Weight Training for Weight Loss: Exercises, Tips, and More

Weight loss programs have long focused on high-intensity cardio as the only way to achieve their goals. For women in particular, leaving the gym's treadmill and elliptical was once a no-no.But that narrative is changing, and the reality is that weight training for weight loss can get you to your desired goals faster — and even make your results more sustainable, says D1 Training's Director of Live Support Chad Barribeau says.

Read on to learn more about weight exercises for weight loss, including the best moves for beginners, must-have equipment, and how pumping iron can help you lose weight.

Why Weight Training Works for Weight Loss

Weight training, also known as strength training or resistance training, is any exercise performed using weighted objects such as “dumbbells, barbells, or weight machines” to increase muscle mass and strength, explains Amanda Capritto, CPT, ACE-certified personal trainer and author road Garage Gym Review。 You can also use your own body weight for weight training.

Caprito explains that strength training aids weight loss by increasing muscle mass, which is more metabolically active than fat tissue. The more muscle you work, the higher your resting metabolic rate, “and the more calories you burn when you're sleeping, walking, working, or sitting on the couch,” adds Capritto.

This benefit isn't something you get from cardio alone, because aerobic exercise burns calories simply by elevating your heart rate, forcing the cardiovascular system to work harder to deliver blood and oxygen to working muscles. Still, “in a perfect world, you'd do a little bit of both,” says Barribeau, to maintain good cardiovascular health.

As with any weight loss program, diet should also be considered, but if you're not planning to drastically reduce your calorie intake, weight training is the way to go. That's because muscle requires more calories to maintain, so building muscle will naturally burn more calories and lead to weight loss, explains Barribeau.

Does Weight Training Cause “Bloat”?

The assumption that lifting weights automatically causes “bloat,” or weight gain, is a myth, says Barribeau. In fact, achieving growth spurts is actually more difficult than most people realize.

“What most people don't know is that ‘gaining muscle'—or adding a lot of muscle—is actually very difficult,” says Capritto. “It takes many hours in the weight room, eating lots of calories and adjusting macronutrient ratios, and consistently training close to the limit. Nobody ‘builds muscle' by lifting moderately hard weights three or four times a week .”

Barribeau added that the only way to truly gain weight is by eating more calories than you burn in a day.

What weight training is best for weight loss?

“The best exercise program for losing body fat includes strength training and cardio,” says Capritto. “For weight training, you can use a barbell to train your upper body, lower body, and even your core.” She and Barribeau recommend starting with basics, such as:

  • Back squat (lift the barbell behind your shoulders)
  • Front squat (raise barbell to shoulders)
  • Romanian Deadlift
  • Hip punch
  • overhead press
  • bench press
  • bend over

If you don't have a barbell, you can use dumbbells, kettlebells, or your own bodyweight and simplify to compound exercises like:

  • squat
  • deadlift
  • push ups
  • board
  • Hinge (i.e. kettlebell swing)
  • Rows
  • pull up

Barribeau adds that rest periods are just as important as when you start exercising, because they affect how efficiently you burn calories. “We want to make sure we're developing the right work-to-rest ratio where we push ourselves without burning ourselves out,” he says.

Therefore, he recommends starting with four sets of eight to 12 repetitions of your chosen exercise, resting about 90 seconds between sets. “But depending on your stamina level and everything else, that could go down to 60 seconds, or even up to about two minutes,” he adds.

Weight Training For Weight Loss Tips

While adapting to new habits, Barribeau can't stress this enough: “Don't rush it,” he says. “Be patient and be consistent.” Caprito recommends taking two days off each week and remembering to make room for lifestyle and dietary changes when necessary.

“While exercise is important for burning calories, your diet plays a vital role in losing weight and maintaining it. Whether you focus on cardio or weight training, you should also pay attention to your diet, getting enough sleep, Stay hydrated and make stress management a priority,” she says.

Benefits of weight training for weight loss

In addition to weight loss, strength training can increase energy, reduce injury risk, and improve flexibility and mobility, says Barribeau. A lower body fat percentage can also reduce the risk of chronic disease and improve cardiovascular and mental health, he said.

Headshot by Kayla Blanton

Kayla Blanton is a freelance writer covering all things health and nutrition for Men's Health, Women's Health and Prevention. Her hobbies include nonstop coffee and pretending to be a chopping contestant while cooking.

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