Designing a strength training program

Whilst weight loss can be achieved without doing any kind of training or exercise (as the saying going: lbs are lost in the kitchen, oz in the gym), there are big advantages to doing strength training. These include: Positive health and mood effects, and the maintainance of your metabolism by telling your body to burn fat rather than muscle (which will help stop you from putting the weight back on).

KettlebellsWhen designing a training program, the best approach is:

  • Keep it simple.
  • Stick to a few basic fundamental exercises (no isolation exercises such as curls etc)
  • Go heavy but not too heavy
  • Keep the reps down
  • Warm up first using mobility exercises

The human body moves in 5 fundamental ways, which should all be covered to ensure a balanced program.  (Sample exercises would include)

  • Upper body Push (Shoulder press, bench press, press ups)
  • Upper body Pull (Pull ups and rows)
  • Squat (Goblet squat, Lunges, Pistols, front and back squats)
  • Hinge (Deadlifts, Swing)

My programs are in 3 parts, vary the exercises but keep the same structure. I prefer alternating 2 different workouts, training 3 times per week. Change when you feel stale.

Workout structure:

Part 1: Strength

Strength is a skill and should be practiced, with perfect technique.

12 single reps, completed within 15 minutes, resting as necessary. Use approx 60-70% of the estimated maximum weight you think you could lift. Doesn’t matter if you get it a bit wrong.

Add 10% ish every 4 weeks.

Best exercises include:

Deadlifts, Clean and press, Squats, Pull ups, Bench press

Part 2: Heavy couplet

2 exercises done back to back for 5 sets of 5 reps. Keep the weight relatively high. Rest as little as possible after doing both exercises, and not at all between them.

Pick the exercises from any 2 of the push, pull or squat categories above. For example:

  • Pull ups, and press ups
  • Presses and goblet squats
  • Rows and Lunges

Part 3: Finisher

5 rounds of 2 exercises continuously.

Pick either 2 handed heavy Kettlebell swings (assuming good technque) or Burpees, do 20 reps.

Then do 2 minutes of running, skipping, stationary bike, eliptical trainer, rowing or similar, as a medium pace.

Repeat 5 times without resting

Stretch and cool down.


As humans we are built to walk. So do so, often. A long walk every week works wonders and complements any training program.


Important note

The program assumes you are in good health with no existing conditions, you should check with a qualified medical professional before embarking on a new training regime.  You should also thoroughly warm up before hand, and use a personal trainer to ensure you are doing the exercises properly.

Training and its role in weight loss

“Training is exercise with purpose”

Unlike exercise, which is boring, often pointless and invariable hard to stick with, we are interested in giving it purpose and meaning beyond just weight loss, so you need to set goals and challenges that you are training for.

Health benefits

In addition to giving your exercise a purpose, the side effects of a training program, (especially a strength one) include many health benefits, including:

  • It tells your body what you want to be composed of (Muscle or fat)
  • It makes you feel better and healthier
  • Reduced risk of Cardiovascular disease
  • Reduces psychological disorders, and improves mood and self-esteem.
  • Reduces blood pressure
  • Lowers cholesterol and blood sugar
  • Decreases inflammation and related diseases
  • Increases bone density so reduces osteoporosis.

It also acts as a great distraction to suppress appetite when fasting, which is the best way to train when weight loss is the objective.

What to train for, as part of a weight loss program.

Strength training

In a word, Strength! It is critical if you are losing weight that you train to be strong. That’s the same for men and women. The reason is simple, by training to be strong you are telling your body you need your muscles, so to burn fat rather than muscle for energy.

It is important to differentiate strong from big. We are not training to be bigger, we are not bodybuilders, if you want to be big then that is a different type of training.

The importance of muscle

Muscle (and body mass) is predominantly what drives your metabolism. I.e. how many calories your body burns before you do anything. And clearly burning more calories is going to help you lose weight. So it is vital to retain as much muscle mass as possible.

Secondly. One reason that people get fat again after they stop dieting is that their bodies have used muscle as fuel during their weight loss, which means that their metabolism has slowed down. So as soon as they stop eating a restrictive diet and go back to eating how they used to, their bodies and hormones thinking they have been starving and do their best to store the excess calories (from a lowered metabolism) as fat.

In addition to training for strength, I would also suggest a great way to lose fat is to do what we were designed to do, specifically walk. Get out into the countryside and go hiking. Long walks (especially with hills and picnics) are good for the soul and a great activity to do as a family or with friends, plus it burns calories without trying too hard.

What not to do.

Despite what you may have been told, long slow cardio such as distance running and cycling, is terrible for fat loss. And in the end you will most likely find that you have become “skinny fat”. The reason for this is that your body predominately burns fat as fuel whilst doing long slow cardio, which tells your body that its OK to burn muscle as its not really needed but fat is really important. So your metabolism slows down, and your body stores fat like crazy. Think Middle aged men in lycra on bikes – not good!

I will post some more specific exercise programs shortly.