Strength training for fat loss

Strength training for fat loss

“How do I strength train for fat loss”

Great question.

Before we dive into the strength training for fat loss tactics which you can use to burn fat and build armor plated muscle, I just want to quickly clear up the concept of losing weight vs. burning fat.

I’ll do that right now…

Losing weight vs. burning fat

Strength training for fat loss

So, losing weight (which is losing both fat AND muscle) is easy. This simply requires some form of calorie restriction, and maybe also decreasing total sugars that you’re taking in. There’s a lot more to losing weight than calories in vs. calories out, but at the surface most people know calories count, somehow.

However, burning fat (but NOT muscle) is a bit more intricate.

For this, I recommend diet + exercise, but for now we’re just going to touch on the exercise piece. But, with that being said, I don’t just recommend any old exercise either.

See, when it comes to burning fat (and preserving muscle) with exercise, the question really becomes, “What’s more important here–workout duration or workout intensity?”

  • Workout duration = The total time you spend working out that day
  • Workout intensity = How hard the workout was that day

Generally, workout duration and intensity share an inverse relationship. Meaning, the longer you workout the less intense that overall workout session (ie…running a marathon).

And of course, vice versa.

When it comes to strength training for fat loss ramping up exercise intensity is always the way to go. And, honestly a lot of my clients seem puzzled when I show them what look like rather short workouts on paper (don’t worry, these workouts score quite high on the intensity scale).

Their first reaction is usually along the lines of “That’s it? The workout seems kind of short…”

To which I reply, “Try it. You’ll be surprised.

It (generally) only takes one 20 or 30 minute workout to make them believers. (Remember, short duration/ high intensity)

Because these workouts are quite aggressive and in-your-face, they don’t need to last for 2 hours (heck, they don’t even need to last 1 hour). However, these type of workouts are super powerful for revving up the metabolism and melting fat right off the body.

Which, I suppose leads us to our next logical question…

How can I increase the intensity of my strength workouts in order to maximize the fat burning potential of them?

Strength training for fat loss

Another great question.

My default answer is oversimplified by two words: Density training.

Wait. What the heck is density training?

Density training is just my blanket statement of saying do more high quality work in the same amount of time. Actually, there’s two ways to tackle density training and effectively add it in to your own strength routine: manipulating volume and/or duration.

Increasing the amount of work you do throughout your workout session increases the total volume of the workout, which increases intensity. Performing that same amount of work in less time decreases the duration of that workout, and again increases the intensity of it.

We’ll talk more about the specifics of density training in just a second. However, for density training to rev the metabolism and turn your body into a fat melting furnace, it needs to follow these three guidelines:

  • #1. Needs to be of a high intensity (more on this in a minute)
  • #2. Needs to be done with full body exercises (ie…recruit lots of muscle)
  • #3. Needs to involve some sort of strength bias; at least most of the time

Ok, cool. So now you know the rules of the game. Lets meet the big players of Team Density Training.

High intensity circuits

Workout circuits involve performing multiple exercises back to back with little or no rest between them. Circuits are best done with 3-6 different exercises, and are a very effective method for doing quite a lot of work in a short amount of time.

When putting together a circuit you can use for a set number of repetitions/per exercise, OR work for a set amount of time/per exercise.

I’ve personally found that my clients tend to get better results with time based circuits, but regardless both are highly effective methods of packing in a ton of work into a short time slot.

Example Circuit 1- Rep based

Five rounds of:
10 dumbbell swings
5 hand release pushups
6 goblet squats
4 burpees

Example Circuit 2- Time based

Five rounds of:
30 seconds of dumbbell swings
30 seconds of hand release pushups
30 seconds of goblet squats
30 seconds of burpees

The two circuits have the exact same exercises, but I promise you they will feel very different. Circuit 2 has one of those “that’s it?” looking effects. My suggestion, try it. It’s sneaky hard.

You can setup circuits in any number of different ways, but the two big ways are rep-based and time-based (hint: you can even combine those two elements in to one circuit. OH. MY. GOSH.)

Burn more calories in 20 minutes from home
than most people do in 60 minutes at the gym,
with these high intensity home workouts ⇓


(1 minute video of me explaining workout complexes)

I’ve been a fan of workout complexes since I began coaching in 2007. They are another powerful way to pack a ton of high intensity work into a short amount of time. Basically, a complex involves using one piece of equipment to transition seamlessly from exercise to exercise.

The beauty of complexes is the fluidity between movements.

You can use any number of different training tools for a complex (ie…barbell, dumbbells, kettlebell, sandbag…etc) but the key here is selecting the appropriate order for the exercises. Again, the goal is a (mostly) seamless transition between exercises.

Another added benefit is that complexes afford you the opportunity to add in semi-heavy strength training as well.

Whereas most circuits are best done using a moderate repetition range (6-15 reps per exercise/per round), you can load complexes quite heavy and turn them into piping hot metabolic strength workouts which are absolutely devastating to body fat.

Example Complex – Metabolic strength (use a barbell for this one)

Five rounds of:
4 deadlifts
2 hang squat cleans
1 overhead military press
Rest 30 seconds between rounds

As you can see, the transition between exercises flows very smoothly here.


Clusters basically involve “lumping” a bunch of high quality work into mini-segments; also known as minutes.

You may have heard these called “every minute on the minute (or, EMOM).” The beauty with clusters is that you can actually use them with circuits, complexes, or even just straight sets.

Clusters (at least my interpretation) involve performing a certain amount of work within a one minute period. Once the work is done for that minute you rest. When using clusters it behooves you to work quickly in order to maximize your available rest. After the minute is up, start from the top and repeat the cluster. These are best done for 5-12 minutes.

Example cluster 1 – Circuit

Every minute on the minute, for 10 minutes complete:
7 dumbbell swings
3 goblet squats
2 burpees
Rest the remainder of that minute

Example cluster 2 – Complex/metabolic strength

Every minute on the minute, for 7 minutes complete:
3 deadlifts
1 hang squat clean
1 overhead military press
Rest the remainder of that minute

Wrapping this up

If losing body fat, while preserving lean muscle mass is desirable to you, I highly recommend that you begin adding in strength training for fat loss into your routine.

Burn more calories in 20 minutes from home
than most people do in 60 minutes at the gym,
with these high intensity home workouts ⇓

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