If you’re looking to lose weight, you may wonder which type of workout will best help you shed those pounds, and you may have looked into weightlifting for women.
This article explains whether weightlifting helps women lose weight, along with other helpful tips.
Weightlifting — also known as resistance training — was once reserved for bodybuilders due to the myth that lifting weights makes you look bulky.
However, while you can build muscle with weightlifting, becoming bulky is difficult. In order to build substantial muscle mass, you need to lift heavy weights and eat more calories than you burn — and even then, it can take months to years (1, 2).
Factors such as genetics, diet, and body type, as well as exercise load, volume, and intensity, also affect the rate and extent to which you can build muscle (4).
If you’re worried that you’ll suddenly bulk up from lifting weights, rest assured you won’t.
It’s difficult for most women to build substantial muscle mass due to their low levels of anabolic hormones like testosterone, which are needed for muscle synthesis. Thus, you don’t need to worry about looking bulky from lifting weights.
In order to lose weight and burn fat, you need to be in a calorie deficit, which can be achieved in three main ways:
- eating fewer calories per day than you need
- burning more calories through exercise than you consume
- a combination of eating fewer calories and increasing physical activity
Though lifting weights can burn calories, it’s not the most efficient way to do so. Cardiorespiratory training, also known as cardio — which includes running, cycling, and swimming — burns more calories per workout session than weight training (5).
However, weightlifting can support weight loss by building muscle mass. Simply put, muscles are metabolically efficient and support weight loss by burning more calories at rest. Thus, it’s typically best to add both weight training and cardio to your workout regimen (6, 7, 8).
Research also suggests that your metabolic rate is increased after weight training, meaning you’re still burning additional calories hours after your workout has ended. In fact, studies have shown that your metabolic rate can stay elevated for up to 72 hours after a workout (9, 10).
When you lose weight, you’re not losing pure fat — rather, you’re losing fat mass, glycogen stores, and muscle. Weight training helps preserve muscle mass during weight loss, thus increasing fat loss and keeping your metabolism from changing too much (11, 12).
Although weight training will contribute to fat loss, you may not see a large change in the number on the scale, depending on your starting weight and goals. That’s because muscle is denser than fat, meaning it takes up less space on your body pound for pound.
Therefore, as you lose fat and gain muscle, you may lose inches from your waistline but see no change on the scale.
All in all, adding weight training to your workout routine along with cardio exercise and a healthy diet is a great way to support weight loss.
Weight training can support weight loss by burning calories during and after workouts and by preserving muscle mass to prevent your metabolism from slowing down.
Weight training provides numerous other benefits in addition to weight loss.
You’ll appear leaner
Muscle is denser than fat, meaning it takes up less space on your body. Therefore, as you build muscle and lose fat, you will naturally appear leaner and smaller.
What’s more, having stronger and larger muscles will give your body more definition. Contrary to popular belief, you can’t tone your muscles, but building muscles and losing fat showcases muscle definition, creating a stronger, leaner look.
You’ll be stronger
A major benefit of weight training is that you’ll get stronger.
Gaining strength makes daily activities like carrying groceries and playing with your kids easier. Plus, it lowers your risk of falls and injuries since you’re better able to support your body (13, 14).
Weight training is also crucial for bone development because it puts temporary stress on your bones, which signals to your body to rebuild them stronger. This can reduce your risk of osteoporosis and fractures, especially as you age (15, 16, 17, 18).
Lower risk of chronic disease
Weight training can reduce your risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and age-related conditions like sarcopenia, which is the gradual loss of muscle mass and strength related to aging (19, 20).
Adding both resistance training and cardio to your workout routine may boost your health even more. Both forms of exercise provide many benefits, including improved heart health and increases in lung capacity, metabolism, blood flow, and muscle mass (19, 20).
Benefits of weight training include stronger muscles and bones, reduced risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and a leaner appearance.
Before starting a new workout regimen, it’s best to speak with your healthcare provider to make sure the plan is safe and right for you. Once you have clearance to exercise, there are many easy ways to add it to your life.
Most experts recommend 3–5 weight training sessions per week along with days allotted for cardio and rest. The number of sessions depends on factors such as training volume, intensity, recovery days needed, and your schedule.
Theoretically, you can weight train every day but should allow 48 hours of recovery per muscle group. For example, if you train your back and shoulders on Monday, it’s best to wait until Wednesday or Thursday before training them again.
More exercise isn’t always better. The quality of your workouts is more important than the quantity. If you can fit in only 2–3 training sessions per week, you can still achieve results — just focus on good form and make sure your workouts challenge you.
Here’s an example of a 1-week exercise routine:
- Monday: upper body training (arms, shoulders, back)
- Tuesday: active recovery day, including cardio (walking, running, cycling, swimming)
- Wednesday: lower body training (glutes, quads, hamstrings)
- Thursday: active recovery, including cardio (walking, running, cycling, swimming) and a core workout
- Friday: optional training day (lower body or upper body training)
- Saturday: full-body high intensity interval training (HIIT)
- Sunday: rest day with light stretching or a light workout (like yoga or Pilates)
You can also combine workouts if you can’t exercise this often. For example, combine upper body training with HIIT and lower body training with a core workout.
Depending on the intensity of your workouts, you may need more rest days. If you’re very sore in the days following your weight training, consider adding some light stretching or yoga to your routine.
While it may feel good to lie on the couch when you’re sore, try to get up and move a bit. This will allow your muscles to rest while encouraging blood flow and active recovery.
Ultimately, the best way to keep yourself safe and avoid injury is to listen to and respect your body and know your limits.
Remember that the best exercise is a type that you can sustain long term. If you find a workout routine that fits into your lifestyle and schedule, you’ll be more likely to stick to it, enjoy it, and get the results you’re looking for.
If you want more guidance, consider working with a physical trainer, who can provide personalized recommendations to help you reach your unique goals.
Try to incorporate 3–5 weight training sessions per week into your workout regimen along with cardio and rest days.
While weightlifting can support weight loss, paying attention to your nutrition is another important factor. Weightlifting burns calories, but you’ll need to pair it with a suitable diet to achieve noticeable weight loss (5).
What’s more, if you’re looking to build muscle and strength, it’s important to refuel your body with adequate protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats (23).
Though it depends on your goals, your body size, and other factors, most people should aim to get 20–40 grams of protein per meal or around 0.6–0.9 grams per pound (1.4–2.0 grams per kg) of body weight per day to maintain muscle during weight loss (24, 25, 26, 27).
In addition, make sure to include foods containing healthy fats and complex carbs in your diet to properly fuel your workouts and recovery. These foods are likely to be high in beneficial nutrients, and they can help keep you feeling full longer (28).
Pairing weightlifting with a nutritious diet will support weight loss goals. Aim for 20–40 grams of protein per meal or 0.6–0.9 grams per pound (1.4–2.0 grams per kilogram) of body weight per day, along with a diet rich in complex carbs and healthy fats.
Weightlifting is beneficial for women at any age and will not make you bulky. Rather, it can help create a lean, stronger look.
It helps you build strength and muscle and reduces your risk of chronic diseases, and it can promote weight loss.
A workout regimen that includes weight training days targeting various muscle groups, as well as cardio and a nutritious diet with adequate protein, will support your weight loss efforts.
While most experts recommend aiming for 3–5 weight training sessions per week, incorporating any weight training into your exercise regimen will be beneficial.