Does lifting weights burn fat? All of your weightlifting questions, answered

Indeed it does, but there are a few things you should know.

Amanda Capritto
5 min read

Time to hit the weight room.

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Weightlifting is the exercise that if you're not already doing, you should be. Though weight rooms can feel intimidating, everyone deserves to reap the benefits of picking up and putting down iron. It's the type of workout that can help you lose weightboost your mood and generally improve your life -- and it's easy to get started even at home.

You may have heard the common myth that lifting weights makes you "bulk up." It doesn't -- in fact, it can actually help you lose weight and slim down. Beyond the purely physical, lifting weights can improve your bone health and increase your metabolism, just to name a couple of benefits. 

For those curious about weightlifting who want to hear more, I rounded up some of the most common questions about lifting weights that I hear as a personal trainer and CrossFit coach. By the end of this guide, I hope you're ready to pick up some dumbbells (or a couple of wine bottles) and start building muscle. 

Does lifting weights help you lose weight? 

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Any form of exercise can help you lose weight, weightlifting included -- as long as you burn more calories than you consume each day, you'll remain in a calorie deficit and lose weight. 

Lifting weights has a unique weight loss advantage that makes it superior to other forms of exercise for weight loss: When you lift weights, you build muscle and lose fat. Muscle tissue is more metabolically active than fat tissue, so over time, as you build more muscle, your body will burn more calories at rest than it did before you built that muscle. 

This results in a greater resting metabolic rate (your metabolism when you're just sitting or sleeping) and more calories burned each day. It's not an incredibly significant difference, despite long-standing myths, but it does help. 

Just know that lifting weights isn't a magic ticket to weight loss: You must sustain a calorie deficit over time, so if you're lifting every day but still eating more calories than you burn, you won't see the progress you want.

Read more:How to calculate and track your macros

Should you lift weights or do cardio first? 


Your goals dictate whether you should hit the weights or hop on the treadmill first.

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This really depends on your goals. In simplest terms, lift weights first if your primary goal is to build muscle or get stronger. Do cardio first if your primary goal is to build speed or endurance. 

In reality, the question of "Weights or cardio first?" requires individualized answers, but you can't go wrong with a balanced approach that includes both weights and cardio throughout the week. You don't have to do both at every gym session.

Read more:Double the benefits of exercise by exercising outside

Is it better to lift light weights or heavy weights? 


It's beneficial to lift both light and heavy weights.

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This, too, depends on your goals. One really isn't better than the other unless you're aiming for a very specific goal. For example, if I wanted to compete in a powerlifting competition, where the barbell back squat is one of the main events, I would lift heavy most of the time. 

If I wanted to run a marathon, I would lift light weight for a lot of reps to get my heart rate up and train my legs to handle stress for longer periods of time. If you don't have a specific goal in mind, you can benefit from lifting both heavy and light weights. 

How many reps should you do when lifting weights?


The number of reps you do depends on what type of exercise you're doing, and whether you want to increase strength or endurance.

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Oh look, another question the answer to which depends on your goals. Catching a theme? The answer to "how many reps should I lift?" coincides with your answer to "Is it better to lift light or heavy weights?" because of one simple reason -- if you're lifting light weights, you should be doing more reps. 

Endurance-based goals like improving your running capacity require more reps at lower weights, while strength-based goals like maxing out your deadlift require fewer reps at higher weights. Goals with both endurance and strength components -- like running an obstacle course race -- require both types of training.

Can you get fit without lifting weights? 


You can get fit with other forms of exercise, such as running and hiking, but lifting weights can help speed up the process. 

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Sure thing! Lifting weights is a fantastic way to build muscle mass, get stronger and become healthier overall. But if dumbbells and barbells just aren't your jam, you can certainly get fit with bodyweight workouts

High-intensity interval training is one (extremely effective) way to do so. You can get your HIIT fix with a workout subscription app, a free YouTube channel or even from your favorite trainers on Instagram

Read more:Workouts for people who really hate working out

Can older adults lift weights? 


Lifting weights is a great way for older adults to get in shape and fend off disease.

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Not only can older adults lift weights, they shouldlift weights to maintain their health and fend off degenerative conditions like osteoporosis. Lifting weights in middle age and beyond can really amp up your health and fitness : You'll combat age-related muscle loss, reduce your risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, fend off chronic disease and improve your overall quality of life. What's not to like? 

What are the best weightlifting movements?


It's often best to stick to the basics. 

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Basic is best. Try not to get too into the weeds when deciding what weightlifting moves to add to your routine. The basic compound movements, such as lunges, squats, deadlifts and overhead presses, will get the job done. 

As you get more advanced, you can start adding more isolation and accessory work, but CNET's guide to the exercises everyone needs to get strong should get you started on the right track.

And if you sit at a desk all day, try these moves to loosen up your joints and finish up with some stretches to counteract all that sitting.

Can lifting weights improve endurance? 


Lifting weights in interval-training fashion can improve your endurance.

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Totally. There's a somewhat common misconception that all weightlifters are gnarly masses of pure muscle with 400 pounds on their barbell (cue grunting sounds), but that's not at all true. Many athletes -- both recreational and professional -- lift weights as a supplement to their training regimen. 

Lifting weights can improve your muscular endurance more than pure cardio can. I, for example, perform high-volume lifting (lower weights, more reps) when training for half-marathons, marathons or adventure races. My running capacity has significantly increased since I started incorporating strength training, and I'm much more confident when tackling hills. 

High-intensity weightlifting programs such as CrossFit can also help you build endurance, both muscular and cardiovascular, as can anaerobic fitness classes when weights or plyometrics are involved..

What kind of equipment do you need to lift weights?

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Quite honestly, you don't need much, especially if you're just starting out. The absolute essentials? A pair of dumbbells and a yoga mat. This combo will get you far: You can use dumbbells for upper body, lower body and core moves, and a yoga mat will add cushioning for movements that require you to put your knees or elbows on the ground. 

A few more things, such as a kettlebell, can add more variety to at-home weightlifting workouts. You can even lift weights with objects you already have at home.

Read more:New fitness system Tempo judges your workout form to help you get better

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.