Strength-training and weight loss are connected. Learn more.

If you want to work out to lose weight, you might be considering spin classes or jogging on the treadmill. And while those cardio workouts are essential for burning calories and building endurance, it’s also important to include muscle-strengthening in your routine. Strength training and weight loss are closely linked.

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What Is Strength Training?

Many people associate strength-building with bulky muscles and bodybuilders. But strengthening exercises aren’t just for people who want to bulk up with dumbbells.

Strengthening exercise (sometimes called resistance training) includes a wide variety of exercises and activities. The goal is to work a set of muscles to fatigue through repetition — not to elevate your heart rate over an extended period of time as in cardio workouts.

Strengthening exercise can involve:

  • Free weights
  • Weight machines at the gym
  • Resistance bands
  • Medicine balls
  • Lifting small items like cans or water bottles at home
  • Body weight exercises (e.g., pushups, situps, squats, and planks)

Strength Training and Weight Loss

When you maintain a muscle-strengthening routine, you’ll feel stronger and look more toned — and yes, lose weight. According to the American Heart Association, resistance workouts grow the strength of your bones, muscles, and connective tissues, like tendons and ligaments. That’s especially important as you age and your risk for osteoporosis and bone fractures rises. The American Diabetes Association says that regular strength-building exercise can also increase insulin sensitivity and thereby lower blood glucose.

And if you work out to lose weight, here’s more good news: Those muscles you’re building boost your metabolism, because muscle at rest burns more calories than fat. So as you get toned, you actually burn more calories throughout the day — even when you’re just sitting on the couch.

A Little Strength-Building Goes a Long Way

For optimal results, you should do strengthening exercises at least two times a week, focusing on the major muscle groups. Take a day or rest in between—for example, if you work on legs one day, do arms the next. If you perform a full-body workout (including your arms, legs, and chest, etc.) take a whole day or rest in between.

Of course, check with your doctor before starting any fitness program.

It’s important — especially if you haven’t done strengthening exercises before — to start small. Warm up and cool down with lighter weights if you’re just starting out.

Use light weights with more repetitions at first, and then work up to heavier weights or stronger resistance bands. Muscle-strengthening activities should be gradually increased over time. Begin with one day a week performing a light to moderate effort. Then increase to two days per week, building the intensity over time.

For even better results, combine strengthening exercises with 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, such as walking, swimming, or biking, five days per week. If you also do yoga or Pilates a couple times per week to improve flexibility, you’ll have an optimal fitness regimen for weight loss or general health.

Muscle-Building Myths, Busted

No, you will not look like a professional bodybuilder if you start lifting weights a couple of times each week. Especially for women, it’s impossible to achieve a bulky look without a highly specialized diet and an intense weightlifting routine.

Another myth is that you can’t slim down while strength-building. Remember that muscle weighs significantly more than fat, so it may appear that your weight loss has slowed when, in fact, you’re toning up and dropping sizes. It can be better to track your health by how clothes fit rather than with the scale.