Can You Burn Fat Just by Lifting Weights? Here's What an Expert Said

There's no one perfect way to transform your body composition, so if cardio just isn't your cup of tea, you might be wondering if lifting weights is a good way to burn fat. First off, know that finding what works best for you is the key to weight loss — and then being consistent about your routine. Weightlifting is a good choice for weight loss, if that's your favorite workout to do — and for a number of other reasons, like the metabolism-boosting effect it has on your body. But how exactly does weightlifting lead to weight loss, and how often should you do it? Will you still need to do cardio on top of your weightlifting routine?

One thing to know is that you can lose weight by lifting weights, and you'll do it while getting stronger at the same time. That means, yes, with the right routine, you can build muscle and burn fat simultaneously. In fact, building muscle can actually help you lose weight by increasing your metabolic rate to help you burn more calories when you're at rest. To explore all the ins and outs of weightlifting for weight loss, POPSUGAR spoke to Tiffany Chag, MS, RD, CSCS, a sports performance specialist and sports dietitian at the Hospital For Special Surgery's Tish Sports Performance Center.

Is It OK to Only Lift Weights to Lose Body Fat?
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Is It OK to Only Lift Weights to Lose Body Fat?

"It is absolutely fine to only lift weights to promote fat loss," Chag told POPSUGAR. (If you despise running, take a moment to celebrate. Now back to burning fat.) However, if you're trying to burn fat faster, you won't want to cut out cardio completely. "Adding some cardiovascular work and making small changes to [your] diet will create a more well-balanced routine and may lead to faster results," she said.

But if cardio really isn't your thing, "lifting weights alone is absolutely fine; actually, it's great," Chag explained. "But adding in cardio and modifying [your] diet will be even better."

What Is the Best Workout to Lose Body Fat?
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What Is the Best Workout to Lose Body Fat?

As we mentioned earlier, there's so much information going around, it's hard to differentiate between workouts that will help you achieve your goals and ones that just look cool. According to Chag, there's no one best way to lose fat.

"In general, the best workout is really one you enjoy doing," she said. "If you don't like something, you're less likely to do it, so find something you enjoy and start there." To lose body fat, Chag recommends starting with a combination of strength training, cardio, and eating healthy.

How Often You Should Work Out Per Week to Lose Body Fat
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How Often You Should Work Out Per Week to Lose Body Fat

Now that you have a general idea of what you should do to lose body fat, you're probably wondering what exactly your weekly workout regimen should look like. Here are a few tips:

  • Aim for two to three days of strength training a week. And if you're adding in cardio, Chag recommends two to three cardio days as well, plus at least one day of rest per week.
  • Combine weightlifting and cardio to save time. "If time is limited, try sprinkling [in] cardio throughout your strength session," she suggested. For example, if it's leg day and you're doing squats, try jumping rope for 60 seconds in between each set or rowing for 300 meters.
  • It's OK to take it slow. If training five to six days a week isn't feasible right now, don't sweat it — seriously. "Set a goal that works for you. Remember, more is not always better," Chag said.

Whether you're strength training three days a week or six, Chag recommends doing the following for each workout:

For your cardio workouts, Tiffany recommends doing both longer low-intensity workouts, 45 minutes or more, and shorter workouts like HIIT.

What You Should Eat to Lower Your Body-Fat Percentage
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What You Should Eat to Lower Your Body-Fat Percentage

As Chag mentioned earlier, you can lose fat with weightlifting alone. But if you want quicker results, she recommends doing cardio and eating healthy foods as well. "When trying to change our body composition, increase lean muscle, and decrease fat mass, taking a moment to look at what we eat is absolutely a part of the equation," she said. However, cutting out entire food groups, like carbs, isn't necessary.

Here are a few tips to follow instead.

  • Don't eliminate food groups. Instead, "try eating a little less" of foods that aren't as nutritious, Chag advised. Having those foods in moderation, rather than giving them up altogether, can help you avoid cravings and makes this less of a one-time diet and more of a sustainable lifestyle change.
  • Don't think of foods as "good" and "bad." Chag recommends changing your mindset around food. Instead of assigning moral values to foods, think of foods as "every day" and "sometimes." Meaning, there are foods you should try to have every day like vegetables, fruit, lean proteins, and whole grains. "Sometimes" foods are foods you should eat some of the time, she explained, like pastries, fried foods, and candy. "If you can focus on shifting this just a little, you'll be moving in the right direction," Chag said.

Losing fat may not happen overnight, but now you've got a game plan; time to implement it! Here's an eating plan you can follow and a four-week strength-training program that will help you burn fat and build muscle.