For those who have chosen to toil in musty weight rooms in search of their best-ever physique, fat burning can become a labor. These iron loyalists, who consider gaining mass and burning fat to be separate endeavors instinctively — and begrudgingly — head to treadmill row when their physique starts to accumulate a little fat.
What these lifters fail to realize is that they can accelerate their metabolic rate and torch pounds of adipose by simply tweaking their already-challenging weight routines. “If you’re trying to get super-lean, there’s no arguing the importance of cardio,” says Jimmy Peña, MS, CSCS, a Los Angeles–based celebrity strength-and-conditioning expert. “But there are simple adjustments that you can and should make in the weight room because in the long run, resistance training will make the most difference with regard to overall body composition.”
1. Compound Your Efforts
Muscles are calorie-eating tissue. The more muscle you have, the more energy it takes to fuel them. Put simply, more muscular people tend to be more metabolic — that is, they blaze through more fat even when at rest. And there’s simply no better way to burn fat than by focusing on compound lifts. Compound lifts are those that require movement across more than one joint, such as deadlifts, squats, bench presses and overhead presses. “If you really want to burn fat, don’t build your routines around curls, leg extensions and pressdowns,” Peña says.
2. Lift Heavy
For ages, it has been thought that low-weight, high-rep schemes were the best way to burn fat. While that type of training will help you burn more calories in the gym (more reps equals more energy used), heavy weight is the best route for lasting change. “Heavy weight, that which causes you to reach muscle failure in the six- to eight-rep range, not only will challenge your muscles during the workout but also will have a drastic impact on your metabolism for the next day or two afterward,” Peña says. “That means more calories burned at rest.” Plus, this size-inducing rep range will help you add more muscle.
3 Redefine “Rest”
Many people finish a set and rest until they feel right. Others watch the clock for the requisite 90 seconds or so. But if you’re looking to blast away body fat, it’s time to rethink your rest periods. “An active rest, such as isometric squeezes of 60 to 90 seconds for the muscle group you’re training, will keep your blood pumping between sets and can help attack more muscle fibers, which ultimately leads to more total muscle,” Peña explains.
4. Compartmentalize Cardio
Performing cardio after lifting weights can help you burn more fat than you would by performing cardio alone. But who wants to spend an extra 30 minutes at the gym after lifting for an hour? “Instead, accumulate your cardio minutes throughout your weight workout,” Peña says. “Head to the bike for a three-minute sprint, or walk on the Stepmill for a chosen amount of steps instead of just sitting around. If you have a 20-set workout, and you do one or two minutes of cardio after every set, that’s 20 to 40 minutes total, built in, no separate session necessary.”
5. Finish High
As previously stated, high-rep sets do have their place. And if you’re looking to burn fat, this is it. “If you’re lifting heavy, as you should be, add one high-rep set of 25 to 100 reps to each exercise,” Peña says. “These ‘finishing’ sets help to fully flush the muscle with blood and burn more calories during the workout. And as with the isometric holds, it’s just another tool to help you take your muscles past failure on a given exercise.”