My weight training has generally been focused on muscle gain (hypertrophy) or strength training.

But the third type – fat burning – hasn’t ever been a priority for me.  I do my fat burning through diet and cardio.  In fact, part of the reason I do hypertrophy training is to prevent muscle loss from my running.

I’ve been really pushing myself over the past 3 months with heavier weights.  And my joints are screaming.

But I’m getting ready for the Oklahoma City Marathon on the 26th of this month.  So I decided now would be a good time to try a fat-burning weight training program.

Wow – these workouts are kicking my butt. It’s so intense, but a different kind of intense compared to lifting heavy stuff.  But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Why go with a fat-burning weight training program now?

Well, a good fat-burning-with-weights program should:

1) use lower weight, so the joint stress is lower; I want stress-free joints entering the marathon

2) involve grueling workouts, really testing your endurance; and I want maximum endurance for the marathon

3) supposedly burn fat right?; well lower fat means I’ll be a little lighter for the marathon and that should make it a little easier

4) relieve a slight boredom that’s been creeping into my workouts since I’ve been on the same routine for about 8 weeks now…

What Is a “Fat Burning” Weight Training Program?

Ed Note:  After writing this, I have released my exact routine Fat Burn Furnace available here.

There are so many programs on the market for using weights to burn fat.  Also, in New Rules of Lifting (one of the best weight lifting books you can buy – it’s a physical book), they present some.  For the ladies:  New Rules of Lifting For Women.

The basic ideas of how to make a program to burn fat through lifting weights are:

  • 12 to 15 reps per set
  • lighter weights (related to the first bullet of course)
  • not training to failure on a set but going for overall fatigue
  • little to no rest between sets
  • full-body workouts (not splitting muscle groups from day to day)

Depending on whose program you jump into, there may be cardio components as well.  (That’s my one criticism of the aforementioned books’ programs – they eschew most cardio.)

And trust me, you won’t burn fat with a poor diet.  That’s made really clear in both The Truth About 6-Pack Abs and in Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle.

But these are just the basic principles.  Once you get to an advanced experience with weight training, you can put together your own programs.  So that’s what I did.

What Is My Routine?

This would become a really long post if I provided my exact program but here is the main outline:

  • I triple-set with unrelated muscle groups
  • I used this as an opportunity to add in some exercises I usually don’t do (this ads some fun to the workout)
  • It’s a 4-day a week program, each day different
  • While each one is full body, I do emphasize slightly different muscle groups on each day
  • I still include my running – after all, I’m training for a marathon!

Try it out, or suggest alternatives in the comments section.

I have released my exact routine Fat Burn Furnace available here.

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28 Responses to “Fat Burning Weight Training”

  1. Nicholas Alexander Dragon
    April 13th, 2009 at 9:37 am

    Recently found your site. Your post on using a workout journal inspired me to use one as well. After the first day I felt renewed and energized to hit my workouts harder than before. I wrote a post about it and your site on my blog. I have become a follower of your site and find your articles thought provoking. And very good.

    I’ve been using a jump rope for cardio, but I’d like a copy of your routine and incorporate it into my workouts.



  2. I started working out in the beginnning of this year. I downloaded some of your material last week, read it and went shopping to stock my refridgerator. I am pumped to continue at a much greater pace and look forward to reporting back my progress.

  3. I liked your article. I have been training heavy (full body routine, compound exercises, 5×5 lifts centered around squats and dead-lifts) and have hit a plateau both physically and mentally. I am looking for a routing to burn some fat, jump-start my metabolism and to help me push through my mental and physical blocks. I have contemplated going to n all cardio and HIIT routine for 90 days and laying off the weights but did not want to really go there. I am afraid of sabotaging my muscle gains.

    The thought of a full body, varying routine that burns fat and preserve muscle tone until I can lift heavy again really appeals to me. Can you tell me more, or provide me with the routine?

    Many thanks.


  4. one thing that I like about this post is that unlike other “experts” you don’t remove all weight training from your routine whilst you are on a fat loss phase. This is quite a good thing since I know from experience that this will only make for a weaker body, which is certainly not what the goal should be.

    Also the little to no rest between each exercise in the giant set, or in your case triple set really gets your heart rate going like crazy. It will greatly improved your athletic endurance, much more than any slow paced, hour long walk on the treadmill can ever do.


  5. Interesting. I’ve always done full body workouts when training for fat loss. But I’ve done them to failure. Maybe I need to switch it up and do smaller sets with less rest in between.

  6. Trevor Claiborne
    April 13th, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    Congrats on committing to your marathon. Your thoughts on increasing reps with lighter weights to increase fat loss sounds like the old adage that lighter weights are for “tone” and heavier weights are for hypertrophy. That adage, from what I’ve heard, is not accurate. Though it sounds like you’re working for overall fatigue, minimum rest, which may create more of an interval training effect.

    What’s your running routine looking like with this? When I ran my half marathons, I did a one short (<3 miles), one medium (3-6 miles), and one long run (8+) per week.

  7. Wow – lots of interest on this one – I’ll take a quick stab at responses:

    - for those of you who have requested my routine, I’ll send that out tomorrow

    @ Nick – I used to jump rope, but it was too hard! I’m a little embarrassed to say so, but it’s true! I couldn’t last more than about 10 minutes, even with short breaks.

    @ Ray – excellent! Don’t feel like you have to change everything overnight (because you don’t want to make it so sudden that you give up)

    @ Mark – definitely do not lay off the weights for that long! Taking a week off once in a while has been shown to have some mental and physical benefits, but not 90 days!

    @ Kevin – Thanks, glad we are in agreement!

    @ Jeremy – if your “to failure” has worked for you, then stick with it. One thing all readers should know is that there is no “one thing” that works for everyone. There are things that work for “most people” but key to making consistent improvements is understanding what works for your body. Just keep in mind that what used to work, may not work as you get older. You have to experiment a little after your first year or two of weight training.

    @ Trevor – lol! Yeah, the whole “muscle tone” thing is a bunk. I do agree that I’m going for an interval type of effect here, though I’ve found that the breakout is more like this:
    ->strength training = high poundage, low reps
    ->hypertrophy = med poundage, medium reps
    ->fat loss and general conditioning without losing muscle = lower weight, high reps

    Anyone starting out is going to get all three benefits from just about any workout. By “starting out” I mean in your first year of constant training. It does vary from person to person, even for advanced lifters, but I’ve seen personal and scientific evidence of these breakdowns. The key is that “lower weight” does not mean light weight – you still have to work hard!

    As far as my weekly prep, I do almost exactly what you do: 4-6 miles one day, 6-8 miles another, and then a long one of 10 to 13 each week. Once the marathon is over, I’ll probably cut the total mileage in half and then add in a true HIIT once a week.

  8. The idea of burning fat with my workout is simply to good to pass on. I was always under the impression that when one weight trained it was for the purpose of either Strength or Size then followed by a cardio session. I can see this as a great way to “shock” your body out of its routine when you’re “stuck.” Practically, I would think that this would help to drop a few points in body fat percentage.

    I’m begging ya’ Darrin: forward me your workout strategy.

  9. Hey Darrin,
    When you mentioned hypertrophy = med poundage, medium reps, can you quantify what is medium pondage as % of 1 RM? As you are aware I am looking primarily for muscle gain.

    If you do a full body workout do you run after the workout or before? Typically I have found it difficult to run immediately after doing leg workout like lunges or squats.

  10. I’m new here But this is interestiong to read and to try. now I do kind of fat burn training. Lost 10kg from january

  11. This sounds like a great workout….My joints are screaming also maybe a good time for a change..Plus I could shed a pound or two..I’m interested to see what type of exercises are involved.. My only issue with full body training is that I can’t do any cardio afterwards my body just feels beat up..

  12. Just what I have been looking for. I always look forward to your tips, and I believe I may have found a routine that will help my old body out. I look forward to seeing your routine so I can get started.

  13. hmm. this is an interesting idea, but what do you mean by “triple-set with unrelated muscle groups?” Also, what kind of exercises are used, bodyweight, kettlebell, etc.? Compound or Isolation?

  14. You act like weightlifting like this is new stuff. It’s not. Also, all weightlifting can burn fat. Like you said, it’s the diet that is key. I do it right now and since I was already doing compound lifts, my transition from strength to endurance/”fat burning” lifting has been easy and simple.

  15. Hey Darrin! First of all have a great time with your upcoming marathon! Love the article! Many years ago before I became a personal trainer I was a ‘cardio junkie’. In the last few years I haven’t done much ‘traditional cardio’ at all and instead I keep my workouts focused on resistance training. I mix it up as far as rep and set range and do alot of high intensity body weight circuits as well. I am leaner and looking better than I ever did training for triathlons!

    One thing I wanted to mention is how important intensity is. Fat burning resistance workouts should always be focused on execution of speed, using full range of motion and like you said taking as little rest as possible. You really want to create an oxygen deficit and get those muscles screaming! People really need to focus on being honest with themselves about how hard they working!

    Curtis – The great thing about these workouts is that they can be done with bodyweight, KB, DB, BB, medicine balls, stability balls, etc. They are so versatile!

  16. Sorry to tell you Tyler, but if your workouts are simple and easy then you aren’t doing them right. The fat burning resistance workouts that Darrin is speaking of are intended to be extremely intense, powerful, performed with speed and little to no recovery. When done properly they are pretty much puke-fests. You’re right, they aren’t new, but they are new to the ‘traditional cardio world’.

  17. I’ve been getting really excited to work in a regular weight-training program to my routine, and I think what you are talking about is perfect for me. My 2009 goal was to focus on running. I am particiapating in a 1/2 marathon this Saturday, and once my 3 weeks of post-race recovery is through, I’m transitioning right into a full marathon training program which will get me ready for the Fox Cities Marathon on September 20.

    During my 1/2 marathon training, my cross-training (2-3x each week) consisted of a mix of kickboxing class, walking, hiking (backpacking), general aerobics class, and one spinning class (I just tried it last week and loved the intensity). I enjoy breaking it up with all these different workouts, but I’d like to add a consistent weight-training routine to that, maybe doing one of these other cross-training workouts once/week…

    Darrin — I really enjoy your posts, by the way. They are so “real” with the way you write your posts, and I really appreciate that.

    Thank you for the great posts, hints, help and motivation!!

  18. I think the sheer number of responses to this weeks’posts, in comparison to other recent posts, is a testament to how much loyal subscribers want to read about the regimen you are using, Darrin (myself included). I also think it is a testament to how quickly we get dissatisfied with a method of training if we don’t see results in a few weeks. That being said, at what point should you look at your regimen and say this just isn’t working for me? I have heard at least 8 weeks, but is it possible to know before that that adjustments need to be made.

    Here is an example:

    I am a 27 year old female, I am 5ft 6in tall and I weigh 160lbs. I am looking to burn the last 5-10 lbs of lingering body fat. A year ago I started a 5×5 program. Stronglifts to be exact. I put on considerable muscle, I saw serious strength gains, I lost 15 pounds. But after about 12 weeks I wasn’t leaning up like I wanted to, plus I was reading differing opinions on how to achieve the body I wanted, so I switched to lifting different body parts on different days and cranked up the HIIT, although still trying to focus on compound muscle lifts and still with relatively low reps 5-10.

    And now I am dissatisfied again, I read about your regimen and said, “Hey maybe that is what I need.” So where is the line between healthy continuing education and workout adjustment and changing so much that you really never see any benefit??

  19. Wow – so many comments it’s impossible for me to note everyone but please keep it coming on this and all posts!

    @ John – I tried to answer your question in the program itself, which I sent you free of charge (smile) thanks to your commenting!

    @ Curtis – almost always, I’m talking about compound exercises, with multi-joint movements and hitting multiple muscle groups at once. For a fat burning program, that’s even more important. I couldn’t imagine a fat burning program that focused, for example, on bicep curls. That said, because by triple-setting I’m doing so many different exercises in one week, I do have a couple of isolation movements (some leg curls and leg extensions, which are huge muscles so take a lot of energy; but I also do some shoulder laterals in there).

    @ Robin – yeah, you definitely need to include weight training. Thanks for the kind words and good luck with your marathons!

    @ Robyn – good questions about plateaus. My simple rule is that if you have two weeks in a row where you are not making progress or where you no longer enjoy your workouts, it’s time to change. Do not change just because you hear about some “perfect new program”. Generally, the most focused beginners can stay on the same program for 3 to 5 months. For more experienced lifters (say, if you’ve been dedicated for over 2 or 3 years), even the most focused of us start to plateau sooner – usually 2 to 3 months. Unless the program itself is designed to be switched out after a shorter period, I would still with a program for at least 8 weeks.

    By the way, Stronglifts’ 5×5 is a great program to get started with. But there are more advanced versions too. Basically, the whole 5×5 program concept (which was fathered by Bill Starr I believe, though maybe Reg Park…?) is great for strength, though it can also add muscle mass. I’ve not heard of it for fat loss but it sounds like it worked for you. When I come off this fat burn program, I’m going to do a 5×5 to increase strength. But I’ll come up with my own new one based on experience. I wonder if people might be interested in that…

  20. I think people would be interested in a 5×5 program. They so simple and so structured, plus you can measure your improvement with every workout. I found these factors to be very motivating.

  21. I have been doing weight training for 4 weeks. but no result as such. i do 2 muscle groups each day. shud i be doing a total body workout 4 days a week and HIIT in the days between

  22. Seriously?!? i want a lean body! I have been praying for years to have a mindset to hit the gym and feel the joy and be excited in working out and that happened. Yes sir that day started 6mos. ago and loose a lot of fat but the problem in just 2 weeks i gained back some of the fat that i already loose. The roblem, i don’t know how to maintain my workout when i’m outside the gym, away from my gym, and on a long vacation. i wnt out of town for 2weeks and i did some of what my trainors advice to run, do push ups and i even did abs work out but my metabolism did’nt make it. Before i kew it, i was eating and loading a lot of carbo and not even perspiring and thats for two weeks. What should i do next? Since i stopped paying for my training. i’m doing it alone this time and some of my program training requires a trainor. hmmmm… please help i really just want to loose my excess fat and loose some more weight. I’m 31 y.o. 82kgs. 5′ 7″ tall and i’m still oeverweight! It’s my 1st time to join a program i loose “the fat” but i gain fat to fast. i hate choosing my food!LOL Ü

  23. @ iGOR – Congrats for making it to 6 months! You’ve got a lot of questions, but I’ll be brief:
    - don’t just pray for the right mindset; read inspiring books and surround yourself with like-minded people; avoid anyone who isn’t supportive of your efforts; it’s hard to keep the mindset and you don’t want it dragged down by external things
    - going on vacation is great, but it is hard to stay on your diet and workout; pushups and abs work and running are not likely to be sufficient; I always look for a gym if I’m going anywhere for more than a few days; but in general, you only need to worry about it if you are going for more than a week (you can take a week off without much impact to your metabolism)
    - alternatively, you can get some of the Turbulence Training programs which are great at keeping your metabolism up without needing lots of equipment (see http://turtlepond.turbulence.h.....s-workouts )
    - it’s not unusual to slide back and gain a little fat after making progress; but just get back on your diet that was working; however, as you lose weight you have to adjust your diet because your calorie requirements decrease; stay away from the processed, sugary carbs!
    - lastly, I think you answered your own question: if you are one of the types of people who need a trainer to make progress, don’t give up your trainer! see .

  24. Hi IGOR

  25. Sounds as if you guys are describing p90x! Its the program that i do and its amazing. Plus its nifty you can do it in your own home. You get a pull up bar to fit on your door frame, nutritional guide and 13 discs. It uses muscle confusion and targets every inch of your body. I look the best ive ever been!


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