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

lose weight when lifting weights

While most people tend to focus on doing cardio when pursuing weight loss, lifting weights is key for helping you lose weight and keeping it off long-term.

Below is a comprehensive guide on weight loss when lifting weights, including:

  • Recommended Rates of Weight Loss When Lifting Weights
  • How Long Does It Take to Lose Weight When Weight Lifting
  • What To Do If You Are Not Losing Weight

With this information, you can determine if you’re progressing appropriately and learn how to adjust your program and lifestyle to maximize your results.

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Weight Loss Overview

Lifting weights aids in weight loss by increasing your overall energy expenditure, both during exercise and at rest. 

Over time, weightlifting also enables you to build lean muscle, which burns more calories at rest and lets you train harder (which helps you burn more calories every workout).

While people often turn to cardio to lose weight, cardio does not build muscle or help you burn more calories at rest so it is less efficient for weight loss than lifting weights and causes you to look less “toned”.

For this reason, weight training should be a priority if your goal is to ensure you are losing fat during a weight-loss phase rather than losing fat and muscle.

Recommended Rates Of Loss When Lifting Weights

The rate at which you lose weight when lifting weights follows the same guidelines as when trying to lose weight without lifting weights. These guidelines exist to encourage more sustainable results and better physique and health outcomes.

Since the rate of weight loss depends on your overall energy expenditure and food intake, the more significant the difference, the more rapid the weight loss. It takes time for your body to lose fat, so individuals who pursue rapid weight loss tend to lose fat and muscle.

Losing muscle leads to slower metabolisms (fewer calories burned per day), loss of physical fitness, increased risk of injury, and a higher likelihood of weight rebound (putting on the weight that was initially lost, or more).

If your goal is to lose fat, maintain your muscle mass and fitness, and provide yourself with the best chance for long-term sustainable weight loss then you should aim to lose 0.25-1% of your body weight per week. 

This range typically varies from person to person based on overall body size, body fat, and fitness level: 

  • Individuals who have a high body fat percentage (>20% for men, >25% for women) should aim to lose 0.5-1% of their body mass per week on average.

For example, a 250-pound male with 25% body fat should aim to lose 1.5-2.5 lbs per week.

  • Individuals with a lower body fat percentage (<20% for men, <25% for women) should aim to lose 0.25-0.75% of their body mass per week on average.

For example, a 200lb male with 15% body fat should aim to lose 0.5-1.5lbs per week.

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

The total time it will take you to reach your goal weight during a weight loss phase will vary based on your starting point, your level of consistency, and how much weight you need to lose. 

Most people can lose 8-10% of their initial starting weight in a single cutting phase, but anything more rapid than this can result in a significantly blunted metabolism and make it harder to lose weight going forward.

For example, a 250-lb individual should aim to lose no more than 25 lbs in a single weight loss phase. Based on the recommended rates of loss (discussed above), they should aim to lose 1.5-2.5 lbs per week, which means their overall diet phase could be 10-16 weeks long. 

If your ultimate goal is to lose more than 8-10% of your total body weight, you should take time to maintain this loss before entering another dieting phase.

I recommend maintaining your new weight for 6-8 weeks to let your body, hormones, and metabolism adjust before entering another fat-loss phase.

Related Article: How to Maximize Your Weight Loss Over the Next 60 Days

4 Factors That Affect Your Rate Of Weight Loss When Lifting Weights

factors that affect your rate of weight loss

Below are four factors that can affect your overall rate of weight loss when lifting weights. Some of these factors you have complete control over, while others you may not. 

Learn to master the ones you have complete control over (your workouts, your diet, your consistency) while being realistic and patient with yourself over the things you do not have full control over (your starting point).

1. How Effective Your Workouts Are

Choosing the right workouts can significantly impact your overall success. Although the goal of your workouts should be to build muscle and maintain fitness, you should also keep your energy output high to help increase your energy expenditure. 

There needs to be a balance between moving to burn calories (doing endless cardio) and building muscle. Building muscle (lifting weights) may burn fewer calories than cardio during a workout, but in the long run, you will burn more calories even at rest because you have more muscle mass. 

This is why we suggest you aim to lift weights at least three days a week, if not more. And use cardio supplementarily to improve your fitness and energy expenditure.

You also want to ensure that you are training with intensity, and pushing yourself every session by increasing your weights or the number of sets and reps you do.

2. Your Nutrition Plan

Your diet plays an important role in weight loss and will ultimately determine whether your weight lifting efforts will translate to weight loss or not. 

Your nutrition plan should place you in a light calorie deficit (fewer calories than your body needs to maintain weight), as this is required to lose weight. Regardless of your workout routine, if you are not eating less than your body needs to maintain its current weight and energy output, you will not lose weight.

There are all kinds of different diet plans out there that can help you achieve a calorie deficit, but some key factors to consider are your protein intake and how aggressive your calorie deficit is. 

To maintain or gain muscle while dieting, you must eat .8-1g of protein per pound of bodyweight. 

For example, if you weigh 200lbs this would be 160-200 grams of protein per day.

The best way to determine whether your calorie deficit is appropriate or too aggressive is to monitor changes in your bodyweight. 

If you’re losing more than the recommended amounts discussed above, then add more calories back in. If you’re not losing enough, then decrease your calorie target until you are losing within the recommended range.

Related Article: How to Lose 5lbs in One Month 

3. How Consistent You Are

Losing weight is hard, and most people are terrible at staying consistent. Some people think that eating healthy most days of the week is good enough, but the harsh reality is if your eating varies drastically from day to day (i.e. weekdays vs. weekends), that will be enough to derail your progress. 

This is often the case as people progress in their diets; initially, you can be somewhat consistent and still get good results. However, as you progress in a diet, you must pay closer attention to your meal planning, consistency on the weekends, and activity levels.

Progress generally becomes slower over time, which often discourages people. But that’s all part of losing weight, and also why I recommend doing it in cycles rather than trying to lose a ton of weight at once.

I recommend you try to stay on track with your intake at least 80% of the time. This means that if you eat four meals a day (28 meals per week), over 23 of those meals must be on par with your macro targets. 

Some people may even struggle to get good results doing that when they’re further into their cut. These individuals should aim for 85-90% consistency.

4. Your Initial Body Composition

The leaner you are at the start of a weight loss phase, the slower your body will lose fat. This is due to the fact you have less to lose. This is why people who weigh 300 lbs can lose 2-3 lbs per week, whereas someone who is 150 lbs may struggle to lose 1lb per week. 

Understanding your starting point (weight, body composition, and state of your metabolism) is important for determining your rate of progress and what is realistic for you.

If you are already lean and want to lose the last bit of fat, I urge you to take a slow route, as this will ensure you do not lose muscle. That stubborn body fat is holding on for a reason and your body will do its best not to tap into it if it doesn’t have to.

Dieting too quickly or drastically can cause your body to preserve fat and use muscle for fuel instead, which decreases your metabolism and performance, and negatively impacts your body composition.

Related Article: How to Lose Fat, Not Muscle!

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

not losing weight when lifting weights

Below are four main reasons why you are not losing weight when lifting weights. All of these should be addressed throughout the fat loss phase and can be assessed at various stages if your progress slows.

Body Recomp

If you struggle to lose weight on the scale, you may assume you’re not making progress; however, you could be losing inches despite the scale not changing. 

This happens when you build muscle at the same rate that you’re losing fat, referred to as body recomposition.

You can tell that your body is in recomposition mode if your clothes are getting looser, your measurements are changing (i.e. waist & hips), and you look leaner in progress pictures. 

Another more advanced way to determine whether you’ve lost body fat and gained muscle simultaneously is to evaluate your body fat percentage by using skin calipers or a DEXA scan.

Some of my clients are initially disappointed when the scale isn’t changing but their measurements are changing, here’s what I ask them:

Would you rather weigh less but look exactly the same as you do now? Or would you rather weigh the same but look much smaller and more toned?”

Of course they answer that they want to look different, and measurements are changing then it’s already begun.

You Need to Increase Your Energy Expenditure

If you are not losing weight and your body composition isn’t changing, then you are not in a calorie deficit and your body isn’t burning body fat for fuel. 

It should be noted that perhaps this intake did put you in a deficit to begin with, but is no longer a deficit because your body adapted to the lower intake.

To achieve a calorie deficit you can decrease your calorie intake, increase your activity levels, or do both. 

I personally find it easier to increase physical activity (non-exercise, activity in daily life) and exercise and have more food. By increasing your activity, you do not need to cut back your calories as drastically, and it could also help to boost your metabolism and improve your fitness level.

Generally speaking, if you are not getting 10,000 steps a day, start there. You should also aim to lift weights 3-4 times a week. Once you have achieved those milestones, I would then look into your diet more closely (this is not to say you shouldn’t be looking at your diet initially, but often lack of energy expenditure is a low-hanging fruit).

Related: How To Plan Your Strength Training While Cutting (Ultimate Guide)

You’re Eating Too Much

If your weight and body composition aren’t changing AND you’ve increased your activity level but you’re still not making progress, then you’re eating too many calories.

It is best to look at your overall weekly intake, as some days may be better or worse than others, but as long as your overall weekly intake is less than what you need, you will lose weight. This also helps eliminate daily under/over-eating.

For example, let’s assume that you need to average 2,000 calories a day to lose weight. That is 14,000 per week. Looking at the entire week, you may find that on weekdays you eat 1500 (Monday – Thursday) and 3000 on weekends (Friday-Sunday). 

That results in you eating 15,000 calories a week, which is over 1,000 more than you should be, and ultimately prevents you from losing weight. 

If this sounds like you, then you should work on eliminating the extremes in your diet (under and overeating) and work on being consistent with your intake.

You Aren’t Being Patient Enough

If you’re still struggling to lose weight despite being consistent with your nutrition, exercise, and steps, then it may just be that your results are moving slower than you would like (but they are coming).

This is often the case when people move through the initial 4 weeks of a diet, and their quick results slow down into more reasonable, sustainable weight loss numbers. This is because the first 2-4 weeks of weight loss typically come from decreased fluids and food waste in the body. It is usually after 6-12 weeks that you start to see the fat loss results.

Based on my personal experience with dieting, I can tell you that I generally adjust my calorie intake every 2 weeks for the first 4 weeks and then once per week as needed. If my progress is slow but still in the range, I do not change it. 

The more time you give yourself to lose weight, the better chance you have to keep it off. This is why it is important to reference the weight loss ranges discussed above, as you can determine if you are losing weight too rapidly or not fast enough (meaning you could try harder).

Get Your Hormones Tested

This is something you should talk with your doctor about, as it requires you to get a blood test to determine your hormone levels. Both men and women can have high or low hormones (testosterone, growth hormone, estrogen), making weight loss more difficult. 

This is something to be aware of, especially in your mid-30s or older. This is something that doesn’t affect everyone but could slow your results when lifting weights. However, a simple test could tell you if you’re definitely hormones are working against you.

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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.