Updated on June 2, 2021.

Do you know that resistance training does much more than build strong muscles and bones? Research has confirmed that lifting weights changes your metabolism in ways that improve health. That’s good news for people with type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and high cholesterol levels.

Resistance training also improves resting metabolic rate. This means your body burns energy faster when you are not moving. Indeed, some authors call resistance training an exercise therapy program (Strasser & Schobersberger 2011). That’s a far cry from days when pushing barbells and mastering squats were seen primarily as ways to boost strength, muscular endurance and bone density.

Learn about resistance training and weight loss from IDEA authors Zachary Mang, MS, Amber Logan, Fabiano Amorim and Len Kravitz, PhD,  program coordinator of exercise science and a researcher at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

Research on Resistance Training and Weight Loss

Are you or is someone close to you obese? (A body mass index over 30 generally indicates obesity.) You’re not alone. About 39.8% of Americans have obesity: 42.8% of adults ages 40–59; 20.6% of adolescents ages 12–19; and 18.4% of youth ages 6–11 (Hales et al. 2017).

Fortunately, resistance exercise is an effective way to help. Why? Because this type of training increases lean body mass while shrinking fat mass (Strasser & Schobersberger 2011).

Resistance Training Reduces Visceral Fat

A research review noted that resistance training programs typically boost muscle mass by a minimum of 2.2–4.4 pounds. Many studies also show that weight training reduces visceral fat (inside the abdominal cavity and not easily seen). Visceral fat is linked with the development of abnormal cholesterol levels, hypertension, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease (Stras­ser & Schobersberger 2011).

How resistance training promotes weight loss. Resistance training stimulates muscles to activate hormones that help prompt the body to burn more fat. Over time, the increase in muscle size from resistance training triggers the body to burn more calories during exercise. These adaptations increase resting metabolic rate, or RMR (the calories you burn at rest). In turn, a higher RMR helps with weight loss.

Practical Recommendations

Many different resistance training techniques can increase muscle mass and reduce the risks of obesity. Recent research on weight training found that volume—number of sets x repetitions x load (amount of weight)—is a critical factor in improving muscle mass (Schoenfeld, Ogborn & Krieger 2017).

The study found a clear relationship between the number of sets you do and hypertrophy, the scientific term for muscle growth. Specifically, in counting weekly sets per muscle group, the researchers found that significant muscle growth occurred with the following: <5 sets (+5.4%); 5–9 sets (+6.5%); and >10 sets (+9.6%).

Consult with a certified personal trainer to get help developing an effective program for your personal weight loss needs. (Find trainers at pro.ideafit.com/fitnessconnect.)

Benefits of Weight Training: Thanks for the Lift

In addition to helping you lose weight, resistance training can improve these factors:

  • blood pressure
  • cholesterol levels
  • insulin sensitivity
  • lipid profiles
  • cardiovascular function
  • body composition