Can strength training boost your metabolism?

Woman lifting weights
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Despite the ads you might see on social media, caffeinated shakes and crash diets won’t actually boost your metabolism. Instead, the healthiest way to boost your metabolism is to add strength training and cardio to your fitness routine. 

Let’s start by taking a look at what metabolism actually means. Your metabolism is the process in which your body turns the food you eat and drink you consume into energy. A person’s metabolism, or how fast they burn food, is affected by their genes, their diet, their sleep, and their exercise habits. Your metabolic rate is the rate of metabolism, and building muscle through exercise can help increase your metabolism by increasing your resting metabolic rate. 

But how does strength training affect your metabolism and what other effects does lifting weights have on your body? To find out more, we spoke to FightCamp trainer Jess Evans, who is USA Boxing Coach certified. 

What effect does lifting weights have on the body?

“Lifting weights is more than just a bodybuilder: it’s excellent for overall fitness. Some benefits include improved flexibility and mobility and strengthening of your bones and joints. Muscle growth is an obvious benefit that can help you perform daily tasks easier and improve your overall athletic performance. You can become a fat-burning machine!” said Evans. 

If you're yet to return to the gym, we've hand-picked the best adjustable dumbbells that allow you to weightlift from home here. 

How does strength training boost your metabolism?

“Strength training helps you build muscle, and muscle is more effective at burning calories, even when you’re not working out. In layman's terms, the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn at a resting rate. However, research also shows that you burn more calories in the hours following a weight session than a cardio workout. My advice is to have a healthy balance of both” says Evans. 

Lifting weights has also been found to help combat the drop in metabolism that can come with weight loss. When comparing the benefits of cardio and weight training side-by-side, one study found that strength training is one of the best ways to retain muscle mass when losing weight, compared to no exercise and aerobic exercise. 

What are the other benefits of strength training on your physical health?

“Strength training can lower your risk of injury by building muscle that supports major joints that can help protect against injury. In addition, it can improve heart health by creating better circulation in your body that provides more blood flow to your heart. Strength work can also be a massive confidence boost; not only do you create a pleasing aesthetic, but it helps you learn how to overcome challenges and work towards a goal that can raise your self-esteem” Evans adds. 

What are some easy strength training exercises to start with?

“First things first, before you even consider picking up a weight, it is essential to do bodyweight strength movements to make sure your technique is sound. This will help you prevent injury and better understand which part of the body you are using for greater body awareness. 

“For starters, basic bodyweight movements to start with are:

  • Squats: Here's how to do resistance band squats, if you're new to training with weights, plus the squat variations to try. 
  • Lunges: Lunges target the lower body and core at the same time. Here's how to do lunges with the correct form.
  • Push-ups: Push-ups are one of the best exercises to target the arm muscles without weights. Here's how to do a push-up, and the variations to try. 
  • Assisted pull-ups: To do an assisted pull-up, use a pull-up bar that has a pad to lean your knees on. Rest your knees on the pad, and put your hands on the bar, shoulder-width apart. Pull up until your head is level with the bar, then slowly lower down with control. 
  • Dips: Performed on a dip bar, dips are one of the best ways to work the arms and core. Start with your arms extended on the dip bar, then lift your feet up under your body. Bend your arms at the elbows, lowering down until your shoulders are below your elbows, then straighten your arms back out. 
  • Supermans: To do a superman hold, lie on your belly on your exercise mat, stretching both arms and legs out from your body. Engage your glutes and raise both arms and legs off the floor, aiming for about six inches. You should feel a stretch in your lower back. Hold the pose for a couple of seconds before lowering back to your starting position. 
  • Hollow body holds: To do a hollow body hold, start by lying on your back. Raise your arms, head, and neck a few inches off the floor, and lift your extended legs at the same time. Hold, keeping your core engaged and your lower back pressed into the mat.  
  • Glute bridges: Here's more information on how to do a glute bridge, and the variations to try. 

“All of these exercises will help you to start building muscle. Once you get these down, you can add a low weight and build from there. Always listen to your body, perform exercises slowly and with intention, and take appropriate recovery days. Muscles need recovery to grow!” says Evans. 

Looking at hacking your metabolism? Check out what happened when I used the Lumen breathalyzer to track my metabolism for a month.

Looking for more workout inspiration? Here’s how Alan Ritchson packed on 30 pounds of muscle to play Reacher, the best resistance band exercises for leg day, and the best apps to download if you want to get paid to walk.  

Jane McGuire
Fitness editor

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past five years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy. 

With contributions from