Strength Training to Lose Weight? Here’s What Matters (and What Doesn’t)

How much you sweat, your heart rate, and muscle soreness—do these matter if you're strength training to lose weight? Find out in this article.

A photo of a man in a gym hitting a truck tire with a hammer

Trying to lose weight? Then you should know the importance of strength training—beyond increasing your daily calorie burn, it also helps you pack on muscle, ensuring an elevated metabolism (note: muscle tissue is more metabolically active than fat) in the long term.

But here’s the thing. Showing up at the gym vs. getting in an effective strength training session (i.e., one that'll help you lose weight) isn't the same thing.

So how, exactly, can you achieve the latter? And consistently—across all training sessions?

The key to that is first understanding what exactly makes a strength training session effective in terms of weight loss. In other words: what are the things that’ll truly move the needle (plus, what are the things you could afford to not give a rat’s ass to)?

As always, find answers below.

What matters when strength training to lose weight

One of the key factors determining if you'll lose weight from strength training is the program. But more specifically: how well-planned it is.

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For example, someone who’s simply walking into the gym, then making up a plan on the fly (e.g., “I feel like doing bench press today”) is unlikely to see the same results as someone who’s put thought into their weekly, monthly, and even yearly training plan incorporating best strength training practices.

Examples of such “best practices” include calculating—and distributing—workout volume, carefully selecting complementary exercises, and accounting for progressive overload.

By the way: feeling overwhelmed by having to build your workout program from scratch? GymStreak can help (but more on that later!)

Once you’ve got your training program fleshed out, what else matters? There are two things in particular:

  1. Staying consistent: Think of your workout program as your “blueprint” to success. All it does is show you how you could strength train to lose weight—ultimately, you'll still have to show up in the gym and put in the necessary work. Sessions after sessions. Weeks after weeks. And, hopefully, years after years, even after you've successfully lost weight (for a lifelong commitment to a healthier lifestyle). And for those who need a little more help, here are a few tips on developing consistency in your fitness journey.
  2. Training hard: Your workout program says, "3 x 12 for 80 kg barbell squats"—but you're breezing through the reps. Should you stick to your plan, or should you push? Answer: push (unless you're in pain). Get as close to failure as possible. You can judge this based on your "Reps In Reserve" (RIR). This means the number of reps you could have continued doing without a severe breakdown in form. As a general guideline, an RIR of two to five is reasonable. Any more, and you're simply taking things too easy.

What doesn’t matter when strength training to lose weight

Um, wait a minute. Are we done with covering everything that matters when strength training to lose weight? It seemed like an awfully short list, didn't it?

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As surprising as it may be, we didn’t make a mistake—proper workout programming, consistency, and appropriate training intensity are the three most important things that’ll get you closer to your dream physique.

The rest? They’re just noise. No, really. See what we mean below:

  1. Sweatiness level: Think you had a more effective workout session because you’re dripping in sweat? Sorry to burst your bubble, but how much you sweat isn’t an accurate indicator of effort or workout effectiveness. For example, you could just be exercising in a hot environment, or you’re naturally blessed with a higher density of sweat glands relative to others.
  2. Heart rate: Does heart rate matter in strength training? To some extent, it does give you an indicator of your workout intensity, but it isn't necessarily the most important measure. Besides, your heart rate could vary widely between exercises—your heart would undoubtedly be much calmer on bicep curls than on deadlifts; does that mean bicep curls are "less effective" than deadlifts? I think we can all agree it isn't necessarily the case. Instead, a more accurate measure of "effectiveness", as mentioned earlier, would be your RIR.
  3. Muscle soreness: Not sore = not effective? That couldn't be further from the truth. Muscle soreness could indicate many things that aren’t related to effectiveness. Examples include an increased focus on eccentric movements and a novel challenge for your body (e.g., you’ve added a new exercise to the mix). Bottom line? One thing’s for sure. Your strength training session can be effective even in the absence of muscle soreness.

Takeaway

Strength training is only a piece of the puzzle when it comes to weight loss. There are still so many aspects you have to care about, including:

  • Creating—and sticking to—a calorie deficit
  • Fine-tuning your macronutrient intake
  • Slotting cardio sessions in-between strength training ones
  • Choosing appropriate recovery strategies
  • And a whole lot more

More details on the (complicated) relationship between exercise and weight loss below:

Does Exercise Always Result in Weight Loss?
Exercise equals weight loss. Or does it? In actuality, the relationship between physical activity and weight is complicated. We explore why here.

It's overwhelming. Well, what if we told you that we could take over the training portion for you? Of course, we can't put in the necessary work for you (i.e., grinding out your reps), but here's what we can do:

  • Tailor your workout program to your needs (exercise selection, training volume, progressive overload—all the works)
  • Motivate you to stay consistent with your workouts
  • Provide guidance anytime you struggle to see progress
  • Hook you up with a supportive, like-minded community of fitness enthusiasts (like you!) who can't wait to see you succeed

If that sounds good …

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One less thing to worry about—so you have more time to do what matters for weight loss.