that weight loss is 90% about diet," obesity researcher Dr. Sue Pedersen, a specialist in endocrinology and metabolism in Calgary, told me. "The studies show that exercise alone is not going to result in weight loss."

In other words, hours of running and weightlifting won't burn your belly fat if you fuel that exercise with Haagen-Dazs.

Fell is a certified strength and conditioning specialist in Calgary, Canada

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