How to Lift Weights to Lose Weight

Cinnamon Janzer
by Cinnamon Janzer
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How to Lift Weights to Lose Weight

Most people think you have to spend hours on the treadmill to lose weight, but more research is showing that building muscle through strength training is the way to go. “It’s a really well ingrained myth that running at a low intensity for long periods of time is the way to lose weight,” explains Amber Ellison Walker, a NASM certified personal trainer at I Think I Can Fitness in Minneapolis, Minnesota. “I used to work at a gym and that’s exactly what we were supposed to tell people, but now there’s research that shows that burning fat is about using energy and the most efficient way to use energy is to strength train,” Walker notes.

Some of the research she’s talking about is Bill Evans’ work. A professor in the Department of Medicine at Duke University and the Department of Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology at UC Berkeley, Evans explains that strength training is key to losing weight because it builds muscle mass. “As our muscles get bigger, they trigger protein synthesis, which requires calories. The result is a sustained burning of calories and an increased metabolic rate,” Evans explains. “During aerobic exercise, we use more calories while exercising, but quickly return to our base metabolic rates afterwards,” he adds.


Even if you haven’t been a weightlifter before, Evans’ work on sarcopenia (the loss of muscle mass associated with aging) proves it’s never too late to start. “Our research demonstrates how resilient muscle is even in 50- and 60-year-olds and beyond, and that muscle is astonishingly responsive to exercise,” he notes.

It turns out that strength training is ideal for people with busy schedules or people who aren’t inspired to work out more than a couple of times a week, because that’s all you need. Many of Evans’ studies have participants strength training just three days per week because “muscles need time to recover — you don’t need to exercise them every day,” he explains. This study, focusing on women, required just two days per week, concluding that the routine is “behaviorally feasible for busy midlife women.”

“Another thing we’ve seen is that previously weak people become more active when they get stronger because they’re able to do things like climb stairs more easily,” Evans adds.


As amazing as strength training is, there’s one problem that stands in a lot of people’s way: Getting to the weights. “I’m a big fan of figuring out how to do workouts at home. I go to people’s homes [to train them] because I believe that exercise should be integrated into your life,” Walker says.


While she stresses the importance of working with a trainer, at least initially, Walker says it’s necessary “if you have anything going on with your body like injuries, chronic pain or muscular imbalances that will affect your ability to perform.” Here, she offers suggestions for ways to add strength training at home:


“Put a pullup bar somewhere in your place. Pullups are easy to start with, even if you’re just hanging there. Eventually you’ll do half of a pullup, then a full pullup and so on. Just do one every time you walk past it and eventually you’ll progress, and that’s what weight training is about — progression,” Walker says.


Workout snacks is a term Walker uses to refer to quick-and-easy mini workouts you can do throughout your day. “Pushups are a great example. Start at the counter if you can’t do one on the floor. Move to a table, then to a chair and eventually to the floor — again, it’s all about progression,” she notes, adding that squats and stair steps are also great workout snacks.


“Kettlebells are really easily hidden and so are most dumbbells and [both are] super effective for at-home strength training. Strength bands and suspension kits are other pieces of equipment that work well at home and take up very little space,” she concludes.

About the Author

Cinnamon Janzer
Cinnamon Janzer

Cinnamon hails from the prairie lands of North Dakota, has been told that she thinks too much, and enjoys using oxford commas. She’s a writer and editor who is fascinated by people and culture and can’t seem to stop traveling. Her work has been featured in, Brit+Co, Developing Citizen Designers, and more and has been cited in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. She currently splits her time between Brooklyn, Latin America, and Minneapolis with her dog, Gus, at her side. When she’s not typing away, she’s continuously endeavoring to improve her surfing and perfect her Spanish. You can read more about her at


37 responses to “How to Lift Weights to Lose Weight”

  1. Avatar Christin says:

    If I had known this years ago, I would have been losing weight this way instead of the treadmill.
    Still get on the treadmill because when people call it the “dreadmill”, I call it my place of Zen. It faces the wall at home, and when I’m stressed, just put my headphones on, and zone out for thirty minutes. It’s so relaxing to me.
    Also, for me, lifting weights helps in keeping my joints loose. Go too long without my weights and my joints get so stiff.
    My weights are also at home.
    Also have The Perfect Push-Up at home that I do before my weights as pre warm-up, then move on to lighter weights as a warm-up weighted cardio, then bump up to the heaviest weights I can handle. Then move on to the treadmill for thirty.
    Gone from 10lbs being so heavy, to doing 30lbs Chest Flies now as well as a standing shoulder press and more.
    Weights are the better option, but cardio is still good for a healthy heart. Plus, I can’t give up my treadmill time.

  2. Avatar Sara says:

    I think the title of this note its wrong, the note doesn’t not say how to loose weight with weight lifting it just recommends lifting weights to loose weights rather than cardio only … Disappointed cause of misleading title !

    • Avatar JAB says:

      I was going to write this myself. Title should read “How to add weight lifting into your home or work routines”

    • Avatar Kristin says:

      Actually the title is not misleading. They aren’t saying you should add strength training on top of cardio; they are saying you should replace your cardio-based workout with strength training.

      • Avatar Alan J Krawitz says:

        Exactly!! Change strategies for weight loss from cardio to strength training. The advice in the article is spot-on…I’ve been lifting since age 16, now 52, and do most of my workouts at-home…using a pull-up bar, dumbbells, kettlebell and assorted strength bands in addition to using an array of bodyweight exercises incorporating pushups and squats. Gym days are only 1-2 per week…that’s when I go heavy, really push-it and see how I’m progressing. But, the home workouts are key…keep you consistent, they’re quick (no more than 30-40 minutes) and you can get pretty darn good, hi-intensity workout.

      • Avatar Jane says:

        Strength training is for appendages and core. Cardiovascular is for the heart! Don’t eliminate cardio!

    • Avatar Terri Hart says:

      I agree, I would like more information. I wonder how many calories are burned and also what weight loss results can be expected.

  3. Avatar svetlana says:

    I have seen the best results in weight loss with HIIT style workouts, not strength training. Yes, misleading title of the article as well.

    • Avatar Andrew King says:

      HIIT is more advanced. It’s not for people who are starting out with losing weight. Once someone gets used to exercising and has decent cardio, HIIT is the way to go. Did you even get the point of the article? Strength training builds muscle which burns more calories longer for the same effort and you lose weight faster. HIIT has a lot of cardio and you return to your resting heart rate and lose the calorie burning benefits of cardio way sooner.

  4. Avatar Jonathan says:

    Can anyone recommend a decent pull up bar that doesn’t require screws?

  5. Avatar Yooneek1 says:

    Burn the Fat Feed the Muscle by Tom Venuto is an excellent ebook I used several years ago to help me get in shape and I highly recommend it.

  6. Avatar JFred says:

    90% of losing weight is food. 1 big hamburger can do in an hour of exercise so eat wisely.

  7. Avatar Jaime Toledo says:

    Weak article.

  8. Avatar BadRead says:

    Very misleading title, therefore the info was terrible! And of all “starting exercises” for starting “small” it tells us to get a PULL UP BAR….REALLY?!!! And start doing push-ups?!! REALLY? Those are ADVANCED moves…they are 2 of the hardest moves to do for most women. Yes there’s harder moves and yes some women can easily do them but not most. I thought the article would tell us to use lighter weights and more repetitions or something like that. This was not helpful and ridiculous info!

    • Avatar GoodRead says:

      Are you just reading articles to confirm your own bias? Unfortunately, too many women have the light weight and greater number of reps stuck in their brains from the 80s/90s. More research is showing this isn’t helpful for people trying to slim down. And strength training is great for people just getting into fitness. I have been lifting olympic style free weights for the past few years and couldn’t agree more with this article. I started strength training because I have an insanely hectic schedule and could not fit in 3-4 cardio workouts per week. I have never felt better.

    • Avatar Broderick Blocker says:

      Didn’t read the article. She tells exactly how to start doing pullups by just hanging off the bar at first, then do half pullups, then a full one, over time, as you progress. Same with pushups – push off the kitchen counter at first, then off a table, then off a chair, then off the floor, as you progress, over time. It’s in there. Go read the whole thing.

  9. Avatar rc says:

    Diet cardio and weights. enough said

  10. Avatar Eric Glover says:

    My thought is find something you like and do it! I started walking a little more each day until I got to 14000 steps. Then I’d run from one light pole to the next. Now I run 3-5 miles daily. I eat 85% of base plus exercise calories. I do an hour of strength training 3 days per week. I’m 51 years old and have lost 54 lbs in 14 months. I feel 20 years younger and I no longer hate the way my body looks. For me, it takes food awareness, cardio and strength training to achieve my goals. One size does not fit all.

    • Avatar Kathleen McCain Engman says:

      Eric — wow — I’ve got 15 years on you [when did THAT happen?] — and I’m inspired by your “started-here/now-I’m_HERE (and) I feel 20 years younger” story. Question from this nonlifter: what does “85% of base plus exercise calories” mean? Do I “need” to “add” something called “exercise calories,” once I start working out? [My interest isn’t weight loss, per se; it’s recovery-from/prevention-of aging joint and muscle deterioration — I’m a Flab Monster. HELP!

      • Avatar Eric Glover says:

        Thank you, Kathleen! I pair MyFitnessPal with a Garmin Vivo 2 tracker. I have my daily calories set at 1500. I track my strength training, but I don’t add calories for it. Walking and running adds calories – 800 or so per day. So 85% of 2300 calories is 1955, so that’s what I eat on those days. I strive for lean protein and fresh vegetables and fruits. But if I feel like I need pizza, I get a personal pan (640 calories) and I can’t overeat because there are no leftovers! LOL I wish you the best on your journey.

    • Avatar YSC - Georgia says:

      Thanks Eric – this sounds almost exactly like the plan I used when I lost 70 lbs in 10 months and was able to participate in my 1st 10k event @ 52. Sadly about 6 months after training my weight began to gradually increase & I’m trying to hold on. Your post is a reminder that weight loss & maintenance is possible. Thanks for sharing.

      • Avatar Eric Glover says:

        I ran my first 5K 2 weeks ago. I’m running another Thanksgiving day. I’m able to do things at 51 that I’ve never been able to do. YSC, I wish you the best on your journey!

    • Avatar Selina Wang says:

      agree. I like zumba, yoga and other aerobics than weight lifting, but I need at least once weight lifting for one week.

  11. Avatar K. Miles says:

    I agree with, Sara. There is nothing here to indicate how to lose weight lifting weights. What happens when you build muscle and can’t lose weight? Once again, the study does not show me the individuals who took part in the research. The picture in this article may not represent the 50-60 year olds who participated in the study. Just looking for more information that is more precise about the this theory.

    • Avatar Anonne says:

      Building muscle helps you lose weight because it increases your metabolic rate. Some people don’t run a lick but lose weight with strength training because their bodies burn more calories. More muscles, more calorie burn. Hitting a plateau is a different thing, there are articles about what to do when you hit a plateau.

  12. Avatar David Dunn says:

    So, how? Is it lighter weights with more reps, or heavier weights, or what?

  13. Avatar Ciara A says:

    …soo… what should I start off with?

  14. Avatar Jason Simpson says:

    As a personal trainer myself, the most important point was completely missed and I disagree with the premise. You need a mix of both if you’re trying to maximize weight loss and preserve muscle mass. The point that was missed is when you strength train, you create a condition in the body where the body is in constant state of muscle repair. When in this state, you will burn more calories than someone who doesn’t weight train, even at rest. Not too mention you’ll gain some muscle mass. Which is good because, on the average, you’ll burn an extra 50 cal/day/lb of muscle.

  15. Avatar Kristine says:

    Who’s the girl in the picture?

  16. Avatar Vicki says:

    The title doesn’t tell you how to lift weights to lose weight, only that you should be lifting. I can’t believe I continue to think these MFP emails are going to actually provide useful information.

  17. Avatar Maria says:

    and the opposite… what if you have a lot of muscle mass and want to burn the excess fat? thanks

  18. Avatar Donald Weston says:

    I found this tremendously interesting as it seem to validate what my experience is. I have had a bad ankle for 2 years so I could not do cardio very easily (it’s been fused a few months ago), so I did mainly strength exercises. I would lose 2 lbs a day (combined with more sensible eating – thanks mfp!). And I felt GOOD about it, and myself. It always made me wonder about this cardio thing for losing weight. I’m an old coot so I’m looking forward to rebuilding muscle mass also.

  19. Avatar Selina Wang says:

    I think sports circle is easy for me to start, in China, we call that hula circle.

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