Does Lifting Weights Burn Fat?

People are always looking for the latest fat burning workouts and supplements. Of course, almost everybody would like to be a little leaner and feel more confident with their bodies.

However, it can be difficult to decide the best route to take for your workouts; should you do CrossFit style workouts, HIIT training, steady-state cardio or something completely different?

How about strength training? We all know it is essential for building muscle but does lifting weights burn fat?

does lifting weights burn fat

On the path to a leaner physique, most people tend to veer towards standard methods of increasing calorie burn like adding extra Cardio or HIIT training while manipulating their diet so they are in a calorie deficit.

Obviously, that stuff will work. After all, if you are burning more calories than you consume over a period of time, you will lose weight.

The trouble is, for strength athletes and trainees, those methods can sometimes detract from your goals of being bigger and stronger as well as being lean.

If you want to be strong (who doesn't?!), strength training needs to remain the main focus of your programming.

But don’t worry, strength training still has many fat burning benefits.

Cardio Training vs Strength Training for Fat Loss

This purpose of this article isn’t to prove whether traditional cardio or resistance training is superior for fat loss. In fact, a combination is likely to be the best approach.

Cardio is a fantastic way to reduce your bodyweight, get leaner, and improve your overall fitness levels.

However, there can be some disadvantages to cardio if it is not programmed alongside a good strength training regime.

The main downfall of doing copious amounts of cardiovascular training while consuming a lower-calorie diet is muscle loss. This happens as a result of creating a calorie deficit that's too big as well as hampering your muscle's recovery.

You may lose weight on the scale with a lot of cardio but it may not be the weight you want to be losing. You must perform the correct type of cardio to avoid muscle loss.

Strength training, however, can be an effective way of burning fat while allowing you to keep muscle, if not gain some in certain situations.

Why? Let’s discuss how strength training burns additional fat, and how you can manipulate your training program to accelerate your fat loss results.

Weight Training Boosts Metabolism?

One effect that strength training has on your body that traditional, aerobic cardio doesn’t is that it increases what is known as EPOC, (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption) which, in simple terms, relates to the processes that take place when you rest to bring your body back to a level of homeostasis.

Strength training has been shown to have a positive effect on EPOC and, therefore, metabolic levels.

Increasing metabolism and burning fat as a result of high intensity exercise is a pretty great benefit if you ask me.

Please note, high intensity cardio will also increase EPOC but is less likely to increase your strength and help maintain your muscle mass.

Do Heavier Weights Burn More Calories?

It has been observed lifting heavier weights, with the correct form, in comparison to moderate weights (around 70% of your 1 rep max), will create a longer lasting EPOC in your system.

So, to increase your chances of elevating EPOC for longer periods after training, try lifting heavier weights on your main lifts (80%+ of your max), with correct form to avoid the risk of injury.

EPOC high intensity vs aerobic training graph

If you are unsure of the weight percentages, aim for a weight you can lift in the range of 3-5 reps.

Calorie Burn During Weight Training

So far, I have discussed the big benefit of Post-training calorie burn.

What I haven’t touched on is the fact your body will still be burning calorie during your resistance sessions. While a 90-minute run may burn more calories than a 90-minute lifting session, you do still burn a respectable number of calories while strength training.

Plus, the 90-minute run doesn’t have the muscle-maintenance, strength gaining or post-workout calorie burning effects.

Exercise calorie burn chart

Choosing the right exercises when you are lifting will also have a big impact on the total number of calorie being burned.

Best Exercises for Fat Burning

If you were to follow the typical routines of bodybuilders and celebrities found in magazines, you will likely end up performing a bunch of different isolation exercises for each body part during your workouts.

All-round this doesn’t really make sense but it makes even less sense when it comes to burning fat.

Working more muscles during a given time period is surely going to produce a higher calorie burn. So why would any effective workout ever be based around isolation exercises?

Compound movements (exercises that require the involvement of multiple joints), bench, deadlift, squat, pull up etc, are known to burn more calories than isolation movements. Why wouldn’t they, they put a whole lot more stress on your entire body, rather than one muscle group.

compound exercise chart

An effective way to burn extra calories throughout a fat loss regime is to focus the majority, if not all of your workouts on compound movements and perform them at higher intensities as discussed earlier.

But how will this burn more calories?

When performing an isolation exercise, let’s take a bicep curl for example, you are only really working a small number of relatively small muscles; your body doesn’t really need to work that hard.

Compare that to performing a chin-up, which will work not only your biceps but back, shoulders and core as well.

It make sense that an exercise consisting of several muscle groups should have the potential to burn more calories than a single-joint exercise.

How Often Should you Lift Weights for Fat Loss?

If pure fat loss was the only consideration, high-intensity strength workouts every single day would yield remarkable results.

Unfortunately, there are factors like recovery that must be thought of.

It can be difficult to determine the optimal amount of training for the best results as every individual is different. Some may respond positively to extra loads of training, and some may experience some negative effects.

For more detail on this topic, view my training frequency article.

As a general recommendation, I would suggest that you strength train 3-4 times per week. As long as you are training every major muscle group in a balanced fashion at least twice per week, you should be good to go.

I would also emphasise leaving at least a complete day before training the same muscle group again.

A full-body workout routine could have you training all your muscles on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday. This should provide enough frequency and enough rest.

Remember that I said cardio is still an effective fat burning tool?

Well, the off days from your strength workouts is where you can implement it. Feel free to experiment with the types of cardio you are doing but pay attention to how your body reacts.

If the cardio work starts to impede your strength training, you may need to back off or adjust the intensity of it.

Does Lifting Weights Burn Fat? - Conclusion

The overall takeaway from this piece is that you CAN burn fat when performing strength training, and in many cases I feel it is has more benefits than traditional cardio.

For the majority of people, I would prefer to see them base their training routine around strength training while manipulating calorie intake to achieve fat loss.

Cardio can then be added on top to burn extra calories and for the additional health benefits.

You will be able to maintain, and even build muscle if you have never tried lifting weights before. you won’t realise the full benefits of strength training until you try!

Denver Matheson

I spend a lot of time at the gym and even more time in the kitchen giving my body what it needs to repair itself and grow stronger. The third most important place for any athlete is their research zone. That's exactly why this site exists, to help me share all of the information I've learned throughout the years just like people did for me in the first place!

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