Updated: May 9, 2022
Everybody knows that cardio burns fat.
Well, not exactly. Cardio burns calories, not fat directly. Cardio is simply a tool that you can use to increase your ability to burn fat. Cardio alone is not the answer to all your weight loss problems and questions.
But what about weightlifting? Does it have the same effect as cardio? Or is it only good for build muscle and getting stronger? Can it help me burn fat?
In this post, we'll go over exactly how fat loss works, look at whether or not weightlifting can help you burn fat, and help you apply this knowledge into your training/exercise program.
How Does Fat Loss Work?
Like we mentioned earlier, contrary to popular belief, cardio (and general exercise) does not directly burn fat. Exercising burns calories, which is a measure of the amount of energy you consumed through food and drink.
In order to burn fat and lose weight, you need to be eating in a caloric deficit. This basically means that you're burning more calories throughout the day than you're eating.
Excess calories that we eat and don't burn are stored as fat. That's long term energy. And any energy that our bodies need but don't have access to from the food we eat is taken from fat, which burns it off and slowly causes us to lose weight.
Each person burns a number of calories each day. This is known as the maintenance number of calories. Eating at this number would cause our bodyweight to remain the same. Eating below this number would cause us to lose weight, and eating above this would cause us to gain weight.
You can use this calculator here to get a rough idea of your maintenance level of calories. Then, to lose weight you should look to eat in a 300-500 caloric deficit, which means you burn 300-500 more calories than you eat throughout the day.
You can either achieve this deficit through eating below your maintenance level calories, or eating at this number and then doing some kind of exercise to burn off the extra 300-500 calories each day. If you keep this up for long enough, you're going to be able to lose a lot of weight.
You should already be starting to see that you don't have to do any form of exercise at all if your only goal is to lose weight. Regardless of how many hours you spend on the treadmill, or rowing on the machine each week, if you keep your diet in check you will be able to lose weight.
However this does not mean that exercise is pointless either. Physical exercise has many health benefits that can drastically improve the overall quality of our lives, and is definitely something that most people should be looking to get into if they're able to do so.
For example, regularly exercising has the following benefits:
Increased self confidence
Improved sleep quality
Many, many more!
To learn more about the benefits of regular exercise, check out our blog article on that topic, which you can do so here.
Eating in a caloric deficit can also sometimes lead to constant hunger and the desire to eat. If you find this to be a problem, then you may want to look to eat at your maintenance level of calories each day and do some additional exercise instead.
This is going to allow you to eat more and feel fuller throughout the day, without sacrificing your goals.
Hopefully that clears things up about how fat loss works.
Does Lifting Weights Help Burn Fat?
Weightlifting is a form of exercise. It requires our body to generate force and uses up energy to do so. This means that weightlifting does burn calories, and can help you burn fat.
It can be used in substitution for cardiovascular exercises such as running and rowing. However, it does generally burn less calories than cardio does. According to Medical News Today, weightlifting for half an hour can burn between 90 and 252 calories, depending on a person's bodyweight and training intensity.
Now compare this to running, which some sources say can burn as many as 500 calories in just 30 minutes (possibly over!).
We put this to the test in the VeryWellFit calorie burning calculator with the average man's weight and the average mile time for a 30 minute run, and we found that you would burn 472 calories if this all applied to you.
There are several factors that we have to think about and take into consideration, but we can infer cardiovascular exercise such as running burns quite a lot more calories than lifting weights does.
But then again, this doesn't mean that weightlifting is a bad option if you want to lose fat either. You see, when you lift weights, you will build the most amount of strength and muscle mass. More than you would with cardiovascular exercises.
And building more muscle is one of the best and most effective ways that you can improve your metabolism (your metabolism is the rate that your body burns naturally calories at).
Muscle is naturally more metabolically active than fat. So it should make sense that if you have more muscle, you'll boost your metabolism.
This means that having more muscle is going to allow your body to naturally burn more calories, even when you're not doing any physical activity.
Muscle tissue burns 7-10 calories per pound of muscle each day.
Each pound of fat on your body only burns 2-3 calories each day. You can do some basic math and figure out that on average, muscle helps you burn more than twice the number of calories that fat does when you're resting.
This will increase the speed of your metabolism, and allow you to burn more calories throughout the day. You'll find it easier to keep the extra weight off and look leaner.
Whether you do this through weightlifting in the gym, bodyweight workouts at home or playing a sport, you should look to take up some kind of physical activity that allows you to build more muscle.
So not only does weightlifting burn calories, but it also increases your ability to burn calories in the future and may actually be the better choice of exercise long term if you're serious about making gains and preserving them.
If you want to learn more about boosting your metabolism, click here to read our free blog article on that as well!
Now that you know lifting weights can help you to burn fat and could actually be the better option for long term gains and progress, we'll get into helping you incorporate this into your training.
Applying to Your Training
When you come to implement this new knowledge into your own training, it's important that you remember that you won't make any progress towards your goals if you've got your diet wrong. Remember, in order to lose weight, you have to be in a caloric deficit. These is no way around this. You have to be burning more than you're eating.
So first, you should look to create some kind of a meal plan. Take into account your maintenance calories, your ability to fit workouts into your weekly schedule, your goals, and then find out roughly how many calories you're going to be eating and what you might want to eat to get there.
If you would like a detailed break down to creating your own workout meal plan, you can click here to read our free blog article.
You also need to decide whether or not you want to be exercising. Generally, for most people we would recommend it if possible. Like we said earlier the health benefits that come with regular exercise are extremely important and can really help to improve your life in many aspects.
However if you decide that you don't want to do any form of exercise, that is okay too. You will just have to be more strict about the number of calories that you eat as you won't have a way to burn off any extra calories.
If you do decide that you want to exercise, we would recommend doing a combination of both cardio and weightlifting. Cardio has benefits that weightlifting doesn't, and vice versa. To get the best of both world, you can incorporate both training types into your program.
Remember that cardio does burn more calories, but weightlifting is going to allow you to build more muscle and still burn calories, which will help more in the long run if you want to continue to burn more calories and maintain a healthier bodyweight.
We recommend doing weightlifting 2-3 times a week, and cardio also 2-3 times a week. Try to schedule between 4 and 6 training days a week, depending on your availability and your preferences. Training more often does not always mean more gains and more progress. Pick whatever works best for you.
Lift heavy during your weightlifting sessions, and train the entire body to start with. This is going to allow you to hit the most muscles across the entire body from session to session, and is the best choice if you're only going into the gym 2-3 times a week.
For your cardio, we recommend doing less taxing sessions by working at a lower intensity for longer instead of doing HIIT workouts. This is because HIIT workouts tend to come with a higher recovery cost and are more likely to affect your future training sessions.
Steady state is going to take longer, but it's going to be better at preserving your joints and muscles for future use.
Alternatively, you can simply go for a walk. If you adjust your caloric intake to accommodate for this, a simple 30-40 minute walk at the beach or park can be sufficient exercise to lose weight.
Wrapping It Up
Overall, weightlifting does burn calories, and can definitely help you to lose weight. It might even be the better option over cardio for long term progress and maintaining your gains.
However, it doesn't matter how much exercise you're doing if your diet isn't in check. You have to be eating the right amount and the right foods (most of the time) if you're serious about getting to where you want to be.
We hope you've enjoyed reading through this post. If you found it helpful, share it with your friends so that we can reach more people!
We're trying to help as many as possible reach their fitness goals and answer as many questions as possible!