Does Weight Lifting Burn Fat? (From A Physician)

Michael Garrico
Published by Michael Garrico | Co-Founder & Marketing Director
Last updated: November 29, 2023
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Many of my first-time clients on a weight loss journey want to know if lifting weights will help them shed pounds.

As a personal trainer, I spend a lot of time instructing people in the gym, and their changes in body fat percentage and composition were a direct result of weight training.

To explain the mechanism behind it, I sat with a physician friend and spent days researching this topic in great detail.

Let’s see if you should lift heavy to lose body fat.

Quick Summary

  • Weight lifting burns fat, and replaces them with muscles.
  • For effective results when using weights, combine both light and heavy weights.
  • Squats, lunges, deadlifts, and military presses are the weight exercises that burn more calories.
  • To speed up this process even more, consider introducing fat burners into your routine.

Weight Lifting and Weight Loss

A person weight lifting for weight loss

Lifting weights provides a distinct weight reduction benefit compared to other exercises.

It helps you with building muscle and losing fat mass at the same time.

When resting, your muscle tissue burns more calories than visceral fat.

While building muscle, your system will be burning fat at rest at a much faster pace than it had before you developed muscle [1].

As a result, your resting metabolic rate rises, and you burn calories each day. The more muscles you have, the higher the metabolism and the faster you lose body fat [2].

Adding muscle-building and strength training workouts such as lifting heavy weights can be a game-changer to your weight loss goal.

I’ve seen a huge shift in my clients’ overall performance and body composition once they swapped endless cardio sessions for weights, especially after introducing weight sessions focused on compound movements.

Fat as Fuel for Muscle Building

Food plays a huge role in burning calories. Therefore, you should always consider and count the number of calories you consume.

Lifting weights uses fat calories as the “extra” fuel to build muscle.

In short, when you lift weights, your body burns fat as the source of fuel for muscle tissue growth. It uses your body fat as your "surplus calories" [3].

Benefits of Weight Training Workout

Two people burning fat in the gym by lifting weights

Strength training workouts, especially those based on stop-start weight training exercises, also burn through muscular glycogen [4].

After refilling the glycogen with food after working out, the blood sugar doesn’t hang around much, and with time, your body’s insulin sensitivity improves [5].

Your body will improve at using the blood sugar for muscle energy rather than converting it into fat.

"Obviously, burning more calories throughout the day, in conjunction with a balanced diet, will boost your fat loss."

- Wendy Batts, Master Instructor at National Academy of Sports Medicine

Lastly, the total calorie burn is much higher than with cardio workouts. See, after cardio, the heart rate and metabolism resume normalcy in a few hours [6].

But if you jack up your weights, you’ll enjoy the effects of the workout even much later after you’re done (afterburn) [7].

It's like double-dipping your workouts. That’s not the only benefit.

The extra muscle mass gained from heavy resistance training is necessary to keep you from gaining fat back after losing it.

The muscles will require extra calories to maintain their mass rather than the calories being turned into fat.

3 Tips to Use Weight Workouts for Effective Fat Loss

A person lifting weights in the gym for fat loss

I'll suggest a couple of tips to maximize your weight loss program. These tips have been instrumental in my clients’ fat loss journey.

1. Combine Light and Heavy Lifting

While heavy weightlifting burns more calories after the workout, doing more reps burns extra calories throughout the workout.

I make sure that my clients balance their exercises by using light weights with higher repetitions, that is 10-20 reps, and heavy weights with low repetitions, 3-7 reps.

Another option is to complete four repetitions of most workouts, with the first two being heavy-weight with low repetitions and the last two being light-weight with high reps.

2. Give Preference to Compound Lifts

A person doing compound lifts to lose weight

Compound workouts are significantly better for losing body fat.

The workouts generate bigger responses as a result of the increased demand, which means you get fitter quicker.

Another effect of high-demand compound workouts on your body is that you lose more weight.

Because fewer reps of squats engage more muscles and burn more fat than a few reps of lateral raises, concentrating your training on complex exercises implies you'll build more muscle for your bucks in the fitness center.

Compound exercises have been demonstrated to promote power and lean muscle mass growth faster than isolation workouts [8].

3. Keeping Your Lifting Sessions Short

It’s easy to assume that longer lifting sessions will burn more fat.

But that’s not the truth.

Instead, I suggest you switch your mentality from counting the number of hours spent in the gym to focus on the intensity of your workouts [9].

For example, a genuine and intense workout shouldn’t be longer than 45 minutes. If you’re doing everything correctly, you’re likely to get fatigued in a short time.


Does Lifting Weights Burn Belly Fat?

Yes, lifting weights burns belly fat because muscle tissue can burn more calories than fat tissue.

What Weight Exercise Burns the Most Fat?

Weight exercises that burn the most fat are deadlifts, military presses, lunges, and squats.

Can You Lose Fat Just by Lifting Weights, No Cardio?

Yes, you can lose weight by lifting lighter weights, no cardio. Muscle tissue burns more calories than fat tissue; therefore, building muscle mass can burn more calories.

How Often Should I Lift Weights to Lose Weight?

You should lift weights 2 to 3 days to lose weight. This will also depend on how many calories you consume on a daily basis.


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