Lowering your body fat percentage is guaranteed to make you look leaner and more defined. Saying you want to lose weight is all well and good, but you could lose weight by losing muscle mass while retaining all your fat, and no one wants that. When people think of fat-loss workouts, their minds immediately turn to treadmills and steppers, but don't be so hasty. Cardio definitely plays a role in losing body fat, but it's not the be all and end all.
Lifting weights to lose weight sounds bizarre, but if you want to torch body fat, weight training is the way to go. You can lose as much weight with weight training as you can with cardio, claims trainer Charlotte Andersen in "Shape" magazine. However, with cardio you'll lose muscle mass, too, whereas the losses from weight training are purely fat. Hit your whole body in each session, advises Rachel Cosgrove, author of "The Female Body Breakthrough." Full-body workouts burn far more calories and give a much larger metabolism boost than training individual body parts separately.
The more muscle groups an exercise hits, the better, as it burns more calories for quicker fat loss. Contrary to popular belief, women shouldn't train any differently than men, notes New Jersey-based strength coach Joe DeFranco. The focus of your fat-loss routine should be on big compound exercises such as squats, deadlifts, clean and presses, pushups and chinups or pulldowns. Keep the weight relatively heavy -- three to four sets of eight to 10 reps on each is ideal. Perform five exercises each session, and make them tough.
Cardio plays second fiddle to strength training when losing body fat, but it still has a part to play. Cardio burns calories and strips fat, but doesn't quite have the metabolism-boosting properties of weight training. However, high-intensity interval training is a highly useful tool in your box of fat-loss tricks. Instead of just plodding away on the bike for an hour, try alternating 20- to 30-second periods of very high intensity work with two- to four-minute rest periods of low-intensity work, advises Cosgrove. Repeat this protocol as many times as you can in 30 minutes.
Measuring Body Fat
To measure your fat loss progress, use calipers to find your body fat percentage, or take progress photos and judge by eye. Apart from hydrostatic weighing and hospital scans, calipers are the most accurate method to measure body fat, but using them properly does require skill and practice, and you have to input the measurements into a body fat calculator -- many online sites provide these, such as builtlean.com. If you're not skilled in using calipers, you can roughly calculate body fat percentage using a basic cloth measuring tape.
Putting It All Together
Leave at least a day's rest between your weight workouts and aim to fit in three per week, gradually progressing the weights you lift and the sets and reps each session. Perform two high-intensity cardio sessions every week, too, either after your weight training or on days in between. Check your progress once every two weeks. If you're not losing fat quickly enough, add on five minutes to each cardio session, and start performing 15 minutes of low-intensity steady-state cardio such as jogging every morning to aid with extra calorie burn. Since you can't out-train a bad diet, make sure your eating is in check.
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.