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Culture » Get Out

Carry Weight to Lose It

Yes, there is a painless way to burn fat and build muscle.


If you do resistance training—weight lifting—you’ll build muscle that will eat up body fat 24/7, or so the story goes. Now, the aerobic and endurance world is saying their activities burn fat more efficiently than pumping iron. Just like action and reaction, every study has its equal and opposite study.

I prefer personal, hands-on experience, so let me tell you about a years-ago backpacking trip that taught me the quickest way to burn fat. This was a nine-day trip up a mountain, with about four hours of walking each day with a pack that weighed over 50 pounds. We all ate stacks of syrup-drenched pancakes every morning, and many sugary snacks throughout the day. By rights, we each should have gained weight.

The others, who packed lighter, did gain weight. But with my heavy backpack, I lost 15 pounds. And it was fat; I could suddenly see my ribs! Of course, once I got back to the city, that 15 pounds returned and my ribs were once again buried. So, putting two and two together, I tried an experiment: a 25-pound weight plate in a backpack that I wore throughout each day.

It worked. Slowly but very surely, my fat began to dissolve. I could wear my skinny jeans again. But after a while, the weighted backpack started causing back and shoulder pain. That’s when I discovered two alternatives: ankle weights and weight vests.

The pros of a weight vest are that it balances the weight on your upper body and can be adjusted for various amounts of weight. That’s a good thing, because you have to start this weight-loss program far lighter than you imagine—four pounds max at first. But the problem is that weight vests are pricey.

However, ankle weights come in various pound increments, are inexpensive, and actually are the best device to use for this method of eliminating fat. You don’t wear them on your ankles; you strap and pin the two weights together and fasten them around your waist to make a weight belt. That places them in a totally balanced position on your body, so there’s little stress on any joint. The least expensive places to buy ankle weights are large chain stores. Adjustable weights are the most efficient because you can gradually add additional weights as you get stronger and more accustomed to carrying the extra pounds.

Start with four pounds. Put the waist belt on in the morning and take it off only for work or school or meetings. Make sure to wear it while taking a walk; a hike over uneven terrain is a perfect way to lose even more fat, because you’re stepping up while carrying the additional pounds, thus doing more work. And don’t look for your weight to change, because it probably won’t. You’ll just get thinner, because you’re burning bulky fat while building compact muscle.

The reason this works as painless fat loss is because carrying additional weight on the body loads your muscles with extra work—so it burns more calories and builds fat-burning muscle. After days of wearing the weight belt for a total of at least 10 hours, add another pound. But go easy—never carry more than 8 percent of your total body weight. Remember also that the weight belt will change your center of gravity, so it requires a period of acclimation. Start out by walking just around the house or taking easy walks around your neighborhood to get used to the change in your center of mass. Never run while wearing the belt. Another big benefit: Each time you sit down and get up, you’re working your leg and butt muscles, so you’ll be getting toned while losing fat.

Every two weeks, go for four days or a week without wearing the weight belt to allow your body to recuperate. Eventually, you’ll be so accustomed to the weight belt that you’ll hardly notice you’re wearing it. Plus, it’s nearly invisible under a loose shirt or jacket.