There are three methods that can be used to lose weight when weight lifting. Two of them involve how you split up your major muscle groups, and the third involves incorporating cardio into your weight training routine. All of them are effective for weight loss. The one you use depends on your experience and training goals.
1. Full-body workouts
Training every major muscle group in the body during one workout would constitute a full-body routine. The major muscle groups are generally defined as the chest, back, shoulders, arms, legs, and abs. This type of training is best for beginners and those that want to reduce body fat. Because you are training every major muscle group, the number of sets you can perform per muscle group is limited. But at the same time, this allows you to train the major muscle groups more often because you are only placing a limited amount of stress on them, typically about three complete workouts per week.
When it comes to losing fat, no workout split is more conducive to weight loss than full-body training routines. Full-body workouts are effective for fat loss because they stimulate the entire body via the nervous system. As training is conducted, the nervous system activates the motor movements of the body. When the motor movements are trained, the entire body becomes more efficient at movement. Another benefit is that a large portion of the body’s muscle mass is stimulated during each workout. This increases the metabolic rate for up to 48 hours after a workout is completed.
My “Primary Workout” provides an example of this type of routine.
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2. Upper-Lower Split training
The next best thing to full-body workouts is upper-lower split training. This type of routine divides the major muscle groups by their location on the body. Just like full-body training, the number to set you can do per muscle group are limited, therefore you will be able to train the major groups more often. However, the advantage over full-body routines is that you can incorporate more volume into your workout, which increases the intensity of the workout, and leads to more calorie burn (but not necessarily more fat burn). Upper-lower splits are typically done four to six times per week, with the most common schedule being four workouts per week alternating on and off days (or two days on, one day off). The four day per week schedule is perfect for those advancing from a three day per week full-body routine.
This method simply incorporates cardio training into your weight training by doing 60 to 90 second intervals of cardio training between your sets. For example, you might do bench step-ups between bench press sets. This allows the muscles in your chest to rest and recover the next set, but takes advantage of the time by stimulating other parts of the body, heart and legs, that are not directly involved in doing the bench press.
Researchers at the University of California at Santa Cruz conducted a study on cardio-acceleration training, and found that this type of training allowed for better recovery both between sets and post-workout, so you get more bang for your buck. You’ll also save the time that you would normally use for cardio before or after your weight training workout.