When it comes to burning body fat, diet and cardio are definitely important, but the way you weight train can also have a huge impact on the amount of body fat you drop.
There are five main training variables you can manipulate to increase the amount of fat you burn when lifting weights. If you incorporate these variables properly, you'll have a training program that simultaneously burns fat while building lean muscle and strength.
Below, you'll find my Feel the Burn workout program, which will maximize your body's fat-torching potential. But first, here are the five "burn variables."
Burn Variable 1: Exercise Selection
Research suggests that, compared to machine exercises or single-joint isolation moves, multijoint free-weight exercises such as squats, bench press, shoulder press, and bent-over rows maximize the number of calories burned. This is likely due to the fact that multijoint exercises use more muscle groups, including assistance and stabilizer muscles such as the triceps, shoulder, and back muscles that help out in a move such as the bench press.
The more muscles you're using, the more calories you're burning. A study presented at the National Strength and Conditioning Association's annual meeting in 2005 showed that subjects burned roughly 50 percent more calories doing barbell squats than when doing leg presses.
Also, if one of your goals is weight loss, always opt for standing versus sitting exercises, such as a standing shoulder press instead of a seated press. A Brazilian study found that subjects performing standing barbell curls demonstrated a 10 percent increase in heart rate compared to those doing seated preacher curls. A higher heart rate can reasonably be expected to lead to greater calorie burning.
Does this mean every exercise you do has to be standing? Of course not. Just be aware of exercises that can be done both seated and standing, such as dumbbell curls and shoulder presses, and opt for the standing version when you're looking for the greatest fat-burning effect.
Burn Variable 2: Heavy Sets Burn More Calories…Later
Light weight and high reps is best for burning fat and getting lean, right? Well, this is partly true. College of New Jersey researchers found that when subjects used a weight that allowed them to complete 10 reps on the bench press, they burned about 10 percent more calories than when they used a weight that limited them to 5 reps.
On the other hand, several studies have shown that when you lift heavier weight for fewer reps, you may burn fewer calories during the workout, but you'll burn a lot more calories when the workout is over and you proceed with your day. In fact, research has shown that when you train with heavy weights that limit you to 6 reps per set, the boost in your metabolic rate for two full days after the workout is more than double the boost from using lighter weights that allow you to complete 12 reps per set.
So, what to do: Lift heavy or go light? The answer is, both! This program gives you the best of both worlds by using heavy weight for fewer reps on some exercises and very light weight for high reps on others.
Burn Variable 3: Ramp Up the Rep Speed
Research has shown that doing reps in a fast, explosive manner can increase the number of calories you burn by more than 10 percent, compared to doing reps in a slow, controlled manner. Fast-rep exercises have also been shown to boost metabolic rate after a workout ends.
In the workouts below, I have you starting each major muscle group with explosive-rep training, such as power push-ups and band shoulder presses, to reap the fat-burning benefits of fast reps. For all band exercises, you'll perform reps as fast and explosively as possible.
Burn Variable 4: Pare Down Your Rest Periods
College of New Jersey researchers have also discovered that rest periods between sets has more effect on calories burned during a weight workout than the number of reps. The scientists discovered that, regardless of the number of reps performed, the lifters burned over 50 percent more calories when they rested between sets for 30 seconds instead of 3 minutes. When subjects tried to increase intensity by performing 10 reps instead of 5 reps per set, they burned only about 7 percent more calories.
Even if getting lean is a high priority for you, you still don't have to give up your strength. You can still train heavy and burn more calories in the gym—and after you leave. Just be sure to keep your rest periods below 1 minute. Short rest periods will affect your strength somewhat on successive sets, but it'll pay off with the extra weight you'll be able to lose. Feel the Burn features 30-second rests on straight sets with light weights.
Burn Variable 5: Unleash the Supersets!
Supersets involve doing two exercises back to back without resting in between. Researchers from Syracuse University had male subjects perform two workouts that included chest, back, biceps, triceps, quad, and hamstring exercises.
The first time, the subjects performed straight sets with a 1-minute rest between sets. The second time, they followed the superset approach. The researchers found that the second approach burned 35 percent more calories per minute and 35 percent more total calories than the 1-minute-rest approach.
In the Feel the Burn workout, I use supersets for each major muscle group.
Feel the Burn Workout
Follow this workout program for 4-6 weeks. And since you can't train like a pro and eat like a pig to lose body fat, don't forget to follow a good diet while following this plan. You also may be interested in intermittent fasting, my preferred style of eating.
Do all four workouts consecutively over four days. Rest on the fifth day, then start over on the sixth day and continue in this fashion.
Find more great training programs like this, including my popular #TrainWithJim full-body workout series, on JimStoppani.com.
- Tower, D. E., et al. National Strength and Conditioning Associations Annual Meeting, Las Vegas, 2005.
- Oliveira, A. S., & Gonçalves, M. (2009). Positioning during resistance elbow flexor exercise affects electromyographic activity, heart rate, and perceived exertion. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 23(3), 854-86
- Ratamess, N. A., Chiarello, C. M., Sacco, A. J., Hoffman, J. R., Faigenbaum, A. D., Ross, R. E., & Kang, J. (2012). The effects of rest interval length on acute bench press performance: The influence of gender and muscle strength. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 26(7), 1817-1826.
- Børsheim, E., & Bahr, R. (2003). Effect of exercise intensity, duration and mode on post-exercise oxygen consumption. Sports Medicine, 33(14), 1037-1060.
- Oliveria, A.S., & Goncalves, M. (2009) Positioning during resistance elbow flexor exercise affects electromyographic activity, heart rate, and perceived exertion. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 23(3), 854-862.
- Kelleher, A. R., Hackney, K. J., Fairchild, T. J., Keslacy, S., & Ploutz-Snyder, L. L. (2010). The metabolic costs of reciprocal supersets vs. traditional resistance exercise in young recreationally active adults. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(4), 1043-1051.