Not all exercise is created equal. Especially when we’re talking about effective fat loss workouts.
I’m sure you already know that, but what you might not know is that when it comes to weight loss, there is a clear divide when it comes to effective fat loss workouts.
Some workouts are head and shoulders above others in terms of their effectiveness for long term fat loss and calorie burning in general.
Think of it this way – if you were going to hammer a nail into a board and all you had was a hammer and a screwdriver, you’d take the hammer every time. It’s more effective for the job of hammering the nail in. Sure, you could eventually pound that nail into the board with your trusty screwdriver, but it would take you infinitely more effort, it would take you much longer and you’d probably slip and bang your hand on the nail at least 27 times.
It’s the same with workouts when your overall goal is to lose weight.
There’s something I like to refer to as “The Hierarchy Of Effective Fat Loss Workouts” and I first learned about this when I was doing coaching with Alwyn and Rachel Cosgrove, owners of Results Fitness in California and world renowned experts in the fitness industry.
Let’s take a look at how this shakes out when it comes to your fat loss workouts, starting with the most effective use of your time and moving down towards the bottom end of the spectrum.
EFFECTIVE FAT LOSS WORKOUTS
(Note: We’re talking specifically about WORKOUTS today. None of this negates the fact that if you’re trying to lose weight, nutrition is #1 with a bullet. None of the workout methods below will make up for a bad diet. Proper nutrition is always at the top of the food chain.)
1. Proper Strength Training
Time Available: 2-4 days/week
Duration: 15-60 minutes/session
Total Time Commitment/Week: 30 minutes-4 hours
When it comes to effective fat loss workouts (and obviously gaining muscle workouts), having a proper strength training program in place is crucial to your long term success.
Sure, we can drop some a few pounds with other forms of exercise, but nothing makes it easier to keep the fat off long term than adding some nice, lean muscle to your body.
Fortunately, the “stigma” around weight training being only for men that want to get bigger is evaporating. We can largely thank the popularization of CrossFit for that.
But I still come across women hesitant to start strength training because they “don’t want to get too bulky”. This thought is getting more and more rare by the day, thankfully, but it’s still there.
So, if you’re one of the few women out there still having this though, let me put your mind at ease right now – LIFTING WEIGHTS WILL NOT MAKE YOU BULKY!
In fact, lifting weights will actually give you the exact body you’re probably looking for. All of those actresses and models with the sleek, slender bodies and “toned” (ugh, I hate that word) arms, legs and butts – they ALL lift weights, I guarantee it.
The reason strength training is so crucial to your long term success at keeping that pesky fat off your body is because strength training does increase the lean muscle tissue you carry around. Muscle is very “metabolically active”, which basically means it burns calories just sitting on your body. Many, many more calories than body fat does.
Everyone wants to increase their metabolism these days and this is exactly how you do that.
More lean muscle = higher calorie burning = higher metabolic rate = higher metabolism = HAPPY DANCE!!
So, what does proper strength training look like?
First of all, if you don’t have a background in program design I highly recommend hiring someone who does. Preferably someone who has a background working with people that are similar to yourself with similar goals.
If you’re trying to lose weight, feel better and fit into some old (or new) clothes – Click Here to see how it works.
But if you’re set on doing it yourself, a simple template is to rotate through 3 full body workouts like this:
MONDAY – Workout A
TUESDAY – Rest/Light Cardio
WEDNESDAY – Workout B
THURSDAY – Rest/Light Cardio
FRIDAY – Workout C
SATURDAY – Rest/Light Cardio
SUNDAY – Rest/Light Cardio
For each of those workouts, you’ll cover you’re entire body, all movements. Something like this:
1. Plank – 2 sets x 30second x 30 second rest
2. Kettlebell Swings – 3 sets x 15 reps x 60 second rest
3A. Goblet Squats – 2 sets x 15 reps x 0 second rest
3B. Single Arm Dumbbell Row – 2 sets x 15 reps x 0 second rest
3C. Pigeon Stretch – 2 sets x 10-20 seconds x 60 second rest
4A. Single Leg Romanian Deadlift – 2 sets x 15 reps x 0 second rest
4B. Push Ups – 2 sets x 15 reps x 0 second rest
4C. TRX Chest Stretch – 2 sets x 10-20 seconds x 60 second rest
In an effective fat loss workout program, you’d have 3 separate workouts that with that structure and you’d alternate them throughout the week following the schedule above.
In a properly designed program, that would make up one PHASE of your program and your entire program would have 3-12 phases depending on how adept you are at designing progressive programs and your goals.
FUN FACT: Programs I design for clients will have between 6-10 phases and will span 6-12 months of steady progress.
Again, if you don’t have a background in designing effective fat loss workouts & training programs, hire someone who does. I promise you it will be worth it and save you a ton of time and headaches.
If you want to schedule a complimentary Strategy Call click the button below and we’ll see if I can help.
2. High Intensity Interval Training/Circuit Training/Metabolic Training
Time Available: 1-2 days/week
Duration: 10-30 minutes/session
Total Time Commitment/Week: 10-60 minutes
High intensity interval training started gaining popularity among a research study showed people could burn up to 9x more body fat doing short bursts of exercise followed by a rest in a much shorter amount of workout time when compared to regular, steady pace cardio.
So, people started doing more sprint training, hill sprints, bike sprints, rowing sprints, skipping sprints etc. It would essentially look like this:
Alternate between 20 seconds of WORK and 20 seconds of REST for 8 total rounds.
Simple and effective for fat loss.
Then we thought - well if interval training is good, let's combine that with weight training!
And "metabolic resistance training" was born.
This kind of workout would look something like this:
Perform each exercise for 30 seconds, completing as many good reps as possible in that time. Rest for 30 seconds and move onto the next exercise. Repeat for 3 total rounds and then move onto the next group of exercises.
1A. Goblet Squats
1B. Bent Over Rows
1C. Mountain Climbers
2B. Push Ups
This style of training allows for work to be done in a shorter amount of time which is always nice.
Now, you might be thinking - "But if that's a combo of strength training and interval training, can't I JUST do metabolic training??"
Sure, you could do that. But you're results won't be as good as they would be if you had a proper strength training program and then use metabolic training as your "cardio" workouts.
When you combine the two into your program you're optimizing your workouts to get the absolute best results and the most effective fat loss workouts possible.
> Strength training to get stronger, built muscle and increase your metabolism.
> Metabolic training to burn fat and increase cardiovascular health.
There are literally endless ways to structure your metabolic training (i.e. regular circuits, density training, complexes, timed intervals), so I'm not going to go into that today.
If you want to get started with that style of training you have 2 options:
--- Just start doing some sprints a couple times each week in addition to your strength training workouts.
So that would look like the first example I gave above - alternate between 20 seconds of WORK and 20 seconds of REST for 8 total rounds.
You can use a bike, rower, skipping rope, battle ropes, sled pushes, treadmill or sprint outside. Any of those will work just fine.
--- I've also put together "21 Bodyweight Cardio Workouts" that you can grab for free below:
3. Steady State Cardio & Most Group Fitness Classes
Time Available: 1-3 days/week
Duration: 20-60 minutes/session
Total Time Commitment/Week: 20 minutes-3 hours/week
I've never been a big "group fitness class" kind of guy, personally.
My preference has typically been to train on my own or with a couple friends, focusing on the above 2 priorities - strength training and metabolic training.
Now, when I say "group fitness class" what I mean is the classes you'd typically find at your local big gym. The step classes, cardio kickboxing classes, Zumba, even the "weight lifting" classes where you have the small bar and round plastic weights. The classes that are typically composed of 95% female and anywhere from 10-40 participants with an instructor leading the workout, usually on a stage with a microphone.
In my younger days when I was just getting started with personal training, I would scoff at these kinds of classes, as they didn't fit my mold of what I viewed to be pure and right in the world of fitness (i.e. the top 2 priorities above).
With age and experience comes wisdom, however.
Two months ago a friend I train with regularly brought up the idea that we should try to do every group fitness class on the gym's schedule for the month of June, 11 classes total. These were classes like the ones I mentioned earlier as well as a yoga class and a spin bike class.
I resisted at first, but after thinking about it realized it would be a fun thing to do and would just be some extra cardio workouts on top of my regular strength training.
So we did it. Every class on the schedule. Even the hip-hop dance class called "BodyJam" (I've never felt more uncoordinated in my entire life).
Doing these classes were definitely outside of my comfort zone, but a funny thing started to happen - I actually started to enjoy some of the classes.
The workouts were good, my heart rate was always pounding and I left every classes drenched in sweat.
My views of group fitness classes have changed. I now see the appeal of them and understand how they can absolutely be a good chunk of a person's exercise plan.
Should they be the entire plan? I would say, probably not.
The classes are still very heavily cardiovascular endurance-based and you're still primarily using your aerobic energy system, the same energy system used when you go for a jog or bike a long distance. Essentially, any kind of exercise where you maintain an elevated heart rate longer than about 3 minutes your body will kick into converting oxygen for energy using your aerobic energy system. This is contrary to strength training and metabolic training which will primarily use your anaerobic energy system, when done properly.
I won't go into detail about the differences here, that's a topic for another article. It's important to use this aerobic energy system, but there is limited fat-burning potential when you do. There is better fat burning potential when you're primarily using your anaerobic energy system, which is why strength training and metabolic training are at the top of this list.
So, go ahead and enjoy your group fitness classes. They can still be a very useful aspect of your overall exercise plan, but they shouldn't be the entire plan.
Use them for some extra cardio 1-3 days/week when you can fit it in, but your priority should still be strength training and metabolic training.
Also in this section would be running/jogging, biking, elliptical or any other form of traditional "cardio" where you're maintaining an elevated heart rate and a steady pace for longer than 5-10 minutes.
These workouts could technically be done on the same days as your strength training, but I would do them at least 3-4 hours AFTER your strength training workouts.
So, you could do strength training in the morning and go for a run in the evening.
However, if you're someone who really enjoys going for a run or biking in the morning and lifting in the afternoon/evening, go for it. The differences will be negligible and it's more important that you enjoy what you're doing.
4. Yoga/Pilates etc.
Time Available: 1-3 days/week
Duration: 20-60 minutes/session
Total Time Commitment/Week: 20 minutes-3 hours/week
Before we begin with this one, I can already hear the people screaming...
"How can you possibly put yoga at #4 on this list?! It should be WAY higher!! Yoga is awesome and it transformed my entire life!!"
Let me first say, I LOVE yoga and see tremendous benefits from practicing it regularly.
Fat loss just isn't one of those benefits. I'm sorry.
Yes, you can lose weight, burn fat and "tone" your body from doing yoga regularly but on the spectrum of most effective to least effective for fat loss, yoga is #4.
Now, with that said I do still recommend people practice yoga regularly. Anywhere from once a week up to everyday (depending on the style of yoga you're doing).
Even though yoga falls at #4, I'll still typically recommend it above group fitness classes or running. We just have to remember that it's not as great for calorie burning or fat burning as those other activities.
And that's ok.
Not everything in your program HAS to be 100% optimized for fat burning.
The benefits of yoga go FAR beyond simply losing weight and dropping a couple inches off your body, which is why I'll usually recommend it higher in someone's overall program.
So, if you love yoga (as I do) then go ahead and keep it in your schedule. Just understand what the actual benefits are, fat loss not being one of them.
5. Walking & Other Low Intensity Activity
Time Available: As much as you want
Duration: 10-60 minutes
Total Time Commitment/Week: As much as you can fit in
Finally, we've come to the end of the line.
Keep in mind though, just because walking and other low intensity activity is at the bottom of this list doesn't mean it's not important or beneficial to do regularly.
Since it's such a low intensity activity and won't take away from your progress in your other workouts, I always recommend my clients get at least 20 minutes of walking everyday. Outside if possible.
Walking is great for recovery between workouts, keeping joints lubricated, blood flow throughout your body and even mental health. If you can get outside in the sun and fresh air it's even more beneficial.
What about the other low intensity activity? What could that be?
Things like house cleaning, gardening, being on your feet all day at work. Pretty much anything that has you moving around but not raising your heart rate all that much.
Putting It All Together
Alright, so now you know what kinds of exercise are more or less effective for dropping pounds and getting into some old (or new) clothes again.
But now what? What do you do with this information?
First, you can look at the top of each section where I gave you notes on Time Available, Duration and Time Commitment/Week. Use this as your guide.
So, if you ONLY have 3 days/week to squeeze in an hour of exercise and fat loss is your goal, you'd stick with ONLY strength training.
Once you have that foundation set, you can add things as you find more time in your schedule.
If you all of a sudden found that you could fit in an extra workout each week, you could a metabolic training workout. Or add in a yoga session each week.
Remember, walking can be added anytime and you should be shooting for at least 20 minutes of walking (preferably outside) for 20 minutes or more.
For example, your week might look like this:
MONDAY - Strength Workout A
TUESDAY - Rest/Walking
WEDNESDAY - Metabolic Training Workout A
THURSDAY - Rest/Walking
FRIDAY - Strength Workout B
SATURDAY - Yoga
SUNDAY - Rest/Walking
That would give you a very good balance of different types of exercise that would be perfect for fat loss.
Now, you'll notice that I put Yoga in there instead of a Group Fitness Class/Running. No big deal, if you'd rather do a group fitness class, just swap it out.
It would be impossible for me to give you every schedule for everybody's situation. Setting up a training schedule and prioritizing is part of the "art" of personal training. Everyone's schedule is going to look a little bit different depending on their availability and what they actually ENJOY doing.
The main thing I always recommend is having a solid, properly designed strength training program in place as your "foundation". Once you have that, you can interchange the rest of the hierarchy as you see fit depending on what you enjoy doing.
Just always remember some forms of exercise are simply more effective for fat loss. It doesn't mean they are better or worse, they are just more effective at burning fat and dropping inches off your body. That's it.
As long as you understand that simple truth, feel free to do what you enjoy.
Just keep moving.
Want Some Help Designing Your Own Effective Fat Loss Workouts?
I get it, this is a lot of information and you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed right now. Designing effective fat loss workouts and training programs can seem like a daunting task.
Don't worry, that's completely normal.
There is a lot that goes into proper fat loss training program design and even more that goes into making sure you're consistent with whatever plan you put in place so that you get the results you're looking for.
Plus, I'm sure you have other things going on your life and would rather not have to think about all this "fitness stuff".
That's where I come in. I live for the "fitness stuff" and have a decade of experience helping over hundreds of people just like you eat, move and think better so that you can feel 10 years younger, fit into some old (or new) clothes again and perform your best with endless energy everyday.
So, if you'd like me to take care of all of this for you just click the button below to schedule a complimentary Strategy Call.
There's no pressure and no obligation. We'll simply chat about what you're looking for. If we both feel that one of the AwesomeLife Fitness programs would be a good fit for you, we can explore that. If not, that's cool too.
So, go ahead and reserve your call below - I look forward to hearing from you!