Strength Training for Fat Loss & Other Ways to Lose Weight

Strength Training for Fat Loss, Exercise & Ways to Lose Fat

Strength Training for Fat Loss, Exercise & Ways to Lose Fat

Image of female with measuring tape around her waist

There are 1,260,000,000 answers when you do a google search for “how to lose weight.”


Weight loss is one of the most commonly-cited reasons for exercising.

While nutrition is the dominant factor for determining whether a person loses fat, strength training has become a popular complement to diet for achieving fat loss.

In this article, we look at why strength training is essential to losing weight and keeping the weight off. Also, we look at other habits that help burn fat and help with fat loss maintenance. If these topics appeal to you, scroll down!

Before and after image of a person

Fat Loss vs. Weight Loss

Despite exercise’s ability to enhance our happiness, physical health, cognition, and many other important elements, “physical appearance” remains a primary motivator for people who exercise (Zervou et al., 2017).

Physical appearance, from a fitness perspective, is mainly driven by two factors: the amounts of muscle and fat that a person has. A person seeking an enhanced physical appearance typically wants more muscle and less fat.

However, the term “weight loss” is typically used to identify a person’s goal. Weight loss doesn’t distinguish between what type of tissue the person loses. It can be achieved by losing fat and muscle.

Diet changes are the key to losing fat, but when exercise is not included weight loss is the result. Weight loss from dieting alone includes about 20-30% of the lost weight being lean tissue, with most of that being muscle (Cava, Yeat, & Mittendorfer, 2017).

In fact, in some cases, lean tissue loss can make up over 35% of weight loss (Cava et al., 2017)!

What we really want is fat loss. We want to lose fat while maintaining or building muscle, which will also protect us from a large decrease in metabolism and a likelihood of regaining the weight.

How do we avoid weight loss and achieve fat loss? Let’s keep going…

Before and After image of a TPW member
Debbie Nicholls, 60, lost 90 pounds in her first 2 years at The Perfect Workout.

Exercise for Fat Loss

Traditionally, cardio has been the go-to choice for achieving weight loss. This is based on activities such as jogging, cycling, and group exercise classes burning more calories during the activity. Unfortunately, these activities aren’t very efficient for achieving fat loss.

A few studies with participants who were categorized (by body mass index) as “obese” illustrate this:

  • Study 1. Participants in this study performed 2-3 hours per week of walking or jogging (Johnson et al., 2007). After eight months of consistent exercise, the most successful group lost two pounds!
  • Study 2. Women performed an average of nearly four hours of cycling, treadmill walking, and other activities per week (Foster-Schubert et al., 2012). At the end of 12 months, the women lost only 4.5 pounds.

Dozens of hours of cardio over months led to small weight losses for obese individuals. Using cardio as a weight loss tool is similar to using a spoon to dig a large hole. There are better options.

When combining cardio with calorie restriction, more weight loss is achieved, but the problem becomes that what people achieve is weight loss. People lose fat and muscle.

For example, a half-year study of people who dieted and jogged three times per week led to a loss of 2-4 lbs. of lean body mass (Hunter et al., 2008).

Strength training provides a better alternative for a complement to diet for achieving weight loss. When strength training during calorie restriction, people can maintain or even gain muscle while losing fat (Cava, Yeat, & Mittendorfer et al., 2017; Hunter et al., 2008).

Strength training is more effective for minimizing the decrease in metabolism that occurs during weight loss, which makes regaining fat less likely (Hunter et al., 2008).

Strength training also requires a much smaller time commitment, compared to the cardio routines discussed in the studies above.

A key to using strength training for fat loss is the length of rest between exercises. When people move quickly between exercises, weight training produces a noticeable increase in metabolism for anywhere from 14 hours to three days after the workout (Greer et al., 2021; Heden et al., 2011). Specifically, resting 30 seconds or less between exercises is connected with short-term metabolic spikes and better overall fat loss outcomes (Waller, Miller, & Hannon, 2011).

Image of different kinds of protein

Other Things That Help With Fat Loss

Calorie restriction is the driver of fat loss. Strength training preserves muscle and metabolism while fat is lost. A few other approaches help complement these efforts, providing a better and more sustainable outcome:

High-protein diet

While losing fat, eating a high-protein diet maintains muscle mass (Cava, Yeat, & Mittendorfer, 2017). Recommendations vary, ranging from recommending around 0.7-1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day during calorie restriction.

Reducing sitting time

Sitting for many hours leads to a reduction in activity of lipoprotein lipase (LPL), which helps with the metabolism of fat (Healy et al., 2008). While it’s not concretely proven at this time, sitting fewer hours, or having more interruptions to sitting marathons, is connected with better outcomes related to fat loss (Healy et al., 2008).


Some supplements show a small weight loss benefit. Consuming at least 1.5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids can enhance fat loss, specifically in the midsection (Thorsdottir et al., 2007). Adding fiber, anywhere from 5-25 grams per day, can lead to an additional 3-6 lbs. lost (Anderson et al., 2009).

Image of a trainer coaching a member during ab exercises

Key Takeaways

While “weight loss” is the common verbiage, we actually want fat loss. Fat loss means we are losing what we don’t want (excess body fat) while keeping what we do want (muscle mass).

  • Restricting calories is the most effective method for achieving fat loss, but we shouldn’t rely on that alone.
  • When it comes to exercise, cardio is a very inefficient way to lose fat and doesn’t prevent the loss of muscle.
  • Strength training is a much more efficient complement and can help maintain or build muscle while fat is lost. The most important part of weight training to lose fat might be to hustle between exercises, which aids the post-workout increase in metabolism.
  • A few other practices can help with maximizing fat loss while maintaining muscle: eating a high-protein diet, taking omega-3 and/or fiber supplements, and reducing uninterrupted sitting time.

However, the key to effective fat loss is to restrict calories while regularly strength training.

To learn more about working with a Trainer at The Perfect Workout, start by finding a studio near you today.

  • Anderson, J. W., Baird, P., Davis, R. H., Ferreri, S., Knudtson, M., Koraym, A., … & Williams, C. L. (2009). Health benefits of dietary fiber. Nutrition Reviews, 67(4), 188-205.
  • Cava, E., Yeat, N.C., & Mittendorfer, B. (2017). Preserving healthy muscle during weight loss. Advances in Nutrition, 8(30), 511-519.
  • Foster‐Schubert, K. E., Alfano, C. M., Duggan, C. R., Xiao, L., Campbell, K. L., Kong, A., … & McTiernan, A. (2012). Effect of diet and exercise, alone or combined, on weight and body composition in overweight‐to‐obese postmenopausal women. Obesity, 20(8), 1628-1638.
  • Greer, B. K., O’Brien, J., Hornbuckle, L. M., & Panton, L. B. (2021). EPOC Comparison between resistance training and high-intensity interval training in aerobically fit women. International Journal of Exercise Science, 14(2), 1027.
  • Healy, G. N., Dunstan, D. W., Salmon, J., Cerin, E., Shaw, J. E., Zimmet, P. Z., & Owen, N. (2008). Breaks in sedentary time: beneficial associations with metabolic risk. Diabetes Care, 31(4), 661-666.
  • Heden, T., Lox, C., Rose, P., Reid, S., & Kik, E.P. (2011). One-set resistance training elevates energy expenditure for 72 h similar to three sets. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 111(3), 477-484.
  • Johnson, J. L., Slentz, C. A., Houmard, J. A., Samsa, G. P., Duscha, B. D., Aiken, L. B., … & Kraus, W. E. (2007). Exercise training amount and intensity effects on metabolic syndrome (from Studies of a Targeted Risk Reduction Intervention through Defined Exercise). The American Journal of Cardiology, 100(12), 1759-1766.
  • Thorsdottir, I., Tomasson, H., Gunnarsdottir, I., Gisladottir, E., Kiely, M., Parra, M. D., … & Martinez, J. A. (2007). Randomized trial of weight-loss-diets for young adults varying in fish and fish oil content. International Journal of Obesity, 31(10), 1560-1566.
  • Waller, M., Miller, J., & Hannon, J. (2011). Resistance circuit training: Its application for the adult population. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 33(1), 16-22.
  • Zervou, F., Stavrou, N. A., Koehn, S., Zounhia, K., & Psychountaki, M. (2017). Motives for exercise participation: The role of individual and psychological characteristics. Cogent Psychology, 4(1), 1345141.

Featured Trainer: Valerie Anderson

Featured Trainer: Valerie Anderson

For over 4 years, Valerie Anderson has helped her members with their fitness journeys. But this journey starts with Valerie’s own mission to work on her health and body…
Image of San Mateo Facility Manager Valerie Anderson

Valerie began working on her own personal fitness in 2016. She researched different types of exercises to educate herself on how to work out. Once she started seeing results, Valerie knew it was something she wanted to help other people achieve as well.

After becoming a Certified Personal Trainer and working with others, Valerie was introduced to a very specific niche of training… 1-on-1 slow-motion strength training.

“It wasn’t like anything else I'd ever tried before. It was very challenging, but in a good way. I liked that I could take myself out of my comfort zone and challenge myself to make progress and gain strength.”

Valerie was ultimately chosen to join The Perfect Workout’s Bay Area training team, where she now manages and trains at the San Mateo location.

Image of Valerie coaching a member on the leg press

Before we dive into how impactful Valerie has been to her member’s lives, let’s celebrate a few wins she experienced herself…

“I've seen a lot of personal results from slow-motion training. I've gotten significantly stronger, and my body composition has changed by doing so.

I’ve lost over 30 pounds.”

Image of Valerie handing a glass of water to a member

Valerie truly enjoys working 1-on-1 with members, and being able to build a friendship is one of the biggest perks.

“Coaching comes first. But having that sweet balance between coach and friend is really nice. Having a relationship with my members is what keeps me coming every single day and keeps me motivated to help them.”

Speaking of motivating and helping them. Here are a few of those stories!

“One of the first members I worked with – I was able to help her lose 20 pounds through nutritional guidance and helping her gain strength and change her body composition.

I was able to help another member significantly increase her leg press weight to be over 300 pounds. It's very satisfying to know that I've been able to help someone really achieve their goals.”

One of the things Valerie loves most about all the members she works with is helping them build strength and stability. The results they achieve inside the studio help them to feel more confident outside of the studio, in their daily tasks and overcoming fears like tripping or falling.

Image of Valeria coaching a member on the Lat Pulldown machine

The foundation of HIT exercise is the same from workout to workout, but each trainer is different. You’ll get different styles of coaching, different critiques, and varying advice. Here’s sound sage advice from Valerie:

“The benefit of having a trainer during your workout is that someone is always going to push you more than you'll push yourself. Working out can be uncomfortable; it can be challenging. So when you have someone there to guide you safely with good form, pace, and breathing, you know that you're going to get a solid workout and that you're not going to be hurting yourself in the process.


This is a perfect workout for a reason.”


Valerie Anderson
San Mateo, CA
The Perfect Workout Trainer & Facility Manager

Strength Training and Brain Health: Prevent Alzheimer’s & Dementia

Strength Training and Brain Health: Prevent Alzheimer's & Dementia

Strength Training and Brain Health: Prevent Alzheimer's & Dementia

Image of female member training on the leg press with a trainer coaching her

The scariest thing to many older adults is the possibility of mentally slipping.

Forgetting your family, forgetting how to do simple tasks, and forgetting who you are might be one of the most terrifying side effects of aging. But it doesn’t have to be.

Although there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to preventing mental diseases like Alzeimers or dementia, there is one thing scientifically shown to decrease the chances of cognitive decline…

Strength Training.

Maintain Cognitive Function

When you look into the future you want to see a life filled with family, hobbies, adventure, and the ability to do what you want. Think of this as a high quality life.

Part of having a high quality of life is possessing the mental capacity necessary to keep up with that vision of the future. For this we need to have a healthy memory, awareness, and ability to shift focus within seconds.

In terms of health, strength training is usually discussed as an effective treatment for building bone density, controlling blood sugar, and improving the cardiovascular system as a whole.

However, research over the past few years is showing that strength training is also an effective method for improving cognitive function, even in those who show signs of decline.

Cognitive decline is often linked with Alzeheimer’s disease and dementia.
“Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease that is caused by complex brain changes following cell damage. It leads to dementia symptoms that gradually worsen over time. The most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s is trouble remembering new information.” (

“Dementia describes a group of symptoms associated with a decline in memory, reasoning or other thinking skills. Many different types of dementia exist, and many conditions cause it. Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for 60-80% of dementia cases.” (

Neither are considered a normal part of aging, which allows for preventative action to be taken.

Improving Existing Cognitive Decline

Strength training is proven to help prevent cognitive issues, as well as improve cognition in those who already are experiencing decline.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia have performed a few studies related to this. Each study included women only. The 2010 study lasted one year with the participants split into three groups:

  • strength training once per week
  • twice per week
  • or balance activities and light resistance movements (the control group) twice per week

The strength training group trained intensely, typically fatiguing to the point of “muscle success” in about six to eight repetitions.

A couple of cognitive tests were performed before and after the year of training,

  • The Stroop Test – a timed test seeing how quickly the participant can read the names of colors when font colors don’t match the name. This measures selective attention, cognitive flexibility, and processing speed.
  • Verbal Digit Span Test – a test requesting the subjects to repeat sequences of numbers that were told to them, providing an assessment of memory.
  • Trail Marker Tests – a series of tests that provide an assessment of several cognitive skills, including the speed at which a person can switch from one focused task to another.

At the end of the study, cognitive performance declined slightly in the control group, but
improved by 11 to 13% in the strength training groups.

Despite being an average of 70 years old, the women who performed strength training became mentally sharper over the 12-month period.

In addition, peak muscle power, the key attribute allowing seniors to perform challenging daily tasks, increased by 13% in the twice-weekly strength group.

Another study featured a similar experiment but featured an older group of women who
had mild cognitive impairment (risk factors for dementia). This study lasted six months and also had three groups:

  • twice-weekly strength training group
  • twice- weekly aerobic exercise group
  • control group that performed balance and stretching movements

The strength group improved in their Stroop Test scores, memory, and functional changes were noticed in three brain areas (via MRIs).

The effectiveness of strength training on the mind is not limited to women only. A 2007
study at the Federal University of San Paolo found two and three strength workouts per
week led to similar improvements in men who averaged 68 years old.

The men in this study also experienced less anxiety, depression, confusion, and fatigue at the end of this study.

Image of a female member being coached by a trainer on the triceps machine

Researchers in Australia tested the theory of resistance training having the ability to boost brain power. 68 women and 32 men between the ages of 55 and 86, all with mild cognitive impairment were observed.

They were randomly assigned to two groups. The first group did weight training twice a week for six months, lifting 80% of the maximum amount they could. The second group did stretching exercises.

“All participants were given cognitive tests at the beginning and end of the study and 12 months after they finished the study. The group that did the weight training scored significantly higher at the end of the study than at the beginning and retained that gain at 12 months. The gain in test scores was also greatest for those who had the greatest gains in strength. The scores of the group who performed stretching exercises declined somewhat.”

It's not too late to strive towards improving mental health. With strength training it only takes 20 minutes, twice a week to give you or your loved ones a better chance at a high quality life.

Strength Training Improves Memory

Strength training is shown to be a holistic solution to improving brain function and cognition in general. Here are more studies:

One study done in 2017 looked at adults at least 55 years old, and had:

  • one group doing strength training
  • another group doing some computer version of brain training (puzzles, sudoku, etc.)
  • another group doing stretching, or something that hadn't been shown to improve brain function. (control group)

After six months, strength training by itself was the most effective intervention in all the major areas, including improvements in memory and improvements in Alzheimer's disease score- which predicts the risk for developing Alzheimer's.

You would think “brain training” would have been the winner, but strength training beat it.

In one study, adults in senior living facilities were evaluated on tasks of executive functioning before and after a month-long strengthening, non-aerobic exercise program.

“A total of 16 participants who engaged in such exercise showed significantly improved scores on Digits Backward and Stroop C tasks when compared to 16 participants who were on an exercise waiting list.”

Another interesting study found that cognitive decline is associated with a severe fear of falling: a common fear amongst many older adults.

What’s an easy solution to prevention of falling as well as cognitive decline?

Slow-motion strength training!

Image of a trainer coaching a female member at The Perfect Workout

Reduce Risk of Dementia

According to the CDC, there are things you can do to reduce risk of getting dementia, including:

  • Maintain a healthy blood pressure level.
    • Slow-motion strength training is proven to lower blood pressure and we’ve helped many clients, like John Abel, get off their blood pressure medication.
  • Manage cholesterol levels with exercise and, if needed, cholesterol medications.
  • Keep blood sugar within a healthy range.
  • Get to and maintain a healthy weight.
    • By adding lean muscle mass, your body naturally has the ability to burn more calories, making it easier to lose and maintain weight.
    • Read about some of our success stories here.
  • Reduce hazards in your environment that could lead to falls or head injury.
    • By getting your body stronger with strength training you also improve your balance and mobility, making falls less likely.
  • Exercise, including aerobic physical activity.
    • Did you know you can get all the cardiovascular benefits you need from a 20-minute strength training session? Learn More.
  • Get good quality sleep.
    • Strength training improves your ability to fall asleep quicker and quality of sleep
  • Keep your mind active and stimulated, with challenging tasks such as learning a new activity.

The solution is simple

Looking at the research above, strength training offers a unique ability to improve cognitive function in a number of ways, even when signs of decline exist. This benefit can be attained in as little as just one intense workout per week.

Considering that strength training requires minimal time, strengthens bones and muscles, improves cardiovascular health, and the ability to process, recall, and react to life’s demands, it’s hard to see why anyone wouldn’t want to participate.

  • Liu-Ambrose, T., Nagamatsu, L. S., Graf, P., Beattie, B. L., Ashe, M. C., & Handy, T.C. (2010). Resistance training and executive functions: a 12-month randomized controlled trial. Archives of internal medicine, 170(2), 170.
  • Nagamatsu, L. S., Handy, T. C., Hsu, C. L., Voss, M., & Liu-Ambrose, T. (2012). Resistance training promotes cognitive and functional brain plasticity in seniors with probable mild cognitive impairment. Archives of internal medicine, 172(8), 666-668.
  • Cassilhas, R. C., Viana, V. A., Grassmann, V., Santos, R. T., Santos, R. F., Tufik, S. E. R. G. I. O., & Mello, M. T. (2007). The impact of resistance exercise on the cognitive function of the elderly. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 39(8), 1401.

Member Feature Nancy Schlesinger

50lbs Down and Keeping it Off in Her 60s

50lbs Down and Keeping it Off in Her 60s

Picture of a female member being coached by a trainer on the leg press

At 58, Nancy was overweight, had knee problems, and struggled to keep up when traveling.

Now at 63, none of those things hold her back from living the life she wants. Here is her story…

“I started coming to The Perfect Workout because I wanted to lose weight. I was considerably heavier. And I also had some health issues that I wanted to deal with in terms of endurance.

I wanted to be able to do more.”

As a Girl Scout Troop Leader and avid traveler, it was important for Nancy to stay physically active. But, she had some nagging issues getting in the way…

“I wanted to be able to do more hiking with my Girl Scout troop. Because I have problems with my knee, I could go uphill, but not downhill.

And when we went on our trip to Switzerland, I had a hard time at the higher elevations, especially keeping up with the group.

There were things that I was afraid to try, because of my size and my bad coordination. I was not really comfortable with rappelling and doing other fun stuff that other people got to do.”

Prior to joining The Perfect Workout, Nancy tried exercising by herself. Even though she had access to a gym, she experienced some roadblocks.

“I tried working out in a gym and we have an elliptical machine at home, but I stuck with neither of them.

I think I had a lot of fear about not knowing what was good for me to do… What was the right thing to do?

When I went to the gym, I was afraid to raise my weights, because I didn't know if I would hurt myself.

I actually did hurt myself on a machine when I was trying to workout on my own at a gym. And it took me months to get over that.

I would spend hours there and not see any results.”

When Nancy heard about The Perfect Workout on the radio she was immediately intrigued by two things: The San Mateo studio was near her home, and it was only 20 minutes, twice a week.

By the third session, she was ready to become a member.

“I felt confident the trainer was going to keep me safe, which was a big issue for me. I liked that it was small, there wasn't a crowd of people there. I felt like this was something I can do.”

Over the past 5 years, Nancy has achieved all the goals she set when she first joined The Perfect Workout. Remember that “bad knee” that prevented her from hiking and rappelling? It’s no longer holding her back…

“I'm lifting 300 pounds with my legs. Even though I have a bad knee. That's my biggest brag!

I can carry a lot more things. I can move more easily. I fit into smaller spaces, even those little bitty airplane seats!”

image of a trainer show a member their progress chart with a quote bubble next to them

In total, Nancy has lost about 50 pounds. In addition to losing weight, she’s increased her lean muscle mass and bone strength. Both of which will help her maintain her fat loss, stamina, and strength for years to come.

“To me The Perfect Workout really is perfect. I don't have to think about all the little details that you would if you're working out on your own. Having the trainer there by your side, watching your form is so valuable.

I think a lot of that hesitancy to workout before was often fear that I was going to do something wrong, that either I wouldn't get any results or I'd hurt myself.

As you get older, you don't have the same body confidence that you might have when you were younger. But when you have your trainer there then they can help you stay focused.

This is not like anything else I've ever done…

I feel like I'm a lot stronger. I’ve got better coordination and balance.

And I really changed the way my body looks. It's really wonderful.”

Nancy S. 63
The Perfect Workout Member
San Mateo, CA

If you are new to The Perfect Workout, try a workout with us and Find a Studio Near You

High-Intensity Resistance Training for Beginners

High-Intensity Resistance Training for Beginners. Safe and Effective Strength Training

High-Intensity Resistance Training for Beginners. Safe and Effective Strength Training

A member being coached on how to do bicep curls

If you haven’t strength trained for a while — or ever — the thought of trying it may seem intimidating.

What kind of strength training do I do?
How much weight should I be lifting?
How do I know if I’m doing it right?
What if I hurt myself?
What muscles does this machine work?

So many variables. So many unknowns.

And for a lot of us, that can be enough to keep us from ever trying it.

So, if you are brand new to strength training or are looking to get back into it, this article is for you.

Jump to a Topic:
Should I Strength Train?
High-Intensity Resistance Training
What Muscles Am I Working?
Example HIT Workouts

Should I Strength Train?

You might wonder if strength training is appropriate for your specific circumstances. Maybe you have never strength trained before, or lifting weights makes you nervous. Or perhaps you have injuries or limitations that make exercise feel complicated.

Commonly, we find one of the following is what slows people down from getting started in strength training.

Is Strength Training Safe?

Strength training is extremely safe.

Injuries generally come from broken equipment, unstable exercises, or dropped weights (Gray & Finch, 2015).

However, none of these are issues at The Perfect Workout, being that we don’t use broken equipment or unstable equipment, and any free weights are used under the careful guidance of an expert coach.

Even if you have injuries or are not currently fit, strength training can help in making joints stronger and slowly improve your physical condition (Gray & Finch, 2015; Maestroni et al., 2020).

And as long as you maintain good, proper form, the exercise becomes safer as the muscles become more deeply fatigued. In fact, when using slow-motion strength training, the last reps are the most productive reps performed, and they are also the safest since your muscles are physically unable to produce enough force to strain (assuming form is not broken).

Am I “Too Old” To Start Working Out?

Strength training is safe and beneficial…at all ages. There is no such thing as being “too old” to participate. In fact, a study showed strength training is safe and beneficial for men and women between 85 and 97 years of age (Kryger & Andersen, 2007)!

Not only did no injuries occur in that study, but the participants became substantially stronger and gained muscle.

Is Strength Training Worth It?

Do you want to be healthier, happier, or more fit? We’re going to assume that you want at least one of those if not all three. Strength training can provide all of those benefits.

In fact, strength training can:

  • reduce the risk of common chronic diseases (cancer, diabetes, and heart disease)
  • reduce body fat
  • improve sleep quality
  • reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • build muscle and strength
  • enhance joint health, among other benefits (Maestroni et al., 2020).

High-Intensity Resistance Training

“Resistance training” is another phrase for strength training. For the most effective way to strength train, we recommend a unique style of training referred to as “high-intensity resistance training ” (HIT) or “slow-motion strength training.”

High-intensity refers to the relative effort you put forth. HIT offers a unique approach to training that fits people of all ages and adjusts to the individual’s fitness level while being time-efficient.

Traditionally, strength training includes several sets of several exercises. The most common version of this is performing three sets of 10-12 repetitions, for 8-10 exercises. A workout like this requires about 60 minutes, with at least half of that time spent resting between sets. HIT trains the same muscles to similar results, but in a fraction of the time.

Instead of performing three sets per exercise, HIT provides the same benefits with just one set per exercise.

HIT includes selecting a challenging weight (relative to your own strength level), and then performing as many reps as possible until you’re no longer physically able to (hence the “high-intensity” part of the name).

Here are a few other guidelines for how to perform HIT:

  • Pick a challenging weight. As noted, the weight should start at a challenging level and ultimately become impossible to move (when reaching complete fatigue, or “Muscle Success”). On a difficulty scale of 1-10 (1 = easy and 10 = extremely difficult), the weight should start in the 6-8 range.
  • Move in a slow and controlled manner. During each repetition, lift the weight in several seconds and lower the weight in several seconds. Move like a car on cruise control, with a constant speed and no acceleration.
  • Breathe freely. Breathe through your mouth several times on both the lifting phrase and the lowering phase of each repetition. As your muscles become fatigued and you near the end, breathe more frequently (instead of holding your breath).
  • Move quickly between exercises. After performing one set of an exercise to complete fatigue, move quickly to the next exercise. The hustle between exercises raises your heart rate while providing more health and fitness benefits.

What Muscles Am I Working?

Have you ever done an exercise and did not have a clue which part of the body you were working? Or maybe you’ve done an exercise to target your glutes, but felt it in your low back instead.

It’s important to know what areas of the body you’re working and how to target them. Here are some of our tips.

Most weight machines have a “cheat sheet” on the machine itself, showing you the target muscle group on that exercise. To answer the age-old question, “What muscle am I working?” Here is a comprehensive cheat sheet for you!

Updated Corresponding Exercises Chart

If you’re questioning whether or not you’re doing an exercise correctly, or you feel like you might not be, here are some additional tips:

  1. Know which muscle(s) you are working prior to doing an exercise. Use the cheat sheet above if needed.
  2. Practice the movement of the exercise before adding resistance while thinking about the targeted muscle. This will help strengthen your muscle-mind connection.
    Example: Bicep curls – practice the curling motion and intentionally squeeze the biceps throughout the range of motion.
  3. Once you feel like you can engage the correct muscle(s), perform the exercise with the appropriate resistance.

What Muscles Am I Working?

Strength training is safe and fits various fitness levels. HIT is an especially appealing option, being that it’s efficient, effective, and safe. If HIT is an appealing option to you, use the guidelines in the previous section.

A typical HIT workout includes 7-10 exercises and trains all major muscle groups: back, chest, shoulders, glutes, and thighs. Below are a few examples of HIT workouts:

Examples of HIT Workouts

Traditionally, free weights are the go-to tool to maximize strength and muscle growth. But are they proven to be the most effective equipment for reaching these goals? The research isn’t clear.

One study found that the barbell bench press and its machine equivalent, the chest press, were equally effective in activating the muscle fibers in the chest, shoulders, and triceps (McCaw & Friday, 1994).

However, a study comparing a barbell squat with a leg press (on a leg press machine) showed that the squat was more effective for activating muscle fibers in the quadriceps and hamstrings (Escamilla et al., 2001), indicating that the squats might be more effective for producing muscle growth over time.

A recent study dove further into the question of which is best for muscle growth and strength (Schwanbeck et al., 2020). Men and women trained 2-3 times per week with either the free weight or machine version of the same basic movements.

At the end, the researchers measured both groups’ progress. Which type of equipment led to better “gains?” Neither. The free weight and machine groups had similar increases in both strength and muscle size.


We probably didn’t need to tell you that, yes, you should be doing strength training of some sort. Hopefully, we’ve given you some tools (and a boost of confidence) to add HIT exercise into your routine – or even substitute it for less efficient methods.

Strength training is extremely safe when performed properly. Prioritize form, intensity, and controlled speeds to get the most effective workout.

It’s never too late and you’re never too old to get started with strength training. Check out one of our members in her 80s!

Although you can absolutely train on your own, working with a Personal Trainer has tremendous value. A Trainer’s supervision leads to more effective workouts. It helps us stick with a fitness program, and greatly increases the chances that we’ll reach our health and fitness goals.

To learn more about working with a Trainer at The Perfect Workout, start by finding a studio near you today.

  • Faigenbaum, A. D., Kraemer, W. J., Blimkie, C. J., Jeffreys, I., Micheli, L. J., Nitka, M., & Rowland, T. W. (2009). Youth resistance training: updated position statement paper from the national strength and conditioning association. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 23, S60-S79.
  • Gray, S.E. & Finch, C.F. (2015). Epidemiology of hospital-treated injuries sustained by fitness participants. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 86, 81-87.
  • Kryger, A. I., & Andersen, J. L. (2007). Resistance training in the oldest old: consequences for muscle strength, fiber types, fiber size, and MHC isoforms. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 17(4), 422-430.
  • Maestroni, L., Read, P., Bishop, C., Papadopoulos, K., Suchomel, T. J., Comfort, P., & Turner, A. (2020). The benefits of strength training on musculoskeletal system health: practical applications for interdisciplinary care. Sports Medicine, 1-20.
  • Waller, M., Miller, J., & Hannon, J. (2011). Resistance circuit training: Its application for the adult population. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 33(1), 16-22.

How to Breathe Properly During Your Workout

How to Breathe Properly During Your Workout & Why It’s So Important

How to Breathe Properly During Your Workout & Why It’s So Important

trainer helping a member focus on their breathing as they exercise

Did you know that proper exercise form includes the way you breathe?

Yep. All of those intentional inhales and exhales serve a purpose in your workouts.

Yet, holding our breath and forgetting to breathe – one of the most innate bodily functions we have – seems to be really common when working out.

And depending on what type of activity you’re doing, there’s likely a right way to breathe and a wrong way.

In this article, we’ll deep dive into how to breathe properly during your workouts, the benefits of breathing during exercise, and the dangers of holding your breath when working out.

Jump to a Topic
Why Breathing is Important During Exercise
How to Breathe Properly During Your Workout
Shallow Breathing
Holding Your Breath

Breathing During Exercise

Imagine you’re doing bicep curls. After a few reps, the weight has become very challenging (although possible), and simply beginning another rep takes all of your efforts.

Why are you suddenly tempted to hold your breath in order to give your last bit of energy? Should you follow that temptation?

Short answer – No. Here’s why…

Breathing properly – along with factors such as moving slowly and maintaining good posture – is a fundamental part of proper exercise form. Correct and intentional breathing:

  • Strengthens the diaphragm (it’s a muscle!) & nervous system
  • Relaxes the muscles in your neck and shoulders
  • Increases the body’s ability to tolerate intense exercise (can you say perfect?)
  • Increases oxygen to the circulatory system for working muscles
  • Reduces blood pressure and anxiety
  • Strengthens respiratory muscles which improves performance in endurance and high-intensity sports
  • Increases the duration of exercises and reduces feelings of fatigue
  • Increases stabilization of body (example: tightened core)
  • Increases nitric oxide, which relaxes arteries to increase blood flow

Similar to the other pillars of proper form, breathing properly is easy at the start of an exercise but progressively challenging as you move towards fatigue.

This begs the question: what does proper breathing look like? Also, what happens if you hold your breath while training?

How to Breathe Properly During Your Workout

There isn’t a universal single way to breathe, but our Trainers at The Perfect Workout have a suggested approach.

We recommend using continuous diaphragmatic breathing, or “belly breathing.”

This is where you breathe in, filling the belly then the chest, and completely exhale. (To learn more about the anatomy of belly breathing, check out this informational video.)

Using this style of breathing, the diaphragm contracts to allow maximum lung capacity and the belly pushes out.

The lungs are able to expand down toward the abdominal cavity which allows air to get to the bottom 1/3 of the lungs where perfusion (circulation) is best.

Watch this video and pay special attention to how she breathes constantly and intentionally throughout the entire exercise.

Notice how in the lifting phase, she inhales and exhales several times. There’s no need to time the breathing pattern any specific way, as long as you are continuously breathing.

Breathing continuously becomes more challenging when moving close to Muscle Success.

The natural tendency is to hold your breath to get an extra push. Avoid that temptation! Instead, breathe continuously.

It’s better to sound like a panting dog than it is to hold your breath (don’t worry, we won’t judge!).

Don’t Be a Shallow Breather

Another mistake we make during exercise is shallow breathing.

Clavicular breath, or “chest breathing” is when we take shallow breaths, only filling the top ⅓ of our lungs.

By shorting our breath ⅔ of its capacity, we miss out on optimal circulation. And it requires more energy and more frequent breaths.

To gauge whether or not you’re using chest breathing vs. belly breathing, try this exercise:

  1. Place a hand on your belly, and the other on your chest.
  2. As you inhale, notice where you feel movement under your hands.
  3. Does the hand upon your chest only move? This would mean you’re using chest breathing.
  4. Does the hand upon your belly only move? This would mean you’re using belly breathing.
  5. Do both hands move? This is a sign you're using belly breathing and taking deep enough breaths to where you’re filling your lungs completely. This is okay too. You want to try and breathe into the belly, filling that first, then the chest!
body builder holding their breath while lifting

Don’t Hold Your Breath During Exercise

In our experience, most people instinctively hold their breath when their exercises become challenging. The formal name for this is the Valsalva maneuver.

There is a teeny bit of validation to this technique when used for professional or competitive lifting because it creates pressure in the abdominal cavity which leads to increased power output and provides core support to the lower back.

However, it is NOT recommended for most styles of strength training or people.

Strength training is a very safe activity when performed with a trainer, on machines, and with a slow tempo (like we do at The Perfect Workout). The Valsalva maneuver comes with a slew of risks.

A few studies examined the impact of the Valsalva maneuver during strength training. In those studies, a few concerns were noticed.

Elevated blood pressure

Normally, blood pressure increases a little during exercise and then decreases after the workout.

The Valsalva maneuver increases the rise in blood pressure during exercise. Holding your breath can elevate systolic blood pressure (the first number in a blood pressure reading) by an additional 16 mmHg (Linsenbardt, Thomas, & Madsen, 1992).

This additional increase could be concerning for those with heart disease (Hackett & Chow, 2013).

Increased intra-abdominal pressure

Similar to blood pressure, intra-abdominal pressure increases during exercise and decreases afterward.

Breath-holding intensifies the increase in intra-abdominal pressure (Blazek et al., 2019).

Why is this a concern?

Excess pressure in this region could compress blood vessels in the kidney and interfere with bladder function.

And nobody, nobody, wants a bladder function problem in the middle of leg press.

Reduced brain blood flow

Using the Valsalva maneuver during exercise also reduces brain blood flow velocity, by anywhere from 21 to 52%, compared to normal breathing techniques (Blazek et al., 2019).

This could pose a health concern for people with high blood pressure or brain abnormalities.

Increased Intraocular Pressure

In some cases, holding one’s breath during exercise can lead to dramatically increased intraocular pressure. Read: Pressure and pain around your eyeball – yikes! Advanced stages of intraocular pressure can also cause nausea and vomiting.

It’s especially important for those at high risk for glaucoma to practice diaphragmatic or belly breathing to avoid the progression of that disease. (Vera et al., 2020).

Trainer coaching male member on the chest press machine

Key Takeaways

Although tempting, avoid holding your breath when strength training. Breath-holding, also known as the Valsalva maneuver, causes a number of health concerns. These include a big increase in systolic blood pressure and a reduction in blood flow to the brain.

Instead of holding your breath, breathe continuously throughout the entire exercise. Take several breaths when lifting and several when lowering the weight.

As you start to reach fatigue, if you make any changes to your breathing, pick up your breathing pace and inhale/exhale more frequently through your mouth to combat the urge to hold your breath.

Thankfully, at The Perfect Workout, your trainer will also pay attention to your breath and coach you to breathe properly. Safe exercise is, of course, our biggest priority.

  • Blazek, D., Stastny, P., Maszczyk, A., Krawczyk, M., Matykiewicz, P., & Petr, M. (2019). Systematic review of intra-abdominal and intrathoracic pressures initiated by the Valsalva manoeuvre during high-intensity resistance exercises. Biology of sport, 36(4), 373.
  • Hackett, D. A., & Chow, C. M. (2013). The Valsalva maneuver: its effect on intra-abdominal pressure and safety issues during resistance exercise. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 27(8), 2338-2345.
  • Linsenbardt, S. T., Thomas, T. R., & Madsen, R. W. (1992). Effect of breathing techniques on blood pressure response to resistance exercise. British journal of sports medicine, 26(2), 97-100.
  • Vera, J., Perez-Castilla, A., Redondo, B., De La Cruz, J. C., Jiménez, R., & García-Ramos, A. (2020). Influence of the breathing pattern during resistance training on intraocular pressure. European journal of sport science, 20(2), 157–165.