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The One Exercise You Need to Do to Reshape Your Body, Says Science

What to lean up, bulk up, or lose fat in unwanted areas? Experts say there's one way to go.
FACT CHECKED BY Alex Daniel

There have never been more exercise options available to you than there are right this second, and if you're wading into the fitness waters for the first time, you'd be forgiven for feeling slightly daunted. Should you try trendy virtual classes? Yoga? Pilates? Do some dance moves? If you're looking to get lean and melt more fat, should you start training for a 10K or should you engage in high-octane bouts of high-intensity interval training? Even if you just want to walk your way to a healthier body, the options are surprisingly numerous: Should you stroll for longer distances, go fast, walk your nearest high-school football stadium steps, do Nordic walking, or perform interval workouts?

Well, if overall fitness is your goal, the leading fitness pros will tell you that they're all fantastic, and you should choose whatever workout you think you'll enjoy and stick to it. After all, any movement is good movement, and if you hate doing something, that's a pretty good indication that it plunge down your to-do list before falling off completely. But if you're looking to reshape your body—you're looking to burn fat, build muscle mass, and build a better figure overall—the latest science is clear that there's a single way you should go. Curious to know what it is? Read on for the best form of exercise for meaningfully changing your body shape. And for more great exercise advice, see here for Amazing Lean-Body Secrets from Top Trainers You Should Try Now.

1

It's Time to Pump Some Iron

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Scientists have long known that building muscle mass via resistance training—or lifting weights—is crucial for transforming your body. Put succinctly, as Eren Legend, a celebrity trainer and accomplished bodybuilder, recently explained to GQ: "If you do cardio and you have a pear-shaped body, all that you can expect is to become a smaller pear. The only way to change your body composition, the shape and look of your body, is to perform a form of resistance-based training." And for great fitness advice, don't miss The Secret to Getting a Lean Body for Good, According to Science.

2

All-New Science Backs Him Up

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Just last month, a new study published in the June issue of PLOS Medicine found that people who weight train several times per week were at "20-30 percent" less risk of becoming obese later on in life. The study notes that the link between weightlifting and obesity was "consistent among various subgroups," which include both genders and participants of all ages. Compared with no resistance training at all, those who lifted for 1 to 2 hours per week enjoyed the "lowest risk of developing obesity"—"suggesting that additional amounts of [weightlifting] might not be necessary to help prevent obesity."

But according to an eye-opening—and much-publicized—new study published in the Journal of the Federation of American for Experimental Biology, the reasons are becoming clearer. (Spoiler alert: It's not just because weight training simply builds bigger muscles.)

3

It's About Muscle Cells and Fat Cells

Fit mature woman lifting dumbbell while sitting at home
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The scientists, led by a team from the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, discovered that weight training builds a relationship between your muscle cells and your fat cells that was hitherto unknown. The researchers knew that when you lift weights, your muscle cells release genetic material that scientists previously thought was simply waste, but in their experiment they discovered that your white fat cells actually pick up that released material, and, when it does, it triggers lipolysis, or the burning of fat.

"It suggested that you had muscle and fat communicating with each other via exosomes [or vesicles released from cells] and coordinating energy production," John McCarthy, Ph.D. a co-senior study author and associate Professor in the University of Kentucky College of Medicine's department of physiology, explained to the podcast Smart Talk. "[The study] contributes to an emerging appreciation for skeletal muscle. It's main function is to generate force and move your body, but maintaining muscle mass is important for overall metabolic health…. By building muscle mass, you're favorably impacting body composition." And if you really want a lean body? Make sure you Do This One Exercise Above All Others, Say Experts.

4

What Weight Training Workouts Should You Do?

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If you're looking to change your body shape—whether for health reasons, you want to get fitter, or you want a better-balanced figure to the eye—you actually can with the right workout routines and pairing it with the proper diet. For more on this, don't miss the 3 Workouts Proven to Change Your Body  Shape, According to a Top Trainer.

William Mayle
William Mayle is a UK-based writer who specializes in science, health, fitness, and other lifestyle topics. Read more