6 Facts About Strength Training

If you've been thinking about incorporating strength training and weightlifting into your workout routine, understanding potential benefits can help you set your goals. As part of a comprehensive fitness routine, strength training can help in toning muscles, increasing metabolism, and building lean muscle.


Fact: Strength Training Exercises Reduce Overall Fat, Not From Targeted Areas

Woman doing squats with dumbbells in a gym
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If you want to lose fat, you have to create a calorie deficit (through exercise and diet) and see how your body responds. What you're likely to find is that wherever you tend to store excess fat is the last place you'll lose it. For women, that's often the hips, thighs, and lower belly. For men, it's often the belly and waist.

Instead of wasting money on false promises and silly gadgets that promise targeted fat loss, try a healthier approach so that you can get your strongest body rather than an idealized body that always seems out of reach:

A study done in the 1980s at the University of Massachusetts had 13 males do vigorous ab exercises for 27 days, and fat biopsies were taken both before and after the exercise. The results? Subjects decreased fat from different areas of the body, not just the abs.


Fact: You Should Use a Variety of Weights and Reps for Best Results

The truth is that despite common beliefs, strength training with lighter weights and higher reps doesn't burn more fat. The only way it will tone your body is if you've created a calorie deficit that allows you to lose body fat. Using lighter weights for higher reps will help you increase muscular endurance. It does have a place in training routines, but that lean, defined look comes from losing body fat.

So, does that mean you shouldn't use the lightweight, high-rep approach with strength training? Not necessarily. How you lift weights depends on your goals and fitness level. But for weight loss, it's great to use a variety of rep and weight ranges.

Choosing Your Reps

  • For strength gains: 1 to 6 reps with heavy weights
  • For gaining muscle and size: 8 to 12 reps with medium-heavy weights
  • For endurance: 12 to 16 reps (or more) with light-medium weights

No matter what range you choose, you should always lift enough weight that you can only complete the desired reps. If you're doing 12 bicep curls, choose a weight that allows you to 12 reps with good form. If you can do more than that, increase your weight.

Using all three ranges, whether you use them each week, each month or change them every few weeks, is a great way to challenge your body in different ways. 


Fact: Strength Training Increases Muscle Mass and Potential Calorie Burn

While cardio is important for burning fat and losing weight, it isn't the only type of exercise that can help you lose fat.

Strength training helps you preserve the muscle you have as well as increase your muscle mass. The more muscle you have, the more calories you'll burn all day long.

Why You Need Strength Training

Remember, muscle is more active than fat. In fact, a pound of muscle can burn anywhere from 10 to 20 calories a day, while a pound of fat burns only 2 to 5 calories a day. And muscle is more dense than fat and takes up less space. That means when you lose fat and gain muscle, you'll be slimmer and trimmer.

Plenty of people, especially women, avoid strength training, either because they think they'll gain weight or because they like cardio better. But strength training has a number of benefits:

  • It builds lean muscle tissue.
  • It strengthens muscles, bones and connective tissue.
  • It keeps your body strong and injury-free for your cardio workouts.
  • It raises metabolism.

An effective fat loss program will include regular strength training and cardio workouts, done either separately or together, depending on your schedule and goals. Another important component is, of course, eating a healthy diet. By implementing all three components, you can maximize weight loss and health.


Fact: Post-Training Soreness Isn't Necessarily an Indicator of a Good Workout

How do you know if you've gotten a good strength training workout? A lot of people would measure their workouts by how sore they are the next day, but that isn't the best way to gauge your workout.

Soreness is normal if you're a beginner, if you've changed your usual routine or if you're trying new activities. But that soreness should lessen over time. If you're sore after every workout, you may need to add more recovery days or reduce the intensity of your workouts to allow your body time to adapt and grow stronger.

Soreness is actually caused by small tears in your muscle fibers, which is how muscles respond when overloaded. Rest and recovery are essential for growing stronger and building lean muscle tissue. If you're sore after every workout, you may need more time to recover or you risk overtraining and injury.

How Do You Know If You're Getting a Good Workout?

  • Lift enough weight. When strength training, you always want to choose a weight heavy enough that you can only complete the desired number of reps. If you stop at the end of a set and realize you could do more, increase your weight so that the last rep is difficult, but not impossible, to complete.
  • Work out all your muscle groups. Whether you do a total body workout or a split routine, make sure you hit all your muscle groups two to three times each week, with at least one exercise per muscle group (more if you're more advanced).
  • Keep challenging yourself. Since your muscles adapt to regular exercises, increase the load, intensity, and duration of your workouts over time.

To help mitigate soreness, you should warm up before your workout and cool down and stretch the muscles you've used after the workout.


Fact: Strength Training Makes You Lean and More Defined

Women typically don't have the amount of testosterone necessary to build huge muscles. In fact, even men can struggle to gain muscle.

Why Women Need to Lift Heavy

Lifting heavy weights can benefit both men and women. In fact, challenging your body with heavy weights is the only way you'll really see results and get stronger. Remember, muscle takes up less space than fat. When you add muscle, that helps you lose fat (along with your cardio and healthy diet, of course), which means you'll be leaner and more defined.

If you're still reluctant to lift weights because you've never tried and you have no idea where to start, try the Total Body Strength for Beginners workout, which starts you out with the basics of a solid strength program.


Fact: You're Never Too Old to Lift Weights

Of course, if you have medical issues or conditions, check with your doctor to get clearance. Beyond that, there's no age limit on beginning a strength program and, even better, the improvements you see will make your life better. Benefits can include:

  • Better functioning
  • Building strong, lean muscle
  • Greater strength and flexibility
  • Improved balance and coordination
  • More confidence
  • Reduced risk of falling
  • Weight management

In fact, the risks associated with not exercising and lifting weights are much greater than a safe, effective strength program. Without exercise, we could lose 3% to 5% of our muscle mass per decade after age 40, which experts call sarcopenia. This loss of muscle doesn't just cause weight gain, but it also contributes to reduced functionality and strength.

You don't have to spend hours lifting heavy weights to get the benefits, either. 

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  1. Matthews J. Why is the concept of spot reduction considered a myth?. American Council on Exercise. Updated September 4, 2009.