Full Body Training Part 3: Fat Loss

Full body training reigns king as the ideal way to quickly transform your body, as long as you know how to set it up correctly. In part 1 and part 2 I covered frequency, exercise selection and workout design, along with ways to design a program to build size or strength.

Now, in this final installment of my full body training series, I’m going to tackle fat loss. After all, that’s what most people need because a leaner body makes you look more muscular. Oftentimes, a guy will think he needs to gain mass to look more muscular, but in most cases, he just needs to lose fat. Women who want to get “toned” are simply saying they need to burn fat and build a little muscle – but that muscle must be in the right places to keep their curves intact.

The key to quickly burning fat hinges on the metabolic cost, a measure scientists use to determine how much an exercise disrupts your physiology. This might sound grim, but it’s not. The more you challenge your cardiovascular, muscular, and nervous system, the more energy (calories) it takes to restore that balance over the next 24 hours.

I’ll concede that professional bodybuilders often use body part splits to cut up. Why don’t they follow a full body program since it’ll work better? The answer is simple: bodybuilders don’t need full body training to lose fat since they’re the most diligent dieters in the world. Their fat loss comes from an insanely restrictive diet that 99% of the population could never follow for more than a few days (I include myself in that 99%).

Therefore, your training program must take up the slack where your diet falls short. To stimulate your body to burn fat, there are two things to keep in mind when designing a fat loss training plan, and both have to do with metabolic cost.

1. Boost the metabolic cost of each exercise: A workout is only as good as the exercises it consists of. To ramp up the metabolic cost of an exercise choose compound movements, lift as fast as possible, and use a load that’s heavy enough to stimulate all your muscle fibers (you can’t go wrong with 6-12RM range for fat loss).

2. Boost the metabolic cost of the entire workout: Once you incorporate the above three components to boost the metabolic cost of each exercise, you’re 80% of the way to getting the entire workout dialed in for rapid fat loss. The other factors to keep in mind are rest periods and total volume. The rest periods must be as short as possible, and the set/rep volume must be higher than it is for strength or hypertrophy training. (If halfway through the workout you think the rest periods are too short and the load is a little too heavy, you’ve got everything right.)

To clarify what I mean, I’ll use the chin-up/dip/deadlift circuit as an example. If your goal is to gain maximal strength, the load must be very high; therefore, the volume must be very low. You’ll need complete recovery before repeating an exercise in order to maintain your strength so the rest periods must be longer than what’s optimal for fat loss.

Maximal Strength
1A Chin-up for 3 reps
Rest 45 seconds
1B Dip for 3 reps
Rest 45 seconds
1C Deadlift for 3 reps
Rest 45 seconds and repeat 1A-1C twice more (3 rounds total)

For fat loss, you’ll need more reps per set, more circuits, and shorter rest periods. So that original circuit for maximal strength becomes an awesome fat-burning workout when you turn it into this:

Fat Loss
1A Chin-up for 10 reps
Rest 15 seconds
1B Dip for 10 reps
Rest 15 seconds
1C Deadlift for 10 reps
Rest 15 seconds and repeat 1A-1C seven more times (8 rounds total)

This, by the way, is similar to how I train my MMA client, Ralek Gracie. That’s why I always say that training like a fighter (fast reps, short rest periods, multiple rounds) is one of the best ways to transform your body.

Now, the above example doesn’t allow for complete recovery, even with a circuit-style of training. In other words, you won’t be able to complete 10 reps of each exercise in rounds 2-8 unless you decrease the load. As you know, my goal is to always keep the load as high as possible. So for rounds 2-8 keep the load the same as it was in the first round, but only do as many reps as you can.

The reps in each round will drop off, in other words. Here’s an example:

Round 1: 10 reps
Round 2: 9 reps
Round 3: 7 reps
Round 4: 7 reps
Round 5: 6 reps
Round 6: 5 reps
Round 7: 5 reps
Round 8: 4 reps

Of course, not all three exercises will drop of at the same rate, and that’s fine. It doesn’t matter how many reps you get as long as the load stays constant. The cool part about not having a target number of reps per set is that you’ll always be doing as much as your body can at that moment – no more, no less.

This is the most effective way I’ve found to train for fat loss, and that’s why it’s one of the primary methods I use in Body of F.I.R.E.

Two or three of these circuits per week is great for burning fat. Remember to use different exercises in each workout and vary the load. When the load is high the reps per set are low so you need more circuits. When the load is lighter the reps per set are higher so you need fewer rounds.

Here’s a sample plan for two workouts per week:

1A Bent-over row for 6 reps
Rest 15 seconds
1B Push press for 6 reps
Rest 15 seconds
1C Front squat for 6 reps
Rest 15 seconds
1D Ab-wheel rollout for 6 reps
Rest 15 seconds and repeat 1A-1D nine more times (10 rounds total)

1A Pull-up or pulldown for 10 reps
Rest 15 seconds
1B Clap push-up for 10 reps
Rest 15 seconds
1C Deadlift for 10 reps
Rest 15 seconds
1D Hanging leg raise for 10 reps
Rest 15 seconds and repeat 1A-1D seven more times (8 rounds total)

The other two workouts could be body weight circuits or GPP work such as sled pulls, sledgehammer work, sandbags, etc. Of course, you could add a third weight-training circuit and do one day of GPP as another option. Generally, I favor four workouts per week for fat loss (2 weights + 2 GPP or 3 weights + 1 GPP). If you want to train five times per week do three weight circuits and two GPP circuits.

Stick to these principles and you’ll burn fat and boost athleticism faster than ever before.

Stay focused,

23 thoughts on “Full Body Training Part 3: Fat Loss

  1. This sounds like a killer workout plan, but I’ll bite: What is GPP? (Defining acronyms really helps new readers.)

    CW: GPP means “general physical preparedness.” It’s lingo for any general conditioning exercises that get you in shape.

  2. hi chad another great article.
    i never did circuit style in my workouts i always do Straight sets (full body) with a 2 or 3 min rest between exercises and i want to try it but i wonder training the whole workout in circuit with no rest except the 15, 30, or 45 secs between the sets of the circuit untill you finish the workout is that doable i mean i can get to this ? or i have to start first with more rest between the sets of the circuit and decrease it untill i get to 15 sec?

    CW: You can start with longer rest periods, say, 30 seconds and work your way down to 15 seconds by dropping 5 seconds off the rest each week. However, just try it with 15 seconds. If it’s too tough, lower the load slightly. Your body will adapt fast.

  3. Hey Chad, I just finish bulking up with the full body routine Starting Strength 3×5. For my heaviest sets on squats and bench I wait up to five minutes between sets. I also never do more than three sets (not including warm-ups). If I’m now looking to get cut do you still recommended I do a workout like mentioned above? How would I properly transition?

    I always thought for fat loss you want high intensity, as in lift with your heaviest weights because then you’ll keep the muscle. Just wondering what you think about that.

    Thanks! Jason

    CW: Yes, do what’s in this post for fat loss. As mentioned, this IS the way to keep the loads as heavy as possible while stimulating your metabolism.

  4. Does any of parts 1-3 apply to women who want to lean out and (as you say) tone up? Every time I read what trainers write (you, Cressey, Romaniello, etc.) I always think ‘Yea, but this is all geared towards men and probably won’t get a WOMAN what a woman wants… for herself.’ But you’ve written for women and I know you get it so…?

    CW: Yes, all this applies equally well to females. The rules of fat loss/muscle growth don’t change with gender.

  5. Chad-as always great workouts. i like to do KB snatches 15 sec on 15 sec off for this type of workouts.Chad if im using compound exercises with a 75% load would 30 seconds on 30 seconds off also work for fat loss while gaining some muscle? thanks for your time

    CW: Those KB snatches are great as GPP work for extra workouts that don’t include heavy weights. Yes, Tabata-style protocols are great, but again, I use those parameters on days you don’t lift heavy.

  6. Chad,

    First off I love the articles. My questions to you are, (1) is this how you train your clients who are getting ready for a bodybuilding show or just pure hypertrophy? (2) I see in some of your articles one of your clients, Nick, does he train in this fashion? (3) I read and saved alot of your articles and bought HIAH. I was thinking of buying Muscle Revolution or is HIAH the newest and making everything else obsolete besides FIRE?


    CW: Yes, full body training is ideal for natural bodybuilders, Nick included. All my books are helpful – none are outdated. Muscle Revolution is for overall fitness, Huge in a Hurry is for hypertrophy, and Body of FIRE is for fat loss.

  7. Chad, thanks for the quick response. In regards to your reply, would that mean in the book HIAH, does the leaning out section, imply what you would have one do for a precontest phase of a bodybuilding phase or something on the order of that?


    CW: Possibly. It depends on how much fat they need to lose, and how quickly. Body of FIRE is the fastest way.

  8. Hi Chad
    Great programming as usual. Just wondering what are your most up to date thoughts on fat loss supplements when training and eating are in check. In the past I have seen you recommend fish oils, bcaa, beta alanine, vegan protein, and acetyl-l carnitine. So just wondering what you are thinking today, Cheers:


    CW: All those work, but keep in mind that any supplement will have little effect unless your macronutrients are in order. Lean protein and vegetables throughout the day are essential.

  9. hi chad.
    the circuit in every workout needs just about a 30min to finish it is that enough for muscle growth?
    and can i do Straight sets instead circuit sets i mean it still be the same benefits for muscle growth? if thats ok should i do like you said just 3 exercises in a workout a pull, a press and a squat, deadlift or launge?

    CW: The duration of your workout means nothing in terms of muscle growth. However, if that 30 minutes seems short you’re not working hard enough. It’s a long 30 minutes.

  10. Hi Chad,
    My question is: If I switch to the fat loss parameters for all my workouts then I’m going to need to significantly lower the weights I use. At least that seems necessary. What I can do for 3 reps in a deadlift is a lot higher than what I can do for 10 reps.
    So after a month of doing this type of fat loss training, how is my maximal strength going to be affected and how long should I expect it to take to get it back to where it was?
    It’s taken me so long to get my deadlift to where it is, much as I want to lose fat I don’t want to have to then go through all that to get my deadlift back up again. What can be done to minimize the strength loss?
    – Eric

    CW: You won’t lose maximal strength. Short cycles of 6-10 reps can actually improve your deadlift since it adds hypertrophy. If by some reason your maximal strength drops, you’ll regain it within a few maximal strength workouts.

  11. Chad,

    I’m curious as to why the reps must be done “fast”. Doesn’t this risk injury? What is it about the speed of the repetition that translates into higher intensity? Thanks

    CW: There’s no risk of injury when you keep perfect form. Reps must be fast to recruit additional muscle fibers – a key component for boosting the metabolic cost and burning fat.

    Remember, fast does not equal poor form.

  12. Chad I have recently completed the BOF program. Would adding the combo’s that you use in the “Cardio Strength” portion of the workouts to the end of my muscle building/strength full body workouts be OK if I still have a decent amount of fat to lose? In other words will performing these exercises right after my workouts hinder my growth in anyway if all else (diet, recovery, etc) is fine?

    CW: Yes, those cardio strength combos are great finishers to boost the metabolic cost of a workout.

  13. Great program as usual. How would you roll this into a full mma program? Mon.Wed. jujitsu, Tue. Thu. mauy thai, friday instructors choice. would two workouts be suitable and on what days would you do them, these would be done in the morn. due to the pace in the evening classes is very taxing. thanks

    CW: Do these circuits twice per week, evenly spaced (eg, Mon/Thur or Tue/Fri). Put the workouts on the days when you have the most energy.

  14. Hey Chad,

    Is this a more effective fat burning routine than Get Lean in your book HIAH? I’m following this routine right now and I love it, but should I follow the Get Lean routine? The rest periods are a lot longer in Get Lean so I feel like I’m not getting as good of a workout, I like this routine you have here but I want to maximize my fat loss. Thanks for your input!

    CW: Rest periods can vary somewhat, even for fat loss. For Get Lean, the loads are heavy and the exercises are challenging, that’s why there are longer rest periods. However, you should always rest as little as possible. You can do Get Lean with shorter rest periods, but as long as you’re following the diet for fat loss you’ll get great results.

  15. The program above is from your program BOF correct? You said that that is the most effective way to burn fat so nothing against your Get Lean program, but could I just follow what you have above?

    What do you suggest my diet be for fat loss? It was a little vague to me in HIAH.

    CW: No, that is not a BOF workout – just a portion of it. Sure, you can follow what I outlined in the post but the full BOF or Get Lean program is better. I cover the diet for fat loss in BOF – HIAH is for gaining muscle, primarily. However, re-read the section in HIAH on the eating for fat loss. I think it’s pretty straightforward. Bottom line for eating for fat loss: focus on lean protein sources and vegetables. Add fish oil and drink plenty of water, too.

  16. What is the fastest way you’ve found to get lean?

    Also, I remember reading that in order to recover from workout to workout you need to decrease the volume for fat loss since you’re on a calorie deficit. But you say here that you need to add more rounds (volume) for fat loss.

    So I was just wondering which one is true?

    CW: The fastest way to get lean is with Body of FIRE. That’s my most effective fat loss plan. You don’t need to decrease your volume over time – it depends on how high your starting intensity was. For fat loss, I prefer to start with a lower intensity and increase it over time to stimulate the metabolism. Also, when I said you need “more rounds” I was referring to the difference between training for maximal strength and fat loss.

  17. just wondering what would the diet be like on a full body training regimen as you’ve described here?
    I’m trying to lose the last ~8 lbs to attain 10% bf and right now carbs are around 80g a day (fairly clean low GI) on a 1600 calorie diet. I’m 5’7 155lbs.

    I know everyone is different so in general would you still say low carb is good or because of the high intensity, you want higher carbs to prevent catabolism of muscle?

    CW: Drop the carbs even lower – 40g per day for 6 days per week. On the seventh day eat 200g of carbs and repeat the process until you reach your goal.

  18. Chad,
    I am currently deployed to Afg. I recently got hooked on your website and have been advertising it amongst all the Marines here. I have just finished the 8 week full body workout you posted on t-nation. I have about 6 weeks before returning to the US and was thinking of now trying this recommendation for cutting. I’m wondering if you favored doing cardio on days between these workouts, and what kind of cardio you would recommend (ie, steady state or hiit?) Or can cardio be done everyday? Also, how many excerices should i be doing? Can I stick with the 4 compound movements and 2 iso?
    Thanks, I really appreciate you taking your time to help us out.

    Cpl Garcia, USMC

    CW: There’s no best time to do cardio. Some like to do it first in the morning, others like it after a workout, some like it on an off day. The key is to do 3-4 sessions per week for 20 minutes at the highest intensity possible. HIIT blows away steady state in every category so stick to it.

  19. Hi!

    Would it be smart to mix up hypertrophy training and fat-loss training? I mean, would it be efficient to have 2 fat-loss sessions and 2 muscle and strength sessions/ week? OR would it just eat my muscles away? My recovery is awesome, so it´s not a question about that.


    CW: That’s a fine plan. The key is to eat for fat loss on the days you train for it (fewer carbs) and consume higher carbs, especially after training, for your hypertrophy workouts.

  20. Chad, I bought a copy of BOF but I’d prefer to lift weights 3 times a week, would it be too much to do 3 days of 6 x 10RM per week, and to follow the rep progressions but over 3 days as the program goes on?

    Thanks for your time.

    CW: If fast fat loss isn’t your goal, you can modify the BOF for 3 weight workouts per week. Right now, the weight workouts are on Monday and Thursday. So you can do this: Monday, Wednesday (Thurs workout), Friday (Monday workout). Do the same each week.

  21. Hi Chad. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us. It truly is appreciated.
    I would love to do circuits but my gym, believe it or not, doesn’t allow them even when there is very few people in there. So instead of doing a circuit could you do the Vince Gironda 8 x 8 keeping the same exercise, load, and rest period but complete each exercise before moving on to the next one?
    Thanks again.

    CW: It’s not ideal, but it will work.

  22. Hi

    Can you add more sets and less reps for each set so you can do more variation. There are so many different things for each body part, I wanted to do 6 or 7 sets per session and maybe 12-8-6 reps per set.

    Also planning on having an A B C routine but doing one of the 3 bigger lifts per session ie deads squats bench. Is having such a range of different sets okay?

    CW: If your body responds well to that approach, it’s ok.

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