Should Women Lift Weights for Fat Loss?

Won’t lifting make women look bulky and big?

There’s a school of though out there that women should not lift weights for fat loss. That view holds they’ll end up looking like E. German shot putters from 1968….. Yeah, right! This is 2015, and we’ve come a long way, baby! Women should lift weights to lose fat, feel better, and yes, look better. It’s not just me talking, either.

Women get the same weight training benefits that men do, to wit:

  • Increased basal metabolic rates to burn more calories throughout the day. (Eat the same, and lose fat)
  • A more toned and athletic appearance
  • Higher energy all day long
  • Significantly better athletic performance, if you’all care about that kind of thing
  • Reduced injury risk
How women cal lose fat with weight training

Yep, women and men both get the same weight training benefits. It’s all in how you train and diet that dictates the results. If you want to bulk up like an IFBB bodybuilder, you can certainly go tat route, but weights can deliver a completely different body as well.

So, who’s with me on this weight lifting thing?

Well, first of all, it’s pretty easy to pass the eye test on this one. Take a trip down to your local gym and grab a gander of women who are weight training. Lookin’ pretty damn good for the most part, aren’t they? For those readers who demand a bit of scientific backing to my maniacal ramblings, here goes….

This 2007 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that premenopausal women in the experimental group who used weight training lost 350% more body fat than women in the control group who used cardio. The study authors concluded:

This study suggests that strength training is an efficacious intervention for preventing percentage body fat increases and attenuating intraabdominal fat increases in overweight and obese premenopausal women.

Don’t stop at just lifting, either. Lift heavy!  A recent study found that women who lifted 85% of their 1RM for 8 reps significantly outperformed women who lifted higher reps with only 45% of their 1RM. Published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, it highlights the farther from high rep, low resistance cardio you stray, the more fat you light up. Now, so I’ve seen this literally a dozen times, but no sees fit to link to it, so can’t find the actual research. I’m taking it somewhat on faith. I will link to it as soon as possible.

Does How You Lift Matter When It Comes to Losing Fat?

A 2001 Ball State University Study on active, young women (average age 22-23 years) with no weight training experience revealed weight training is highly effective for fat loss. Interestingly, despite the debate raging between groups who prefer low volume circuit training, and  proponents of high volume periodized training, the study found little difference.

The circuit training group alternated between circuits A & B on alternate days, 3 days per week, at 12 reps to failure.

Circuit A Circuit B

  • Leg press
  • Bench press
  • Leg curl
  • Seated row
  • Standing calf raise
  • Arm curl
  • Sit-up
  • Pullover
  • Military press
  • Hip abduction/adduction

Circuit B

  • Knee extension
  • Chest fly
  • Leg curl
  • Lateral raise
  • Seated calf raise
  • Triceps pushdown
  • Back extension
  • Upright row
  • Rotator cuff exercises
  • Lat pulldown


The periodized training group trained 4 days per week. Monday and Thursday were at either 3-5 reps or 12-15 reps to failure, while on Tuesday and Friday they did 8-10 reps to failure. As soon as the subjects were able, training weights were increased in both groups.

So, here’s the kicker; subject in both weight training groups lost significant amounts of fat, while the control group didn’t. Even better, the found that one training style significantly outperformed the other over the long term.

Which one? Any guesses?

The periodized group kicked the single circuit groups ass in terms of fat loss. While both did well after 3 months, the circuit group’s progress ground to halt after that, fat loss wise. To top it off, it was behind out of the gate. The periodized training group lost 242% more fat after 3 months than the circuit group. After 3 months, the gap widened even more, with the periodized group losing 385% more fat than the circuit group at the 6 month mark.

Sounds good to me! Your mission’s clear. Hit the weights for fat loss, and mix it up.

SHould Women Lift Weights for Fat Loss? Barbell Curls

The jury’s in: Lift weights, lose fat… and mix it up some!

In addition to lifting weights for fat loss, women (and men too, for that matter) will get some other excellent benefits:

  • Decreased osteoporosis risk
  • Increased strength (Duhh!)
  • More athletic appearance….. if you’re into that sort of thing
  • Decreased insulin resistance and diabetes risk. Yeah, I’ve got the Big D, so it didn’t help me… or did it? I have Type 1 diabetes and it didn’t present until I was 47 years old. By all accounts this is extremely late. It runs in my family, with several immediate family members having it, so I got waylaid by genetics. Sucks!
  • Reduced injury risk (only for smart weight trainers; see this post on bench press technique mistakes for more on this, and a scary funny video)


Why do I like weight lifting vs cardio so much? Easy, most of the fat loss with cardio comes while you’re actually doing the work. Cardio heads love to point out that cardio in the “fat burning zone” burns more fat that weight training. What they fail to mention is the long-term metabolism driven fat loss actually means heavy resistance training drive fat loss more effectively than cardio. So, you can burn fat while you’re exercising, or for the day’s other 23 hours; your choice.

So, should women lift weights for fat loss?… Why yes, lifting weights will help you lose fat, and at least half a dozen other good  things. Time to dust off that gym membership for the new year!