While there are *so* many benefits to strength training that go way beyond changing your body composition, lifting weights is a key habit to get into if you want to lose weight. After all, you can burn up to 1.4 percent of your body fat through lifting alone, research has shown. But there’s really no guide on how, exactly, to pull this off—or even how long it will take before you see weight-loss results from strength training.
Weight loss depends on a number of factors, like what you’re eating, how much and how intensely you’re training, and how long your sessions are. In general, if you keep your current diet, “you should notice a change in your weight in about two weeks,” he says Albert MathenyRD, CSCS, a co-founder of SoHo Strength Lab and the CEO of Promix Nutrition.
TBH, weight loss related to lifting can be tricky 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 still could be losing body fat,” Matheny notes.
To accurately gauge your progress, consider how your jeans are fitting versus 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 overall weight.
“If you’ve been trying to lose for a month and you don’t feel that you’re making any progress, it’s a great time to re-evaluate your routine,” says Jessica CordingRD, the author of The Little Book of Game Changers.
Feeling a little stuck with your attempts to lose weight through strength training? Experts say one (or several) of these factors may be at play, and here’s what you can do to get the needle moving again.
1. You’ve paid zero attention to your nutrition.
It’s easy to group weight loss efforts into buckets—your workout routine and what you eat—and to only focus on one at a time, but it really needs to be a 360-degree approach. “If you’re not managing your nutrition, it can certainly override what you’re doing fitness-wise,” Matheny says.
Say, if you end up consuming more calories than you burn, you’re still not going to lose weight—and may even gain weight. So, make sure you’re paying attention to your overall calorie intake while you’re doing strength training to lose weight.
2. You’re not eating enough protein.
This is huge, given that protein helps build muscles. “The amino acids in protein are what your body uses to prepare and build muscle,” Cording explains. Eating at least the recommended daily amount of 50 to 60 grams of protein a day (if not way more!) can help you stay satisfied and lay the building blocks for you to bulk up. And this macronutrient will help you feel fuller longer, minimizing the odds that you’ll overeat.
Of course, everyone is different. This handy calculator from the United States Department of Agriculture will help you figure out your protein needs based on your age, height, weight, and level of activity.
3. You’re snacking too much.
Mindless snacking can definitely work against any effort to lose weight, says Cording. There are two reasons behind this: One is you could be taking in more calories than you realize; the other is that snacks can get in the way of you eating balanced meals. Plan out your meals—and your snacks—in advance to help you get the right balance of nutrients.
4. You’re not working out at a high enough intensity.
This can be a hard thing to measure, but keeping tabs on how you feel after you work out will usually clue you in to whether your routine needs a tune-up, Matheny says. “With 99 percent of strength-training exercises, you should feel cardiovascularly challenged,” Matheny says. “If you don’t feel like you’re fatigued 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 workouts feel more challenging, Matheny says. And, if you work out at a gym, ask a trainer for pointers.
5. Your carb intake is off.
Carbs have gotten a bad rap, but they’re also important when you’re doing strength training. “Some people will struggle and say, ‘I’m barely eating any carbs,’ but your body uses carbohydrates in exercise,” Cording says. Carbs “can be helpful for energy and endurance, and plays a part in recovery as well.” If you don’t have enough carbs in your diet, you won’t be able to work out as hard as you need to in order to lose weight.
The exact amount of carbs you need varies—if you’re doing cardio as well, you’ll need more than someone who is only lifting weights, Cording notes. As a rule of thumb, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that carbohydrates make up 45 to 65 percent of your total daily calories. If you’re confused about whether you’re getting enough, working with a registered dietitian can be really helpful.
6. You’re not getting balanced meals.
“Strength training has a way of making you feel very hungry,” Cording says. And, if you’re not thinking ahead of how to get in a balanced meal, you could end up eating tons of empty calories that aren’t nutrient dense.
“Ideally, you want each meal to have protein, healthy fat, and fiber,” Cording says. For breakfast, that might mean having avocado toast on a slice of whole-grain bread, topped with tomato and scrambled eggs, she says.
7. You’re drinking too much.
Alcohol can be a sneaky source of empty calories that work against your weight-loss efforts, Matheny says. And, if you tend to drink more than one beverage at a time, those calories can really add up. What’s more, alcohol can raise cortisol levels and even hinder your reaction time or ability to work out as intensely, so you may not be getting in as meaningful of strength-training sessions as you think if you’re drinking regularly.
The best way to cut calories from alcohol is to stop drinking, Matheny says (you know this!). But, if that’s not something you’re okay with, try changing up your drinking habits. Consider sticking to just one drink once or twice a week, for example, or switch to lower-calorie drinks like a vodka and soda while avoiding sugary cocktails like margaritas and piña coladas.
8. You aren’t allowing yourself enough recovery time.
It seems weird that you need to rest in order to lose weight, but there’s actually something to this. “You don’t get stronger while you’re working out,” Matheny says. “You get stronger when your body recovers.” If you’re not allowing your body enough time or giving it proper nutrition, you’re just not going to see improvements.
Another thing to consider, for Matheny: Trying to go really hard all the time with no rest will make it difficult for you to put in enough effort. Still, he says, “24 hours of rest is typically good for most people. Just try not to train the same muscle group over consecutive days.” It’s a good idea to focus on legs one day, then do an arm day the next day.
If you’ve tried these tweaks and you’re still not getting anywhere, it’s a good idea to chat with a professional, like a trainer at your local gym. They should be able to help you figure out what’s going on and get 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, Glamour, and more. She has a master’s degree from American University, lives by the beach, and hopes to own a teacup pig and taco truck one day.