Women who want to look amazing, lose substantial amounts of fat and get into the best possible shape should focus on weight training and not cardio.
I repeat. Lifting weights is the key to success in both male and female fat loss. That’s not a typo, and it’s not because I’m a bodybuilder and weightlifter by heart. It has nothing to do with bias because it’s grounded by science.
For years, I have worked with women who want to tone down and melt stubborn fat quickly. These clients had nothing on their mind but results and nothing to lose but time. Based on experience and experimenting with countless training methods, I can say with confidence that there’s no other way to lose weight efficiently than weights for women.
On paper, cardio seems much more palatable than weight training. In fact, weights are largely thought to be the domain of men, but this is a myth. Women can (and should) lift a lot of weights and eat better to get to where they need to go in terms of fitness and health goals.
How did I discover that weights beat cardio? Easy. I expanded my mind view and challenged the norm just to see if there was a better way to melt pounds of unwanted fat. Cardio definitely takes a back seat compared to the training efficacy of lifting weights. Best of all, you don’t have to be ‘bulky’ or have developed muscles to enjoy its benefits.
Here’s how it all started…
Breaking the Norm
I have always adopted an open mind when it comes to training. After all, you’ll need to have a set of ‘tools’ you can dip into as each client’s needs will be different. That said, I have tried different disciplines, such as Pilates, Yoga and running and still wasn’t able to get the effect I wanted.
A trainer lives and dies by his knowledge and experience. How else can you share with your clients how you sculpted your body with weight training if you never even did it? Also, people can sense whether you’re bluffing or telling the truth. I wanted to dig deeper and tell people upfront on why a particular training method works better because I myself have done it.
I’m not trying to bash running, Yoga and other forms of exercise here. It’s not my intention to belittle these disciplines. Rather, what I’m trying to say is that they aren’t the best ones you can do if you want to change your body composition.
My thoughts were confirmed when I observed my clients doing the same thing with little to no results to show for it. Their routine consisted more of doing their yoga and other forms of exercise and only an hour of weight training per week. Some even doubled their cardio, e.g., running and Pilates but they just couldn’t get rid of their stored fats.
The same women clients would then ask me why they aren’t losing weight. They would then assume that they’re not doing enough cardio and ask how many more hours per week they need to start seeing results. Imagine their surprise when I say ‘no more cardio’ because they thought it was supposed to be their main form of exercise.
Then, it would be a teaching point. I’d tell them why more cardio doesn’t equal fat loss. To prove it, I would have my clients log their hours on both cardio and weight training on 2-week intervals. We’d have a look and at the period’s end and see just how many hours they’d spend on cardio compared to lifting weights.
Even after spending so many hours on cardio (and even increasing it), my clients’ body composition would remain the same. They will then realize that cardio is not the answer and shift their focus to weight training to lose fat.
So what’s the lesson in all of this? Simple. No matter how many hours you pour in an exercise, e.g., yoga, running or biking, you’d still stay the same because you’re doing it wrong. Muscle tone, bone density and fat loss will remain as is until you change up your regimen.
The Importance of Weight Lifting for Fat Loss
There are many reasons why you should switch to weights as soon as you can. Here are just a few of them.
More Muscle = Higher Metabolism
The single greatest benefit lifting can provide is allowing the individual to lose excess baggage. Time and again, weights have proven to be super effective in shaping one’s body composition. Here’s the truth- the more muscle you have, the more calories you tend to eliminate while resting. Keep the engine, aka ‘metabolism’ running and you’ll keep losing weight until you reach your desired goal.
Better Bone Health
Women should always keep their bone density in good condition even when they’re in their 20s or 30s. The good news is, you can hit two birds with one stone when you focus on weights as it’s proven to improve bone density. Other types of exercise just don’t cut it in the bone health department.
How does one get her bones strong? It’s just a matter of lifting heavy stuff and putting them back down. Do it enough times and your body will naturally adjust. The sooner you start weight training, the sooner you get the health benefits, bone-wise.
Everything Gets Easier
How would you like to break the status quo and assumption that women are the weaker sex? You possess the ability to move heavy furniture, carry bags of groceries and even tackle weights that will make grown men cry. All you have to do is practice with the small stuff, then move on to the heavier things.
Do this regularly and you can be independent, which means no more waiting on your boyfriend, spouse or male roomie. You’ll be empowered and feel great at the same time. The things you weren’t able to do before are now pieces of cake!
Higher Level of Self-Confidence
Cardio can make you feel good due to the release of hormones during physical workouts, but lifting weights can do the same thing. The one thing missing from cardio, though, is a challenge.
Strength training can be progression-based, which means you can aim for higher goals and boost your self-confidence in the process. When you constantly achieve goals during a workout you’ll have a rush of healthy self-esteem that can translate to other aspects of your life.
Dumbbells and weight rooms were the exclusive domain of men and bodybuilders before, but all that has changed. You have the right to get what you want and crush workouts however you want.
What About Bulky Women?
Are you afraid that lifting weights will turn you into a she-hulk, which is something not all women want?
This is a myth that can be explained clearly so you won’t have any reservations about going full-on weight training. The short answer is that no, dumbbells will not turn you into a muscular person with outrageous proportions. The truth is, women don’t have enough testosterone to maintain a bulky form. If it looks totally unnatural for women to have huge muscles, then it’s because it is.
These women are likely to have ‘bulked up’, or used supplements to suppress their estrogen and consumed huge amounts of protein and other compounds. If not, then they may have belonged to the special 0.01 percent of the population who could produce super muscles and crazy metabolism.
Also, think of it this way. If it was so easy to gain muscle by lifting weights, then there wouldn’t be individuals who struggle to put on muscle. Footballers could continue pumping iron and turn into linebackers whenever they want. All college frat guys will turn out the same way- muscled and huge.
The world doesn’t work this way though. Genetics and testosterone levels will dictate how big or well-built an individual can become, and those limiters are more pronounced in women than in men.
Lifting dumbbells two to four times a week will not bulk you up. Teaching women how they can burn fat does not equal they will become larger. We won’t force you to do endless isolations and splits (which exercise specific muscle groups).
Rather, it’s about free weight training with presses, rows, pull-ups, push-ups, lunges, deadlifts and squats. You will learn how to properly do kettlebell swings, loaded carries, Turkish get-ups and ‘finishers’ that overload your metabolic system. You’ll be doing full body and compound movements to maximize the burning of fat and increasing lean mass.
Trainers can tailor a specific workout plan according to your goal, and he or she won’t be worth her salt if they plan to bulk you up instead of focusing on body composition.
Don’t Forget About Your Diet
Exercise is only one half of the equation. Can you guess the other half? That’s right. But let me stop you there- this isn’t a diet about restricting calories, going on hunger strikes and controlling what you eat.
The best way is to be mindful of a few things and take action. Know your body type and cater to your macronutrients for it. Address any nutritional deficiencies in the healthiest and most natural way possible. Be mindful of the food quality and don’t worry about how many times you should eat in a day.
My recommendation is to eat healthy fats, e.g., nuts, coconut oil, avocados and quality animal protein regularly and as the body demands. Refrain from mindless eating, especially if you’re not really that hungry. Drink plenty of water and stay hydrated. If you could choose, don’t consume liquids with high caloric content. Finally, take BCAAs, or branched-chain amino acids and post-workout shakes before and after workouts, respectively.
These are just guidelines that you can follow to stay on the path to effective weight loss. Lastly, don’t buy into the latest diet trends that force you into eating only one type of food, e.g., Paleo, vegan, low carb, etc. The general rule is to consume them as they come and be mindful of the quality.
Related: Nutrition Rules For Healthy Living
Starting the Workout Program
By now you should know why weight lifting is better than cardio for effective weight loss and burning of fat. Once you clear your schedule of cardio and focus on weights, you should have freed up three days each week. What we’re going to do is fill them up with a solid training program that will surely be worth your time.
As always, do proper warm-up exercises so your body will be ready for the demands ahead. Good examples include plyometrics, medicine ball throws, working your core, dynamic mobility and foam rolling, among others. A good 10 to 15-minute warm-up should be fine.
- Eight reps of Goblet Squats
- Eight reps of Push-Ups
- Fifteen to Twenty reps of Kettlebell Swings
- Eight reps per side on 1-arm Dumbbell Rows
Each should be done in a circuit method for about three to five rounds. For the finisher, do a Farmer’s Walk for maximum of five minutes. Choose a weight you can carry for about fifty meters. Keep rest down to a minimum and don’t put the weights down if you can help it.
- Six to eight reps of Deadlifts
- Six to eight reps of Assisted Chin-ups
- Six to eight reps of Dumbbells Push Press
Each should be done in a circuit method for about three to five rounds. For the finisher, complete eight rounds of Burpees in thirty-second on and off intervals. Challenge yourself by matching your last reps on succeeding rounds. Keep rest down to a minimum.
- Ten to twelve reps of Inverted Rows
- Eight reps of Walking Lunges for each leg
- Ten to twelve reps of Dumbbell Chest Press
- Eight reps of Single Leg Deadlifts
Each should be done in a circuit method for about three to five rounds. For the finisher, pick your favorite cardio exercise, e.g., running a treadmill, cycling or aerobics for ten minutes straight. If you find yourself out of breath in-between, break it up into two sessions.
Ryan is a former college wrestler and lifelong fitness fanatic. He has run half marathons, done mud runs, placed in body transformation contests, coached wrestling and now coaches girls soccer. Not to mention he has also tried literally hundreds of supplements over the years and has a vast and thorough supplement knowledge. He has written for Muscle & Strength, Testosterone Junkie, The Sport Review and other publications. He is also the editor in chief of this website. Feel free connect with him on his LinkedIn page below.