The Difference Between Training to Build Muscle & Training to Lose Weight


The gym is a place to defy odds and break a sweat (and ofc take gym selfies). While it's a given that we all have different goals, a main challenge most of us face is figuring out which training style will help turn those goals — whether it's to lose weight or gain muscle — into reality and use our gym time efficiently. 

There's a few factors that work together to shape our physiques: the number of times we complete an exercise aka repetitions, rest time, nutrition, and frequency of workouts. As a double-certified personal trainer, I’m here to explain everything in greater detail — plus, the difference between working out to build muscle and working out to shed weight. Keep reading for more on how understanding your body (and how it adapts to different training formats) will help you make the most out of your fitness journey!

Training For Weight Loss

When the goal is to drop some pounds, you need to burn more calories than you take in!

1. Lift weights 3-5 times max per week, and keep it fast pace.

According to the International Sports Science Association (ISSA), the more stress you put on your body, the higher the chance your body will use fat as fuel. This means we must increase the frequency and duration of our workouts. In general, ISSA considers three to five days max of weight training paired with about 90 minutes of cardio each week to be the target frequency.

2. Take less rest time and increase repetitions per exercise.

During your workouts, you need to put enough stress on your body to tap into its energy stores aka fat. Livestrong recommends choosing seven to ten exercises max and doing 15-20 repetitions of each exercise at a moderate weight. Then, immediately move on to the next one. After you complete all of your exercises, rest (but for only approximately three minutes) and repeat. It’s important to time your rests when you’re focusing on fat loss, because your main mission is to keep your heart rate high enough to continue the fat-burning process. For more information, click here.

3. Eat to feed your muscles.

Nutrition plays a key role in fat loss. Carbohydrates are an immediate form of energy, but if they aren’t used, they’re stored. That being said, low-carbohydrate diets can be an effective way to drop some pounds. But during workout days, consider doing the opposite by fueling up with healthy carbs to make sure the muscle you've gained/maintained is preserved. 

Training For Muscle Gain

When the goal is to build up muscle, you need to take in more calories than you are burning!

1. Train for strength.

To maximize muscle growth, keep in mind that the goal isn't to torch calories. We also don’t need to spend hours doing cardio. In fact, that might weaken your muscles — even though yes, it's true muscle growth is a response to exercise. My main point is that balance and moderation are important. Four to six workouts max per week will do you just fine. Break your muscle groups into separate days, targeting each group no more than twice a week to allow for repair time. Remember: It's the time we spent resting is when our bodies strengthen up.

2. Lower your repetitions and increase the weight.

The principle of overload plays an important role in muscle growth. The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) states that muscles need to be progressively pushed to the limit to adapt to the demand of exercise and grow. Increasing the amount of weight you lift will increase the diameter of your muscle fibers, because they'll need to adapt/grow to support the demand. Therefore, consider lowing your repetitions to anywhere between six and 12 times, and then repeat each set three to five times max. Important: Slowly increase the amount of weight you lift — I usually recommend increments of five pounds at a time to prevent injury.

3. Eat to gain.

As the old saying goes: Something can't be made from nothing! Likewise, muscles will not get bigger if they aren’t fueled correctly. Ensure that you're eating a balanced diet of carbohydrates — especially before and after your workouts — healthy fats, and proteins. Protein is the building block of your body, which includes your muscles. Without it, you can’t rebuild broken-down muscle fibers. The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) recommends 0.36 grams of protein per pound. If your aim is to gain, try eating a few grams above your target. 

The body is a complicated yet beautiful instrument! The way we manipulate each factor of exercise and nutrition changes the way our bodies adapt. Do you have a story to share in which you were able to meet your fitness goals? Sound off in the comments below!

SWEAT REPORTER | Paytra is a musician and writer out of New York City. She moved from a small town in Michigan at age 16 to pursue her dreams, and has been making her mark in the Big Apple ever since! She is a Business Management major and double-certified personal trainer with 6 years experience, so she loves to write about all things nutrition/fitness. You can find her in the studio, at the gym, writing in her journal, or playing piano: and if all else fails, she’s hitting up her favorite coffee shop in Midtown Manhattan! site: