There are many reasons why you might be interested in getting fit, but if your goal is to lose weight, then you need to understand that not all exercises are created equal. Some exercises are great for building strength and muscle tone, but they won’t burn as many calories as other exercises.
If you’re just starting out on your journey to optimal health and fitness, then it can be hard to know which exercises are going to help you reach your goals—and which ones aren’t going to do anything at all. That’s where we come in! We’ve done the research so that YOU don’t have to.
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Gym Workout For Weight Loss
The gym is a perplexing place for many people, especially beginners. What exercises should you do? How many sets and reps? How much weight should you lift? And what type and how much cardio do you need to lose weight?
But it doesn’t need to be confusing. Any type of gym workout will help you lose weight, and the best routine is one you enjoy doing. That being said, when it comes to how to lose weight at the gym, there are a few types of gym workouts that stand out among the rest.
How to Lose Weight at the Gym
The first thing to note is that the best exercise to lose weight is one that challenges you. But sprinting right out the gate (literally and figuratively) can leave you burned out, discouraged, and worse, injured.
To start seeing results as soon (and sustainably) as possible, you need a balanced strength-training and cardio routine, according to Carolina Araujo, CPT, a California-based strength coach. From there, incorporate a little progressive overload by increasing your workout intensity, weight, sets or reps little by little each week.
“A weekly resistance routine with some cardio on the side is the key to weight loss in the gym,” Araujo says.
Start your workouts with dynamic stretches to loosen up your connective tissues. Perform side bends, heel lifts, arm crossovers, shoulder circles, forward leg swings, reverse lunges and alternating toe touches to target your whole body.
You can also perform these kind of gentle movements on their own. Remember, when you feel less stressed, you may find it easier to stick with healthy eating and exercise. Consider yoga or stretching on your days off from cardio and weight training. These practices improve your flexibility and mobility and give your muscles time to recover.
Resistance Training for Weight Loss
Resistance training builds muscle mass, which not only strengthens your body, but increases your metabolism. Muscle is responsible for up to 20 percent of your daily calorie burn, while fat accounts for less than 5 percent, according to the University of New Mexico. In other words, the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn doing day-to-day activities.
There are many different types of resistance-training programs for a variety of goals, whether it’s building muscle size, strength or endurance. And any one of these programs is beneficial for fat loss, as long as you’re increasing the challenge over time.
Beginners can start their weight-loss resistance plan with just their body weight, according to Araujo. Compound exercises (like squats or deadlifts) are the best place to begin, because they work multiple muscles at once. Perform 10 to 12 reps and 3 to 4 sets of each move. Keeping your rest to 60 seconds or less can help keep your heart rate up.
As you grow more comfortable with your workouts, you can start to add resistance bands, dumbbells or kettlebells to your routine.
“Start with 4 to 5 days of gym strength training per week,” Araujo says. “To promote weight loss, make sure you’re progressively overloading week after week and try to hit your minimum cardio requirements, too [more on that below].”
Resistance Training for Beginners
This beginner-friendly circuit is a great place to start. As you advance, you can increase the weight or reps of each exercise.
Calories Burned While Resistance Training
Your calorie burn depends on a lot of factors, including your weight, age and fitness level. But after 30 minutes of circuit training, you can expect to burn about 240 calories or more, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
1. Incline Push-Up
SKILL LEVEL Beginner
- Place your palms on a step, exercise bench or seat of a chair.
- Walk your feet back until you’re on your toes.
- Come into a high plank with your core and glutes engaged. Your shoulders should be over your wrists and your hips should be in line with your head and heels.
- Bend your elbows at about a 45-degree angle from your torso and lower your body toward the bench.
- On the way down, squeeze your shoulder blades together.
- When your chest hovers just above the bench (or however far down you can go), press into the ground and push back up to the starting position.
2. Air Squat
SKILL LEVEL Beginner
- Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and brace your core. Focus on keeping your feet rooted into the ground and your core tight the entire time.
- Extend your arms out in front of you and slowly bend your knees as you push your hips back to lower toward the floor. Focus on lowering your body as if you were going to sit on a chair.
- Lower down until your thighs are parallel with the floor (or as far as is comfortable).
- Pause for a moment at the bottom of your squat.
- On an exhale, reverse the motion by pressing through your heels to return to standing. As you stand, lower your arms back to your sides.
3. Forearm Plank
SKILL LEVEL All Levels
- Lie face down on the floor, with your forearms on the ground, elbows directly beneath your shoulders.
- Extend your legs straight behind you, toes tucked.
- With your core braced, press into your toes and forearms and lift your body off the ground.
- Keep your back flat and your body in a straight line from head to hips to heels.
- Hold here for 15 to 30 seconds. Try working up to 60 seconds over time.
4. Reverse Lunge
SKILL LEVEL All Levels
- Stand with your feet about hip-width apart, arms at your sides. Hold a pair of light dumbbells in each hand.
- Step with your right leg 3 feet behind you and bend both knees until they form 90-degree angles. Your back knee should hover an inch above the ground and your front thigh should be parallel to the ground.
- Keep most of your weight in the front leg as you press into your left heel and straighten your left leg.
- Bring the right leg back to the starting position and stand up.
- Repeat the motion with the opposite leg.
If reverse lunges feel too challenging with weights, drop the dumbbells, Araujo recommends. Focus on your form above all else.
5. Bent-Over Dumbbell Row
SKILL LEVEL All Levels
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand at your sides, palms facing each other.
- Push your hips back and soften your knees to lean your torso forward until it’s nearly parallel with the ground and your weight is centered in your heels. Let the weights hang straight down in front of your knees.
- Brace your core and focus on keeping your back flat.
- Leading with your upper back, squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull through your arms to raise the dumbbells up toward your ribcage.
- Pause at the top of the movement.
- Keep your core and spine stable as you reverse the motion, extending your arms to lower the dumbbells so they hang by your knees.
“Start with a light pair of weights as you perfect your bent-over row form,” Araujo says. “You can even record yourself on your phone to make sure your back stays in a flat line as you do the move.”
6. Sumo Squat
SKILL LEVEL All Levels
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, toes pointed out at a 45-degree angle. (If the position feels uncomfortable, move your feet in a little closer).
- Clasp your hands together at your chest.
- Keeping your back straight, push your hips back and bend your knees out over your toes to squat down. Thinking about sliding down a wall, keeping your back as straight as possible and avoiding leaning forward or sticking your butt out.
- Lower until your your thighs are parallel to the floor (or as low as you can comfortably go).
- Activate your core, glutes and quads to propel your body back upright, driving your weight through your feet to return to a standing position.
- Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement and repeat.
7. Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press
SKILL LEVEL All Levels
- Sit on a bench with your feet rooted to the floor.
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder height with your forearms vertical, hands in a neutral grip with fingers toward your face. Your arms shoulder be just slightly in front of your body. Brace your core.
- On an exhale, press both dumbbells up and in toward each other.
- Lower the weights back to the starting position with control.
Weight Loss Gym Routine Female
The sample female fat loss workout plan below is a 5-day plan, with 4 days of strength training and one day of cardio. I also provided the option for a sixth day to do some active recovery, but you should take at least one full day off from the gym per week.
My favorite way to train during a fat loss phase is to follow an upper/lower split. Each training day will focus on upper or lower body exercises only, and you’ll train the upper and lower body each twice per week.
I also like to have each day focused on one main compound movement, so each day will prioritize squats, bench presses, deadlifts, or overhead presses. The rest of the movements that follow target the other lower or upper body muscle groups such as the hamstrings and calves or biceps and triceps.
For the first compound movement of each day, I recommend selecting a weight that feels like a 6-7 RPE. This should be around 70-75% of your 1RM. If you don’t have a current 1RM, go by how you feel, but be very honest with yourself. Avoid training to failure, as you’ll want to leave 2-3 reps in the tank so you can keep increasing weight each week.
For the accessory movements, you can aim for an RPE of 8-9. Since you’re working smaller muscle groups, the exercises won’t be as taxing, and you can afford to push the intensity a bit. However, I would still advise you to leave 1-3 reps in reserve. And if your energy levels are low in the later weeks of your cut, feel free to scale these movements back to an RPE of 6-7.
If you can easily complete all sets and reps for any given exercise, bump up the weight the next week. If you struggle to complete all of the work or if the RPE feels more difficult than it should, keep the weight the same the next week.
Day 1 – Lower Body and Core
|Bulgarian split squat||4||8-10 each leg|
|Lying hamstring curl||4||10-12|
|Seated calf raises||4||12-15|
Day 2 – Upper Body
|Seated dumbbell press||3||8-10|
Day 3 – Rest or active recovery
Do no more than 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio such as cycling or rowing. You can also use this day to work on mobility or get 8,000 – 10,000 steps.
Day 4 – Lower Body and Core
|Walking lunges||3||8-10 each leg|
|Standing calf raises||4||12-15|
|Ab wheel rollouts||3||8-10|
Day 5 – Upper Body
|Incline DB bench press||3||8-10|
Days 6 – Moderate-intensity cardio
Perform a maximum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio. This could be by jogging, using the elliptical machine, rowing, or going on an easy hike.
Day 7 – Rest day
This should be a complete day of rest. Mobility work and getting in your daily steps are fine, but avoid doing any kind of exercise in which you’re overexerting yourself.
How Much Fat Can You Expect To Lose?
How much fat you can expect to lose when following a fat loss program depends on several factors. How high of a body fat percentage you’re starting with, what kind of training you do, how you eat, your stress levels, genetics, and how active you are outside of the gym can all affect how successful you’ll be.
In terms of weight on the scale, you should aim for a loss of 0.5-1lbs per week. This is a sustainable approach because you likely won’t have to cut your calories too low from the start, and it will ensure that you preserve as much muscle mass as possible.
Body fat percentage is harder to measure unless you can go somewhere that has a DEXA machine or hydrostatic weighing mechanism in which you go underwater while sitting on a scale. But if you can measure it, a reasonable goal to shoot for is to lose 1-3% of body fat per month.
If you start at a high body fat percentage, your results may be at the higher end of that scale. If you’re already somewhat lean, your results may be at the lower end of that scale.
Diet Considerations for a Female Fat Loss Plan
In order to lose fat, you need to eat in a calorie deficit, meaning you need to eat fewer calories than you burn.
However, while I know you’ll likely want to start your fat loss phase right away, you shouldn’t start blindly trying to reduce the amount of food you’re eating each day. Before you officially begin your fat loss plan, I recommend figuring out your maintenance calories first.
Maintenance calories refer to the number of calories you can eat each day without gaining weight. Women, in particular, tend to undereat without even realizing it, which is why it’s important to get a true understanding of your maintenance calories before you enter a fat loss phase.
By doing this, you may find that you can maintain your weight while eating more than you initially thought. You’ll then be able to start your calorie deficit at a higher daily calorie limit, which will make your fat loss diet easier to sustain.
There are a few different ways you can determine your maintenance calories:
- Use an online calculator to determine your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE)
- Use an online nutrition calculator such as Precision Nutrition’s macro calculator
- Tracking your calories for 1-2 weeks in an app like MyFitnessPal to gauge how much you’re currently eating. If you think you could be eating more, you may wish to gradually increase your daily calories by 100-200 every week over the course of 2-3 weeks while monitoring your weight. If you can keep increasing your calories more and more without gaining weight, it’s a sign that you were inadvertently depriving yourself before.
How To Determine Your Macro Breakdown For A Fat Loss Phase
Once you know how many calories you can eat per day without gaining weight, you can begin to adjust your daily calorie intake so you’re in a calorie deficit. A good rule of thumb is to start by reducing your calories by 200-300 per day.
However, while your total calorie intake is the most important number to focus on, eating the right macros throughout the day can also help you achieve the most optimal results.
Macros, short for macronutrients, refers to the three main nutrients in your diet: protein, fat, and carbs. Getting enough of each macro during a fat loss phase is essential because it gives you energy for your workouts, keeps you satiated for longer, and helps with recovery from training.
Every female is different, so you may need to experiment with a different macro breakdown until you find one that makes you feel your best during your fat loss phase. However, you can use the below guidelines as a starting point:
Eating enough protein is necessary during a fat loss phase because it helps prevent you from losing the lean muscle mass you already have. You should aim to eat at least 0.8g of protein per pound of body weight each day. So if you weigh 160lbs, you should eat at least 128g of protein.
Carbs are arguably the most demonized macro, but they’re necessary for active females so you have enough energy for your workouts and can recover properly.
Carbs can take up anywhere from 40-50% of your total daily calories depending on how active you are. If you’re relatively sedentary outside of the gym, you may want to lean towards the lower end of that range. If you lift weights for 2+ hours and have a physical job, your carb intake should be at the higher end of that range.
If you’re aiming to eat 2,000 calories per day with 40% of those coming from carbs, 800 calories should come from carbs. This would equal 200g of carbs per day because there are 4 calories in each gram of carb and 800 ÷ 4 = 200.
Eating enough dietary fat is essential for hormone health. Fats should take up at least 25% of your overall calories. Using the same example from above of eating 2,000 calories per day, 400 of those calories should come from fat sources. This equals about 55-56g of fat per day because there are 9 calories in each gram of fat and 400 ÷ 9 = 55.5.
How Do You Know When To Decrease Calories Further?
During a fat loss phase, it’s important to track your weight at least 3 days per week and take your average weight for the week to determine whether or not you need to decrease your calories.
This is because your weight will rarely stay exactly the same from one day to the next. What you ate and drank the day before, how well you slept, and what kind of training you did the day before can cause your scale weight to go up or down by a couple of pounds.
Where you are in your menstrual cycle will also affect your weight. Bloating and water retention from PMS can cause temporary increases on the scale. If you cut your calories based on one weigh-in the day before your period starts, you could be eating fewer calories than necessary.
I also recommend waiting at least two weeks before making any significant changes to your diet. When I’ve been in fat loss phases in the past, I’ve sometimes gone 2-3 weeks without dropping a single pound, and then I’ll suddenly lose 2-4 pounds without changing a thing.
So as hard as it is to do, you’ll need to stay patient. Rushing to cut your calories too quickly can make your diet more difficult to stick to. You’ll be more likely to succumb to food cravings or skip your workouts because you’re too tired to get them done.
It’s also important to note that when decreasing calories, you should keep your protein levels the same and cut calories from carbs or fats first to avoid the risk of losing too much muscle mass.
How Long Should You Stay In A Calorie Deficit?
I recommend ending a fat loss phase after about 12-16 weeks. Eating in a deficit is a stress on your body, and combined with working out on top of your other daily responsibilities, it can be difficult for your body to handle all of that stress for a long period of time.
After 12-16 weeks, you should slowly start to increase your calories again until you’ve reached a new maintenance point. Each week, you should increase your daily calories by 100-200 per day until you can determine how much you can eat without gaining weight.
With all that said, if your calorie deficit isn’t too aggressive, you still have plenty of energy, and your workouts aren’t suffering, you can extend the length of your calorie deficit.
However, if you do decide to extend your cut, I’d recommend taking a one-week diet break every 6-8 weeks. Temporarily increasing your calories for a week can give your body some relief from the stress of eating in a calorie deficit. Just be sure to continue making smart food choices and keep up with your training so you don’t negate your progress during that week.
What Supplements Should Females Take During A Fat Loss Phase?
While social media fitness influencers, health and nutrition stores, and some professional athletes may have you believe otherwise, you don’t need a ton of supplements when you’re trying to lose fat.
The most important supplements you should take when you’re following a fat loss program are:
- Protein powder
Whether you drink coffee or like to take a preworkout supplement before your training session, caffeine can give you the energy you need to get through your workout. For the most optimal effects on training, you should consume caffeine about 40-60 minutes before training.
If you decide to take a preworkout, you should be mindful of dosing as too much caffeine can disrupt your sleep, make you jittery, or cause an increase in heart rate or blood pressure.
The majority of preworkout supplements on the market will list dosage amounts on the label. I wouldn’t recommend taking any more than what’s listed on the label, but you can take less if you’re sensitive to caffeine.
Active females, especially those who lift weights, have higher protein requirements than others. It can be difficult to consume all of the protein you need through food alone, which is why protein powder is beneficial.
Most protein powders have 20-30g of protein per serving. Whey protein is most common, but you can also get plant-based or other non-dairy protein powders if you can’t eat dairy.
It’s also important to note that protein shouldn’t be used as a meal replacement for every single meal. There’s nothing wrong with using it for a breakfast on the go every once in a while, but you should still consume whole food sources as much as possible.
Creatine is one of the most highly researched supplements. Studies show that it can help improve strength, increase muscle mass, and improve power output on high-intensity exercises.
Creatine is an amino acid that’s found naturally in muscle cells. It can also be found in protein sources such as red meat and seafood, though you’d need to eat a significant amount of both to get to the recommended 5g of creatine per day.
Creatine yields the greatest results when it’s taken post-workout, but you can take it at any time of the day.
Most female fat loss plans are too vague and lack proper guidance when it comes to exercise selection, load management, training intensity and frequency, and how to properly fuel your body.
But to achieve the best results, you need to structure your workout plan and diet properly. Lifting weights, eating in a calorie deficit, and doing 30 minutes of cardio 2-3 days per week are your best bets for seeing results. You should also prioritize protein as much as possible and increase your NEAT throughout the day to accelerate your fat loss.