How Weight Lifting Can Help You Burn Fat

There are a lot of myths that are out there when it comes to weight lifting. One of the biggest ones is that lifting weights makes you bulk up. Also, weight lifting is mutually exclusive from weight loss. However, that could not be further from the truth! By adding weight lifting into your work out routine you could be seeing some serious weight loss benefits. 

Why Weight Lifting For Fat Loss Works 

One of the key things to remember when you are thinking about long term weight loss is: the amount of calories you burn in one workout only means so much. Instead of focusing on the calories burned in a specific class, think about the long term benefits. Focus on what you are gaining from the exercise as a whole, not just the burned calories.

This is one of the main benefits of weight lifting over cardio. Lifting weights can lead to muscle gain over time. While cardio really only offers one-hit of caloric burn per session. Weight training is more effective than cardio at building muscle, and muscle burns more calories at rest. Because of this, building muscle is the key to increasing your resting metabolism — that is, how many calories you burn at rest.

Your resting metabolism is also known as your Basal Metabolic Rate (or your BMR). Having more muscle increases your everyday BMR. Therefore, when it comes to weight training, your body will reap the benefits long after your workout is over. 

One study, where participants attended a 24-week weight lifting training program, noted increasing rates in their resting metabolism. In men, weight training led to a 9% increase in resting metabolism. The effects in women saw an increase of almost 4%.

How Weight Lifting’s Afterburn Helps Weight Loss 

The concept of burning calories after intense exercise is called “Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption”, known as EPOC for short. While doing vigorous exercise, the body accumulates an “oxygen debt,” forcing it to work overtime. By making your body do this overtime you are also ramping up your metabolism as the body tries to get back to an even playing ground. This heightened metabolic state can continue happening within your body even after you leave the gym. 

In one study, subjects tried two different approaches to weight training: traditional (one set after another of the same exercise), and superset (putting different exercises back to back). After hitting their 10-repetition max for six different exercises, researchers found both methods yielded an afterburn effect, jacking up metabolism beyond an hour post-workout.

Another study looking at men performing five sets of leg presses demonstrated that they were still burning calories for 40 minutes after re-racking the iron.

Types of Lifting for Afterburn

Lifting heavier weights for a shorter duration may be better for getting that afterburn than lighter weights and higher reps. Studies show hoisting heavy weights may also keep the metabolism going long after the barbell is dropped. When comparing heavy lifting to lightening the load, research suggests that going the heavy route may just pay off.

A study found that two sets of eight reps at 85 percent could mean increased metabolism levels for up to two hours post-workout. Which is a significantly larger caloric burn than those who had increased reps, but lighter weights. 

How Technology Can Improve Your Strength Training Performance

Also, exercises targeting larger muscle groups like the quads and hamstrings will burn more calories post-workout than the more isolated alternatives. To maximize the burn, try exercises that workout opposite muscle groups back-to-back. For instance, try matching up chest and back exercises or quads and hamstrings. 

Rest between sets could also factor into that afterburn effect. A study also showed that shorter breaks will lead to greater calorie burn.  Keep rest periods long enough to maintain intensity levels during the actual sets (try for around 85 percent). Then continue back up once you have mostly recovered. 

Where To Start With Weight Lifting For Weight Loss?

Weight lifting can be really intimidating for newbies. I mean who wouldn’t be a little nervous with all those gym dudes who look like they know exactly what they are doing? But really weight lifting isn’t all that hard as long as you stick with basics when you are starting out. 

The first thing that needs to be nailed down when you are just starting is your maximum threshold. Now, this can sound a little scary, but if approached correctly you can start your workout on the right foot and injury free. The main idea is to understand what is the maximum weight your body can lift. If you have a general idea of this number then you can start just below it and work your way up. The key idea is to begin low and start slow.

Once you have found your maximum weight, then you can figure out what you will be actually lifting. For a solid workout, you may want to try just lifting 60 – 80% of your maximum. 

Typically, if you lift 60 – 80% of your max, that means your reps will be somewhere between 10 and 20 repetitions. Lifting at 80% and above takes you down to the lower rep range, which is where you’ll be if you’re trying to gain size. This is usually for more advanced weight lifters, but you can easily work your way up to that if you take your time.

If you are just starting, it’s a good idea to keep your reps between 8 and 16, particularly if you’re lifting weights to lose weight, get fit, and stay strong. Looking at it that way, the amount of weight you use is determined not only by your fitness level but by the number of reps you’re doing. If you’re doing 8 reps, you’ll lift heavier than you would for 16 reps.

A Beginner’s Quick Guide To Weight Lifting 

#1 Choose a weight you can only lift 16 times

This is hit or miss, so you are going to be experimenting. The key thing to think about is to make sure you’re challenging your body. If you could do more than 16 reps, make a note that you need to increase your weight for next time.

#2 Begin with 1 set of each exercise

When you are just starting, take it slow. Just begin by doing one set of each movement. Slowly working your way up to 2-3 sets by adding a set each week.

Weight Lifting Pro-Tip: When you’ve added sets and have a solid foundation, after about 4 or more weeks, add more weight so that you can only finish 12 reps of your exercises.

#3 Continue to push yourself 

Continue to progress by adding a rep each week until you reach the max reps, (no more than 16) increase your weight and drop your reps back down to 10-12.

What To Keep In Mind For Weight Lifting

The important thing to remember when it comes to strength training is that you must give you your muscles more weight than they can handle. That’s how muscles grow. The challenge of lifting heavy is just as much a mental game as it is a physical one. If you haven’t pushed your body’s limits in a while, just the act of lifting weights may be all you can handle.

If you’re consistent with a basic program and build a solid foundation of strength, you’ll be ready for the next step—lifting heavy and pushing your muscles to their limits. You’ll be amazed at the changes in your body. The key is to pick the best weight you can and keep track of how you feel. You can always lift heavier next time.

Added Benefits of Weight Lifting 

Increased Bone Density 

As our body ages, our bones can lose some of their mass and their density. By weight lifting, your bones are less likely to experience density loss and you can keep your body stronger for longer. A study even found that if you start a weight lifting regimen before the age of forty you are a lot more likely to keep your bone density and have increased mobility! 

Injury Prevention

By performing weighted or resistance based exercises you are strengthening not only your muscles but also your tendons and joints! This type of added strength protects your body from potential injury by decreasing weakness in tendons, joints, and muscles. So not only are you preventing injury inside the gym but also in your daily life and activities. 

Stress Relief 

Pumping iron might inflate not only your muscles but also your mood. A recent study found that people with mild to moderate depression who performed resistance training two or more days a week saw “significant” reductions in their symptoms, compared with people who did not. The findings also suggested that resistance exercises may be even more beneficial for those with more severe depressive symptoms.


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Lesley George

Lesley is a content writer and community manager at Shape.
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