It is actually kind of funny when I hear people tell me that they are only listing on high-rep, low weight training programs because they want to tone. They are scared of getting big, bulky muscles while they are cutting calories and dieting.
Don’t take it as an insult that I think that’s funny, I just thing the right people have been putting the wrong information out there, which is why we have that confusion.
Check this out…
- Heavy weight training is the only way to preserve lean tissue and strength when you are eating a calorie deficit (AKA- dieting).
- Low weight, high-rep programs are not better for fat loss or toning, but calculated rep-set scheme oscillation can be great for building muscle.
- Overall, heavy weight training at low reps and high volumes are awesome for fat loss.
- You absolutely need to focus on heart rate variation and maximizing intensity while weight training to see the best fat loss results.
- Your metabolic demand is always going to be higher for multi-joint compound movements vs. isolation or assisted movements.
Why the High-rep Myth is Perpetuated
Somewhere along the line, fitness experts and marketing people colluded to decide that high-rep workout programs would give anyone with the goal of fat loss, the best results. Unfortunately, a rumor that was started 30 years ago, still rings in the ears of gym newbies today.
When you hear something often enough from enough people, you eventually begin to accept it as truth. That presumed truth may then cause you to act on it without doing the research for yourself.
It’s like reading a Yelp or Amazon reviews for a product or restaurant. If there is enough people saying “this really works!” you just take their word for it. This usually isn’t an issue, until you start exploring better research and better solutions.
Now that we have taken some time to bust the myth of high-reps at lower weights, let’s jump into 4 tested and proven weight training tactics that you can use to accelerate fat loss.
1) Lifting Heavier is Better for Fat Loss
If you have always lifted with lighter weight, you have never known your true strength. You’ve probably actually gotten weaker if you have been lifting light and eating a calorie deficit, like most do when focusing on fat loss and body recomposition.
Lighter weights lifted at higher reps do little for building strength. You have to eat a calorie deficit to lose fat, and if you are eating a deficit and only lifting light weight at high-reps, your strength and muscle loss is going to be agonizing. All of that will make losing fat harder on you, and your body isn’t going to look as good.
Here’s a little breakdown for you, so we can make all of this a little less muddy.
- You need to get stronger to build muscle.
- It is best to focus on building muscle to lose fat.
- You only get stronger by lifting heavier weights.
- Therefore, lifting heavier weights helps you lose fat and preserve lean muscle.
You aren’t going to be able to get big bulky muscles by lifting heavy while you are cutting your calories. It’s just not that easy. The only way you can get bigger muscles is by eating a caloric surplus (eating more than you burn), and you can do that with high-rep or low-rep training programs.
Weight training with heavy weights will help you preserve lean muscle which will greatly help you get to your fat loss goals.
2) Intensity in Weight Training
Controlled contractions and extensions throughout an exercise are great for muscular hypertrophy, but then again, so are explosive movements. Exercises like box jumps, burpees, kettlebell swings, sled pushes, and ball slams are all great for developing your fast twitch muscle fibers. Fast twitch work is what you want to be focusing on when your goal is fat loss.
You can apply explosive movement to virtually any weight training exercise as long as you make sure that you are doing it correctly. Explode or move quickly through the contraction portion of the exercise, and move slower through the extension.
So if you are squatting, explode through to the top of the squat when bringing your hips forward, and take your time bringing it back to the lowered position. Adding explosiveness to any exercise movement recruits more muscle fibers than if you were doing the standard 2-3 second contraction and 3-4 second extension.
3) Use Weight Training Strength Circuits
If you want to save yourself some time in the gym and get even better fat loss results, strength circuits are the answer. Now don’t worry, I’m not going to throw some Crossfit chippers or an Olympic lifting workout at you. These work best when you stick with the compound movement essentials.
The ideal strength circuit can be a triple set, or up to four or five exercises in the proper sequence to get the best results. So if we are speaking in terms of classic, compound exercises, here is what we are looking at.
- Posterior leg movements/hip hinging (bending and lifting or lunging)
- Anterior leg movements or pushing leg movements (squatting)
- Upper-body horizontal pushing (chest press)
- Upper-body horizontal pulling (rows)
- Upper-body vertical pulling (pull-ups or pull-downs)
- Upper-body vertical pushing (overhead press)
- Core movements (plank or anti-rotation)
Rules for making strength circuits:
- Start each circuit with the most difficult or complex exercise. That will usually be your lower body, compound lifts.
- Use only one lower body exercise per strength circuit. You can add another leg exercise in your next circuit.
- Use upper-body antagonistic muscle group pairing in your circuits. Pushing followed by pulling, or vice versa.
- Hit 20-30 total reps of each exercise, by the end of your workout or circuit.
- Rest 1 minute between rounds of your circuit
- Rest as little as you need to between exercises (15-25 seconds)
I usually like doing five rounds of a particular circuit, but feel free to do four or more. Just focus on hitting that total rep goal by the end of your workout.
Here are some examples of how you can put together a strength training circuit
Triple Set Example
5 Rounds of…
- Posterior leg movements/hip movements: Barbell deadlift or dumbbell deadlift 6 reps
- Upper-body horizontal pushing: Dumbbell bench press 5 reps
- Upper-body horizontal pulling: Barbell row 6 reps
Strength Circuit Example
- Anterior leg movements or pushing leg movements: Barbell back squats 5 reps
- Upper-body vertical pulling: Lat pull-downs or pull-ups 6 reps
- Upper-body vertical pushing:Shoulder press 6 reps
- Core: plank variation 10 reps
If you wanted to extend this example to include 5 exercises, you could tack on barbell or dumbbell bench press so you could get shoulders, chest, back, quads, and abs in the same circuit. If you stick with doing strength training circuits and triple sets like these, you will see your strength and composition improve within the month. This is how I train the majority of my clients.
If you want some other options for programs, read 3 Simple Weightlifting Programs that Torch Fat.
4) Use High Intensity Finishers for Better Body Composition
Finishing a brief, intense strength training workout with a little more intensity isn’t a bad thing if you are serious about losing fat. I like to throw in a few sprints or some calculated cardiovascular activity at the end of my workout to increase my burn.
I keep it simple. Here are some examples of finishers that I use on my strength workouts to increase my total fat burn. Make sure you take a few minutes to rest and recover between your strength circuit and your finisher.
- 300 kettlebell swings for time
- 600 jump rope single strikes for time
- 5 Rounds of 20 Battle rope double slams and 6 high box jumps
- 4 rounds of: 20 yard bear crawl and 25 kettlebell swings
Now you have a nice little workout program and toolkit for weight training techniques that you can use to start accelerating your fat loss, building strength, and treating your body the way you should be to improve your composition.
If you are just getting started with weight training for the first time, I would recommend doing strength circuit workouts like the examples above, 3-4 times per week. Feel free to alternate the workout days in which you deadlift and squat. For example, putting squat variations in your workouts Monday and Thursday and deadlifting Tuesday and Friday.
If you want more information on fat loss, I just released a brand new FREE e-book, The Ultimate Fat Loss Checklist.