Having high amounts of visceral fat significantly increases your risk of ill health.
That’s why health professionals strongly recommend getting your visceral fat levels under control.
To do this, most recommend a mix of dieting and cardiovascular exercise. Far fewer, however, suggest you lift weights.
One reason they snub weightlifting as a visceral-fat fix is a large-scale study published in 2012 found that weightlifting was ineffective at boosting visceral fat loss.
Since then, scientists have dug deeper and learned lots more about how weightlifting affects visceral fat levels.
Does the most up-to-date science still say weightlifting won’t help you get rid of visceral fat?
Learn the answer in this article.
What Is Visceral Fat?
Visceral fat is body fat stored in your abdominal cavity around organs such as your liver, pancreas, and intestines.
It differs from subcutaneous fat, which is the pinchable body fat situated under the skin that most people associate with “fat.”
For instance, higher amounts of visceral fat are associated with an increased risk of various diseases, including type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and dyslipidemia (high blood lipid levels).
Can Weightlifting Boost Visceral Fat Loss?
This persuaded most health professionals to discourage weightlifting as a way to lower visceral fat levels. Instead, they typically advocated moderate- and high-intensity cardio.
One ever-present confounder in weight loss research like this, though, is diet.
Some of the studies included in this review and meta-analysis had people maintain a calorie deficit and some didn’t, which muddles the results.
For example, if someone aggressively restricts their calories for weight loss, weightlifting may not significantly increase visceral fat loss (because you can only lose so much fat and visceral fat every day), but that doesn’t necessarily mean weightlifting can’t help someone lose visceral fat under other conditions (such as less rigorous dieting).
To explore this consideration, scientists at the University of Tehran conducted another systematic review and meta-analysis on the effects of weightlifting and visceral fat loss.
After analyzing 34 studies involving a total of 2,285 participants, they found that jacking steel significantly reduced visceral fat in obese, non-obese, middle-aged, and elderly participants who weren’t restricting their calories.
In studies where people were restricting their calories, weightlifting didn’t seem to produce much additional visceral fat loss, but this may be a statistical artifact rather than a genuine observation.
In the two studies primarily responsible for this finding, the participants who only restricted their calories (no weightlifting) started the study with about 50% more visceral fat than those who lifted weights.
Thus, while both groups lost about 30% of their visceral fat, the calorie-restriction-only group lost more pounds of it, which isn’t surprising because they started with more visceral fat, and generally speaking, the more of any kind of fat you have, the easier it is to lose (and conversely, the leaner you are, the more difficult it is to get even leaner).
At any rate, if you want to maximize visceral fat loss (or fat loss in general), doing regular strength training and cardiovascular exercise, restricting calories, and eating sufficient protein is and always will be the winning formula.
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How to Get Rid of Visceral Fat with Weightlifting
To maximize the fat-burning effects of weightlifting, you need to focus on . . .
- Heavy weightlifting: Research shows that lifting weights that are 75-to-85% of your one-rep max (weights that you can do 6-to-12 reps with before failing) helps you build more muscle and burn more fat than training with lighter weights.
- Progressive overload: The best way to build muscle and thus maximize the fat-burning effects of weightlifting is to strive to add weight or reps to every exercise in every workout. This is known as progressive overload, and it’s the single most important driver of muscle growth.
With that in mind, here are the 10 best weightlifting exercises for weight loss:
And if you want a training program that includes all of these exercises, as well as diet advice to help you lose fat, gain muscle, and get healthy fat, check out my fitness books Bigger Leaner Stronger for men, and Thinner Leaner Stronger for women.
(If you aren’t sure if Bigger Leaner Stronger or Thinner Leaner Stronger is right for you or if another strength training program might be a better fit for your circumstances and goals, take Legion Strength Training Quiz, and in less than a minute, you’ll know the perfect strength training program for you. Click here to check it out.)
+ Scientific References
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- Klein, S., Fontana, L., Young, V. L., Coggan, A. R., Kilo, C., Patterson, B. W., & Mohammed, B. S. (2004). Absence of an effect of liposuction on insulin action and risk factors for coronary heart disease. The New England Journal of Medicine, 350(25), 2549–2557. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMOA033179
- O, H., S, P., & E, A.-O. (2006). Metabolic obesity: the paradox between visceral and subcutaneous fat. Current Diabetes Reviews, 2(4), 367–373. https://doi.org/10.2174/1573399810602040367
- Shuster, A., Patlas, M., Pinthus, J. H., & Mourtzakis, M. (2012). The clinical importance of visceral adiposity: a critical review of methods for visceral adipose tissue analysis. The British Journal of Radiology, 85(1009), 1. https://doi.org/10.1259/BJR/38447238
- Ismail, I., Keating, S. E., Baker, M. K., & Johnson, N. A. (2012). A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of aerobic vs. resistance exercise training on visceral fat. Obesity Reviews : An Official Journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, 13(1), 68–91. https://doi.org/10.1111/J.1467-789X.2011.00931.X
- Ohkawara, K., Tanaka, S., Miyachi, M., Ishikawa-Takata, K., & Tabata, I. (2007). A dose-response relation between aerobic exercise and visceral fat reduction: systematic review of clinical trials. International Journal of Obesity (2005), 31(12), 1786–1797. https://doi.org/10.1038/SJ.IJO.0803683
- Maillard, F., Pereira, B., & Boisseau, N. (2018). Effect of High-Intensity Interval Training on Total, Abdominal and Visceral Fat Mass: A Meta-Analysis. Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 48(2), 269–288. https://doi.org/10.1007/S40279-017-0807-Y
- Khalafi, M., Malandish, A., Rosenkranz, S. K., & Ravasi, A. A. (2021). Effect of resistance training with and without caloric restriction on visceral fat: A systemic review and meta-analysis. Obesity Reviews : An Official Journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, 22(9). https://doi.org/10.1111/OBR.13275
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