Don't like cardio? You can burn fat just through strength training, says science

Loathe the treadmill? Strength training can burn 1lb of fat without diet or exercise, according to research

Woman doing strength training
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you enjoy lifting weights but don't like cardio, you might still struggle through a short treadmill or bike session now and again. After all, it's good for you. Even though lifting weights is great for building muscle, cardio exercise is needed to burn fat. Right?

According to research, lifting weights can also burn fat, which means the best adjustable dumbbells and best resistance bands are great tools to use whether your goal is to lose weight, build muscle or anything in between. Research from the University of New South Wales (opens in new tab) found that purely by lifting weights, you can burn around 1lb or 0.5 kgs of body fat. 

The researchers conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis that reviewed and analyzed existing evidence, examining 3000 participants across 58 studies. Looking at all the evidence, they found those who lifted weights for roughly 45-60 minutes each session for an average of 2.7 times per week, for around five months, lost an average of 1.4% of total body fat. This equated to roughly 1.1lb or half a kilo. 

Building muscle works up a sweat, sure, but it also raises your metabolism as it forces blood to pump around your body, creating a "thermic" effect that encourages your body to use body fat for fuel. It also changes your body's ratio of fat to muscle, leaving you fitter. 

woman bench pressing on adjustable weight bench

(Image credit: Alora Griffiths/Unsplash)

Senior author of the study Dr Mandy Hagstrom wrote: "A lot of people think that if you want to lose weight, you need to go out and run. But our findings show that even when strength training is done on its own, it still causes a favorable loss of body fat without having to consciously diet or go running."

1.4% is not a huge amount, but as an average of all studies, it is encouraging to know that you can lose fat purely by lifting weights. 

It's also important to know that exercise is the control factor in most of these studies, so there may have been very few changes to the participant's diets, or no additional cardiovascular exercise performed. Adding these elements in could provide extra fat-burning benefits.

Diet is key, as research (opens in new tab) has found fat loss is most successful and sustainable when diet and exercise are combined. This could be drinking more water and using the best protein powder for weight loss, or it could be restricting the calories you take in every day, or even starting small with simple meal swaps.

Swapping fries for a side salad, a sugary pastry with filling oatmeal, or opting for the salmon dish instead of a burger when dining out – all of these things contribute to a healthy diet. It's not just about fat loss: a healthy diet should contain lots of different kinds of food, offering plenty of vitamins, minerals, helping you feel more energized day-to-day and providing protein to help build muscle. Balanced with a good combination of strength training and the best exercises for weight loss, you should start seeing success in your endeavors if burning fat is a goal for you. 

Matt Evans
News Editor

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and News Editor at Fit&Well, covering all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.