Strength Training for Weight Loss: Fact vs. Fiction

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Strength Training for Weight Loss:  Fact vs. Fiction

Now is the time to think about your post pandemic fitness and emerging with a stronger, slimmer, firmer body for the lovely days ahead. Strength training is key to your success, building muscle power, burning calories and creating leaner body mass.

When you’re in a hurry to lose weight that crept up slowly over time, it’s tempting to invest in quick-fix solutions that don’t last. Misconceptions concerning weight loss and exercise continue to cloud the picture.  See if you can identify whether the following statements are fact or fiction.

1)  A 20 year-old-woman who does not lift weights will lose about five pounds of muscle and gain about five pounds of fat by the time she’s 50. 

Fact.  Even if you maintain your scale weight perfectly over time, there are subtle changes occurring in your body composition that impact your metabolism, muscle tone and risk of disease. 

A slow, steady change in body composition is the best way to manage your weight. Body composition is the “quality” of your weight as opposed to the “quantity” of your weight measured by the scale.  Your weight is composed of two separate elements:  fat and lean body mass (muscles, organs, bones, fluids).  The quality of your weight (the percentage of fat to lean body mass) is more significant to your health than the quantity of your weight (total pounds).

2)  Aerobic exercise is the best way to lose weight.

Fiction.  While it’s true that aerobic exercise burns calories, it is only one part of the equation.

Weight training develops your muscles and increases your lean body mass, which is metabolically more active than fat.  As you develop more lean body mass, you raise your resting metabolic rate, the number of calories you burn at rest.  A lean body is more power-hungry, burning more calories just to breathe, circulate blood, digest food, etc.

3)  You can lose fat without losing weight.

Fact.  When you are exercising – building muscle and losing fat – you may not see a change in your scale weight, however your shape will change, and your clothing will fit differently.  One pound of fat takes up more space than one pound of muscle, so as you lose fat you literally shrink.  (Think of meat on display at your butcher’s:  a 3-pound beef roast is small compared to 3 pounds of fat).

4)  A thin person does not need to build lean body mass by lifting weights.

Fiction.   Are you “skinny fat?”   Appearances are deceiving when it comes to body composition and being thin is no guarantee that you are lean.  Even if you are of “ideal weight” according to weight charts you may be qualitatively measured as “over fat” according to your body composition.  Without weight training you steadily lose muscle and gain fat as you age. 

5)  It is not a good idea to lift weights for weight loss because the muscle will turn to fat when you stop.

Fiction.   It is not possible for fat tissue to become muscle tissue.  Muscles that are not used simply atrophy or get smaller.  They may be replaced by fat if you are consuming more calories than you are expending.

6)  Crunches and other abs exercises are the best way to lose fat from the belly.

Fiction.  Fat is systemic, belonging to the whole body, and needs to be reduced all over by expending more calories (through aerobic exercise and weight training) than you consume.  No number of crunches will melt fat off the belly.  However, while there is no such thing as spot reduction, you can spot strengthen and sculpt a body area with weight training exercises.  As you reduce the over-lying fat, the contours of the muscles appear. 

7)  Lifting weights will make you bulk up.

Fiction.  Only if you have high levels of testosterone and use very heavy weights.  Most women lack the necessary hormones and strength to build muscle mass.  Female body builders are genetically predisposed to build big muscles; they also follow rigorous exercise and diet regimens to maximize their muscle size.  The average woman who lifts weights actually shrinks in body size by losing fat and shaping the muscles.

Weight loss from exercise is primarily FAT LOSS.  As you exercise regularly, you will reduce fat stores from the whole body and develop leaner, toned muscles instead.  The active body wants to be slimmer.  The gain in lean muscle tissue from weight training results in trimmer contours and smaller circumferences, regardless of the number of pounds lost. The formula for successful weight control combines a modest reduction in your daily caloric intake with moderate exercise that is both enjoyable and convenient.

© Copyright – Joan L. Pagano.  All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

For expert guidance on strength training techniques, step by step photos depicting how to perform the exercises and a selection of well-rounded workouts please check out the book Strength Training Exercises for Women by Joan Pagano at


  • Joan Pagano

    Joan Pagano has specialized in strength training for women since 1988 – training, teaching, and writing books on the subject, including Strength Training Exercises for Women (DK, 2014). When the health benefits of strength training started making headlines in the 1990s, and in particular how weight training could protect the bones and prevent osteoporosis, it was a natural segue for her. At that time, Joan was developing and delivering fitness training guidelines for osteoporosis to national audiences of exercise professionals. Currently Joan is recognized by the industry as a leading authority on exercise program design for osteoporosis. She is certified as an Exercise Physiologist by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and is on the Ambassadors Leadership Council for the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Visit Joan at:

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