Losing fat isn’t just about cardio; strength training plays a crucial role, too. While these exercises might be dreaded for their intensity, they are remarkably effective for burning fat and building muscle. Deadlifts, squats, lunges, and dumbbell movements are all forms of weightlifting that can result in considerable calories burned. A person’s body weight, the intensity of their weightlifting workout, and the length of their exercise all play a role in determining the precise number of calories expended. Here’s a rundown of the five most challenging yet rewarding strength training exercises for fat loss.
What is a Deadlift?
A deadlift is a weightlifting exercise where one lifts a loaded barbell or bar off the ground to the level of the hips and then sets it back down. It is one of the three canonical powerlifting exercises, along with the squat and bench press.
How to Perform a Deadlift:
- Starting Position: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, with the barbell over your feet. Your shins should be about an inch away from the bar.
- Grip and Posture: Bend at the hips and knees, and grab the bar with a grip slightly wider than shoulder-width (either overhand or a mixed grip). Keep your back straight, chest up, and your shoulders slightly in front of the bar.
- Lifting the Bar: Drive through your heels to lift the bar. Keep the bar close to your body, your back straight, and your hips and shoulders rising at the same rate.
- The Lockout: Once the bar passes your knees, pull your shoulders back and drive your hips forward to stand up straight. Do not lean back at the top.
- Lowering the Bar: Reverse the motion by bending at the hips to lower the bar to the floor, maintaining a straight back.
Why Deadlift is Amazing for Losing Fat:
- Engages Multiple Muscle Groups: Deadlift is fantastic for you to shred fat fast. Deadlifts work numerous muscles at once – including the glutes, hamstrings, lower and upper back, core, and forearms. This comprehensive muscle engagement leads to higher energy expenditure.
- Boosts Metabolic Rate: By working large muscle groups, deadlifts help build lean muscle mass. More muscle mass increases your resting metabolic rate, meaning you burn more calories even when not exercising.
- Enhanced Hormonal Response: Deadlift is one of the best compound exercises on the planet. Compound movements like deadlifts induce a greater hormonal response, releasing growth hormones and testosterone, which are key for muscle growth and fat loss.
- Improves Functional Strength: Deadlifts mimic natural body movements like bending and lifting, improving functional strength, which can lead to more active daily life and further calorie burn.
- High Energy Expenditure: Due to the intensity and the amount of muscle engagement, deadlifts burn a significant amount of calories during and after the workout, contributing to fat loss.
- Versatility: Deadlift variations can target different muscle groups and offer different benefits, making them a versatile tool in any fat loss and strength training program.
- Always warm up before lifting heavy weights.
- Focus on form over weight to avoid injury.
- Consider working with a trainer to learn proper technique, especially when starting out.
What is a Squat?
A squat is a fundamental strength exercise that involves lowering the hips from a standing position and then standing back up. Primarily targeting the thighs, hips, and buttocks, squats also engage the quadriceps, hamstrings, and core muscles.
How to Perform a Squat:
- Starting Position: Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, toes pointing slightly outward.
- Descent: Initiate the movement by pushing your hips back and bending your knees. Keep your chest up, back straight, and knees tracking over your toes.
- Depth: Lower yourself until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor, deeper if your flexibility allows.
- Ascent: Drive through your heels to return to the starting position, extending your hips and knees.
Why Squats are Amazing for Losing Fat:
- Engages Major Muscle Groups: Squats, often called the king of free weight training, work large muscles like the glutes, quads, and hamstrings. Larger muscles require more energy to move, which means more calories burned.
- Increases Muscle Mass and Metabolic Rate: Building muscle through squats increases your resting metabolic rate, meaning you burn more calories even when not exercising.
- Enhanced Hormone Release: Squats can lead to an increase in the production of anabolic hormones like testosterone and growth hormone, which are vital for muscle growth and fat loss.
- Evidence-Based Benefits: Research has shown that compound exercises like squats can be more effective for fat burning compared to isolation exercises. A study in the “Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research” found that exercises like squats stimulate significantly higher testosterone and growth hormone levels compared to exercises that don’t engage as many large muscle groups.
- Afterburn Effect: High-intensity training like squats can result in Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC), where your body continues to burn calories at an elevated rate after the workout.
- Ensure proper form to avoid injury.
- Start with bodyweight squats if you’re a beginner, gradually progressing to adding weights.
- Consult with a fitness professional for personalized guidance.
What is a Pull-Up?
A pull-up is an upper-body strength exercise where you hang from a bar using your hands and pull yourself up until your chin is above the bar. This exercise primarily targets the back muscles, specifically the latissimus dorsi, and engages the biceps, shoulders, and core.
How to Perform a Pull-Up:
- Grip: Grab the pull-up bar with an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Starting Position: Hang from the bar with your arms fully extended, legs off the ground.
- Pulling Up: Pull yourself up by bending your elbows and driving them to the floor. Keep your core engaged, and avoid swinging your legs.
- Chin Over the Bar: Continue to pull until your chin is above the bar.
- Lowering Down: Lower yourself back to the starting position in a controlled manner.
Why Pull-Ups are Amazing for Losing Fat:
- Engages Multiple Muscle Groups: With just one pull, you actively work most of your back muscles, core, and arms. Engaging multiple muscle groups leads to higher calorie expenditure.
- Evidence of Effectiveness: Studies have shown that compound exercises like pull-ups can stimulate more muscle groups and lead to greater hormone release (like growth hormone and testosterone), which are important for muscle growth and fat loss. A study published in “The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research” found that exercises engaging larger muscle groups at high intensity were effective in promoting muscle growth and fat loss.
- Calorie Burning: For maximal results, I suggest you focus on reps. If you increase your rep count gradually, you’ll see results. If you improve yourself in this area, your belly fat will melt off, and your back muscles will grow. There is no exercise I recommend more.
- Start with assisted pull-ups if you can’t perform a standard pull-up.
- Focus on form to avoid strain or injury.
- Gradually increase intensity and volume to prevent overtraining.
What are Hip Thrusts?
Hip thrusts are a strength training exercise targeted explicitly at developing glute strength and power. It involves moving the hips upward while the upper back and shoulders are supported on a bench or stable surface. This exercise primarily targets the gluteus maximus, the largest muscle in the body, and also engages the hamstrings and core.
How to Perform Hip Thrusts:
- Setup: Sit on the ground with a bench directly behind you. Have a barbell over your legs. Lean back against the bench so your shoulder blades are near the top of it.
- Starting Position: Roll the barbell over your hips. Plant your feet flat on the ground, hip-width apart.
- The Thrust: Drive through your heels, extending your hips vertically. Keep your chin tucked and spine neutral. Thrust until your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.
- Pause and Lower: Pause at the top, then lower your hips back to the starting position.
Why Hip Thrusts are Amazing for Losing Fat:
- Glute Activation: The glutes are a large muscle group; activating them can increase overall calorie expenditure. Strong glutes can improve metabolic rate, aiding in fat loss.
- Muscle Building and Metabolic Rate: Building muscle in the glutes increases your resting metabolic rate. More muscle mass means more calories burned at rest.
- Functional Strength: Strong glutes are crucial for everyday movements like walking, climbing stairs, and lifting objects. Improving functional strength can lead to a more active daily life and further calorie burn.
- Scientific Evidence: Research supports that exercises targeting large muscle groups can significantly impact fat loss. A study in the “Journal of Applied Physiology” found that lower body resistance training, like hip thrusts, was effective in increasing lean muscle mass and decreasing fat mass.
- Versatility: Hip thrusts can be done with or without weights, making them suitable for all fitness levels. Variations can target different aspects of the glutes and hamstrings.
- EPOC Effect: High-intensity resistance training like hip thrusts can lead to Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC), where your body continues to burn calories at a higher rate after the workout.
- Start without weight to learn proper form.
- Use a padded barbell or pad to protect your hips.
- Ensure the feet are positioned correctly to avoid excessive strain on the knees.
What is a Chest Press?
The chest press is a strength training exercise that targets the muscles of the chest, arms, and shoulders. It involves pushing a weight away from the chest, either with dumbbells, a barbell or on a machine. The primary muscles worked are the pectorals (chest muscles), triceps (back of the arms), and deltoids (shoulders).
How to Perform a Chest Press:
- Setup for Dumbbell Chest Press:
- Lie on a flat bench, holding a dumbbell in each hand at chest level.
- Position your feet flat on the floor for stability.
- The Press:
- Push the weights upwards until your arms are extended directly above your chest. Do not lock your elbows.
- Keep your wrists straight, and avoid arching your back excessively.
- Lowering the Weights:
- Slowly lower the dumbbells to the starting position, creating a 90-degree angle in your elbows.
- Ensure a controlled movement without letting the dumbbells touch your chest.
Why Chest Press is Amazing for Losing Fat:
- Engages Major Muscle Groups: The chest press works large muscles like the chest, shoulders, and arms. Engaging multiple muscle groups simultaneously leads to higher energy expenditure and calorie burning.
- Versatility and Variation: There are various forms of the chest press (e.g., bench press, machine press, incline/decline press), which allows for targeting different parts of the chest and arms, keeping the workout interesting and challenging.
- Evidence of Effectiveness: Research has shown that compound upper-body exercises like the chest press can be effective in promoting overall muscle growth and fat loss. Increasing muscle mass can also help you look leaner and more toned, which can boost your confidence and motivation to continue working towards your weight loss goals. You’ll gain muscle and lose fat, helping you burn more calories while resting.
- EPOC Effect: Resistance training exercises like the chest press can lead to Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC), where your body continues to burn calories at a higher rate after the workout.
- Start with a weight that allows you to maintain proper form.
- Use a spotter if lifting heavy weights, especially with barbells.
- Avoid dropping your elbows too low to prevent shoulder strain.
March is the founder and owner of The Barbell Beauties which she started in 2015. She is from the Philippines and currently lives in beautiful Thailand with her American husband and daughter. She is an avid Crossfitter and has just started her journey into Muay Thai (kickboxing).