Know Your Workout: Basic Training for Fat Loss


July 6, 2012 by Darlene McC

The number one fitness goal almost every health and wellness professional hears: “I want to lose weight”.  As the “obesity epidemic” (I just puked in my mouth a little) worsens, and we all pack a little more for our guilt trips, more people are wondering where to turn.  As stated in the Pillars of The Tribe, I will never tell you that you need to change or lose weight, but it’s difficult to ignore the statistics: 33.9% of adults over 20 are categorized as overweight and 34.4% as obese according to the CDC putting 68.3% of the population in the “needs to lose a few pounds” category.  Sure, I have serious issues with those statistics and the science used to gather them, but I’ll rant about all that another time.

It comes down to this: I get asked about how to decrease body fat a LOT.  In the event that YOU aren’t happy with your current self then please read on and we’ll see what we can do.

QUICK NOTE: This post is for people looking to decrease body fat to “improve” their body composition.  I know I have some readers who have no interest in that goal – so maybe skip this one, okay?  I’m aware that, unlike a majority of women’s “fitness” magazines will tell you, not ever woman is out to drop fat… in fact, some are looking to put on some serious muscle!  Don’t worry, I’ve got some workouts coming for you down the line & I love you and haven’t forgotten about you.

Start with Yourself

I’ve said it before, no doubt I’ll say it again: the best goals are self-driven and aren’t put on you via the pressure of others.  They just don’t work!  You end up falling short of your goal and resenting whomever sealed up the pressure cooker over you.  Start inside yourself.

Why do you want to lose weight?  Be honest with yourself!  If you can’t answer that question simply (a sentence or two), take a look at the first few steps of Know Your Workout: Getting Started and try the writing exercise.  {Don’t worry, I’ll wait.}


You’ve set some clear, smart goals and really refined your resolve.  You know exactly what you want to get out of this experience.  Awesome… now what?

Every time you head to the gym you want to go with a plan: what are you going to do and about how long will it take you.  What that plan consists of depends on who you are: if you’re 25 and just want to lose weight then you’ll have a very different program than someone in her 50s with a bad knee.  Be sure any program you take on is appropriate and safe for you (and if you have an “bad” joints go see someone about them!!)

Your plan should progress every 2 or 3 weeks to get harder.  That’s because your body is an adaption machine.  The same characteristics that allow man to live all around the world and survive in so many varying conditions also allow you to go from couch potato to super man… but just like it took progressively “bad” habits to get you like you are now, you want progressively “good” exercise to get you back.  Progression can mean make your exercise more complicated/compound, faster, heavier, or more aggressive in another way (we’ll get to that in a minute).

If you’re strength training twice a week and doing cardio twice a week that’s a good start; but if, in the  Know Your Workout: Getting Started exercise, you only drilled down to twice a week don’t panic.  Try to get in both strength and cardio when you go and maybe add a 3rd day per week in a month or so.

Weight Loss Circuit

“But Darlene, what the hell do I actually do at the gym!?”

Great question, internet!  Short answer: circuits!  The best strength workout for weight loss is circuits. While you’re lifting you’re keeping your heart rate up and burning more calories and simultaneously putting the stress on your muscles that will cause them to get stronger.  Stronger muscles burn more calories at rest, meaning you’ll start burning more while you’re just sitting at your desk or sleeping.  You’re also challenging your cardiovascular system, meaning your cardio workout will be progressed more quickly too.

The Exercises

*A quick point of clarity: many people get confused when they hear to keep their back “straight” – does that mean vertical?  Flat (no curve)? How it looks when I stand?  Huh?  For the purposes of this post I’ll use the phrase “neutral spine” to mean the natural curve of your spine.  Whether you’re moving or not, your lower back should maintain its natural curve.  If you’re not able to move properly through the hip that will be really hard – if you can’t keep the natural curve through movement go ask a trainer for help before you hurt your back working out.

Your grandma said never to slouch.


A squat is one of the most classic, basic, and progress-able exercises (and functional too); but it’s also one of the hardest for most people to do properly.   Keeping your spine neutral and your feet shoulder width apart with toes pointing forward, squat down as far as you can with your heels on the floor and stand right back up.  If you’re able to get more than half way to the floor and it’s not hard then pick up some dumb bells to add weight.  If you aren’t able to get down very far, or keep your spine neutral, or it’s difficult already just use your own body weight.

If you only get half way down it works your quads (front of the thigh) and butt; if you get more than half way it works your hamstrings (back of the thigh) and calves too.

Keep your heels down and your shoulders over your heels.

Shoulder Press

There are plenty of names for this exercise, but we’ll stick with simply Shoulder Press.  Pick up light dumb bells (start with 5lbs if you’ve never done this before).  Hold them with your elbows close to your waist and the dumb bells near your shoulder, palms in toward your ears (this is starting position).  Engage your core (imagine your sucking your belly in to put on pants that are too tight). Press the dumb bells straight up so they end over your head, hand stacked over elbow and shoulder.  Return to start.  Repeat.

If repetitions 8 to 10 aren’t challenging to complete, bump up the weight.  Works arms and, if you don’t arch your back and are lifting heavy enough, your core when the weight is over your head.

They’re skeletons because I want you to see them standing up straight; not because I want you to be skin & bones.

Offset Pullup

If you don’t have a gym with an offset machine then you can use a pullup bar and a stable chair or box.  Put the chair or box in front of you and a foot on the box/chair.  Push down just enough on your foot to take the edge off.

Most gyms have an offset machine – these machines work differently than other weight machines.  With most weight machines the more you put on the heavier it is; with this machine the more you put on the easier it is because it offsets your own body weight.  Subtract the weight on the machine from how much you weight and that’s how much you are lifting.  Stand or kneel on the machine and pull!  Works arms, shoulders, and core.

Unlike other cable machines you’re offsetting your body weight, not lifting the weights themselves.


Lie on the floor face up with your feet flat on the floor.  Squeeze your butt as you lift your hips as high up as you can while keeping your back straight.  Lower and repeat.  Works your hamstrings (most people need to) and your booty!

Most people think this is a “core” exercise; but it’s not! It’s for hamstrings and glutes.

Step Up

You can do these at home with the stairs or with boxes at the gym.

Stairs – Go up on every other step, trying to keep your knee straight over your toes and your foot straight.  When you step through don’t allow your hip to “hitch” up, try to pull yourself up on the upper leg and squeeze your butt on the way through

Boxes – Set up the boxes so they’re just below knee height and follow the instructions for the stairs above.  Don’t let yourself push off the foot on the floor.  Step up and down with the same foot and then do the other leg.

Seated Cable Row

Sit up straight and move your arms, not your back.

For this one you need a gym with a cable column.  If you don’t have access to a gym you can do a bent over row instead, but for beginners a cable row is preferable as its easier to stabilize your back.

Keeping your feet flat on the floor and sitting on the bench of a cable column grab the handles and sit up straight.  You should be far enough away that when you extend your arms the weights aren’t hitting the stack.  Keeping your spine neutral and as long as possible pull with your arms so your elbows go wide.  You should not bow or roll back from the waist or hips; only your shoulders and arms should move.  Return to starting position and repeat.

Modified Pushup

Using a wall, table, couch back, or bench find the angle where doing 10 pushups will be hard for you to finish.  Be sure to keep your hips forward so your body stays in a straight line.


Hold the top position of a pushup by keeping your thighs, butt, and core (abs and back muscles) engaged.

Remember: every exercise can be a core exercise. To activate your core imagine you’re trying to slip on jeans that wont button.

The Circuit

Do 15 reps. If reps 8 through 10 aren’t hard to complete add more weight or make it harder another way (in a future post I’ll cover how to progress and make it harder)

Circuit 1:
Shoulder Press
Offset Pullup

Circuit 2:
Step Up (or every other step stairs)
Cable Row
Modified pushup
Plank 30 seconds

None of these movements should hurt to do (though they might make you sore tomorrow). If they do you might be doing them wrong. Ask a trainer or friend to spot you and get feedback on your form.

For cardio twice a week, if you’ve not been active start with keeping a steady “huffing and puffing” pace for 20 minutes each time.

After 2 weeks make one of them an interval: Start off “huffing and puffing” for 5 minutes.  After 5 minutes up the machine to “wow, this is hard” for 2 minutes.  Repeat 3 times, then cool down “huffing and puffing” 5 minutes.  After 2 weeks of this interval, up to 3 minutes of “wow, this is hard”.

6 thoughts on “Know Your Workout: Basic Training for Fat Loss

  1. xdhaas says:

    Good overview of the basics. One comment though.. In your squat pic (quite the artist, btw 😉 ) it shows the individual with their knees passed their toes. I think perhaps they need to bring their little ball butt back a bit and get those knees back further.

    • UrbanAmazon says:

      Glad you like my little stick ladies 😉 A good point about the squat; though the “toe question” is one of debate in the training community at large. For many beginners getting their weight back far enough is difficult because their glues and hammies are too atrophied. Certainly I wouldn’t suggest weighting a squat until someone had proper form. My focus for this post was maintaining a neutral spine and learning a hip hinge; but once someone masters that, yeah! Get that ass back!

  2. […] done with much more weight and shorter reps.  Use the same exercises outlined in the circuit from Know Your Workout: Basic Training For Fat Loss , but with one key difference: chance the reps and […]

  3. Revatio says:

    Hi there! I know this is somewhat off topic but I was wondering if you knew where I could locate a captcha plugin for my comment form?
    I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m having difficulty finding one?
    Thanks a lot!

  4. Fascinating blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere?
    A design like yours with a few simple adjustements would really make my blog jump out.
    Please let me know where you got your design. Thanks a lot

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