Training with heavy weights is an essential part of any program designed to improve body composition. Short of diet, it's the most important part of any such program... more so than running or any other aerobic 'fat burning' style of working out. Far too often weightlifting is overlooked as a way to lose weight because it's associated with gaining weight, but the truth is those two things actually go hand-in-hand. If you're interested in dropping body fat, a big part of the solution is almost certainly to add lean muscle mass to your frame. And while this may sound off-putting to anybody that uses a bathroom scale to gauge the success of a body composition program, adding muscle mass and adding mass are not the same thing. Since lean muscle tissue reduces body fat, a successful program can and should result in a reduction in total body mass, but an increase in lean mass.
Putting together such a program is no small feat, but incorporating weight training in the right way will certainly play a part. And of course, it's important to know that not all types of weight lifting are the same. Different protocols result in different outcomes, and its important that you or your coach know which type of routine makes the most sense for you and your goals. And while it's worth repeating that putting together a comprehensive program is a complex feat, here are three weight lifting programs that can be powerful tools in improving your body composition.
A tri set simpy refers to three sets of exercises performed in reasonably quick succession to one another. Even within the boundaries of a tri set there's still a tremendous amount of room for variability. The exercises can be the same, or different. They can be heavy, or light, or both. High reps and low reps and anything in between. So while saying 'tri set' helps to narrow down the focus a bit, there's still a little more work to be done if we're to truly hone in on a specific goal.
One of my favorite versions of a tri set to focus on fat reduction looks like this: Begin with a compound movement (one that involves multiple joints) that allows for a reasonably heavy weight to be moved somewhat deliberately. The second exercise will be a little lighter and allow for more repetitions (since you'll already be fatigued). The third exercise will be dynamic with the goal to accumulate a bunch of repetitions in a short window. Here's an example:
A1. Sumo Deadlift 4x6-8, :10 rest
A2. Goblet Squat 4x15, :10 rest
A3. Alternating Lunges 4xMax in :30, 3:00 rest.
So in this example, we're moving from heavier weights and fewer repetitions, to lower weights and more pace. So while you get reasonably exhausted from the first exercise, the next one on the list is 'easier', which allows you to keep working, and working in this exhausted state is a great tool for fat burning and body composition.
One Minute Intervals
One minute intervals, or ''OTM' (on the minute), is a great method for improving body composition while still working with reasonably heavy weights and improving your strength. Using a one minute interval is different than resting for 1:00 between sets. It means that each set begins one minute apart from one another. This means that if you take too long getting started or are a bit sluggish as you fatigue, your rest for the next round gets shorter. This provides a great incentive to stay focused and stick to the plan.
Here's what a basic 'OTM' protocol may look like:
A. 10 Sets, OTM: 4 Front Squats
Looks simple enough, right? But the timing helps to accomplish quite a bit. First of all, you're able to accomplish 40 reasonably heavy reps in less than 10 minutes which can be a real time-saver in your workout. Certainly fatigue will limit you from training at a maximal weight, but you'll still be able to work heavy enough to see some real improvement in your strength numbers. But more important (for this article anyway) is that the limited rest makes this extremely fatiguing and helps to promote fat loss.
German Body Composition Training
It's right there in the name. German Body Comp (or GBC) is one of the mostly widely used and historically most successful programs out there. A GBC program uses multiple alternating pairs of movements with short rest periods to maximize the amount of work within a reasonably short time frame. Here's a classic example:
A1. Heel Elevated Back Squat 3x10-12, :45 rest
A2. Chinup 3x10-12, :45 rest
B1. Deadlift 3x10-12, :45 rest
B2. Bench Press, 3x10-12, :45 rest
The key to the pairings is that you're using opposite antagonistic muscle groups working against each other. In our example above, a lower-body push paired with an upper body pull, followed by a lower-body pull paired with a upper-body push. This allows the involved muscles to get a bit of rest while you're working the paired exercise, but your heart and lungs still have to keep working like crazy to keep up. The fact that the targeted muscle groups get a bit of rest allows you to use reasonably heavy and challenging weights, which helps to promote strength and lean muscle gains, while the extreme fatigue you're subjected to promotes fat loss. Even for seasoned weightlifters and exercises, GBC programs can be among the most challenging and exhausting routines out there.
Noah is Co-Owner, Head Coach and General Manager of CrossFit Praxis in Washington, DC. Between years as a coach and competing in the CrossFit Mid-Atlantic Regional Competition every year since 2012, Noah is relentlessly enthusiastic about refining and improving workout programs for elite athletes, teams, and beginners alike.