Overweight? Lifting weights is crucial for fat and weight loss

Annoyingly, it still isn’t common practice to instruct overweight/obese people to also lift weights instead of only hammering the treadmill.

And it’s a shame, because if you’re overweight and focus more on lifting weights than just cardio, you’ll likely be much better off!

How to lose weight – the ultra short version

You lose weight by being in a caloric deficit. This means burning more calories than you consume.¬† Yes, it’s that simple. It is enforced by the universal¬†first law of thermodynamics.

What isn’t so simple is our bodies. Some of us have a “faster” or “slower” metabolism than others, but I feel that these days you hear every other person claim they have a “super fast!” or “super slow!” metabolism.

In reality, only a small percentage of the population’s metabolism deviates more than a few percent from the average, according to several papers.

Anyways, back to losing weight. The most common approach is naturally through dieting. If you burn 2500 calories on an average day and consume 2000 calories, you’ll lose weight.

Now, most people luckily know that adding more physical activity alongside a diet will help speed things up as well as providing health benefits. Unfortunately, many people don’t add the right kind of activity.

(if you want to read more about fat loss methods, check all posts in the Fat Loss category here.)

Too much cardio, too little pumping iron!


Pick these up. Put them down. Rinse repeat. Cool things happen to one’s body.

I know that for some overweight people, it can feel silly to do “bodybuilding” style training, when they feel their main priority is just to get rid of their excess fat.

Here’s the deal: combining lifting with cardio is going to be a much better choice than cardio on its own. It’s going to help retain muscle mass and if protein intake is sufficient: even build new muscle.

This is crucial as retaining muscle will help keep your metabolism healthy. Muscle tissue is metabolically active – which means it burns calories just through existence.

Now, it’s not a ton of calories – not a ton at all. But if you are heavily overweight – everything counts! And if you’re only “mildly” overweight, you’re not that far off from seeing muscle in the mirror.

Of course, from an aesthetic point of view, you will also look much better when you’ve lost the fat if you went hard on the weights in the process.

I have seen people lose upwards of 150 lbs only through diet and cardio, and while they are of course much healthier than before, they have practically turned into a stick.

If you then add in some loose skin, you’ll unfortunately often have situations where people go from being unhappy about their obesity to being unhappy with their new skinny physique battling loose skin.

More benefits from lifting weights

Another very beneficial effect of lifting weights in combination with overall weight loss, is that it greatly improves your insulin sensitivity. A very healthy benefit.

Apparent from this study, the combination of lifting and cardio produced an equal amount of fat loss compared to cardio – but also resulted in muscle gains.

And let’s not stop here. Lifting weights is associated with reduced stress and anxiety levels. And heightened stress levels very likely plays a role in the global obesity epidemic, while it is absolutely clear that anxiety is associated with weight gain.

Last but not least – there’s a case to be made for maintainability! If you’ve gotten into a good regular lifting routine while losing all the fat, you are more likely to keep that going when you have reached your fat loss goal.

People lift weights for many purposes; gaining weight, losing weight, health, aesthetics. It easily turns into a life-long commitment reaping health rewards.

Fat loss specific weight lifting program?

Okay, so now that I have stressed out why you should lift like a complete lunatic, you might wonder – Is there such a thing as “fat loss lifting”? Tweaking a lifting routine to burn more fat?

To answer, I will say that any solid workout routine is going to aid fine in burning fat (more importantly, of course, retaining/building muscle) when coupled with a good diet.

But sometimes, fat loss is the ultimate goal. I have had times like that as well. When that’s the case, I will tweak my lifting routines to burn more fat.

The main change I do is that I superset most exercises. Let’s say I will be doing a chest, back, arms workout. A typical workout for me.

Instead of doing 5 sets of chest followed by 5 sets of back followed by 5 sets of triceps followed by 5 sets of biceps etc etc.. I will instead superset the antagonistic muscle groups.

I will do 1 set of a chest movement, then immediately do 1 set of a back movement. Then I’ll rest for 30-60 seconds, do another set of chest immediately followed by a set of back. Repeat until I have completed my target goal of sets for each movement.

Then I will move on to a new chest and back movement, supersetting those, or perhaps call it a day for those muscle groups, and move on to arms, where I will superset 1 set of a bicep movement with 1 set of a triceps movement.

This almost turns my workout into a hybrid lifting/high-intensity-interval-training session.

More fat loss – but maybe a little less muscle growth


When losing fat trumps everything else.

While this fat loss specific lifting routine really gets my heart rate up and drenches me in sweat – there’s a trade-off.

Because of the fact that the super short rest times forces me to use less weight and reduces the number of reps I can complete – the overall volume of the workout is lower. Unless you add in a lot of extra work.

Short rest times also produce less muscle growth – contrary to popular bodybuilding dogma.

So if you want my recommendation, I would advise you stick to a “regular”, solid lifting routine, such as a 3-split push/pull/legs (Chest-triceps-shoulders/Back-biceps/Quadriceps-hamstring-calfs) or a 3-times-a-week fullbody routine (e.g. Monday, Wednesday, Friday).

I would add in some moderate intensity cardio whenever possible. Likely 2 to 3 times a week. Doing cardio after your lifting session is fine, although if possible, I suggest doing it on non-lifting days.

Thanks for reading – hope it was helpful for someone out there!


Leave a Reply