By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 21 May 2008)
Strength training aids weight loss by increasing muscle mass so that the body burns more calories even when at rest.
Intense strength training preserves lean body mass while assisting in long-term fat loss. People who lift weights and do other strength training exercises such as push-ups and squats may not lose pounds but they shed fat, and because muscle is more compact than fat, their bodies appear leaner, streamlined, and toned even when they don’t lose much weight. Dieting, by contrast, decreases muscle mass, which can make the body appear softer and flabbier.
Female Weight Trainers
Women who weight train will not bulk up like men unless they have higher-than-average levels of testosterone or take steroids. Women do gain lean muscle but tend to actually look slimmer rather than bulkier when they lift weights because muscle is denser than the fat it replaces and takes up less space.
Permanent Weight Loss
Weight training is better for long-term weight loss than dieting. Dieters often regain their lost weight, whereas weight trainers seldom do. This is because eating fewer calories lowers the body’s metabolic rate, or the number of calories burned during various activities. As a result, after dieting for a while, it takes fewer calories to gain weight. Also, extreme dieters are usually low on energy because their bodies lack the fuel needed to exercise. As a result, they may lower their activity levels, which can also lead to weight gain in the long run.
Many diets can have adverse health consequences, whereas a good strength training program will enhance health and reduce the risk of injury and early death as a result of heart disease, stroke, and cancer, as well as common causes of disability such as severe arthritis and osteoporosis.
Weight training enables you to burn more calories not only during your workouts but also in day-to-day life. Because muscle requires more calories than fat to maintain itself, those who weight train regularly burn more calories even while sitting at a desk, doing housework or digesting their food. Weight training can increase your metabolism by up to 15%, as well as creating metabolic changes (such as preventing insulin resistance) that assist in shedding abdominal fat. This means that as long as you don’t increase your caloric intake once you start training, you should lose weight slowly and steadily until you reach a healthy size.
Weight Training Versus Cardio Exercise for Weight Loss
Cardio exercise (such as aerobics, brisk walking, running, swimming, and cycling) promotes cardiovascular health. Those who engage in regular cardio exercise are less likely to die early or be disabled as a result of strokes and heart attacks.
Cardio exercise also helps with weight loss because it burns many calories in a short time. However, in the long run, strength training may be better for weight loss because it causes people to burn a few extra calories not only during their workouts but also in their day-to-day activities. An ideal exercise program will include both cardio exercise and weight training.
Taking Things Slowly
Most people who are trying to lose weight seek fast results. However, those who lose weight too quickly are more likely to put it back on in the long run. Additionally, if you lose more than 3 pounds each week, up to half of the weight lost will be muscle, which can leave you looking flabby even if you become thinner. Not only will this compromise your health and detract from your physical appearance, but because you have less muscle, your metabolism will slow down, which means that it will take fewer calories to gain weight in the future.
The best way to lose weight is slowly and steadily (no more than 2 pounds per week), through a combination of exercise and reducing consumption of fats, sugars, and simple carbohydrates (white flour, white rice, etc.). However, you should eat sufficient amounts of complex carbohydrates (whole grain breads and cereals, whole wheat pasta without cream sauce, brown rice, vegetables and fruits) to ensure that you have enough energy to work out. The body prefers to use carbohydrates as energizing fuel, whereas it stores fats in case food becomes scarce in the future (an unlikely scenario for most people in affluent nations).
Exercise Frequency for Weight Loss
To lose weight, you should exercise between 60 and 90 minutes each day. Two to three days a week, workouts should include weight training or some other type of strength training (push-ups, sit-ups, leg lifts, squats, chin-ups, work with resistance bands, etc.). Exercise on other days can be any type of cardio you enjoy, including cycling, running, brisk walking, hiking, swimming, playing high-intensity sports (i.e., tennis, soccer, hockey, etc.), or working out on cardio machines at the gym.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2007). “Why Strength Training?” CDC.gov.
- Fahey, T. (2005). Weight Training Basics. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- The Mayo Clinic. (2006). “Strength Training: Get Stronger, Leaner and Healthier.” MayoClinic.com.
- Weil, R., MEd, CDE. (2007). “Weight Lifting.” MedicineNet.com.