As the new year approaches, clients, old and new, are starting to set their “fitness” resolutions. Many will likely set weight loss goals simply because that is the most realistic resolution, right? Well, not exactly. Making distinctions between fat loss and weight loss is the first step in guiding your clients’ new year’s resolutions; formulating the correct program is crucial.

New Year’s Resolution: Weight Loss or Fat Loss?

Now, I realize not all fitness resolutions are weight-loss related, but let’s be honest, many of them are. My focus here is on this particular population of resolutioners that hone in on holiday weight gain or simply want a fresh start to shed pounds in the new year since they are typically the new clients approaching trainers in January.

First, simply saying, “I want to lose weight,” or “ I want to lose X number of pounds,” isn’t as specific a goal as they believe. Second, weight loss and fat loss are often misunderstood; conflated.

Body Composition: Fat Loss Redirection

Our job as trainers is to direct and educate clients to set healthy, specific, measurable and achievable (SMART) goals with an action plan. As fellow NFPT contributor Alex and I have both discussed, rather than stepping on and off the scale to measure progress, start taking body composition measurements and use those to map out individual programs. 


Fail to Plan. Plan to Fail

Once measurements have been recorded, arm clients with more than awesome workouts. Empower them with knowledge regarding the most efficient ways to utilize fuel in combination with workout intensities, adequate recovery, and exercise selection

Fueling Workouts to Burn Fat

Fasting cardio seems to be a trend on Instagram right now, but exercise intensity may be hindered without proper fuel. I’ll discuss the importance of exercise intensity with regards to fat loss below, but suffice it to say that if a client is consistently exercising at high intensities on an empty tank, muscle might go into a catabolic state, i.e, it will be broken down for energy when there is not enough coming from diet. While it will not happen in the average workout, the probability of not burning fat will increase over time. 

Personally, this is where I find keto coffee useful. Some exercisers have found fat to be a great fuel source for their workouts, while others find carbs an efficient source. The truth is, without stepping outside my scope of practice, our bodies utilize fuel in some fashion, so it would be good to plan with your resolutioner their workout fuel plans to help them achieve their fat loss goals.

Workout Intensity: EPOC

So often I see gym goers just go to town with steady-state cardio output, which will burn calories but may not be the most efficient way to attain fat loss. What I suggest to clients is to incorporate higher-intensity cardio with lower-intensity strength training exercises. This combo of cardiorespiratory and resistance exercise seems to elicit the greatest Excess Post Oxygen Consumption (EPOC), response. Ultimately, this EPOC response will extend their caloric burn beyond the workout, thus increasing their post-workout metabolic rate. 

In plain terms, they will burn more calories after their workout than they would if they just ran on the treadmill for an hour, and that burn will translate into fat loss and better body composition. 

Recovery for Fat Loss

Early on in my fitness journey, I went through a period where I hit the gym 17 days in a row. What I later discovered was that my body’s response to exercise was slowing down because I wasn’t giving it enough recovery. 

Don’t let your clients make this mistake. High cortisol levels, which are inevitable when recovery is non-existent, will not only lead to a host of other endocrine issues but will create an appearance of a bloated belly, which is incredibly frustrating for fat loss clients to see. 

After helping your clients embrace a recovery mindset which may be a difficult hurdle for folks who are over-achievers, organize a schedule with your client that includes active recovery and passive recovery strategies that help them reach their goals.  

Exercise Selection

As mentioned above, creating routines that run clients through both high-intensity cardio and low-intensity resistance training is what I recommend for fat loss and maintenance of lean muscle.

Lately, I’ve been prescribing a combination of cardio + compound strength training exercises like a traditional metcon (metabolic conditioning workout).

Here are two samples:

  1. AMRAP: 250-meter row followed by: Asymmetrical Farmer’s Carry (dumbbell, kettlebell, or weight plate) 10 dumbbell thrusters, 10 renegade rows. Repeat for 12 minutes.
  2. Increasing Reps-Rounds for time: 100-meter sprint followed by: 2 push-ups, 2 pull-ups, 2 kettlebell swings, 2 goblet squats. Each round clients add two more reps to the previous set.

Follow Up to Keep on Track

In order to keep clients motivated and on the road to reach their goals, make sure to follow up on their resolution goal progress. I’d recommend taking body composition and/or circumference measurements every 4-6 weeks. If that feels too frequent, remember newer fitness clients might rely too heavily on the scale to believe their progress is successful.

Showing them the more valuable changes will keep them motivated. If you find those numbers are not changing, that’s a cue that a revisit to the diet journal is in order. Have candid conversations about their progress and performance. Reorganizing the recovery schedule or the exercise plan might be necessary too.

Good luck and have fun ringing in 2020 with some new training tools in your belt.

Theresa Perales

Theresa Perales has an MA in Spanish, and is an ESL teacher at San Diego State University (SDSU). After years of struggling with her weight, she decided to give exercise a try. A passion for health and fitness grew instantly and inspired her to become certified as a personal trainer with NFPT, and as a group fitness instructor with AFAA Group Fitness and Madd Dog Athletics® Spinning. Theresa believes that nutrition and fitness are not about aesthetics but ultimately about feeling healthy and empowered.