Time is precious. After work life, family life, and social life, we don’t have a lot of time left in our week. That’s why when it comes to working out, we want to be making the most of the time in the gym so that we can get the most bang for our buck.
Today’s topic is fat loss, and we’ll identify how we should be spending our time in the gym to shed those unwanted pounds.
Most newbies or even intermediate gym goers are of the opinion that if you want to build muscle you need to be weight training, and if you want to lose fat then you need to be doing cardio – but this simply isn’t the case.
Keep reading and you’ll see why you need to be doing weight training for weight loss.
|Table of Contents|
|Fat loss basics|
|Burning calories for fat loss|
|Benefits of weight training for weight loss|
|The best exercises for weight loss|
|The best workout for weight loss|
|The final say|
When it comes to losing weight, we need to put ourselves into a calorie deficit. This is where the body is burning more calories than it’s consuming daily.
There are 2 ways in which we can do this, we can either burn more or eat less (I know which one I’d rather). Plus, sometimes it’s not always that easy to eat less as you may already be on a low-calorie diet – leaving the last option, we need to burn more.
If we can successfully put ourselves in a calorie deficit for a sustained period, then we’re going to be successful in our conquest to lose weight.
It’s important to distinguish between losing weight and losing fat. When someone wants to lose weight what they hopefully mean is they want to lose fat (whilst maintaining the muscle they have).
If losing weight is the primary goal, then you could simply drop the calories and smash the cardio. This would likely put you in a calorie deficit and hey presto, you’re losing weight.
The problem with this approach is that weight consists of both muscle and fat, so losing weight would mean you’re losing fat and muscle.
Essentially, you’re going to end up looking like a smaller version of your previous self, keeping the same definition you had before.
A much better approach would be to strive for fat loss whilst maintaining or even building on the muscle you currently have. This will result in a much better transformation, and you’ll look a lot leaner, look athletic, improve your body composition, have more energy and your overall health will likely improve.
The best way to do this is by weight training, let us explain.
As mentioned previously, one of the key elements of fat loss is burning calories, it is, therefore, a clever idea to compare how many calories are burned from both cardio and weight training.
An article released in 2021 by Harvard Health publishing found that cardio burns more calories than weightlifting when working out for the same time .
Learning this, we would probably assume that we should spend more time in the cardio department than the weight room if our goal is to get lean.
This is not true.
While the article identifies cardiovascular exercises being superior to weightlifting regarding the calories burnt during the workout, it doesn’t consider what happens after the workout.
An article published in 2015 compared the resting metabolic rate (number of calories burned by the body when completely resting) at both 12 and 21 hours after either resistance training or steady state cardio. The results show that the RMR is increased to a higher degree when completing resistance exercise compared to cardio at both the 12h & 21hour mark post-exercise .
Another study published in the European Journal of applied physiology also looked at RMR following resistance training. They found that RMR was increased at the 14, 19, and 38-hour mark post-exercise.
Amazing news, after a resistance-based workout, we can continue to stay in an elevated calorie-burning state for hours after the workout has finished, even when we’re sat doing nothing!
To lose weight we need to be in a calorie deficit, and to build muscle we need to be in a calorie surplus.
If we’ve made the decision to lose weight, we understand we’re not going to be building muscle (unless we’re completely new to the game).
In that case, we need to preserve the muscle that we’ve built. A 2013 found that resistance training reduced the loss of lean body mass when compared to cardio training 
A 2018 study found that resistance training during a calorie-restricted diet can prevent 93% of the lean body mass loss induced by a calorie-restricted diet alone .
After all, we’ve spent so long building muscle, the last thing we want to do is lose it all.
If we can preserve the muscle we’ve built, and slowly strip off the fat, we’ll uncover the physique most people dream of!
Increasing resting metabolic rate is a major factor when it comes to fat loss.
Research has found that muscle burns more calories at rest than any other tissue . As resistance training aids in preserving lean body mass, this means that our ability to burn calories will remain elevated – helping us through our fat loss journey.
What this means is that no matter what we do during the day, the more muscle mass we have, the more calories we will burn.
This will help us maintain the key principle to losing fat – the calorie deficit.
A study by the American heart association found that resistance training significantly improved sleep duration and sleep efficiency. 
Getting enough sleep is important in many ways, let us explain.
Firstly, if the body doesn’t get enough zz’s then cortisol levels will spike. This stress hormone tells the body it needs to conserve energy to fuel the waking hours. In other words, the body holds on to more fat .
A 2018 study looked at the effects of restricting sleep by 1 hour on 5 nights of the week during a calorie-controlled diet. The study took place over an 8-week period and the results show that the 1h sleep restriction led to a smaller proportion of fat mass loss compared to those who didn’t restrict their sleep. 
Secondly, research has shown that restricting sleep can also negatively impact RMR (Resting metabolic rate, we talked about this earlier). Reducing how many calories we burn at a resting state is not helpful when we’re trying to shift the body fat .
Sleep is a vital component when it comes to physical recovery. It’s when you’re sleeping that the majority of growth hormone is released, a hormone that is responsible for muscle repair and growth. If sleep is negatively affected, then so is the body’s ability to recover.
Not getting adequate sleep has also been found to decrease the activity of protein synthesis pathways .
Protein synthesis is what repairs and builds muscles, if we decrease protein synthesis then we could put the body in a catabolic state and lose muscle mass.
A bad night’s sleep will impact us the following day. We wake up tired, go to work for 9 hours and come home feeling knackered. It's then difficult to find the willpower to pull ourselves off the sofa knowing we’re in for a grueling gym session.
No gym means we don’t get to benefit from the elevated calorie burning that stays for hours after our session has finished and we aren’t maximising our chances of maintaining muscle mass – both crucial factors in our fat loss endeavour.
Lastly, a 2015 meta-analysis looked at the effects of sleep on our diet and energy intake. They found that short-sleepers generally ate a higher calorie diet than those who got adequate sleep .
Those who got less than 6 hours sleep compared against those who got 9 hours sleep generally consumed on average 178 calories more a day.
With daily calorie consumption playing a large part in our fat loss strategy, this is not the direction we want to be heading.
A study published in the American Journal of clinical nutrition looked at the effects of resistance training on 12 men and 12 women. After completing a 12-week program, the results saw a decrease in overall fat mass and an increase of fat-free mass .
Another study published in the Journal of applied science saw similar findings. This particular study looked at the effects of a 26-week training program. Results show that not only did strength increase but there was also a significant increase in fat-free mass .
As we mentioned earlier, when it comes to weight loss, we need to be looking at fat loss rather than ‘weight’.
The research tells us that resistance training is effective not only for weight loss but more importantly – fat loss.
When selecting the best exercises for weight loss, it’s wise to select exercises that recruit several different muscle groups – known as a compound exercise.
Compound exercises are superior to isolation exercises when it comes to weight loss. For example, let’s compare the chin up to the bicep curl. Sure, you’ll get a bicep pump with both exercises, but the chin-up will also target several different back muscles – putting an increased demand on the body and thus burning more calories.
Research has shown that working with weights of more than 65% of 1 rep max is required to elicit favourable increases in muscle mass. With muscle mass having a positive impact on fat loss, we should stick with these guidelines .
Not only is progressive overload one of the fundamental principles of building muscle, but it’s also a vital component of weight loss.
If you didn’t know what progressive overload is, it’s the gradual increase in stress placed upon the body during exercise training.
Our body changes in response to the training stimulus. Over time, our body adapts to the stimulus, so if we don’t apply progressive overload and force muscles to do more than they’re used to, the body has no reason to change.
There are many ways we can apply this training principle. We can increase the weight we’re using, increase the number of sets/reps, reduce rest time, or increase frequency.
Let’s get down to the best exercises for weight loss.
These are the 6 staple exercises we should be including in our fat loss workouts. There are many different variations for each exercise - feel free to swap them as you please ie. swapping Back Squat for front Squat. As long as we stick to these exercise guidelines we'll be well on our way in our fat loss conquest.
If you're not confident in performing the exercises yourself then it may be worth considering hiring a personal trainer. Not only will a PT be able to show you the correct form, they can provide motivation, and tips to guide you along your weight loss journey. Over at UK Fitness Pro you can search local PT's in your area and chose the one you'd most like to work with.
The best workout for weight loss will depend on your training status. Studies have shown that newbie lifters respond more favourably to training principles when compared to advanced lifters .
Essentially if you’re an advanced lifter, you’ll have to put in more work than a newbie to see comparable changes.
With this in mind, there’s no reason for a newbie lifter to be doing the same workouts as an advanced lifter.
We have designed two different 7-day training regimes to suit the different athletes.
The newbie workout is based on 3 workouts a week. Push, pull, legs.
The key thing to note here is that everyone is different. If you feel like the workout is too easy or too demanding, you can adjust it as you feel necessary. The important element is that we can progress each week.
The advanced workout is based on 4 sessions every week. Chest and Bicep, Legs, Shoulders, Back and triceps.
Chest and Biceps
Back and Triceps
You’re an advanced lifter – you’re likely to know your body very well. You know the score, rest as you feel necessary and let's get those numbers up each week!
Studies have shown cardio and weight training are both effective for weight loss. Arguably the most important factor when it comes to weight training for weight loss is the ability to hold onto lean muscle. If we simply lose weight without focusing on losing fat, then we run the risk of getting to a skinny fat stage. Yes, the number on the scales looks better, but your body composition isn't likely to be great.
Our focus, therefore, needs to be on resistance training. We can then supplement our weight training will cardio to get the added benefits that cardio brings.
You might have heard the saying your body is built 30% in the gym and 70% in the kitchen. We’ve talked about how your training should look to lose fat, but more importantly, is our diet.
You can’t out-train a bad diet. Our training could be going amazing, but if we don’t eat the right foods and the right amount of food, we’re not going to succeed in our weight loss journey.
It’s time to head over to "How much do I need to be eating to cut body fat?". After reading both articles you’ll know how to eat, and how to workout to get the body you desire!
We hope you liked the article - if you have any questions, drop them in the comments and we'll get back to you - enjoy!
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 Kraemer WJ, Adams K, Cafarelli E, Dudley GA, Dooly C, Feigenbaum MS, Fleck SJ, Franklin B, Fry AC, Hoffman JR, Newton RU, Potteiger J, Stone MH, Ratamess NA, Triplett-McBride T. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc 34: 364–380, 2002.
 American College of Sports Medicine by: William J. Kraemer, Ph.D., FACSM (Chairperson); Kent Adams, Ph.D.; Enzo Cafarelli, Ph.D., FACSM; Gary A. Dudley, Ph.D., FACSM; Cathryn Dooly, Ph.D., FACSM; Matthew S. Feigenbaum, Ph.D., FACSM; Steven J. Fleck, Ph.D., FACSM; Barry Franklin, Ph.D., FACSM; Andrew C. Fry, Ph.D.; Jay R. Hoffman, Ph.D., FACSM; Robert U. Newton, Ph.D.; Jeffrey Potteiger, Ph.D., FACSM; Michael H. Stone, Ph.D.; Nicholas A. Ratamess, M.S.; and Travis Triplett-McBride, Ph.D.. Progression Models in Resistance Training for Healthy Adults. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: February 2002 - Volume 34 - Issue 2 - p 364-380