Can I Lose Weight By Lifting Weights Only?

can i lose weight by lifting weights only

If you don’t want to do cardio to lose weight, you may wonder if it’s possible to lose weight just by lifting weights.

Yes, it’s possible. You need to focus on eating 5-10% less than your maintenance calories (the number of calories that allows you to maintain your weight) and lift weights at least three times a week (ideally 4-5 lifting sessions per week).

To help you understand how lifting weights can help you lose weight, let’s dive deeper into what steps you should take to get the most out of your training routine.

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Weight Loss Overview

To lose weight, you need to be in a calorie deficit.

A calorie deficit is when you are taking in fewer calories than you burn, which causes your body to use its own resources (ideally fat) for energy, resulting in weight loss.

Often, people will focus on eating less to achieve a calorie deficit; however, it’s easier to create a deficit by eating less AND increasing your non-exercise activity (i.e. steps) and exercise activity (i.e. workouts).

4 Ways to Create a Calorie Deficit

Eat Less

Eating less is the number one way to create a calorie deficit. While you can focus on non-exercise activity and energy expenditure from exercise, it’s difficult to out-train a poor diet.

I recommend people start by reducing their calorie intake from their maintenance levels by 10-20% for the first few weeks of a diet (stage 1 of weight loss). 

From there, I then have them decrease their daily intake every week based on their rate of weight loss (stage 2), but more on this later on!

Related Article: 4 Stages of Losing Weight

Increase NEAT

NEAT stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis, which refers to the energy burned throughout the day unrelated to exercise OR your baseline bodily functions like sleeping, breathing, and eating. 

These calories are burned from standing, walking, fidgeting, and an active lifestyle outside the gym.

According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), focusing on 110-115 total hours per week (basically when you are not sleeping) can be the first step to losing weight, rather than only focusing on 3-4 hours a week of exercise.

Related Article: How To Plan Your Strength Training While Cutting

Exercise More

Another way to achieve a calorie deficit is to expend more energy through exercise activities like lifting weights or doing cardio.

If you want to skip the cardio and focus on losing weight just by lifting weights then you need to lift at least three days a week.

Your weight-lifting workouts build muscle and strength and prevent you from losing muscle when you lose fat. So, even though your lifting workouts may not be the most calorie-burning intense sessions, they’re still important in a fat loss phase.

Related Article: How To Lose Fat Without Losing Muscle

All Of The Above

The best way to create a calorie deficit is to eat less, increase your NEAT, and workout.

Eating less and increasing NEAT will significantly impact your overall calorie expenditure and weight loss, as they both affect 23-24 hours of every day. 

Lifting weights is also important for muscle growth and retention; however, without the first two being prioritized, you will struggle to lose weight (and keep it off).

We’ll walk through a step-by-step guide on implementing these strategies into your daily/weekly routine later in the article.

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Can You Lose Weight Just By Lifting Weights?

lose weight just by lifting weights

Yes, you can lose weight just by lifting weights; however, for most people, it will only be a long-term solution for weight loss if they also prioritize eating less and increasing their NEAT.

If you start lifting weights and don’t change your calorie intake, there is a possibility that you could still lose weight if the amount of exercise you’re doing outweighs the amount you’re consuming.

Some people find that when they start exercising they want to make better nutritional decisions, which could cause you to eat fewer calories without even trying to.

However, this strategy won’t work for everyone and likely isn’t a long-term solution to keep weight off because your body will eventually adjust to your exercise routine, become more efficient, and burn fewer calories than it did initially.

If you really want to lose weight and keep it off, you should focus on strength training, monitoring your intake, and increasing your NEAT.

In one study, researchers found that lifters who weight trained three times a week and ate less could preserve lean body mass (muscle) without negatively impacting their resting metabolic rate (the number of calories they burn at rest).

This means that those who strength train and monitor their food intake will have an easier time losing weight compared to those who don’t weight train, lose muscle while dieting, and burn fewer calories per day.

Related Article: Cutting Without Cardio: Is It Possible?

How To Lose Weight By Lifting Weights

Below is a step-by-step guide on how to lose weight by lifting weights. This is the same process that I use for many of my clients, and even myself as I enter a fat loss phase.

If you are more advanced, the same steps can be taken; you may start at a different point or need to spend more time in one phase than another.

Step 1: Lift Weights 2-3x Per Week

If you are an absolute beginner, lifting twice per week is the bare minimum you should aim for if you are serious about losing weight by lifting weights only. This will allow you to deliver minimum training volume (muscular work) to the body’s major muscle groups (legs, chest, back, shoulders).

Ideally, you would commit to lifting weights three times a week, as this will help you establish better habits and provide a constant source of muscular stress. It also leaves room to focus on increasing your NEAT and workout frequency later on.

Step 2: Increase Your NEAT 

Aim to increase your NEAT (non-exercise activity). The easiest way to objectively measure your NEAT (indirectly) is to look at your step count (do not include workout steps).

A good starting point for steps per day is around 6-8k per day. Most people should be able to do this by going for a long walk or two, standing more, and moving more throughout the day (i.e. parking further away). 

If you are already hitting this goal, then aim for 10k steps per day instead and then move on to step 3.

Step 3: Track Your Daily Calorie and Macronutrient Intakes

At this point; you should be consistently walking more per day (increase NEAT) and weight training 2-3 times a week. The next step is to start tracking your daily calorie intake to get a clear picture of how many calories you eat, when you eat them, and where they are coming from (carbs, fats, and protein).

With this information, you can find your maintenance calories (the number of calories you need to maintain your weight) and get a better idea of how many calories you need to lose weight.

This step is where many people get discouraged or fail to commit, which is one of the main reasons why many people struggle to lose weight and keep it off (and often look for shortcuts only to be back right where they started).

Step 4: Decrease Your Calories

Once you’ve found your maintenance calories, you can decrease your overall calorie intake by 10-15%, and maintain this new intake for two weeks before adjusting your calories again. 

It often takes 1-2 weeks for the body to start to balance out to a new eating regimen, as your weight can quickly fluctuate based on water status and food/waste weights.

When it comes to adjusting your calorie intake, it’s important to ensure that you are eating enough protein to maintain lean muscle mass (.8-1.2g of protein per pound). 

For example, if you weigh 180lbs you should be consuming 144-216 grams of protein (576-864 calories allocated to protein) per day.

From there, you should eat at least 1-2g of carbs per pound (assuming you are weight training three days a week and generally active). 

For a 180lb individual, this would be 180-360 grams of carbs (720-1440 calories allocated to carbs) per day.

Your diet’s additional carbs, fats, or protein can be decreased based on your food preferences.

Once your protein and carb targets are set, you can allocate the remaining calories to fats. Fats have 9 calories per gram, so you can divide the remaining calories by 9 to find your fat target in grams.

Step 5: Increase Your Stp Count (if applicable)

If you were not hitting 10k steps a day in step 3, then you should focus on increasing your daily step count to 10k steps. If you are already walking 10k steps and feel you can improve it without changing too much of your day-to-day routines, aim for 12-15k per day.

Research shows a dose-response relationship for increasing your daily step count and the benefits of steps start to flatten out after 8-12k steps per day. 

If you’re consistently hitting 12-15k steps a day, rather than increasing further, you may be better off doing more weight training.

Step 6: Increase Your Workout Frequency (if applicable)

You may need to increase your workout frequency if you are still struggling to lose weight sustainably (.25-.5% of body weight per week). You can do this by adding another weight training session to help preserve lean muscle mass. 

Adding 1-2 more workouts per week (up to 6 a week) will slightly increase your energy expenditure, but more importantly, help preserve lean muscle mass and reshape your physique (more than if you just ate less, also known as skinny fat).

Step 7: Adjust Your Intake As Necessary

Now that you have adopted a very active lifestyle and are working out with weights most days of the week, it may be time to address your calorie intake again. If you are losing weight at a steady pace, then you can continue on.

However, it may be time to decrease your calories if you aren’t losing weight (despite being consistent). Generally speaking, you will want to decrease calorie intake by 5-10%, while keeping your protein intake at .8-1.2g per pound of body weight.

Related Article: How to Cut and Lose Fat Without Cardio

Step 8: Remain Consistent 8-12 More Consecutive Weeks

Steps 1-7 focus on learning all the necessary skills to get you to the final and most time-consuming step. Step 8 is about consistently doing the first seven steps for long periods. 

The reality is that when you are looking to lose weight, it takes time (often much longer than what people are willing to commit to); especially when you’re not doing cardio.

Be prepared to consistently track your intake, train hard, and repeat that cycle for at least 8 weeks to see significant improvements in your physique.

Related Article: Should I Lift Heavy or Light To Lose Weight?

How Long Does It Take To Lose Weight When Lifting Weights?

how long does it take to lose weight

Most weight loss phases will take at least 8-12 weeks, with longer ones taking 12-20 weeks or a couple of 8-12 week phases with 3-4 weeks of maintenance in between. Of course, the overall duration of a weight loss phase depends on the amount of weight needed to be lost and the individual’s adherence.

I will roll out the first two steps in the first 1-2 weeks of a fat loss phase by setting the goal of completing six weight training workouts and achieving a daily step goal.

From there, steps 3-6 are applied over the next 2-4 weeks, depending on the abilities of the client to adhere to the prior steps. The key is maintaining the ability to fulfill the prior step when adding a new step.

By this point, the client should be training most days of the week, already have adopted a drastically improved NEAT (step count), and clearly understand how many calories they eat. 

From there, the client should focus on staying consistent (step 8) and decreasing their calories as necessary (step 7) until they reach their goal or they’ve surpassed the appropriate amount of time spent in a deficit.

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What To Do If You’re Not Losing Weight While Lifting Weights

what to do if you’re not losing weight

If you’re not losing weight while lifting weights, there are some things you can do to kickstart weight loss.

Adjust Your Calorie Intake

Cutting back your calorie intake by 5-10% is an easy way to create a deficit. If you’re not currently losing weight, then you’re not in a deficit so the decrease in calories is necessary to encourage weight loss.

For example, if you’re eating 2000 calories per day consistently and you’re not losing weight then you need to decrease to 1800-1900 calories to create a deficit.

That said, if your calorie intake (a more aggressive deficit) is already low and you’re having trouble adhering to it, it may be better to increase your calorie intake to a level that you can be more consistent with (moderate deficit).

For example, if you’re eating 1200 calories Monday-Friday but then you’re eating 3000+ calories on the weekend then you’re probably not in a deficit despite eating low-calorie all week.

Related Article: How Much Weight Can You Lose in 60 Days (The Healthy Way)

Get More Steps in Your Day

Increasing your NEAT can have a huge impact on your weight loss, which is why I love to have my clients focus on increasing their non-exercise step count. 

I tell my clients that they should be, at a bare minimum, walking 8,0000 steps a day (not including workout steps and activity), with the goal being 12,000 per day. If they are not getting at least 8,000 steps in a day, that is a glaring issue that should be addressed.

If they are getting 12,000 steps a day (not including workouts), then I wouldn’t increase them further. Instead, I would look at adjusting their diet (or making sure they are being consistent with their diet) and workouts.

Reevaluate Your Rate of Weight Loss

Often, people are losing weight but they just are impatient and think they aren’t losing weight fast enough. It’s important to be realistic about your rate of loss because if you lose weight too quickly, you will also lose muscle.

If you are losing weight on the scale at a rate of .5-1% per week, this is a great rate of loss for muscle retention. 

If you are losing more rapidly than 1% of your body weight per week, this is a very aggressive rate of weight loss and is likely unsustainable, so you may want to think about slowing that down. 

If you are moving slower than .25% per week of weight loss, then focus on the other steps, reel in your eating habits, and increase your NEAT.

Address Your Lack of Discipline and Consistency

The reality is that if you SAY you are doing the above things and are doing them all the time and still not getting results, something is off. 

The harsh reality is that losing weight is tough and takes time, so if you’re not seeing progress, you’re likely not being as consistent as you think.

If you are giving yourself weekends off, having cheat meals every week or every other week, or snacking along the way, know that may be the real reason you are not having success.

About The Author

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.