Beginner's Guide to Weight Loss With Strength Training

man exercising with dumbbells.
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If you are in reasonably good physical condition and need to lose a few pounds, you can check out high-power fat-loss programs. But if you have a lot of weight to lose and not much experience with exercise programs, then this program is for you. It’s based around walking and weights, and also includes one weekly session of what's called a "circuit program."

The Basics

Get a doctor’s clearance

It’s all very well for overweight people to get hammered by personal trainers on reality shows, but you need to be sure you have no underlying medical reasons not to exercise regularly, especially if you've been sedentary for many years. Your doctor can reassure you of this.

Move more during non-exercise activity

Studies have shown that overweight and obese people tend to move less during everyday activities. This may be a result of the excess weight, or it may be a cause of it. In either case, it’s likely a vicious circle. Extra incidental movement throughout the day is a key factor in establishing a basis for weight loss.

Walk, walk, walk

You can mix this up with slow jogging if you feel up to it, but at least 40 minutes of brisk walking, six days each week should be your goal. You can do this on a treadmill, on a sidewalk or in the park.

Perform three dumbbell weights sessions

You have easy access to weight training gear at the gym, where free weights and machines are at the ready. But dumbbell lifting can be done easily at the gym or at home.

Try having dumbbells conveniently placed in the house so that it's easy to pump out a few dozen repetitions in between other activities or even while watching TV, videos, or listening to music. Check out the beginner resources to get familiar with how weight training works.

Perform one circuit training session each week

Use this circuit program and modify it if you need to, by slowing it down, so that you can complete at least three circuits. This is designed to get you working somewhat hard, so give it your best shot. You will breathe heavier and you should break a sweat.

Eat a healthy diet

Your diet needs to restrict calories so that you lose fat while providing you with essential nutrients and sufficient energy to fuel your activity program. Here’s the basis of a healthy diet for this program:

  • Eat a moderately low-fat, high-fiber diet while keeping animal fats to a minimum.
  • Throw out refined carbs like biscuits, cakes, sweets, sugary drinks, and white bread.
  • Include low-fat dairy instead of full-fat milk, yogurt, cheeses or soy substitutes. Consider plant-based dairy alternatives such as almond milk, soy milk, or oat milk.
  • Choose whole-grain bread and cereals, and eat lots of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds.
  • Select lean, low-fat meats, or vegetarian alternatives.

Lastly, eat fast foods rarely, and choose healthy options when available. Choose less processed whole foods when possible to minimize your intake of added sugars, excess sodium, and other additives.

Program Schedule

Here is a weekly schedule of the program. Walk on 6 days; take one day off. Use dumbbells, or other weights, at home or at the gym.

  • Days 1 to 6: Walk for at least 40 minutes at a brisk pace or one that makes you breathe heavy, but does not make you breathless. Split the session up if it suits you, but try to keep up the intensity.
  • Day 2: Choose 8 dumbbell exercises from the dumbbell program, and do 3 sets of 12 exercise repetitions. If doing 8 exercises at once is too much, break it up into 4 exercises for two separate sessions.
  • Day 3: Do the circuit training program.
  • Day 4: Walk for 40 minutes.
  • Day 5: Repeat the dumbbell program performed on day 2.
  • Day 6: Rest day.
  • Day 7: Walk for 40 minutes, or take a rest day.

Don't forget to control your eating. But remember: Very low-calorie diets are not suitable, as you will shed muscle (and bone) and your metabolism will slow down, making it difficult to resume normal eating while managing weight. In addition, you'll likely miss out on important nutrients your body needs.

Secrets to Success

Get going as soon as possible. Don't worry too much if you don't quite meet your goals for the day, to begin with—just aim to start each of the allocated sessions for the week. Be determined, start slowly, and improve performance week by week.

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  1. Scheers T, Philippaerts R, Lefevre J. Patterns of physical activity and sedentary behavior in normal-weight, overweight and obese adults, as measured with a portable armband device and an electronic diary. Clin Nutr. 2012;31(5):756-64. doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2012.04.011