8 reasons why you do strength training but don’t lose weight
Although there are *so* many benefits of strength training that go beyond changing body composition, lifting weights is a key habit you must acquire if you want to lose weight. After all, you can burn up to 1.4 percent of your body fat just by lifting, Research he showed. But there’s really no guide on exactly how to do it—or even how long it will take before you see weight loss results from strength training.
Losing weight depends on a number of factors, such as what you eat, how much and how intensely you train, and how long your workouts last. In general, if you stick to your current diet, “you should notice a change in weight in about two weeks,” he says Albert MathenyRD, CSCS, Co-Founder SoHo Strength Lab and CEO of the company Promix Nutrition.
TBH, weight loss associated with lifting can be hard to measure given that muscle weighs more than fat and you’re (hopefully) muscle building while losing weight through your routine. “Your weight may stay the same, but you can still be losing body fat,” notes Matheny.
To accurately measure your progress, think about how your jeans fit in relation to the number on the scale, he says. Also, consider investing in a scale that measures your body fat percentage so you can watch that number go down instead of your total weight.
Meet the experts: Albert MathenyRD, CSCS, is co-founder of SoHo Strength Lab and CEO of Promix Nutrition. Jessica CordingRD, nutritionist and author of the book A little book that changes the rules of the game.
“If you’ve been trying to lose weight for a month and don’t feel like you’re making any progress, it’s time to rethink your routine,” he says. Jessica CordingRD, author A little book that changes the rules of the game.
Feeling a little stuck in your attempts to lose weight with strength training? Experts say one (or more) of these factors may be at play, and here’s what you can do to get the needle moving again.
1. You haven’t paid any attention to your diet.
It’s easy to lump your weight-loss efforts into buckets—your exercise routine and what you eat—and focus on just one thing at a time, but it really has to be a 360-degree approach. “If you’re not managing your diet, it can certainly override what you’re doing in terms of fitness,” Matheny says.
Let’s say if you end up taking in more calories than you burn, you still won’t lose weight – and you might even gain weight. Therefore, watch your total calorie intake while doing strength training to lose weight.
2. You don’t eat enough protein.
This is huge, considering protein helps build muscle. “The amino acids in protein are what your body uses to prepare and build muscle,” explains Cording. Eat at least the recommended daily amount 50 to 60 grams of protein per day (if not much more!) can help keep you satisfied and lay the foundation for bulking. And this macronutrient will help you feel fuller for longer, making you less likely to overeat.
Of course, everyone is different. This practical calculator from United States Department of Agriculture will help you determine your protein needs based on your age, height, weight and activity level.
3. You snack too much.
Mindless snacking can definitely work against any weight loss efforts, Cording says. There are two reasons for this: one is that you might be taking in more calories than you think; another is that snacks can get in the way of a balanced meal. Plan your meals—and snacks—ahead to get the right balance of nutrients.
4. You don’t exercise at a high enough intensity.
It can be hard to measure, but keeping track of how you feel after a workout will usually tell you if your routine needs tweaking, Matheny says. “With 99 percent of strength training exercises, you should feel cardiovascularly challenged,” Matheny says. “If you don’t feel tired afterwards, you’re probably not training hard enough.”
If that’s the case for you, try adding five to 10 more reps to each exercise, or start lifting heavier weights until your workout becomes more challenging, Matheny says. And if you work out in the gym, ask the trainer for instructions.
5. Your carb intake is off.
Carbs have gotten a bad rap, but they’re also important when you’re strength training. “Some people will struggle and say, ‘I barely eat carbs,’ but your body uses carbs during exercise,” says Cording. Carbohydrates “can be beneficial for energy and endurance, and also play a role in recovery.” If you don’t have enough carbohydrates in your diet, you won’t be able to exercise as much as you need to lose weight.
The exact amount of carbs you need varies—if you’re also doing cardio, you’ll need more than someone who just lifts weights, Cording notes. Generally, Dietary Guidelines for Americans we recommend that carbohydrates make up 45 to 65 percent of total daily calories. If you’re confused about whether you’re getting enough, working with a registered dietitian can be very helpful.
6. You don’t get balanced meals.
“Strength training can make you feel really hungry,” says Cording. And, if you don’t think ahead about how to get a balanced meal, you could be eating tons of empty calories that aren’t rich in nutrients.
“Ideally, you want every meal to contain protein, healthy fats and fiber”, says Cording. For breakfast, that might mean avocado toast on a slice of whole grain bread, topped with tomato and scrambled eggs, she says.
7. You drink too much.
Alcohol can be a hidden source of empty calories that work against your weight-loss efforts, Matheny says. And, if you tend to have more than one drink at a time, those calories can really add up. What’s more, alcohol can raise cortisol levels and even interfere with your reaction time or ability to exercise intensely, so if you’re a regular drinker, you may not be making as much sense of strength training as you think.
The best way to cut calories from alcohol is to stop drinking, says Matheny (you know the one!). But if that’s not something you agree with, try changing your drinking habits. Consider sticking to just one drink once or twice a week, for example, or switch to low-calorie drinks like vodka and soda while avoiding sugary cocktails like margaritas and piña coladas.
8. You don’t allow yourself enough recovery time.
It seems strange that you need to rest to lose weight, but there is actually something to it. “You don’t get stronger when you work out,” Matheny says. “You get stronger when your body recovers.” If you don’t give your body enough time or proper nutrition, you simply won’t see improvements.
Another thing to consider, according to Matheny: If you’re trying to go really hard all the time without rest, you’ll have a hard time putting in enough effort. Still, he says, “24 hours of rest is usually good for most people. Just try not to train the same muscle group for several days.” It’s a good idea to focus on legs one day and do arm day the next.
If you have tried these settings and you have more without success, it’s a good idea to talk to a professional, like a trainer at your local gym. They should help you understand what’s going on and put you on the right path to success.
Korin Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, sexual health and relationships, and lifestyle trends, with work appearing in Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Self, Glamor, etc. She has an MA from American University, lives by the beach, and hopes to will one day own a pig in a teacup and a taco truck.