Your weight training routine should be independent your of fat loss goals, BUT...
The old rule used to be that you would lift low reps for mass and lift high reps for fat loss. The idea was that the low, heavy reps were to build “bulk” and the high reps were to increase definition as well as burn more calories. None of this is really true in regard to fat loss. I always like to make it clear to people that all we are trying to do is decrease body fat in order to see the muscles underneath. This is how you achieve more definition or “tone” as some people put it.
Ultimately the way you lift should be independent of your nutrition. For example, if your goal is maximal strength then you are going to lift in the 1-5 rep range regardless of your fat loss goal. You wouldn’t want to do a metabolic workout 3 days a week just for the sake of fat loss while your strength and possibly muscle suffers. The same goes for athletes and bodybuilders, both competitive and recreational. Now if you are looking to achieve better daily function, Example workout #2 may be a better choice.
Your nutrition is the main component that causes you to lose body fat. Lifting light versus heavy is going to have a much smaller effect on fat loss. There are however, some things you can change in your weight training routine to maximize your results.
Big Lifts, Moderate Intensity, short rest
One of my recommendations for fat loss workouts is to lift moderately heavy, using big lifts, while keeping your heart rate up. This can be done by doing mostly compound lifts like squats, deadlifts, presses, pullups, etc. with some isolation exercises mixed in. These bigger lifts are demanding, thus burning more calories and raising your heart rate. They also have a hormonal effect that is conducive to fat loss.
3 sets, superset upper/lower body, 0 sec rest between supersets 30-60 sec sets after superset.
Looks like a traditional weight training regimen, no? All though it may not look sexy, it works great.
The "Metabolic Workout"
Another option is to do total body exercises in a circuit style with little or no rest time. This workout would consist of bodyweight squats, lunges, burpees, pushups, squat jumps, pullups, and so on. This will burn more calories than the heavier workout, but it won’t build or retain as much muscle. It also has a favorable hormonal response conducive to fat loss though it is unclear which of the two workouts would be more so. All of this can be debatable because it depends on the individual. Anyone new to weight training will likely build muscle at a similar rate with either program. In contrast, the experienced and muscular lifter will likely lose muscle on the circuit style workouts compared to his heavier bodybuilding workouts.
So which workout do you choose? I will say that there is no wrong choice, just a preference based on your goals and simply which workout you enjoy doing most. You could do both! Many extremely fit people lift heavier 3-4 days a week and do a “metabolic workout” 1-2 days a week. To help you out I’ve listed some common fat loss scenarios I run into all the time.
Common fat loss scenarios and recommendations:
High energy whole body movements with a few heavier lifts. She can handle this high energy workout where someone less fit would die out half way through. This will maximize calories burned in a workout. She may lose a little muscle when compared to a heavier lifting routine.
Whole body movements with high reps. Although lifting heavy won’t necessarily make her “bulky”, she may appear bigger if her nutrition is not in check.
Heavy lifts in supersets, short rest time, with some isolation exercises. Although she will not burn quite as many calories as #1’s workout, but she will build or at least maintain the necessary muscle to look “toned”. The diet takes care of the rest.
I suggest a mix of demanding whole body movements with some heavy and light lifts. Some may not be able to handle a full blown metabolic workout full of plyometrics, burpees, squats, pushups, etc. If you can, go for it. If not, I suggest doing a mix of these with traditional lifts.
This guy usually says, “I’m not really concerned with body weight, I just want to get leaner and see my abs.” Big and heavy lifts with short rest time or supersetted with a lighter lift. His workouts should focus on lifting relatively heavy to build or maintain muscle mass while his nutrition will take care of the body fat loss.
More advanced lifters will commonly have a split routine in which supersets would be done with opposing muscle groups or a bigger muscle paired with a smaller one. For example chest paired with back or back with triceps. This may also apply in the case of #3, fit female.
Modification: This profile may need to lift lighter if lifting heavy increases appetite and causes him to stray off his meal plan. This type typically has a significant amount of muscle mass and experience lifting. Sometimes these guys will find that the heavier they lift, the hungrier they get. Ideally they would cycle in and out of heavy workouts as normal, but it may increase his appetite to where he can’t stick to his meal plan. If this is the case then lighter, but still intense workouts are suggested. This can happen to females as well, but it is less likely.
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Jerry Yuhara, CPT, CSCS, CMT #75123
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