Fat Loss Training 101

All right people, it’s go-time.

Many of you reading this will have already set a goal for the New Year, and many of you will have resolved to either lose scale weight or body fat.

Congratulations!  Setting a goal is a great first step in the process.

But now, the question becomes “how do I actually do it?”

And that’s where I come in!

Today, I’m going to give you a basic outline as to how effective fat loss programs work, along with a routine that you could adapt and follow for months to continue seeing gains.

How does that sound?

Pretty awesome, I hope.  But let’s get into it.

Fat Loss Basics

Virtually every fat loss program in the world should follow a few basic tenets:

  • Is preceded by a dynamic, movement-based warm-up.
  • Utilizes big, total-body exercises.
  • Alternates or supersets exercises for the lower body and exercises for the upper body.
  • Minimizes rest periods.
  • Is on the high(ish) side of the repetition continuum (i.e. more total reps per set).
  • Should utilize energy system training (aka cardio) upon commencement of the strength training exercises.

Can we debate a lot of these points in certain circumstances?  Yes.

Can we argue that supersets aren’t totally necessary? Or that some people can lose fat utilizing lower reps per set?  Absolutely.

But at the end of the day, take a step back and see the forest for the trees:  Following the basic rules or guidelines I’ve provided above will give you a better program than 99% of the other crap that’s on the market today.

Now that we’re clear on that, let’s cover on more topic before we get into the meat and potatoes of this post.

A Word of Warning….

Let me make one thing brutally clear:

Following a fat/weight loss program WITHOUT combining it with a fat/weight loss diet/nutritional program is a complete and absolute waste of time

Seriously, you can’t out-train a bad diet.  Training your *ss off, and then heading home and eating Twinkie’s and Ding-Dong’s to reward yourself for a great workout is dumb.

Save yourself the time and energy and don’t even bother working out if tha’ts the case.

Now granted, that sounds a little harsh, but it’s not without intent.

I see far too many people work way too hard in the gym, only to see no visible results because they convince themselves that they deserve either

A)   More food, or

B)   Poor food options such as sweets, pizza, pop, etc.

Don’t be that guy (or gal).

Unfortunately, I’m not a nutrition expert, so I’m not going to get into diet/lifestyle changes here.  If you need a starting point, definitely check out either Precision Nutrition or the Naked Nutrition Guide.

Now that we’ve outlined the basics, let’s get into a template that I feel will work well for many of you who are hoping to shed some body fat going into the New Year!

The Program

The program is going to be very basic in nature; like I outlined above, we’re going to be focusing on big, compound exercises that are alternated or “superset” between our upper and lower body.

You’ll be performing either 2 or 3 sets of each exercise (depending on the week), and you’ll be performing 10-15 repetitions per set on most exercises.

Overall, it will look something like this:

Week 1: 2 sets of 15 repetitions

Week 2: 3 sets of 10 repetitions

Week 3: 3 sets of 12 repetitions

Week 4: 3 sets of 15 repetitions

Week 1 is your base week.  Just the fact that you’re exercising, and/or learning new exercises, this is a great time to figure out what weight is about right and where you need to start.

Week 2 we kick things up a notch – the total reps (i.e. 30 reps in Week 1 and 2) are the same, but since we’ve gone from 15 reps to 10 you can crank up the intensity a bit.  Try and use a bit more weight and really push yourself.

Week 3 and 4 build off the previous two weeks.  I typically tell my trainees to TRY and use the same weight in Weeks 3 and 4 that they selected in Week 2.  This will make for some very difficult workouts, but again, a little discomfort never hurt anyone!

Alternate between Day 1 and Day 2 workouts.  You can do this routine as little as twice per week, or as often as four days per week. Always try and take a day off in-between (although that’s impossible on a four-day split).

If you’re feeling really ambitious, you could always include some low-intensity cardio on off-days for 20-60 minutes, depending on your current level of conditioning.

Needless to say, if you follow this program, push yourself and dial in your diet, I would expect to see some serious progress in as little as a month.

Regardless, here we go – I’ll outline things in a Day 1 and Day 2 format, and at the end I’ll even provide you with a workout template you can print off and take to the gym with you.

(Don’t forget – I’ve got a sexy downloadable version of this available below, so don’t feel like you have to write it all down now!)

Day 1

Self-Myofascial Release (foam roller/lacrosse ball) – 8-10 minutes

Dynamic Warm-up – 10-15 minutes

1A) Squat Variation, 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps, 60 seconds rest
1B) Row Variation, 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps, 60 seconds rest

2A) Split-Squat Variation, 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps, 60 seconds rest
2B) Push-up Variation, 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps, 60 seconds rest

3A) Half-Kneeling Cable Chop or Lift, 3 sets of 8-10 reps, 30 seconds rest
3B) Prone Row to External Rotation, 3 sets of 8-10 reps, 60 seconds rest

Energy System Training, KB/DB Swings on the Minute, 7-10 Rounds (Described Below)

Day 2

Self-Myofascial Release (foam roller/lacrosse ball) – 8-10 minutes

Dynamic Warm-up – 10-15 minutes

1A) Deadlift/Hip Dominant Variation, 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps, 60 seconds res
1B) Chin-up/Pulldown Variation, 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps, 60 seconds rest

2A) Step-up Variation, 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps, 60 seconds rest
2B) Horizontal/Vertical Press Variation*, 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps, 60 seconds rest

3A) Tall Kneeling Pallof Press ISO, 3 sets of 15-30 seconds, 30 seconds rest
3B) Prone Y, T, I, 2 sets of 8-12 reps, 60 seconds rest
3C) External Rotation Variation, 2 sets of 8-10 reps

Energy System Training, Bike Sprints 30 seconds on, 90 seconds off for 3-6 rounds

*I’ve given you an option here for two reasons:

1 – I know some of you are going to bench press regardless of what I say, so here’s your chance, tough guy.

2 – Some of you simply don’t have the biomechanics to overhead press safely and effectively.  In this case, use a horizontal press instead.

Now that you have a basic idea of the program, let’s cover some of the acceptable exercises that you can use in each section.  This will help you plug and play to develop a program that is perfectly suited to your current needs and goals.

I also know that some of you reading this are uber lazy, and don’t want to think about anything.  If that’s the case, I’ve provided you with video clips below that depicts an exercise/progression you could use for each step of the program.

Squat Variation – Back Squat, Front Squat, Safety Bar Squat, Goblet/Plate Squat, etc.

(Random Aside: Note the powerlifting stiffness in my hips.  If you’re squatting try to maintain a 100% neutral spine throughout, with no tucking of the low back or movement at the sacrum.)

Row Variation – DB Row, Chest Supported Row, Low Cable Row, etc.

Split-Squat Variation – Lunge, Split-Squat, Bulgarian Split-Squat, etc.

Push-up Variation – Traditional, Resisted (bands, chains, etc.), on Incline, etc.

Half-Kneeling Cable Chop or Lift – Most people need these, so use one of these two exercises. Focus on keeping the torso and hips as stable as possible – I’m a little shakier here than I should’ve been.

Prone Row to External Rotation – Ditto here.

Deadlift/Hip Dominant Lift – Conventional Deadlift, Rack Pull, Pull-throughs, RDL’s, etc.

Chin-up/Pulldown Variation – Chin-ups (assisted or unassisted), Tall Kneeling Lat Pulldown, Lat Pulldowns, etc.

Step-up Variation – Traditional, Sprinter-style, etc.

Horizontal/Vertical Press – Overhead Press, Single-Arm Overhead Press, Bench Press variations, Push-up variations (but select a different version than Day 1) etc.

Tall Kneeling Pallof Press ISO – Use this.

Prone Y, T, I – Use these, in this order

External Rotation Variation – Side-Lying External Rotations, External Rotations on Knee, External Rotations at 90, etc.

Random Notes

I know I’ll probably get some technique related questions, but unfortunately that would make this piece not overwhelming, but unwieldy.

If you’ve got questions about single-leg training, I would highly recommend picking up a copy of the Single-Leg Solution.

As well, the videos below help describe proper technique on three of our exercise variations:

The 90/90 Split-Squat (applies to all split-stance exercises)

Conquering the Chin-up (applies to all chin-up/pulldown variations)

Improving Your Push-up (applies to all push-up variations)

If you have questions about lifting tempo in the program, please refer to the Train page.

Finally, if you have questions about squatting, bench pressing, or deadlifting, definitely read through the blog and article archives.  There’s tons of info there and I’ve written about these topics extensively.

Finally, as I’ve been promising all along, here’s the downloadable training template for you to use.

RTS Phase I Fat Loss Template


So there you have it – a made-for-you fat loss program that can help you kick start your progress in the New Year.

Now, all you have to do is take the program and run with it.  Work hard, eat smart, and recover well and you’ll be on your way to your best physique EVER in 2011!

All the best


(Lead Photo Courtesy of Alan Cleaver 2000)


Leave Comment

  1. Mike,

    I was just featured on Pat Rigsby’s Fit Business Insider as an “up and comer” (and I just happened to release my first book a couple of weeks ago, The Theory of Fat Loss… in fact I’m going to ship a copy to I-FAST today). I was looking over your basic tenets for a fat loss program, and I really like the first two. The rest of them I only agree with sometimes… for reasons that I discuss in detail in the book. I believe the goal of a fat loss workout is to achieve the greatest possible absolute intensity, and that needs to be an individualized process so that one’s personal limits (whether that be strength, power, energy system development, muscular endurance, coordination, posture, etc.) can be addressed. However, like you said immediately after writing them…

    “Can we debate a lot of these points in certain circumstances? Yes.

    Can we argue that supersets aren’t totally necessary? Or that some people can lose fat utilizing lower reps per set? Absolutely.”

    So I have no qualms. Anyway, I just wanted to give you a heads up that you are going to get shipped a book.

  2. I like the template Mike as there are different ways to achieve fat loss as long as the principles are sound. And I believe you are using sound principles. Focus on nutrition,proper warm-up, progressive intensity,some form of conditioning, etc…The one thing that jumps out at me that I do different is to start with lower reps when taking the new trainee through the beginning stages of training. I feel that we can work on form more effectively this way as the chances are slimmer in my opinion that they will mess up their form. I have seen higher reps look sloppy with newer trainees. The post was very thorough as always and included some great info. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Mike, you’ve done a AWEsome job with this blog.

    A detailed rational, basic workout, all the videos, links to other articles…and a template!?!?!!?!

    I feel like I should have paid to view this! This is better than 99% of the fat loss programs that charge top dollar.

  4. Great article!

    I wonder when will mainstreem fitness studios and personal trainers “change” their minds to all body training (as athletes do) and when like this info/article will be published in M&F :))

    Take care, and keep up the good work

    All the best in new year

  5. Hi Mike,

    I have been using a very similar template to this with my clients for about a year now and it has been working great and have had great results with them. I am a firm believer of full body training followed by energy system training and believe this hits the nail on the head for fat loss.

    Sometimes I superset, sometimes I don’t. Like Jimmy says, I will usually start out with lower reps on the more complex movements such as squats, deads, bench, cleans etc, with beginners to help keep form in check.

    Great article,


  6. Mike,

    Thank you for the information. I recently joined a program called target weightloss. Are you familiar with it? They measure body fat using a bodypod and you work with a RD on eating plan. My road is long… but, I was a little surprised when they told me that I was only to do some form of exercise for 30 mins / 5 x week.. no more. In addition, they focus on caloric intake and not quality of calories. Having said that… I am in the early stages and it is a 6 month program. However, I have worked with personal trainer in the past and this was contrary to my past experience. Also, they said that doing too much in the workout is counterproductive to fat-loss. Do you know why this would be the direction?

    • Laura –

      I’m not familiar with the program, so I can’t comment on it specifically.

      However, they may be trying to temper your expectations a bit. Rather than assuming you have to train 2 hours per day, maybe they just want you to get something basic going initially? And you crank up over time?

      I would be worried about quality calories, though. Sure you can eat junk and lose weight via a caloric deficit, but is that the best thing for your health and well-being?

      Give it a shot and see what happens. No program is perfect, but hopefully this will get things started for you. Good luck!

  7. Mike:

    My wife and I were scheduled for an IFAST distance client assessment but had an epic month of illness with us and the kids that involved a few rounds of strep throat and viral conjunctivitis! Unfortunately, we had to cancel the assessments.

    I started this template last week and have found it to be a very efficient workout that my old body can recover from. Thanks for the great info.

    I have a two minor questions and please excuse my lack of proper terminology. In the chop and Pallof kneeling exercises are the toes “engaged” like in a lunge or more passive with the foot extended (?) flat on the ground. I’ve tried it both ways and didn’t know if there was really a proper to position for the toes? Also, is there anything wrong with adding in a front plank to superset 3, Day 1? I’m doing Plank, Chop, Prone Row to extension? I couldn’t think of any but I’m not a trainer or designer of the template.


  8. Hi Mike – I’ve come across this on your site and will begin the program. Do you suggest 12 weeks for the program or longer before a change-up?

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