Okay, a few basics and then we get to the specifics of weight lifting and weight loss.
We need to deal with a few brief definitions. This is not just so that you will know what I am talking about, but so that you can accurately evaluate and focus on the options available to you. Therefore, we will briefly discuss weight training, weight lifting, resistance training, and body building. I also want to state right up front that the training we will talk about after the definitions can be used effectively by men and women. Ladies, you will not "bulk up" or become unfeminine, and we'll talk about that in a bit.
For the pros and serious weight lifting amateurs who read the following; yes, I know the definitions and explanations may be a little incomplete, but I am trying to convey information to people who may not know anything about any of this stuff. I am NOT trying to talk to experienced weight lifters and body builders. You know this stuff already and don't need to read this!
Let's just give some simple definitions at first because people often confuse the four terms I used above, and even those who know what they are talking about often use them somewhat interchangeably even though that might not be quite accurate.
Weight Training - Any use of weights to train and strengthen the muscles of the body, whether for a particular sport or event, such as weight lifting or body building, or for general fitness or strength, Often done with free weights such as the classic barbells and dumbbells we used to think of when we spoke of weight lifting and body building, weight training is often accomplished today with machines.
Resistance Training - The use of some resisting force to accomplish essentially the same training and strengthening mentioned in the last paragraph. In fact, the use of free weights and many machines is "resistance training" in that gravity is the resistance. Many other machines, however, may use various means of resistance. A classic example is the Bowflex, which uses flexible steel rods to provide the resistance. The focus on muscle groups can vary depending on the resistance method used. However, in terms of cause and effect of effort against resistance, the results in terms of muscles and fitness, whether the resistance is from gravity, springs, or steel rods, is basically the same.
Body Building - The training of the various muscle groups of the body in such away as to produce some sort of classic ideal of form. Since muscle growth is such an important part of this discipline, resistance training, commonly with free weights and weight machines, is the major portion of the training cycle. However, body builders may use cardio workouts such as running, swimming, or other aerobic activities to help burn the fat away from muscles, thereby creating greater "definition", i.e. the visibility of the muscles and muscle groups. This is sometimes referred to as "getting ripped". Body builders will often also train with the intention of "bulking up", or creating extremely large muscles and muscle groups whose size will be enhanced further by good definition.
Weight Lifting - An activity in which a participant trains specifically to be able to lift ever increasing amounts of weight, often in a certain group of specific "lifts" such as the deadlift. Obviously to move the weight, the weight lifter generally trains with the weight. A weight lifter is probably going to be bulkier but less defined than the body builder, since their goal is performance in a limited range of lifts or events while a body builder is seeking appearance and is less concerned with lifting maximum weights. Weight lifting is an accepted event at the Olympics and at other sports and fitness venues.
This is a roundabout way of getting to our real topic.
Originally we started with "weight lifting and weight loss", but I hope that you may be beginning to see that what we are really interested in is "weight training and weight loss". Many people will commonly use the term "weight lifting" when what they are really talking about is "weight training". Since a lot of people think of body builders and/or weight lifters when people start talking about weight lifting, and, since a lot of people are not even aware that weight training and resistance training are very flexible and can be used for a wide range of fitness goals, they tend to shy away from these methods, including as they apply to weight loss.
Training with weights, whether free weights, weight machines, or other resistance apparatus, is usually accomplished by means of a series of exercises, each one of which is targeted at specific parts of the body, usually specific muscle groups such as the biceps (front of the arm - flex your biceps), triceps (back of the arm), or pectoral muscles (big chest muscles - my, what big pecs you have).
The person training completes a certain number of each exercise (repetitions or reps). He or she then repeats the repetitions again. Each group of repetitions is a set. Depending on whether the person is a body builder, a weight lifter, or someone simply training with weights for fitness or a sport, the number of reps and sets may be varied by the individual to meet their particular purpose.
One of the great things about weight training (and I also mean resistance training, but that's too much typing) is this flexibility. As a simple example, a weight lifter may train with very heavy weights and do few repetitions and sets. A body builder may use somewhat lighter weights and do more repetitions and sets to help burn fat and increase definition. A housewife or office worker can use lighter weights still and do simple routines that will help them get fit and lose weight without having to train at the level of the body builder or weight lifter.
Someone just starting out can put as little weight on the bar as they can handle, do just a few reps and call it a day. As long as they keep coming back and doing their training regularly, they will usually be able to build up to where they are doing several sets of several reps of each exercise. Be careful, however, this can become addictive. Take the case of Kelly Nelson, a 53 year old, non-athletic housewife who was concerned about the backs of her arms getting floppy. She started training with weights to tighten them up and wound up becoming a champion body builder. In fact, this body building grandma was competing in competitions...and winning...into her mid 70's.
The value of weight training in a weight loss program is that it creates lean muscle mass. This lean muscle mass increases the resting metabolic rate, that is, the weight trained body burns more calories when at rest than the untrained body. Add to this gains in muscle and strength, improvement in physical appearance, and increase in self-esteem generally experienced by those who weight train, you can see that this form of exercise can be quite a valuable addition to any weight loss program.
I used the word "addition" because despite its intrinsic value in any attempt to improve health and fitness, weight training tends to be a little short on the cardio end. That means that it is not doing as much to help your heart and lungs as, for example, a 30 minute stint doing aerobics with Richard Simmons, or going out walking for 30 to 45 minutes. However, since that sort of training, valuable as IT is for burning calories and helping to keep your metabolism stoked up to fat burning level, does little to improve overall strength of muscles and joints beyond those immediately involved in the exercise.
This means that a really effective weight loss program should include weight training (yes, resistance training) AND cardio of some kind. Cardio should be done at least three times a week, preferably about five times. Weight training for strength and muscle growth CAN be done as little as once a week, however, it is more common for basic training to do your routine three times a week, with a day of rest between each training day. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday is a common weight training schedule. Trust me, even without trying to do too much too fast, your body will progress much more effectively with those days of rest in there.
Okay, about "bulking up" and those scary pictures in the magazines. You know the ones I'm talking about. The man or woman looks like a walking muscle chart and is flexing with this hideous look on his or her face. Maybe you ladies are concerned about looking very muscular and not quite feminine...particularly if you have seen pictures of female body builders who have bigger muscles than your husband or boyfriend!
Fear not, fair maid.
Those men and women got to look that way because they specifically chose certain weight training and nutrition regimens. There may also be some supplementation going on that you will not find necessary in a fitness or weight loss program. A weight training program properly done will result in a firm, healthy looking body, and, whether you are a man or a woman, you will not regret adding weight training to your fitness efforts.
Well, I hope I have cleared up a little bit about weight lifting and weight loss...or "weight training" and weight loss. Unfortunately, constraints on article size prevent a discussion on specific exercises and workout schedules, but there are plenty of books on the subject at your library or book store.
One last warning, however, start slow and progress slowly. Even beginning your weight training with just the bar with no weights on it can begin the internal changes which will eventually provide the desired results.
So, whether your goal is weight lifting, weight loss, body building, or just general fitness; training with weights may be just what you need.