Research shows that you can add more muscle and lose more fat when you have a structured exercise plan. If you do not have one, you should get one!
You've seen them every day in the gym: people who just seem to go from one machine to another, one free weight exercise to another, with no apparent plan. Congratulations for coming, but new research suggests that there can be a world of difference between just going to the gym and going to the gym with a goal.
Researchers in England divided 369 sedentary adults into four groups and followed their progress for 48 weeks: 
- Group 1 had free access to a gym, they received no instruction, but met once a month with professional sports coaches to discuss their progress.
- Group 2 benefited from free gym access, a personalized exercise program designed for each member of the group, and also met once a month with a professional sports coach.
- Group 3 did not have access to a gym, but had the monthly meeting.
- Group 4 did not receive any of these elements. They were the control group.
The researchers tested the 369 participants before and after the 48 weeks. The tests measured max at one rep for Bench press, Lat pulldown and Leg press; Percentage of body fat body fat mass; and lean mass (muscle). Overall, and not surprisingly, Group 2 - those who received gym access, personalized exercises, and counseling - did their best on most of the measures. But, there were also some surprises.
While group 1, those with access to the gym and tips, but no exercise program, reduced their body fat by 0.5%, group 2 lost 2.5%. Control group members increased their strength by 4.4% on average over 48 weeks, but group 2 increased by 16%. Group 1 and Group 2 both have free access to a gym, but Group 1 has in fact lost almost 500g of muscle while Group 2 has gained 2.5kg more.
What was surprising in the study was that control group members - those who had not received any help - lost more body fat than any other group and came in second for lean mass gains . And then, there was the fact that Group 1 had 48 weeks of free access to a gym and yet lost muscle mass.
Group 2 members were the only ones to lose a significant body fat mass and acquire significant lean body mass. Regardless of the group they were in, most of these 364 previously sedentary adults improved their strength, lost body fat, and gained muscle mass. The researchers noted that the normal procedure for getting sedentary adults on the road to increased activity is to start them on aerobic exercises. The results of this study suggest that if these people are involved in resistance training, they may be in a better position to age more successfully.
So the next time you see one of those lost souls in your gym, direct them to a library of workouts, one of the best to increase their strength, fight obesity, and even extend their lives!
Mann, S., Jiménez, A., Steele, J., Domone, S., Wade, M., and Beedie, C. (2018). Programming and supervision of resistance training has positive effects on strength and body composition: results from two randomized trials of community fitness programs. BMC Public Health, 18 (1), 420.