Strength Training For Fat Loss

By Molly Galbraith

There is a lot of debate in the fitness world over what type of exercise is best for fat loss.  But my question is: why do we have to choose just one? Can't we simply program an intelligent combination of modalities like high intensity cardio, moderate intensity cardio, and strength training for optimal results?

Strength training is one of the absolute best ways to promote body fat loss when programmed correctly and coupled with an intelligent nutrition program. So what does that program look like? There are three main components:

1. Pure Strength Training (3 days/week)

strength-training-for-fat-loss-molly-deadlift-327x341This part of the program is designed specifically to gain strength and to slightly gain, or at the very minimum maintain, muscle mass. This is critical because if you lose too much muscle mass in the quest to lose body fat, you’ll slow your metabolism and often end up a smaller and softer version of yourself, instead leaner and more firm.

What this set/rep scheme looks like will depend on your training age and ability level, but in general, more advanced trainees can get away with doing much heavier, lower-rep work, while intermediate trainees should stick to moderately heavy loads, and beginners needs to master movements first and foremost, and then they can begin adding weight.

2. Metabolic Resistance Training/Interval Training  (2 days/week)

The different types of metabolic resistance training (MRT) or interval training (often called HIIT) can get very confusing, but just know this: they include periods of intense work, followed by periods of rest, and are performed for a relatively short period of time (generally 4–20 minutes). These can be absolute game-changers when it comes to fat loss if programmed and performed correctly.


However, you do need to be careful when performing these workouts, so make sure you follow these smart tips:

  • Use smart exercise selection. An example of not smart exercise selection would be doing overhead squats after you've done handstand push-ups to failure. Your shoulders are completely exhausted and then you want hold weight over your head and squat? I don't think so!
  • Respect your ability level. If you're brand new to learning barbell snatches, do you think it's a good idea to choose a workout that calls for doing several sets of them while under fatigue? If you answered no, you are correct.
  • Choose the right tool for the job. There are a number of ways to perform MRT/interval training. You can use bodyweight, kettlebells, barbells, dumbbells and more.  There might be times when you're traveling and all you have access to is your bodyweight, so it's your best bet to use that. If you have access to a full gym, choose a workout that takes full advantage of what the gym has to offer.

3.  Moderate Intensity Cardio (2 days/week)

strength-training-for-fat-loss-girls-jumprope-450x338Although traditional, moderate-intensity, "aerobic" cardio (heart rate in the 120–140 bpm range) has been demonized in the fitness industry in the last 10 years, it's still very valuable and has its place.

It's fantastic for improving your aerobic base, which allows you to recover more quickly in between exercises during strength training or high intensity interval training, so you can use more weight or shorter rest periods. It's also great for improving your overall recovery throughout the week so you can feel more fresh and rested for every workout.

Finally, it can help decrease stress and anxiety. Many of us walk around in a very sympathetic nervous system dominant state where we constantly feel stressed out, anxious, or hyped up. This moderate intensity cardio can help us switch over to a more parasympathetic nervous system dominant state, allowing us to relax more, feel less anxious, and even sleep better.

Here's the catch: when most of us think of this traditional cardio, we think of slogging away on a treadmill or elliptical for 30 minutes, but that doesn't have to be the case. In this instance, the heart is kind of a "dumb muscle" and as long as your heart rate is in the 120–140 bpm range, you'll be reaping the benefits.

So what would this program look like?

This is written for an intermediate lifter; adjust as necessary for your ability level.

Monday - Upper Body + MRT
Tuesday - Moderate Intensity Cardio
Wednesday - Lower Body + MRT
Thursday - OFF
Friday - Full Body
Saturday - Moderate Intensity Cardio
Sunday - OFF

Make sure you include a dynamic warm-up before every workout.

Monday (Upper Body + MRT)

1. Chin-Up (assisted if necessary): 3–4 x 6–10 reps

2. Palm-In Dumbbell Bench Press: 3–4 x 6–10 reps

3a. Face Pull: 3 x 10–12 reps
3b. Push-up (incline if necessary): 3 x AMAP (as many as possible, stopping when you could still do 1–2 more)

4a. Band Pull-Apart: 3 x 12–15 reps
4b. Pallof Press: 3 x 10

End with 4–15 minutes of Metabolic Resistance Training


Moderate Intensity Cardio for 30–40 minutes with your heart rate in the 120–140 bpm range

Wednesday (Lower Body + MRT)

1. Front Squat: 4 x 6 reps

2. Romanian Deadlift: 3–4 x 6–10 reps

3a. Hip Thrust: 3–4 x 10–12
3b. Split Squat: 3–4 x 8–10 reps

4. Band-Assisted Leg Lowering: 3 x 6–10 reps

End with 4–15 minutes of Metabolic Resistance Training



Friday (Full Body)

1. Conventional Deadlift: 4 x 4–6 reps

2a. Single-Leg Squat to Box: 3–4 x 8–10 reps
2b. One-Arm Dumbbell Row: 3–4 x 8–10 reps

3a. Kettlebell Swing: 3–4 x 8–12 reps
3b. Tall-Kneeling Lat Pulldown: 3–4 x 8–12 reps

4a. Slow Mountain Climber: 3–4 x 8–10 reps
4b. Heavy Suitcase Carry: 3–4 x 10–15 yards each side


Moderate Intensity Cardio for 30–40 minutes with your heart rate in the 120–140 bpm range



Program Notes

  • Exercises listed with just a number (i.e. 1 or 2) are performed alone. Exercises with a number and letter are performed in a superset (i.e. Slow Mountain Climber and Heavy Suitcase Carry), meaning you perform one set of the Slow Mountain Climber, then move on to one set of the Heavy Suitcase Carry, then go back to the SMC until all sets are complete.
  • If the exercise is performed alone, rest 90–120 seconds between sets.  If it's performed in a superset, rest 30–60 seconds between exercises.
  • Make sure you're always challenging yourself weight-wise, but always leave 1 to 2 reps "in the hole," meaning you could have done 1 to 2 more reps with good form.

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About the author:  Molly Galbraith

Molly Galbraith, CSCS is co-founder and woman-in-charge at Girls Gone Strong, a global movement of 800,000+ folks passionate about women’s health, fitness, and empowerment. She’s also the creator of the The Girls Gone Strong Academy, home of the world’s top certifications for health and fitness pros who want to become a Certified Pre-& Postnatal Coach or a Certified Women’s Coaching Specialist.   The GGS Academy is revolutionizing women’s health and fitness by tackling critical (and often overlooked) topics like body image struggles, disordered eating, menopause, amenorrhea and menstrual cycle struggles, PCOS, endometriosis, osteoporosis, pre- and postnatal exercise, incontinence, diastasis recti, pelvic organ prolapse, postpartum recovery, and much more.   Learn more about Molly on her website and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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