How To Set Up a Fat Loss Focused Strength Training Program (2 Sample Programs Included!)

I get these questions all the time regarding setting up ones own strength training program so I figure what better way to address this than to write a post on it! There is SO much confusion out there regarding the BEST way to set up a workout program. 

Sets. Reps. Time. Days. Frequency. Volume. Amount of weight used. Bodyweight vs cardio. 

It’s exhausting in itself just to read about the options. By the end of the articles, it’s no wonder most people will find themselves on the elliptical or treadmill as supposed to the latter. 

There is an important notion to understand when designing a strength training workout which is that there is no right or wrong way. Considering that there are many factors that goes into ones workout program such as experience, age, weight, time to adhere, injuries, diet, goals, there are MANY ways to develop a solid and effective strength training routine esppecially programming a strength routine with a goal of fat loss. 

Learning to develop a workout program, however, is priceless and can provide you with the necessary tools to continue training for life. Factors in the program are as adjustable as you want to make them, so you can always regress, progress, add on, take away or change. Learning the basics is KEY and I promise you, it is not at all as scary or time consuming as you may make it out to be! 

I only require a few of non negotiable’s when creating a program: 

1) The program must be enjoyable

You should enjoy every aspect of your resistance training program! Ok, well maybe not EVERY single exercise, but for the most part, when you start your workout, you should be looking forward to the improvements, movements, and personal time that you get to spend on yourself. 

2) The program must be doable for YOU

Raise your hand if you have followed your best friends workout program OR one from a magazine. I am guilty here as well! Who wouldn’t want to follow a free program that they’re friend found at their Crossfit gym or you found in Oxygen Magazine. These workouts are actually a great supplement to your day to day routine and I follow them as well on my ‘off days’ but to follow a whole program without knowing if it is right for you can be dangerous, discouraging and ineffective. If you consider yourself an experienced lifter and can go over to T Nation to follow the 5/3/1 program, I say go for it! You have been training for years and really want to challenge yourself, but if you are somewhat new to lifting and need a bit more guidance to ensure that a program is catered to you, I would spend a bit more time researching and asking questions to make sure that your program is doable for you! 

3) The program does not HAVE to leave you feeling unable to walk. 

The trendy thing these days is to not be able to walk post workout. Exercise has become this almost unattainable thing to do in moderation or ‘just enough of’ Lately I have only been seeing “if you’re not sore, its not working” I hate to break it to you, but this is NOT the case. You do not have to finish every workout unable to walk, in fact soreness is not an indicator of an effective workout routine. Effective workouts should be measured by how GOOD you feel, how GOOD you are able to move about your daily life, improvements in strength, performance and of course fat loss (if this is your goal) 

Every time you perform and repeat a workout, the goal is to do a little better than last time. Don’t strive to reach a high level of fatigue

Many of you reading this post already know the amazing benefits of strength training 

The benefits of strength training are endless and if it not a part of your workout routine now, after reading through this post, you will hopefully feel comfortable and motivated to add it in at least one day a week. 

So…The Benefits? 

First off, you will experience greater confidence which carry over to you day to day activities inside and outside of the gym. Lifting weights will bring a sense of power and control and enable you to feel empowered and strong. 

Not only are lifting weights amazing exercise for your body but it is just as amazing mental exercise. Resistance training helps enable you to focus and stay determined due to the fact that you must stay focused during the session and while following a well thought out program. Strength training improves communication between you mind and body, thus creating great improvements in body awareness and performance.

Muscle burns more calories than any other bodily tissues meaning the more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism will be. The reason being, when you lift weights, you actually are breaking down the muscles and the body uses energy to repair them. Weight training helps you to lose fat mass and in addition, will completely help to transform your body composition leading to a firmer, tighter appearance. 

In addition to weight loss, strength training will make you less prone to injury due to the fact that it protect your joints and improves balance. Strength training builds stronger bones so you also reduce the risk of osteoporosis. 

Fat loss speaking, one of the most important advantages of having more muscle mass is this comes with an elevated basal metabolic rate (BMR) This means that the more muscle you carry, the higher your resting energy expenditure (REE) Since REE is the biggest part of your total energy use in a given day, it can change how many calories you burn. More muscle = more calories burned throughout the day!


Now, Before jumping to the meat and potatoes of this whole program design stuff, there are some things you want to consider before getting started. 

What are you doing now? Is it effective?

Think about what your current exercise routine consists of right this instant. Is is effective? Do you enjoy it? Are you seeing results? If the case is ‘no’ then chances are you are ready for something new! Our bodies can hit a plateau and when you are no longer seeing results something must be changed. Most of the time what I see is a lack of results, so there is just more pounding away on the treadmill or elliptical, thinking that with MORE cardio there will be MORE results. I hate to break it to you but you may be wasting your time. If your body is getting too used to all of this cardio, your body will just have to keep doing more to keep up. Its like caffeine. Drink coffee everyday? Your body stops responding, but take it away for a week or two, then have a cup? You will be buzzing off the walls! We often need to scale back on the cardio and add in a more effective resistance training regiment to see those results IF we have been working out for quite a while. 

How much time do you have to dedicate to this program?

Do you have 3 days, 4 days, 5 days or just 2 days a week? How much time per session? Keep in mind, these workouts will be about 45 minutes in length and when done properly should get in and and out under an hour! 

Are you able to workout in a gym or fitness facility or is this a home workout program? 

Access to a gym? Just have access to a small apartment gym or maybe even no gym at all? These are all factors to consider when designing a strength training program!

What are your goals?

Fat loss? Muscle gain? Learning how to move properly? Want to get stronger? Better posture? Whatever your goal may be, the program should be tailored around it.  Someone looking to put on mass should not be programming 4 days of cardio in weekly routine and on the flip-side, someone looking for fat loss should be including at least one conditioning day. These are just some factors to consider!


There should always be a solid foundational base before beginning a strength training program which includes a solid warm up (CLICK THE LINK TO SEE MY WARM UP!) and also include foam rolling quads, IT band, back, lats, adductors

Exercise selection is generated from a basis of movement patterns and it is super important to include all variations of movement patterns into a weekly routine to ensure balance, symmetry and challenge. 

  • Squat, knee dominant: a movement from the knee (flexion)
  • Hinge, hip dominant (think deadlift): a movement from the hips, less knee bend (extension)
  • Push (upper and lower): pushing away from you: horizontal, angled  and or vertical
  • Pull (upper and lower): pulling towards you: horizontal, angled and or vertical

Below is a chart that I compiled of some sample exercise variations within each movement category: 

Upper body push

Upper body pull

Lower body push

Lower body pull


Incline/decline push up

Barbell back rows

Squat (goblet/barbell/front loaded)

Deadlifts (barbell, trap bar, kettlebell)


Chest press

Seated cable rows

Reverse lunges

Split stance deadlift

Side plank

Trx chest press

DB back row

Forward lunges

Hip thrust

Bosu plank

DB chest fly

Face pull

Step up (all variations

Glute bridge


Push up

Cable 1 arm row

Lateral lunge

Single leg bridge

Reverse crunches

Bench press

Lat pull (narrow or reverse grip, wide grip)

Fencers lunge

Hamstring curl on stability ball

Trx crunches

Incline Bench

TRX high/neutral grip row

1 arm front racked squat

Hamstring curl machine


Overhead DB press

Pull ups/chin ups/assisted

Walking lunges

Stability ball bridges

Stability ball planks

1 arm half kneeling press

DB biceps curl

Static lunges

Single leg deadlift

Paloff press variations

1 arm chest press

Barbell biceps curl

RFE split squats

Single leg barbell deadlift

Slider or TRX body saws

Rope triceps extension

TRX biceps curl

Curtsy lunges

 Glute/ham raise

Roll ups

Seated shoulder press

1 arm half kneeling lat pull

Leg press


Stability ball roll outs

Lateral/front raise

Band pull aparts

Banded squats

 single leg glute bridge

Stability ball planks

 Different Kinds of Programs

Depending on how many days you have, there are a myriad of choices you can make to ensure you are reaching your goals. 

  • Push/pull
  • split body part
  • Upper and lower split
  • Full body

Today, I wanted to talk about an attainable, fat loss focused strength training program made for 3 days a week for the busy professional since this is usually the bulk of my clientele! 

 What I recommend for 3 days of strength training: 

3 day full body workout

Day 1 Upper Body
Day 2 Lower Body
Day 3 Full Body

Sample Full Body 3 Day Workout

Day 1: Upper Body

  • 1a) Chin ups/pull ups or assisted 3×8-10
  • 1b) Half kneeling shoulder press 3×8-10
  • 2a) Push ups (AMRAP) 3 sets
  • 2b) 1 arm DB rows 3×8-10
  • 2c) Stability ball knee ins 3×12-15
  • 3a) Band pull aparts 3×20
  • 3b) DB curl + Presses 3×12-15
  • 3c) Wide stance cable rotational twist 3×12-15

Day 2: Steady state cardio (65-70% Max HR, 30 minutes)

Day 3: Lower Body

  • 1a) Goblet squats with DB or KB 3×8-10
  • 1b) Step ups (hold 10-30lb in each hand) 3×8-10
  • 2a) KB or Trap Bar Deadlift 3×8-10
  • 2b) Single leg hip thrust 3×15 each leg
  • 2c) Side plank dips 3×12-15
  • 3a) Walking lunges (hold 10-30lb in each hand) 3×8-10 each leg
  • 3b) Jump lunges 3×10 each leg
  • 3c) Bosu crunches 3×20

Day 4: Yoga or pilates or leisure walk

Day 5: Full Body

  • 1a) Single leg deadlift 3×8-10
  • 1b) Barbell or DB standing back rows 3×8-10
  • 2a) Reverse lunges 3×8-10
  • 2b) Half kneeling 1 arm shoulder press 3×8-10
  • 2c) Forearm plank with feet in TRX or ground 3x45s
  • 3a) KB swing 3×15
  • 3b) Plank climbers 3×8-10 each side
  • 3c) Double arm farmers carries 3x40s

Day 6: REST

Day 7: HIIT Training 20-30 minutes (see below for recommendations)

3 day upper/lower/full body split workout

Day 1 Full Body (Pull legs, push upper, core)
Day 2 Full Body (Pull upper, push legs, core)
Day 3 Full Body (“Fun” day and accessory work)

Day 1: Full Body (Pull Legs, push upper, core)

Day 2: Steady state cardio (65-70% Max HR, 30 minutes)

Day 3: Full Body (Pull upper, push lower, core)

Day 4: Yoga or Pilates

Day 5: Full Body “Fun day, accessory work” 

Day 6: REST

Day 7: HIIT training 20-30 minutes (see below for recommendations) 

So What About Cardio?

Cardio has its time and place for SURE, but when it comes to fat loss, I am not a huge proponent of cardio. Cardio (or conditioning)  should be programmed into a weekly workout routine but should be dependent on the individual. In order to program cardio correctly, it is important to understand HOW your body responds. There was a time where I was the all encompassing ‘cardio queen’ I was doing anywhere from 45-90m of cardio 6x a week and thought this was the ONLY way to lose fat. I wasn’t seeing any changes to my physique and in fact, I was at my heaviest during this time. 

When it comes to steady state cardio, this can be very beneficial to increase aerobic capacity and can be beneficial to the mind and body alike.  I usually suggest clients should work between 65-70% of max heart rate, or 120-140 BPM (beats per minute) for 30 minutes a couple times a week. For some, this HR can be achieved by going for a leisure walk. Cardio should NOT make you feel miserable. You should never think of it as something you HAVE to do to lose fat because the truth is, you don’t if your strength program and diet is in check. It is something to enhance what you already have built a base for!

When it comes to HIIT training or conditioning work, I recommend incorporating this 1-2x a week (depending on your goals, of course) Short, high-intensity exercise creates EPOC (exercise post oxygen consumption) which basically means how much your body is working POST workout. HIIT training is SHORT and INTENSE and this results in a metabolic boost long after the training session is over. Sprints, Sprints, bodyweight circuits, airdyne intervals, sled work, etc

When it comes to a well balanced, fat loss focused workout program, more cardio is NOT better and in fact may hinder progress. Sooner or later, the body adapts and uses energy and O2 more efficiently during cardio, which thus makes it ineffective for fat loss.  The body adapts to the stresses you put on it and eventually the body will stop reaping the metabolic and fat burning effects of cardio if you do it too often and incorrectly.  Not only will you not see physique changes, but hormones will be thrown out of whack as well, specifically cortisol cortisol which is a growth hormone that will  cause your body to hold onto fat. Cortisol can be linked to chronic stress as well which can cause our bodies to crave those sugary, fatty foods.

When it comes to proper programming for fat loss, strength training should take precedence and second in line should be nutrition. Cardio will never be the #1 factor. It is a tool in the toolbox to use as needed. Weight training will increase fat burning, metabolism and growth hormone which will have the longest lasting impact on ones body composition. 

Fat loss takes TIME but incorporating a solid strength training routine which is the bulk of your exercise program can speed up this process. Remember that when it comes to fat loss, slow and steady wins the race

Personally, This is what my fitness/nutrition/health life looks like these days

  • 4-5 days of workouts per week with two FULL REST days (yoga or a steady state is not ‘rest’)
  • 1 hour tops for my workouts (usually 45 min. Yoga is the only form of physical activity that can go past 60 minutes but I do not take Bikram or ‘hot’ yoga because I do not like it.)
  • I’m on my feet all day and do ‘steady state’ cardio 1x a week while watching Netflix. 
  • I lift weights 3x a week
  • I practice conditioning workouts 1-2x a week, 30 minutes tops (Kettlebell/calisthenics, sprints)
  • I drink wine weekly
  • I eat intuitively, focusing on CARBS and PROTEIN always especially workout days. (25-30g pre and post workout)
  • I include mobility, solid warm up and foam rolling daily
  • I eat anything that I crave/want (of course watch portions) but I never label food as ‘bad’ or ‘good’
  • If I don’t eat a certain food its because I am intolerant to it, other than that,  everything is fair game! 
  • I am no longer striving to lift the heaviest weights imaginable, but rather, focusing on the movements feeling good and moving both effectively and efficiently 

When it comes to designing a strength training program or if you are currently following one, just make sure that you follow it consistently for at least 6 weeks before hopping around to some other one. Your body must adapt and before you throw in the rug and say “This isn’t working” You MUST give it a shot! If you like either of the workouts I provided above, great! Print it out and follow it! Either of these workouts are a great place to get started. 

The last point I will mention regarding cardio; If you enjoy cardio, then by all means, please do what you like, in moderation BUT If your goals are either physique related OR you strength/performance related, focusing on a progressive strength training program is a MUCH more efficient and effective route to embark on and one in which you WILL see changes both physically and mentally.

Appreciate your body for all that it is able to do and respect it each and everyday. You have the gift of being able to exercise, move, eat well and control every aspect of your day.