Resistance exercise is a type of strength training that involves the use of weights or other forms of resistance to strengthen muscles and increase physical fitness. It is designed to increase the strength and size of skeletal muscles, as well as improve bone density and tone.

Resistance training can also help with weight loss by increasing your metabolism, which means that you burn more calories throughout the day.

You can perform resistance exercises at home with your own bodyweight, or use free weights or resistance bands at the gym.

We’ve compiled a list of 15 different resistance exercises to get you started:

Push-ups – push yourself up from a lying position with your hands shoulder width apart and arms straight

Bench press – push a barbell off your chest until it touches your upper chest or chin (if using dumbbells)

Leg raises – lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor; raise legs until they are parallel to the floor (or higher) while keeping knees straight; lower legs back down slowly until they touch the floor again

Resistance Exercise For Weight Loss

Woman uses gym equipment for perform a pull-up.

Weight lifting, also known as resistance training, has been practised for centuries as a way of building muscular strength. Research shows that resistance training, whether done via body weight, resistance bands or machines, dumbbells or free weights, not only helps us build strength, but also improves muscle size and can help counteract age-related muscle loss.

More recently it’s become popular among those looking to lose weight. While exercises such as running and cycling are indeed effective for reducing body fat, these activities can simultaneously decrease muscle size, leading to weaker muscles and greater perceived weight loss, as muscle is more dense than fat. But unlike endurance exercises, evidence shows resistance training not only has beneficial effects on reducing body fat, it also increases muscle size and strength.

The ‘after-burn effect’

When we exercise, our muscles need more energy than they do when resting. This energy comes from our muscles’ ability to break down fat and carbohydrate (stored within the muscle, liver and fat tissue) with the help of oxygen. So during exercise, we breathe faster and our heart works harder to pump more oxygen, fat, and carbohydrate to our exercising muscles.

What is less obvious, however, is that after we’ve finished exercising, oxygen uptake actually remains elevated in order to restore muscles to their resting state by breaking down stored fat and carbohydrates. This phenomenon is called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) – though more commonly known as the “after-burn effect”. It describes how long oxygen uptake remains elevated after exercise in order to help the muscles recover.

The extent and duration of the after-burn effect is determined by the type, length, and intensity of exercise, as well as fitness level and diet. Longer-lasting exercise that uses multiple large muscles, performed to or near fatigue, results in higher and longer-lasting after-burn.

Man performs a squat with a barbell on his back.

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) and high intensity resistance training are most effective at elevating both short and long-term after-burn. The reason HIIT-type exercises are thought to be more effective than steady-state endurance exercise is because of the increased fatigue associated with HIIT. This fatigue leads to more oxygen and energy required over a prolonged period to repair damaged muscle and replenish depleted energy stores. As such, resistance exercise is an effective way to lose excess fat due to the high calorie cost of the actual training session, and the “after-burn effect”.

Long-term fat loss

Resistance training can also be effective for long-term weight control, too. This is because muscle size plays a major role in determining resting metabolic rate (RMR), which is how many calories your body requires to function at rest. Resting metabolic rate accounts for 60-75% of total energy expenditure in non-exercising people, and fat is the body’s preferred energy source at rest.

Increasing muscle size through resistance training increases RMR, thereby increasing or sustaining fat loss over time. A review of 18 studies found that resistance training was effective at increasing resting metabolic rate, whereas aerobic exercise and combined aerobic and resistance exercise were not as effective. However, it’s also important to control calorie intake in order to lose fat and sustain fat loss.

Resistance training exercises should engage the largest muscle groups, use whole body exercises performed standing and should involve two or more joints. All of these make the body work harder, thereby increasing the amount of muscle and therefore RMR. An effective resistance training programme should combine intensity, volume (number of exercises and sets), and progression (increasing both as you get stronger). The intensity should be high enough that you feel challenged during your workout.

The most effective way of doing this is using the repetition maximum method. For the purpose of fat loss, this should be performing between six and ten repetitions of an exercise with a resistance that results in fatigue, so that you cannot comfortably do another full repetition after the last one. Three to four sets, two or three times a week for each muscle group is recommended.

The repetition maximum method also ensures progression, because the stronger you get, the more you will need to increase resistance or load to cause fatigue by the tenth repetition. Progression can be achieved by increasing the resistance or intensity so that fatigue occurs after performing fewer repetitions, say eight or six.

Resistance training helps with excess fat loss by increasing both after-burn after exercise, and by increasing muscle size, thereby increasing the number of calories we burn at rest. Combining it with a healthy diet will only further increase the loss of excess body fat – and may also provide other positive health benefits.

Beginner Strength Training Routine for Weight Loss

man exercising with dumbbells.
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Physical activity has many benefits for mental and physical health. And some people use exercise to help them meet a weight-loss goal. You can use this beginner strength training routine for weight loss, if that is a priority for you, or to build muscular strength.

This routine is based on walking, which helps build cardiovascular endurance and health, and weights, which can help boost metabolism and burn more fat. It also includes one weekly session of circuit training, which combines weights and cardio.

Although it is possible to achieve results with cardio alone, adding a strength training routine for weight loss will make your workouts more balanced and capitalize on the fat-burning benefits of weight training.

Program Schedule

To do this program, walk on 6 days; take one day off. For the strength exercises, use dumbbells, or other weights, at home or the gym.

  • Day 1: Walk for at least 40 minutes at a brisk pace or one that makes you breathe heavily, but does not make you breathless. Split the session up if it suits you, but try to keep up the intensity.
  • Day 2: Choose 8 dumbbell exercises. Together, these strength training exercises work many different muscles to contribute to weight loss and building a stronger body. Do 3 sets of 12 repetitions of each exercise. If doing 8 exercises at once is too much, break it up into 4 exercises over two sessions. Also try to fit in a 30- to 40-minute brisk walk.
  • Day 3: Do a circuit training workout. If necessary, modify it by slowing it down, so that you can complete at least three circuits. If you like, swap in a different circuit training routine on alternate weeks.
  • Day 4: Walk for 40 minutes.
  • Day 5: Repeat the dumbbell program performed on day 2; walk for 30 to 40 minutes.
  • Day 6: Rest.
  • Day 7: Walk for 40 minutes, or take a rest day.

This beginner strength training routine gives you three days per week of strength training (the two dumbbell programs, plus strength training in the circuit training workout), which is optimal for losing weight.

You can mix the walks up with slow jogging if you feel up to it, but at least 40 minutes of brisk walking, six days each week should be your goal. You can do this on a treadmill, in your neighborhood, or in the park.

Weight-Loss Basics

An exercise program is an important part of a weight-loss routine, but it isn’t the only part. If your goal is to lose weight, you will need to make some other changes as well.

Get Clearance From a Healthcare Provider

Before you start a beginner weight training routine, or any exercise program, be sure you have no underlying medical conditions that mean you should be cautious about your exercise intensity or frequency. A healthcare provider can also help you set personalized goals and help you understand the right nutrition plan for you.

Move More

Extra incidental movement throughout the day, called “non-exercise activity,” can help increase the amount of exercise you get outside of your training program. Try parking your car farther from the entrance at work or while running errands.

If you live in a city, take public transportation, which usually requires more walking to get to and from your destination and the bus or train stop. Even simple things like standing on one foot while you brush your teeth can help improve your balance and stability.1

Make Weight Training Convenient

If you have a gym membership, free weights and machines are at the ready. But you can use dumbbells at the gym or at home.

Try placing dumbbells in a handy spot so that it’s easy to pump out a few dozen repetitions in between other activities or even while watching TV, videos, or listening to music.

Eat a Nutritious Diet

Diet has an important role in reducing body fat. But remember: Very low-calorie diets are not suitable, as you will shed muscle (and bone) and your metabolism will slow down, making it difficult to resume normal eating while managing weight. In addition, you’ll likely miss out on essential nutrients your body needs.

Still, to lose weight, your diet needs to restrict calories so that you lose fat, while at the same time providing you with essential nutrients and sufficient energy to fuel your exercise routine.

  • Eat a high-fiber diet with healthy fats, like olive oil and avocado.
  • Replace refined carbs like cookies, cakes, sweets, sugary drinks, and white bread with more nutrient-dense alternatives like whole grains, fruits, and plenty of water (if you get bored drinking plain water, try water flavorings).
  • Try low-fat dairy instead of full-fat milk, yogurt, and cheeses. Consider plant-based dairy alternatives such as almond milk, soy milk, or oat milk.
  • Choose whole-grain bread and cereals, and eat lots of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds.
  • Select lean, low-fat meats, or vegetarian alternatives.

Lastly, eat fast foods rarely, and choose less processed whole foods when possible to minimize your intake of added sugars, excess sodium, and other additives.

A Word from Verywell

Remember to see a healthcare provider as you start to ensure a strength training routine is right for you. Then, get started as soon as possible. It’s OK if you don’t quite meet your goals for each and every day, to begin with—just aim to start each of the allocated sessions for the week.

Be determined, start slowly and consistently, and improve performance week by week. The goal should be progress, not perfection!

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