Everything You Need To Know About Weight Training For Weight Loss, According To Experts

Tired of racking up miles on the treadmill and still not hitting your goals in the gym? You're not alone. Recently, many women have sprinted away from traditional cardio exercises toward weight training—and there's a good reason why.

Cardio used to be the go-to for losing weight while getting fit at the same time. But, once social media (and even government organizations) started shifting their stance on what it means to be active, people turned to weightlifting instead.

“The nature of social media has helped women break free from the old cardio indoctrination,” Joy Cox, PhD, a body-justice advocate and weight-stigma researcher at Rutgers University, previously told WH. “Everyone is sharing their own narrative, and you see a lot of people with different experiences and different bodies doing all sorts of feats.”

With fitness influencers and trainers dominating Instagram and TikTok, it's easier than ever to get the #fitspo you need to switch up your current routine. Plus, there's evidence to support that lifting weights does more than build muscle. It also has powerful effects on your bones and body composition (more on that in a min).

Best of all, you don't even need to go to the gym to get started. With a little extra space and a set of dumbbells, you can start setting and achieving brand new personal bests in no time.

Ready to dive into the basics? Here's everything you need to know about weight training for weight loss, from how it works to how to get started.

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Why Weight Training Is Key For Weight Loss

While cardio has plenty of benefits, lifting weights can help build muscle, strengthen your bones, and more, says exercise physiologist Stacy Sims, PhD. She adds that older theories behind losing weight emphasized doing lots of cardio and delaying meals. With this kind of plan, your body's cortisol level—(a stress hormone that regulates your metabolism—skyrockets. But in actuality, this strategy often "backfires and makes people put on weight," she explains.

"With resistance training, you're actually building the muscle tissue, and it's not quite as taxing," says Sims. "So you don't get that cortisol bump." The result? A powerful workout that actually changes your body composition.

Related Story'I Lost 70 Lbs. When I Started Lifting Heavy'

Over time, lifting weights also makes your muscles more efficient. This is one reason why you may have heard that weightlifters eat a lot, according to Sims: "Because their muscles are like, 'Great, I can use this, I'm going to do it.' " Your muscles are working overtime, so they need all the fuel they can get.

But why focus on building muscle mass, anyway? At the beginning, Sims says, you may not actually notice significant weight loss. "You'll start noticing a change in your clothes, you'll start feeling fitter, you'll start looking toner—but the weight on the scale might not change," she explains.

That's your body composition changing. You're losing fat, while building muscle mass. Muscles are incredibly dense, according to Sims, because they're packed with lots of different elements that help move your metabolism along (compared with body fat, which is just... fat).

So, if the number on the scale doesn't change right away, don't give up—keep going. It's worth it, in the long run!

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Sample Weight Training Plan

No need to stress about how much or when to lift. These three workouts are easy to fit into your current fitness routine.

Equipment: Hand weights or dumbbells

Best for: Total-body strength

Everything You Need To Know About Weight Training For Weight Loss, According To Experts

Instructions: Do each of these three workouts once a week for four weeks. Each new week, try to either use a heavier weight or do more reps, Silver-Fagan suggests. Combine with one to two cardio days (jogging, walking, rower, cycling, Tabata, HIIT—whatever you enjoy that gets your heart rate up!), one to two yoga days, and a rest day for the best results. She also recommends warming up by moving through the exercises without weights first.

Sample routine:

Goblet Squat

How to: Stand with feet hip-width apart and hold a weight in front of your chest, elbows pointing toward the floor. Push hips back and bend knees to lower into a squat. Push yourself back to start. That's one rep. Complete three to five reps with a heavy weight.

Bent-Over Row

How to: With your feet under your hips, hinge at your hips with your knees slightly bent and your arms just in front of your legs. Drive your elbow back toward your hips with weights in hand, feeling your shoulder blades squeeze together, then slowly lower them back down. That's one rep. Complete three to five reps with a medium-heavy weight.

Complete five sets total of these two exercises.

Lateral Lunge

How to: Holding a weight at your chest, stand up straight with your feet hip-width apart. Take a large step to the left, sit your hips back, and lower down until your left knee is nearly parallel with the floor. Your right leg should be straight. Return to start. That's one rep. Complete ten reps on each side with a medium weight.

Renegade Row

How to: Place two dumbbells on the floor shoulder width apart. Assume a plank position with your feet wider than shoulder-distance apart. Grasp the dumbbells so your hands are elevated off the floor, maintaining a neutral wrist position. Drive your right arm through the dumbbell into the floor, stiffen your entire body, and row the left dumbbell up and to the side of your rib cage—your elbow should be pointed up and back. Keep your body stable as you slowly lower the dumbbell back to the floor. Then repeat on the other side. That’s one rep. Complete 12 alternating reps with a medium weight.

Russian Twist

How to: Sit on the floor and bring your legs out straight. Lean back slightly so your torso and legs form a V-like shape, bracing your abdominal wall to engage your core. Balancing here, twist your torso from side to side without moving your legs. That's one rep. Complete 16 reps with a medium weight.

Complete four sets total of these three exercises.


How to: Stand with your feet shoulder-distance apart, with a weight positioned in front of you. Hinge at your hips and lower down, with a slight bend in your knees, until you're far enough down to grab the weight (you can choose an overhand grip, underhand grip, or mixed grip). Keep your spine neutral by looking forward, not up. While grasping the weight, keep your shoulders back, then squeeze your glutes and your core as you stand up straight, tuck your pelvis, and lift the barbell. Pause for a moment at the top, then slowly lower back down to the ground. That's one rep. Complete three to five reps with a heavy weight.

Chest Press

How to: Lie flat on your back, or on a bench, with your feet flat on the ground. With a dumbbell in each hand, extend your arms directly over your shoulders, palms facing toward your feet. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and slowly bend your elbows, lowering the weights out to the side, parallel with your shoulders, until your elbows form 90-degree angles. Slowly drive the dumbbells back up to start, squeezing your shoulder blades the entire time. That’s one rep. Complete three to five reps with a medium-heavy weight.

Complete five sets total of these two exercises.


How to: Hold a dumbbell with both hands using an overhand grip and stand with feet hip-width apart. Push your hips back, knees slightly bent, and lower your chest to bring the dumbbell between your legs. Keeping your core tight, push your hips forward and swing the dumbbell up to shoulder height. Reverse the movement, swinging the weight back between your legs. That's one rep. Complete ten reps with a medium weight.

Split Stance Shoulder Press

How to: Grab a pair of pound dumbbells. Stagger your stance into a wide step, one foot forward and one back with hips squared, and hold the weights just above your shoulders, elbows close into your sides. Leaning forward ever so slightly, bend both your knees to come down into a lunge position. Press up through your front leg while simultaneously lifting the weights straight up into the air, keeping your elbows pointing forward and your arms in line with your ears. As you lower back into the lunge for the next rep, lower the weights back to your shoulders. That's one rep. Complete ten reps with a medium weight (instead of a resistance band), alternating your feet for each set.

Half Turkish Get Up

How to: Lie face-up with kettlebell in right hand resting in front of shoulder. Bend right leg, placing foot flat on floor. Stretch out left arm and leg to the side at a 45-degree angle. Get a good grip on handle and press weight up toward ceiling, locking out elbow completely and keeping gaze on kettlebell. With eyes still on bell overhead, rise onto left forearm, then push into palm of left hand to sit up. Engage abs, then push through right heel and squeeze glutes to lift hips until right thigh is parallel to floor. Reverse the steps until you are lying on the floor again. That's one rep. Complete five reps with a medium weight on each side.

Complete four sets total of these three exercises.

Single Leg Deadlift

How to: Stand with both feet under hips. Shift your weight to the right leg, which should be nice and straight with a soft bend in the knee. Begin to drive your left foot back like you're stamping the bottom of your foot on the wall behind you, keeping your leg straight. Simultaneously, slowly start hinging at the waist, tipping your torso forward until it’s almost parallel to the floor. Keep your arms straight, at shoulder height, and perpendicular to the floor at all times. At the bottom of the position, your body should be in a straight line from the top of your head to the bottom of your left foot. Then, begin pulling your left leg forward while keeping it straight, and lift your torso up until you’re standing again. That’s one rep. Complete ten reps with a medium weight.

Kneeling Chest Press to Tricep Extension

How to: Start kneeling with knees slightly wider than hip-distance apart. Hold a dumbbell in both hands and extend arms straight out in front of chest. Bend at elbows to pull dumbbell toward your chest, then press arms back out to straight. Next, raise the dumbbell up overhead, and bend at elbows to lower weight behind head. Finally, extend elbows to press dumbbell back up overhead and reverse the movement to return to starting position. That's one rep. Complete 12 reps with a medium weight.

Complete three sets total of these two exercises.

Dumbbell Thruster

How to: Start standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and engage your core. Now stack the weights on your shoulders. Once you’ve gone as low as your mobility will allow (ideally, your thighs will be parallel to the floor), drive through the heels to return to standing. As you come up, push the weights overhead, keeping your knees soft. That's one rep. Complete ten reps with a medium weight.

Alternating Lunge to Bicep Curl

How to: Grab a pair of dumbbells and hold them at arm's length next to your sides, your palms facing each other. Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Step forward with your right leg and lower your body until your front knee is bent 90 degrees. At the same time as you lunge, curl both dumbbells up to your shoulders. Lower the dumbbells, and then return to the starting position. Step forward with the other leg and repeat. That's one rep. Complete 12 reps with a medium weight.

Rainbow Slam

How to: Kneel on the ground, with your knees slightly wider than hip-distance apart. Hold a dumbbell in both hands, rotate your upper body slightly, and extend your arms so you're holding it towards the right side of your body. Forcefully, but with control, swing the dumbbell over your head in an arch or rainbow shape, until you reach the same position on the opposite side of your body. Alternate directions, and swing the dumbbell back to the other side. That's one rep. Complete 16 reps with a medium weight.

Complete four sets total of these three exercises.

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