How Strength Training Can Help with Weight Loss Goals
If your workout routine only includes cardio, your body may be missing half the story—and a lot of benefits.
Only doing cardio exercises like running or spinning, especially when combined with restricting calories, can actually cause you to lose muscle mass. This may reflect well on the scale but losing muscle in the real world could leave you feeling weaker and unable to do daily tasks as well. Plus, you’re missing out on some unique benefits of weightlifting for your body and goals!
Disclaimer: Prior to starting any exercise program, it's always best to consult your healthcare provider.
Burns (and Keeps Burning) Calories
While weightlifting may not conveniently tell you how many calories you’re burning per minute like a treadmill, you are burning sufficient calories when you lift. Even better? You’ll continue to burn calories naturally throughout the day after a heavy weightlifting workout. This is because weightlifting increases your resting metabolic rate (RMR). Your RMR is the number of calories the body needs to perform everyday living functions like breathing, digestion, etc. As you gain lean muscle from lifting heavy, your metabolism can increase to accommodate these calorie-hungry muscles.
Reduces Abdominal Fat
Not all fat is created equal. There are two kinds of fat: subcutaneous (found right under the skin) and visceral (found deep in the body). While it’s normal to have some of both types, excess visceral fat is considered more dangerous health-wise. Because visceral abdominal fat surrounds your organs, too much of it can put you at risk for conditions like type 2 diabetes or heart disease.
Luckily, lifting weights is a great way to reduce visceral fat! One study showed it can not only help with weight loss, it can keep that bad abdominal fat at bay—great news for not only your organs but your waistline as well.1
Improves Bone Health
Women especially tend to stay away from the weight section of the gym. Many fear that lifting weights will cause them to bulk up and look larger than before—not usually a goal with weight loss. However, exercise scientists say you need very high levels of testosterone to grow muscle like a bodybuilder. It’s more likely you’ll get results of muscle toning than serious growth.
But it may be women, in fact, who could benefit most from incorporating a little weight into their workout routine. The hormone shifts of menopause speed up bone loss and put women at greater risk of osteoporosis and related bone fractures. Lifting heavy weights is one way to counter this.2 Weightlifting helps bones get stronger and denser because of the way your muscles interact with your bones during the exercise. (Men benefit from this, too, but aren’t at risk of the same natural bone loss until later in life.)
Not Sure Where to Start?
You don’t need to feel intimidated by expanding your workout to include weightlifting. Here are a few tips to start off right:
· Organize your lifting. Break your body down by the major muscle groups—arms, legs, and core (abs and back). Focus on just 3-4 exercises per muscle group per workout. There are lots of free resources online that can walk you through all kinds of weightlifting moves.
· Start with dumbbells. You don’t have to jump immediately into the big-weight machines. Most gyms should have a substantial collection of dumbbell weights that start as low as 5 lbs. Start where you can and work your way up.
· Work with a trainer. A personal trainer can help you with both deciding what exercises you may benefit from the most and safely getting you to perform these exercises and eventually increase the weight you can lift.
1. Hunter GR, Brock DW, Byrne NM. Exercise training prevents regain of visceral fat for 1-year following weight loss. Obesity (Silver Spring). April 2010;18(4):690-5.
2. Watson SL, Weeks BK, Weis LJ, et al. High-intensity resistance and impact training improves bone mineral density and physical function in postmenopausal women with osteopenia and osteoporosis: the LIFTMOR randomized controlled trial. J Bone Miner Res. Feb 2018;33(2):211-20.