Do you want to know how to lift for weight loss? Luckily, building muscle burns fat. So if you want to lose weight, get stronger. This approach will make a big difference in your training program and physique. But let’s be honest, lifting weights can be intimidating to newcomers. So I’m going to break it down into the simplest form possible so that you can start making progress ASAP.
Weight Lifting for Weight Loss
As a female in the exercise science field for the past 12 years, I have learned a thing or two about the importance of weight training. When the end goal is weight loss (or pretty much any end goal), a weight-training program is a must.
Let’s get real. Sure, you can cut your calories in half, or spend your morning or evenings doing cardio to lose some pounds, but I can promise you both will not last nor will they give you a healthy looking and functioning body.
When it comes to weight lifting for weight loss, it is important to put a few key points out there. First, you will not get BIG from lifting weights. You get “big” from overconsumption of energy (calories), which can be converted into fat or muscle based on the types of foods you eat and the exercise you do. Second, you can lift more than you think—and you should (with the help of a spotter, if necessary). And finally, if weight training is done properly you will likely be sore the day or two after your workouts (especially if you are new to resistance exercise). This is called delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, and it is a normal response to weight training. Be sure to stretch, drink plenty of water and incorporate sound nutrition to help your body recover quickly between workouts.
Here are five key points to keep in mind while working toward your weight- or fat-loss goals. After all, weight is just a number and doesn’t say a whole lot about your body. I’m 5’2” and weigh about 135 pounds, while my mom is 5’2” and weighs around 113 pounds—the biggest difference is the amount of muscle we each have. Keep that in mind as you work toward your goals.
1. Lift heavy weights. I have trained a lot of individuals over the years and I cannot tell you how many have sold themselves short. You won’t get results lifting the same weights you’ve been lifting (if you’ve been lifting). You have to go up in weight. Increase weight and you’ll increase your strength and muscle mass. Increase your muscle mass and you’ll increase your metabolic rate. Increase your metabolic rate and you will burn more calories. Burn more calories than you consume and you will lose weight. If you want to lose weight and not look “skinny fat,” you need to lift HEAVY weights.
2. Intensity. You don’t have to spend more than 30 to 45 minutes on your weight workouts. In fact, you could cut this down to 20 minutes. I love training with my powerlifting friends, but I do NOT have the focus or the time to lift weights for more than two hours. The key is to work hard throughout the entire workout, minimizing rest and keeping your heart rate elevated.
3. I want you to fail. If you want your body to change, you have to push past your comfort zone. You can’t expect results doing the same thing you’ve always done—that’s called insanity, right? So when I say I want you to fail, I mean I want you to have to rest. I want you to not be able to finish that last rep or two, because you picked up the heavier weights. By pushing your body out of its comfort zone, you are forcing it to respond and to change. Your body has to use energy to repair and recover. Make your body work for you, and don’t be afraid to fail.
4. Do supersets and hybrids. A superset involves doing two or more exercises that target the same muscle group, back to back with minimal rest in between. For example, doing a set of 12 heavy squats followed by a set of 12 heavy lunges is a superset. A hybrid involves combining two or more movements into one movement. Combining a squat with a shoulder press or a lunge with a squat followed by a lunge are examples of hybrid exercises. Incorporating these into your weight-training workouts can increase the intensity of your training, which is ideal for losing weight.
5. Circuit Training. Circuit training is a great way to get in multiple exercises. You can focus on your upper body, lower body, or total body, all while keeping the intensity up. Of course, you still want to focus on using heavy weights. Below is a sample total-body, circuit-training workout. Move quickly from exercise to exercise and rest for a minute at the end of each round. Don’t be afraid to rest during a set, recover quickly, and then get back after it.
Can women use weightlifting for weight loss?
Definitely! Anyone can lift weights to shed pounds. Weightlifting can help you build muscle. And research — including this 2013 study — suggests that more muscles = more calories burned.
How do you make this work for you? Here are five tips to help you lose weight by lifting weights:
- Choose the right lifting style for your unique needs.
- Always aim for quality over quantity.
- Set realistic goals and don’t give up.
- Add cardio to your strength routine.
- Fuel your body with a nutritious, balanced diet.
Tips to use weight lifting for weight loss
Weightlifting can be hella intimidating if you’re new to fitness. But don’t worry, fam. We’ve got the scoop on how it’s done.
1. Choose the right lifting style for your unique needs
Compound lifts work multiple muscle groups at the same time. These workouts burn more calories in a shorter amount of time than isolation exercises.
Some examples of compound exercises are:
While you get more bang for your buck with compound exercises, isolation exercises are also super beneficial. They’re great if you want to focus on one specific muscle (like your pecs or biceps). Isolation exercises are also helpful in injury rehab.
Here are some examples:
- calf raises
- biceps curls
- lateral raises
- leg extensions
- hamstring curls
2. Always pick quality over quantity
Focus more on what you want to accomplish in your routine than on how long each workout takes. You can get better results from a shorter, intense workout than from one that’s longer but low quality.
Proper form is also super important. If you rush through an exercise or push past your limits, your form can get sloppy. This increases your risk of injury and can even decrease your workout results.
3. Set realistic goals and don’t give up
Folks who set weight loss targets might have better long-term success, according to a 2016 study. Just keep in mind that you’re not gonna go from 0 to Xena Warrior Princess overnight. And that’s OK!
“Start slow and don’t give up,” says female bodybuilder Alexis Donner. “It takes time, hard work, and consistency to meet fat loss/muscle-building goals.”
The most important thing is setting realistic targets. This can help you stay motivated throughout your training program. And if you do slip up, don’t be too hard on yourself.
“If you mess up with your diet or training one day, just go back on track the next day,” Donner says. “Don’t just give up altogether.”
4. Add cardio to your strengthening routine
Research suggests that long-term weight loss results might be better when you combine cardio with strength training. Cardio can help you hit the calorie deficit needed to lose weight. You’ll burn more calories in a single session than you will doing strength training on its own.
BTW, you need to burn 500 to 1,000 calories more than you eat each day in order to lose 1 to 2 pounds in a week.
5. Fuel your body with a healthy, balanced diet
Studies suggest that eating protein (the macronutrient that acts as a building block for muscles) can help you get greater muscle gains and improve physical performance. But carbs and healthy fats are also essential energy sources.
Here are some delish protein picks to add to your strength training diet:
- nuts (like peanuts, almonds, and cashews)
- fish (like salmon, tuna, and tilapia)
- dairy (like milk, cheese, and yogurt)
Busting common misconceptions on weightlifting
There are lots of myths around non-cisgender men and lifting. So let’s set the record straight.
Myth: Women can’t build muscle mass.
Fact: A 2008 study found that men tend to build more muscle mass than women. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get gains. You can totally develop plenty of strong muscles.
Myth: Women need special protein powder.
Fact: Gender has nothing to do with the type of protein you should consume, whether it’s through food or a supplement. If you choose to use a supplement, stick to a wholesome protein product that isn’t loaded with artificial flavors or preservatives. You can find products that are gluten-free, low carb, keto-friendly, and more.
Myth: It’s all or nothing.
Fact: Weight loss is all about balance, fam. Long-term success is tough if you banish your fave foods from your diet completely. You can still enjoy tasty treats in moderation.
Myth: Bulky women aren’t sexy.
Fact: This opinion is pure poop. The only thing that matters is how you feel about your body.
The Rules Of Lifting For Fat Loss
1. Go for multi-move sets
Doing straight sets of a single lift is the right approach for building muscular strength, but doing different moves back to back – or even doing many different lifts in a circuit – is a better path to follow when losing your belly is the priority.
A superset is one move followed by another with little or no rest in between and can either target the same muscle group (eg biceps), antagonistic muscle groups (biceps and triceps) or upper- and lower-body muscle groups (biceps and quads). A tri-set is three lifts grouped with little or no rest, while a giant set is four or more moves.
Quite when a giant set becomes a circuit is semantics, but the effect is the same: greater increases in heart rate and muscle fatigue, which is the key to creating the conditions for your body to tap into fat stores.
2. Do full-body workouts
To build muscle, it’s better to focus on training one or two muscle groups per session to work them hard and fully initiate the process that creates new muscle tissue. But if burning fat is your focus it makes sense to do full-body workouts each time you go to the gym.
As with doing supersets and circuits, this is because of the heart-pumping benefits – keeping rest periods short is again important.
Working more individual muscle groups every session also requires greater energy consumption after training as part of your body’s recovery process, so you’ll continue to burn fat.
3. Prioritise compound lifts
If you want to torch fat then lifts that cause movements at two joints – such as squats (hips and knees) or overhead press (shoulders and elbows) – and involve multiple muscle groups should take up the majority of your gym time.
The reason is simple: the more muscles involved, the more weight you can lift; the heavier the weight, the harder your muscles must work to manage it; the harder your heart and lungs must work to pump blood and oxygen to the working muscles, the more calories you burn during your workout and in the hours after your session.
That’s because your body must increase your metabolism – the rate at which you burn calories – to repair the damage done to your muscles and repay the oxygen debt from training. You can still do isolation – or single-joint moves – such as biceps curls or leg extensions, but do so at the end of your workout once the heavy lifting is in the bag.
4. Reduce the weight
This may sound counter-intuitive but lowering the amount of weight you lift can help you increase the rate at which you burn fat. It’s important to still lift heavy to make your muscles work hard, but reducing the resistance slightly, whether that’s on the bar, a machine or a pair of dumbbells, can make the weight more manageable and allow you to focus on really using your muscles to lift and lower the weight, rather than having to cheat your form and use momentum to get it and keep it moving. That way, you get more actual quality lifting done during every set.
5. Don’t overdo the rest
One of the best ways to burn as much fat as possible in a weights session is to keep periods of rest between sets as short as possible. Giving yourself less time to recover from the previous set before starting the next keeps your heart rate high, increases the oxygen debt and recruits more muscle fibres to help move the weights as the sets progress and you become increasingly more fatigued.
If you’re doing multi-move sets or circuit-style sets, try not to pause in between each individual move, and rest only after completing the full set or circuit.
When you’re tired it gets tempting to extend your rest periods, so work out with a timer to ensure that you stick to the optimal rest period for burning fat
6. Keep sessions short
The longer the session, the more fat you burn, right? Not so fast. Switch your mentality away from counting the number of hours you’re putting in at the gym and instead towards how intensely you train when you’re there. A genuinely intense weights workout can’t last much longer than 45 minutes to an hour because if you’re doing it properly, you’ll be totally fatigued within that timeframe. The key is to not waste a single second so you keep your muscles, heart and lungs working to their full capacity. Remember, you’re there to train hard and then get out again, not spend hours doing half-hearted lifting.