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Guide To Enjoyable Weight Loss (Part 3: Strength Training)

This is part 3 of the “Guide To Enjoyable Weight Loss”. Make sure you read the other parts first. You can find them here:

Guide To Enjoyable Weight Loss (Part 1)

Guide To Enjoyable Weight Loss (Part 2)

Strength Training For Fat Loss

Lifting Weights

Why you should lift weights if your goal is fat loss

When you think of weight lifting you might think of big, mean-looking, intimidating guys grunting in the gym. But weight training isn’t just for body builders and serious athletes. There are a lot of benefits to lifting weights for you too. If you lift weights regularly you will become stronger, more confident, healthier and likely improve your lifespan.

But you already knew that. What you perhaps didn’t know is that it will also help you lose fat. If you are training with weights while dieting, you won’t lose muscle. Maybe you think you don’t care about maintaining muscle. However, if you lose 10lbs of weight you want all of that to be fat. Unfortunately, if you don’t lift weights some of it will be muscle too.

Just ask yourself:

  • Would you rather lose 10lbs of fat or
  • 8lbs of fat + 2lbs of muscle

The answer is obvious but the benefits of weight training don’t end there. You’ll also burn more calories which lets you eat more of the foods you enjoy while losing fat. I won’t bore you with the explanation as to why it helps you burn more calories. Basically as you gain muscle, you burn more calories without doing more exercise. That works for males and females.

Don’t worry about getting “too bulky”. Gaining large amounts of muscle takes a lot of work and time. Additionally it won’t happen if you’re trying to lose weight because you aren’t eating enough calories to gain a lot of muscle.

If I haven’t convinced you to immediately start weight training yet….

…well I think there’s little hope for you left (Just kidding).

But seriously, lifting weights comes with so many obvious benefits to your appearance, health and well-being. Regardless of your age and gender lifting weights is a no-brainer if you are serious about reaching your weight loss goals.

Why you have to train your whole body

The workout routine I am going to recommend in a later part of this book is a full-body routine. That means that you train every muscle group in the body every time you go to the gym.

Some people believe that they can ‘tone’ or lose fat in specific areas of their body by exercising those muscles. But that’s not how it works. You train your muscles so that they get bigger and stronger. When you reduce your weight you will lose fat from every part of your body. So you’ll lose that annoying belly fat along with fat on your legs, arms and even in your face.

You can’t control where you lose fat. Doing crunches won’t help you lose belly fat. You should still do them though! Just be aware that a calorie deficit combined with time and patience is what will make your abs come out from under the fat.

At this point a lot of people no longer want to train with weights. They rationalise that they want to lose weight; not gain muscle.

However remember that:

  • Having more muscle burns more calories
  • You’ll lose more fat while eating just as much food
  • You will look and feel a lot better once you do reduce your weight

That brings me to the point of this chapter. You absolutely, positively have to train your whole body. Training your entire body allows you to gain more total muscle in the same time period. More muscle means you’ll burn more calories and lose more fat. Additionally you will look a lot more natural and proportionate. You might even know a guy who clearly only trains his arms and chest. Not a great look is it?

I want to help people who are busy and don’t have a lot of time to spend at the gym. If that applies to you, the only smart way for you to train is full body. Training full body means that you lift weight 2-3 times a week and every time you exercise all muscle groups.

This is the most time efficient way to go about your training. A good program is focused around compound exercises like the Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press, Bent-Over-Row, etc.

These exercises work multiple muscle groups at the same time. Training your entire body might seem like it takes a lot of time. It doesn’t though when you use compound exercises. You can do 4 exercises and be done with the workout. This is ideal for people who don’t have a lot of free-time.

Now before ‘Gym Rats’ start emailing me about how they get great results without using full body routines let me say this: I never said full-body training is the only way to get results. My point is that for the average person who doesn’t love spending time at the gym, split routines aren’t the best option. I’m happy if they work for you but they are simply not the most time-efficient way of training.

Since you now know that you should train full body that brings up the next question:

Do you need to follow a strength training routine?

Most people just do whatever they feel like when they go to the gym. They have no plan and constantly change their exercises. They might have picked this habit up from the big guys at their gym or they simply don’t know any better. As a beginner you absolutely have to use a training plan written by an expert.

No exceptions.

If you have a couple of years of successful strength training under your belt, you can then do your own thing because you know what works for your body. As a beginner you do not have this option because you don’t have any experience in the weight room (yet).

But don’t worry there are lots of great routines made for people just like you! The key is to pick one and stick with it. I am going to suggest a simple workout routine for you. I recommend you commit to using it for at least 6 months. During that time, don’t read about other workout plans that you see on the internet. Just follow what I’m about to lay out for you.

What strength-training program should you use?

If you’re just starting out with weight training I suggest you try StrongLifts. It’s a solid program that lots of people have used successfully. But don’t get hung up on any specific program or method. There are a lot of different strength training methods that work. Just choose one that is focused around compound exercises (Squat, Bench, Deadlift, Overhead-Press, Bent-Over-Row, etc.). What’s important is that the program is designed in a way that makes you stronger.

If you are seeing consistent strength increases you are gaining muscle.

If you give 100% effort every workout you will gain strength and muscle.

If you are losing weight you will burn fat.

How does StrongLifts work?

StrongLifts is divided into two separate workouts that you alternate between. This is how it would look like if you lift weights three times per week:
Week 1: Monday workout A, Wednesday workout B, Friday workout A
Week 2: Monday workout B, Wednesday workout A, Friday workout B

Workout A:
5×5 Squat
5×5 Bench Press
5×5 Barbell Row

Workout B:
5×5 Squat
5×5 Overhead Press
1×5 Deadlift

5×5 means that you do five sets of five reps. The goal of the program is to get stronger while maintaining or even gaining muscle mass. 5×5 is the perfect why to train for fat loss because it gives you enough training volume without taking too much time. Please note that Deadlifts aren’t done for five sets of five repetitions. The reason for this is because Deadlifts are very tiring and hard to recover from.

Every time you train you will add 5lbs to the bar. On Deadlifts you add 10lbs. By consistently trying to add weight you are making sure that you are getting stronger. You will eventually not be able to add weight. That is fine. It isn’t possible to make linear strength gains forever; Especially, when you’re losing weight.

Once you stall you just lower the weights and work back up over 2-3 weeks. It is crucial to your success that you don’t start with weights that are too heavy. Starting with light weights gives you time to practice technique while still getting stronger every work out.

This is a proven program that has helped thousands of people lose weight and transform their body. Do not try to change the routine!

It works well if you follow it properly. Once you start changing things you won’t get as good results.

For more information on StrongLifts you should head over to: http://stronglifts.com/5×5/

It’s a great page with all the information about the program. He also goes into great detail and probably answers every possible question about the program.

I don’t agree with everything he writes but that doesn’t matter. There are multiple ways of reaching your weight loss goals.

The importance of correct technique in the weight room

Using correct technique will ensure that you get the full benefits of lifting weights. It will also make it safer (proper weight training is very safe) and keep you injury-free in the long run.

The best way to learn proper technique (other than hiring a great coach) is to study technique videos made by experts. There are different ways of doing the same exercise so make sure you only follow advice from one person. Otherwise you might end up mixing different variations into one.

I suggest you use these videos to learn proper form on all the compound exercises.

Below you’ll find the videos I recommend you use to learn the exercises required in StrongLifts.

How To Bench Press correctly

How To Barbell Row correctly

How To Squat correctly

How To Deadlift correctly

How To Overhead-Press correctly

You should regularly film your work outs to make sure that you are using correct technique. Filming is the only way to judge your form by yourself because looking in a mirror automatically changes the way you do the exercise.

Body Weight Exercises

If you are not fit enough to start StrongLifts yet, I recommend you start doing some body weight exercises 3 times per week. It doesn’t have to take up a lot of time. 20 minutes per session is fine. I want you to get into the habit of doing some strength training.

Exercises you should do include Squats, push-ups and crunches. You can add more if you want but those three exercises are a good place to get started. If you are not strong enough to do these exercises there are easier variations that progress to the ‘normal’ exercise.

On the other hand if you don’t have the necessary mobility to do a proper squat you should discuss this with a doctor or physical therapist. It might just be stiffness from years of bad habits or you could have an injury that you need to deal with before starting to exercise.

Best Cardio For Weight Loss

Why you should do cardio

Cardio is a good way to burn calories and thus lose weight. Once your calories drop too low you only have the option of adding more cardio. The problem with cardio is that it is time-consuming. Some people believe that cardio doesn’t help you lose weight. They are completely wrong.

Cardio burns calories and when combined with tracking calories will definitely help you lose fat. The reason some say cardio ‘doesn’t work’ is because they don’t track calories. They start going on the bike or treadmill a couple of times a week and expect all their fat to melt away. Eventually they get discouraged because of their lack of results and go online to tell everyone that ‘Cardio doesn’t burn fat!’.

They are right that cardio alone won’t make you lose weight. But it was their own fault that they didn’t lose weight. They somehow compensated for the calories burned while exercising by simply eating more. Since they don’t track their food intake they didn’t notice this.

Cardio is a great way to help you burn more calories. It isn’t a ’weight loss method’ by itself. It’s only a small part of the puzzle.

The combination of tracking your calories, lifting weights and doing cardio is what creates a calorie deficit. A calorie deficit (as you know by now) is what makes you lose weight.

High Intensity vs Low Intensity Cardio

This is a never-ending debate in the fitness world. There are good points on both sides of the argument. Personally I like doing things in a way that makes it least likely that you end up quitting. Low intensity cardio isn’t anywhere near as hard as High intensity Interval Training (HIIT).

If you don’t know what that is, it doesn’t matter because I suggest doing low intensity cardio if your goal is to lose fat.

You might be able to burn more calories in a shorter period of time with higher intensity cardio but you can’t do it for as long. The only time where I would recommend high intensity cardio is if someone only has 20 minutes of time to work out per day. In that case HIIT would burn the most possible calories in that limited time frame.

However if you have more than 30 minutes of time, low intensity cardio becomes superior because you’re doing it for longer and not burning much less fat. You simply can’t maintain high intensity cardio for more than 20 minutes. (If you think you can, that’s because it wasn’t truly high intensity for your current fitness level.)

Again, if you are an athlete this doesn’t apply to you. The advice I give is specifically for people trying to lose fat.

Most people find cardio boring. The reason for that is because…

…cardio is boring. If you want to achieve your fat loss goals you have to find ways of distracting yourself to make the time pass faster. You can watch TV, play video games or at the very least listen to music while doing cardio. I wouldn’t do anything that requires you to really concentrate though. This is where the stationary bike becomes very useful. It is definitely a lot easier to watch a movie if you’re on a bike compared to a treadmill.

How often and for how long should you do cardio?

I suggest you start with two cardio sessions a week of at least 30 minutes. Anyone should be able to do this. If you are very out of shape, simply lower the resistance on the bike or treadmill. Ideally, your sessions will become longer and more intense over time.

The point of the cardio isn’t to push your limits. Remember that you are trying to lose weight not become a long distance athlete. As long as you are burning some extra calories while doing something that will make you healthier, you’ll be fine.

Who shouldn’t do any cardio?

Ideally, everyone would do some type of cardio at least twice per week.

Unfortunately, some folks simply don’t have the time to lift weights 2-3 times a week and do cardio on top of that.

If you are very busy, I recommend you only do cardio once per week and lift weights twice.

As I covered in the chapter on lifting weights you will burn more calories while resting if you do weight training. You can still use StrongLifts but instead of training three times a week just do it twice.

When is the best time to do cardio?

It doesn’t matter.

Some people like to do it first thing in the morning and others do it after work. I don’t believe it makes any difference in terms of losing weight. This is the sort of thing you will have to try for yourself and decide when the best time is for you.

The best time of course is the time that you can stick to. As long as you consistently go you will burn calories.

You can do your cardio after lifting weights or you can do it on your ‘rest days’. Whatever works for you is fine. The only time you shouldn’t do cardio is before lifting weights. Strength training is more important so you want to be as fit as possible. If you try to do cardio before it might worsen your concentration or just make you weaker.

Not good.

How to track weight loss progress

So you’ve been dieting for a couple of weeks or months. Hopefully you have applied all the advice on this site and made great progress.

Seeing the progress you’ve made is usually quite difficult at first though. Usually people will tell you that you have lost weight or simply ‘look different’ before you believe it yourself.

Tracking your calories, lifting weights and doing cardio but not seeing any progress is very frustrating. While it is important that you have realistic expectations; you should make some progress over a month or two.

And if you’ve been at this for that amount of time I’m confident you have made progress. You just can’t see it yet. You might be doing everything right but because you see yourself in the mirror every day you aren’t noticing the gradual changes in your body.

Actually that’s not quite correct.

If you aren’t correctly and more importantly, consistently, tracking your progress you are doing something wrong.

Tracking your progress is absolutely mandatory if you want to get the body you desire.

Without tracking changes in your appearance and performance you are more likely to get frustrated and quit.

Don’t skip this step and say ‘I’ll start tracking changes later’ because you need to do this from day 1.

So what exactly do I mean by tracking progress?

You need to track:

  • Body weight
  • Hip, stomach, arm and thigh measurements
  • Progress pictures
  • Strength in the gym

I’ll go into some more detail for each of those below. You’ll find out how I want you to track the results and how often you should do it.

Before I get into specifics, I want to remind you not to be obsessive. Tracking progress is important but it shouldn’t create any stress for you. Don’t worry if you can’t do it once every couple of months.

You have to do it regularly. If you can do that you’ll see the gradual changes in your body. And best of all you will know for sure that you have accomplished something with your hard work.

Being able to look back at where you started and seeing the difference to where you are now is a great feeling. If I get you to feel that there’s a good chance you will become addicted to fitness.

How to track Body weight

This one is simple enough. Everyone has done this before so there isn’t really much to explain.

All you have to do is get on to the scales, right?

Yes, that’s true. But there are some steps you have to take to make sure that the results are consistent.

  1. Always weigh yourself first thing in the morning.

This is important because once you have eaten something or had something to drink your weight will change.

  1. Don’t weigh yourself after a day where you had a lot to eat. (More than usual)
  1. Don’t weigh yourself after a day where you consumed alcohol. (More than usual)

If you had a lot to eat the day before your weight will be higher. You didn’t actually gain 5lbs of fat from that big meal though.

It’s mostly changes in stored water in your body.

With alcohol you have the opposite reaction; your body will have less water stored so your weight will be lower.

Really all three steps come down:

Make sure there isn’t more or less water in your body than normal. Drinking a lot of water doesn’t have that big an effect on your bodyweight by the way. So you should still do that.

I recommend you weigh yourself at least once every week. 

If you want you can do it twice, three times or even every day. How often you measure your body weight comes down to personal preference.

However don’t get caught up on your weight for any single day. Changes in the storage of water are what make your weight go up and down in a short period of time.

What matters is that you can see the trend in your weight going down over time.

I record my weight in MyFitnesPal and also on the BodyBuilding.com iPhone app.

How to take body measurements (hip, stomach, arm and thigh)

The next thing you have to track is changes in individual parts of your body.

Just get a measuring tape and wrap it around the body part you want to measure. You shouldn’t pull the tape very tight to get a lower measurement but make sure it isn’t completely loose either.

This becomes more important as you get leaner. If you are overweight you will lose mostly fat (and water) anyway.

Losing weight is great. But it should also be noticeable that you have lost fat in these important areas. You can’t control where you loses fat first. For that reason you have to measure multiple parts of your body.

Consistency is once again key.

As long as you always measure the same place you will get accurate results.

The point of recording your progress is to keep you motivated and know that you’re getting results.

You can’t compare your measurements with other people. Unless the measurements were done by a professional (the same one ideally) there will always be slight differences in where you measure.

Here is where I suggest you do the measurements:

Hip measurement

This one is easy. Wrap it around your hip and make sure that the tape is more or less straight and goes over the ‘hip bone’ on both sides.

Stomach measurement

I usually do it just above the belly button. Always make sure it goes around you in a more or less straight line.

Arm measurement

These you can do either with a straight arm or with your arm bent. (Flexing biceps)

Either way wrap the tape around the thickest part of your arm.

Thigh measurement

I would just choose a spot that is easy to remember.

You could for example take a hands length from either the hip or from the knee.

Should you pull in your stomach, flex or just be relaxed when measuring?

Consistency is always the most important thing.

Having said that, I recommend you are relaxed when doing the hip and thigh measurements.

For the stomach measurement you can do a ‘stomach vacuum’.

Arms are up to you. If you do them with a straight arm then don’t flex. If you bend your arm then the bicep will automatically be tensed.

How to track your results with pictures

This is most people’s favourite way to track results. It really is quite easy.

Just make sure you always take the pictures under the same conditions.

That means:

  • First thing in the morning
  • Same light
  • Same camera
  • Same distance from camera or mirror
  • Same angle

I recommend you take a picture from the front, the side and from the back.

If you want you can take two for each position. (One where you are relaxed and one where you ‘tense’ your muscles.)

It’s also a good idea to video yourself from all the same angles.

I find that a film will often give a better representation of your body because you can see how you actually look.

On pictures you often subconsciously hold your breath or pull in your stomach. On film you will see how you look when breathing normally and standing with your normal posture.

The same guidelines on how to take consistent pictures apply to videos as well.

How often should you take progress pictures?

I recommend taking them every two weeks. That way you don’t end up with too many pictures that look quite similar. Your body won’t change that much over the course of a week so there is no need to take picture more than every 14 days.

One mistake that I made when I started out was not adding any notes to my progress pictures. Some pictures I don’t even know when I took them.

So make sure that for every progress picture you know:

  • The day it was taken
  • Your body weight
  • Strength in the gym

That brings us to the last thing you need to track.

How to track strength in the gym

I have always done this and it pays off in the long and short-term.

In the short-term you get the benefit of knowing how much weight you should be able to lift and for how many reps.

It also pushes you to add weight or get an extra rep every workout.

In the long run you will be able to look at how your body changes because of increased strength.

It should also keep you motivated if (or rather when) you hit a plateau.

I find it very motivating to look back at the weight I was lifting 6 months ago. It shows that I am making progress and I just need to give it more time.

Of course tracking the weights you use in the gym is only useful if you do the same exercises with the same technique for extended periods of time. Since changes in technique and ‘cheating’ on reps will alter the results it’s a good idea to film your sets every once in a while.

Program hopping and looking for the new ‘miracle exercise’ won’t help you in any way.

If you are using the program that I recommend (StrongLifts 5×5) you will only be doing a small number of exercises. You might think it would get too boring quickly.

It won’t if you are making progress.

Follow a proven program without trying to change it and you will make progress.

How do you know if you are making progress?

By writing down what you do in every workout.

I use notes on my iPod. That’s right. The free notes app is all you need to track your progress in the gym.

If you want to use specific apps or programs to record your strength progress, that’s fine too.

Putting it all together

You have now made it to the end of this guide. I am confident that I have achieved my goal of giving you all the information you need to reach your goals. As I have mentioned before…

…reading this guide won’t help you unless you apply the information.

It is crucial to your weight loss success that you get started right away. Not tomorrow, not next week, not when you have time…

Right now is the best time to get started!

You have all the information you need on this site. Stop reading about weight loss online and go to the gym.

If you…

  • Track calories
  • Create a calorie deficit
  • Use the strategies outlined in this guide to avoid hunger
  • Do cardio
  • Lift weights (using StrongLifts 5×5)
  • And Record your progress

You will most likely be very pleased with your results over the next 6 months, year or however long it takes you to reach your goal.

I wish you all the best on your weight loss journey!

If you have any questions leave them in the comments below and I’ll personally answer it.

This has been a long series of posts. I hope you found them helpful and if you did, please share them with your friends and family. They deserve to get the best free guide to losing weight too.

Plus once they lose weight, they’ll love you for showing this to them.

Until next time,

James

PS: If you made it to the end of this guide, you are likely motivated and quite smart. Do the smart thing and sign up for my e-mail list to make sure you never miss a post again.

  • One thing I do after the gym — because I find treadmills boring is to just walk around my neighborhood.

    I take my iPod Nano ( yeah I still have one ) and load it up with audiobooks. You can get a bunch free from the Greatest Audiobooks channel on Youtube.

    Then I just walk for 30 mins while listening to an audiobook.

    • James

      That’s a good way to burn some extra calories. The main point is doing whatever you enjoy because that way you’ll stick to it.

      I enjoy your site by the way!

      • Anonymous

        Hey James, thanks. I appreciate it.

        Late response I know.

        I am still trying hard to get a first affiliate sale to be quite honest.

        Maybe I just need to keep writing.

  • Vlad

    Hey man. Great article! Can’t wait to get started! Still, i need a bit of personal advice. You see, i had a car accident a while back and i busted my knee ligaments and… some other stuff i don’t really know to define.

    I pretty much finnished recovering but i still have some stiffness in my knee. The therapist said i’m good to go for hiking, running, jumping, and so on, but i can’t do a full squat without some pain. I’m able to do the rest of the excercises in stronglifts though, as far as i know anyway.

    And now the question is: given that squats are compound, what other muscle groups do squats train, besides the obvious leg muscles, and what exercises would train said muscles, in order to build myself lean and uniform?

    Thanks alot man! Apreciate everything you did here!

    P.S. there’s no problem about not working legs, because i work the heck out of them at therapy. Heck, i have the look of a kangaroo by now!

    • James

      Hi Vlad

      To answer your question, the deadlift should cover most of the other muscles involved in a squat. If you’re doing leg training in therapy that should be fine.

      I don’t really want to give you advice though…
      You have had a serious injury and frankly, shouldn’t be taking training advice from the internet.

      Listen to your doctors and therapists!

      They have a much better understanding of your personal situation than I’ll ever have.

      Hope this helps,
      James

      • Vlad

        Thanks for the answer! I am (together with my therapist) building a sort-of workout plan at the moment and i can’t wait to get started!

        Cheers!

        • James

          That’s great Vlad! I hope it works well for you.