Losing fat with free weights


If you've followed my writing for any length of time, you know that I'm a fan of using free weights (dumbbells, barbells, kettelbells) in my workouts. 

But it wasn't always like that.

In fact, when I first started lifting weights regularly, in the spring of 2010, I went to the top floor of the Holmes Sports Center on the campus of Simmons College in Boston and used all of the machines. I did what anyone else would do  - I went down the rows of machines and tried to hit all of the muscle groups. 

I did what I knew how to do, and there was nothing wrong with that.

But one day, I was fitness-shamed (I don’t recommend this approach) by a co-worker for not using the actual weight room. After my conversation with her, I went back to my office and sat down thinking, what do I even do with free weights?

Growing up, my dad had bought my brother a set of Sears free weights and a bench that I taught myself to use. I followed the poster that came with the weights, though the only exercises I could recall were the Military Press and the Dumbbell Curl.

Fortunately, in the age of Google, I found a routine on About.com and made my way in to the free weight room at Simmons College. It was tiny, filled with mostly men, and there were no convenient instructions on what, exactly, I should do with said weights.

But it was enough to get me started.

Why use free weights for fat loss?

My original goal in lifting weights was to get stronger. I couldn’t even do a push up, and like many women, I assumed that was the ultimate litmus test for how I weak I was (OMG IF YOU TAKE NOTHING ELSE FROM THE ARTICLE PUSH UPS ARE ALL OF THE HARD AND NOT A GOOD LITMUS TEST FOR STRENGTH.

But truth be told, I was also at a point in my life where my weight and my body fat was creeping up. Pants were getting tighter and I was beginning to feel more sluggish. I still used running for exercise, but I was constantly battling nagging injuries that made it difficult to run with any consistency. As it turns out though, lifting weights doesn’t just help you lose weight.

1. Lifting weights helps you lose more fat

Not all pounds are created equally. I could lose a pound of muscle or I could lose a pound of fat. The scale would only let me know that I lost a pound - most scales can’t tell you what kind of weight you’ve lost. In a Penn State study that put dieters into three groups - non-exercise, aerobic exercise and aerobic exercise with weight training, all groups lost 21 pounds. But the lifting group lost more body fat, six pounds of fat.

If you have ever said to yourself or a friend that you want to get more “toned” losing fat is what you’re talking about.

2. You’ll burn more calories

You might burn
The bar (pun intended) to entry for using free weights is much higher than that for using machines, but if you think you're ready to get started, I want to give you six exercises to get you started with free weights. 

This is how you can split them up (after you do your foam rolling and warm up).

For your first set, follow this format:

A1. DB Goblet squats 3x8
A2. Chest supported DB rows (or TRX rows) - 3x8
A3. DB Floor press 3x8

This means that you will do one set of 8 repetitions for the goblet squat, then one set of rows, then one set of the floor press. Once you’ve done each exercise one time for eight reps each, that is one set. Repeat two more times and then move on to your second set.

B1. Pallof Press 3x8
B2. DB Split Squat (or TRX Split Squat) 3x8
B3. Farmer’s carries (two DB’s of the same weight) 3x 30 seconds per carry.

Follow the same format as above.

DB Goblet Squats

Skip to the 1:00 part if you just want to move past the instruction and see the exercise.

Chest supported DB rows

DB Floor Press

Pallof Press

Skip to the 1:00 mark to see just the exercise.

DB split Squat

DB Farmer’s Carries

How do you gauge strength gains?

I’m bad at math. I know that, you know that because I’ve written about it, and at least a handful of my clients know it because of that one time someone accidentally hit a personal record of 205lbs on the trap bar deadlift…

One the biggest challenges I have day to day is helping clients focus on what they are gaining, and not what they are losing. On convincing them that they can set out to be more, and not less. This is an uphill battle when most of us, women especially, come in to the gym trying to lose body fat, inches, weight or appetite.


If you include a dynamic warm up in your program (hint: do your warm up and here’s why), as well as using the foam roller, you’re gaining better range of motion. Hopefully exercise is helping you to move better, think better, sleep better and feel better overall.

These are the things that you’re gaining.

But often, after a few months in the gym, clients can become frustrated with all of the things that they are “only” doing. (Which is why no one is allowed to say only to me.) On the other hand, I understand how lifting weights can feel stagnant sometimes. Which is when I like to bring out my calculator and introduce the concepts of progressive overload and total volume.

Progressive whaaaa??

Progressive overload is fancy schmancy way of saying that you increased your workload for an exercise by either adding more weight or more repetitions to your workout. For example, if you perform three sets of eight dumbbell goblet squats with 15 pounds in week one, you squatted a total of 360 pounds.


The next week, let’s say you lifted 15 pounds, but added more repetitions and sets. So you did 15x10x4.

Most clients are still stuck on the idea that they are “only” lifting 15 pounds. But when you do the math (with a calculator if you’re me), the reality is that you have now lifted a total of 600 pounds.

600 pounds.

That’s an increase of almost 50%.

The deadlift is another lift where clients tend to minimize their workload.

In the beginning, we start with the kettlebell deadlift, which is an excellent exercise to learn how to properly hip hinge (which translates into helping you pick things up from the floor in a way that keeps your back healthy and your knees happy).

Often we begin clients with a 35lb kettlebell to build a solid movement pattern, but it isn’t very long before we graduate to 50 or 60lbs. After that we progress to the trap bar.

Most clients average between 85-105lbs when they begin using the trap bar. Last week, I had two clients use the trap bar for the first time, both at 85lbs. They did 8 reps for four sets.

They lifted 2,720 pounds. And that was just on the deadlift.

Next time you’re frustrated with what you’re not losing, or the fact that you only lifted a certain amount of weight, step back, pull out your calculator, and do the math.

You’re gaining strength every day.

Celebrate that.

Celebrate you.

Three ways to build up to your first chin up

Despite the fact that I lift weights regularly, I am not what the kids call swole.

And by swole, I think I mean overly muscular or busting out of my t-shirt sleeves. I’m not sure. The further away I get from my twenties the less I understand teenager speak. By the time I understood that “dabbing” wasn’t just getting a stain out of a shirt, the phenomenon had passed.


As I was saying, despite the fact that I lift often, I don’t have much upper body strength. I have more than I did 10 years ago, but doing certain upper body movements like bench pressing and push ups are still a challenge for me.

The reason my instagram feed is filled with deadlifting videos (and Rooney) is that deadlifting came naturally to me. Like anyone else, I gravitate towards what I’m good at and avoid what comes harder. And post pictures of Rooney because Rooney.

My goal for 2019 though, is to nail my first bodyweight chin up. I set out after this same goal in 2016, but a torn labrum in my shoulder derailed my efforts and now, looking for a goal to help keep my training focused (performance goal), I’m back at it.

You are not incredibly weak if you cannot do a chin up or a push up from the floor (not from your knees). Especially as a female. Most of us do not have the natural upper body strength to do either of these exercises in the beginning, and yet we assume that we are weak if we can’t. You’re not weak, you’re human.

In most cases, these two exercises can take a lot of work - very few females (and some males) can do so without training regularly.

If you’d like to train towards doing your first unassisted chin up, here are a few exercises that can help you get there.

  1. TRX Assisted Chin Ups

If you have access to a TRX system or any other suspension training system, this exercise can be a perfect way to strengthen the lats (that area on your back, just below the shoulder blades) and using your feet as much as you need to complete the range of motion.

Coaching Tip: Complete the full range of motion at the bottom of the movement - in other words, make sure your arms are fully extended, elbows not bent, at the bottom of the movement. (*As long as your elbows and shoulders can tolerate the full extension.)

2. Hollow Body Pull Downs with Dowel Rod

I stole this exercise from Tony Gentilcore and have been incorporating it into my own workouts. The hollow body hold begins by lifting your upper back (above your shoulder blades) off of the ground and lifting your legs a few inches off of the ground at the same time. Cross one leg on top of the other, and press down as hard as you can, while resisting with the bottom leg. This will increase the tension in your body, and probably make you hate life for 30 seconds, but in a good way.

This position, as Tony says, “teaches a trainee what it means to attain full-body tension, as well as helping to drive home some context (on the floor) of what needs to happen if or when someone is ready to hang from a bar.”

So you’re not just hanging limp when you jump up on the bar to perform the chin up. You need to create tension. And if you’re wondering what that means, that’s a great question, and I’ll work on doing a post for that.

3. The Band Assisted Chin Up

And possibly the most fun of all of these.

I mean, fun is relative here, obviously.

You can loop the band vertically around the bar and put your knee or feet into the bottom of the band for assistance. But ever since I learned this variation when I completed my Certified Functional Strength Coach course, I’ve been using it often with clients and myself.

Prior to learning this exercise, I was forever putting the band around my knees or my feet and swinging around like a monkey stuck in a banana branch (I don’t think that’s a thing) - but using this version, with the band under my feet, helps me achieve full extension at the bottom - my goal is to do the chin up from a dead hang position (with my arms completely straight) and this variation helps me do that. It also helps me keep tension in my body.

You might have to experience with band height and band resistance at the beginning before figuring out where the best starting point is for you. If the band feels like it’s going to shoot you through the roof, that’s fun, but not exactly what we’re after. Experiment with the band resistance that will allow you to feel like you could barely do another two reps if you had to.

In the video below, I have two bands to create enough resistance for me to perform eight reps. When I took one of the bands off, I could get one solid rep, so I’ll continue training at this resistance until I can get at least six reps with one band.

These exercises are by no means all encompassing strategies to help you do a chin up - but they are a great place to start if doing a chin up is on your bucket list.

Questions, comments, thoughts?

I’d love to hear from you. kim@kimlloydfitness.com

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Do you need to join a gym to get in shape?

The other day, a friend of mine shared the following article from the New York Times:


I firmly believe one of the reasons that races like the Tough Mudder are so popular is community, team, and play aspect of it. Also in searching for a portapotty in the middle of rural New Hampshire. That's fun too...

I firmly believe one of the reasons that races like the Tough Mudder are so popular is community, team, and play aspect of it. Also in searching for a portapotty in the middle of rural New Hampshire. That's fun too...

The article, which is certainly worth the read, highlights the efforts of a New York Times reporter to join a gym and try to “get fit.”

I don’t want to spoil the ending, but she ultimately decides that she doesn’t need a gym to get fit. She gets plenty of exercise from playing pick up basketball.

What is this article basically saying? 

Playing like a kid is good for you.

Absolutely! Get out that whoopie cushion and that fake dog poop and...oh you don't have that in your desk drawer? Oh yeah...uh me neither. Nope, not me. 

Playing like a kid IS good for you. (Whoopie cushion too...) There are many benefits of playing sports as an adult to stay in shape. 

1. You move in different planes of motion

The sagittal plane is where most of us spend our time. We’re walking forward, and in the gym we’re squatting, deadlifting (I hope) and curling in the squat rack. Don’t curl in the squat rack. The frontal plane is moving side to side, a lateral lunge for example, and the transverse plane is rotational movement, such as a golf or a softball swing. 

Very few of us move in different planes of motion as an adult, even that biologically, that’s what we are designed to do. Playing defense in basketball and swinging a racquet or golf club keeps us moving in ways that we are designed to move. 

2. You’ll forget that you’re exercising

Hahahaha...I know what you're thinking. Kim, I forget my name half the time but I could NEVER forget that I'm exercising. But you know what I mean. When the focus is on scoring a bucket instead of watching the minutes drag by on the treadmill the time goes faster. 

Playing volleyball, basketball, racquetball or squash is a great way to think about something else while still getting in a good cardiovascular workout. 

3. It’s fun

Remember fun? I hope you don't just remember fun, but that you've had some today. And yesterday. And every day. 

I make videos on a weekly basis promoting the fun of exercise, but let’s be honest, it’s not fun for everyone. Some people just flat out hate to exercise so turning the workout into a game can make the time go by much faster while also providing a good outlet for stress.  

Dodgeball anyone? 

One caveat

I just wanted to use that word.

I completely agree with the author that there are some fun and creative ways to get a good workout in without dropping 50 bucks a pop on a barre or spin class.** But I believe strength training is essential to any workout routine, especially if you’re a recreational athlete playing tennis or pickleball. 

Strength training is going to help you build more muscle and better bone density and those benefits alone will help you not only perform better in that noon-time pick-up game, but also stay healthy in the process. 

The worst feeling as an adult is when you sprint down the first base line in a beer league softball game only to pull a hamstring. It makes you feel old. Our muscles get more like beef jerky and less like a prime cut of steak as we age (analogy courtesy of Mike Boyle). Our muscles also get short as we age - for example if you sit all of the time, your quad (front of your upper leg) muscles are going to be short while your hamstrings (back of your upper leg) are going to get longer. Those shortened and tight muscles that you didn't have as a 16-year old are going to make it harder to move your joints through a full range of motion.

In other words, blah, blah, blah, beer league softball just broke me. Which brings me to my last point.  

For the love of all things holy, warm up 

Regardless of what you decide to do for a workout, warm up. Please? Please?

At a minimum, do your foam rolling or throw a tiger stick in your gym bag. Doing a couple of arm circles and side bends aren’t sufficient to get your muscles warmed up to go from 0-60 out on the basketball court. 

Just to help you out, here's an introduction to foam rolling.

Thoughts? Questions? Ready to get your own workout program? Comment below or shoot me an email at kim@kimlloydfitness.com

Even if it's just to say hi. Or tell me a joke, I love jokes. 

Mastering the push up

Happy Wednesday. 

Just another Wacky Wednesday here at the gym, and I'm dressed as Dolly Parton.

Nothing like working out to "Jolene."

Nothing like working out to "Jolene."

I have noticed that push ups got a little bit trickier today for some reason...

In my Bail on the Scale challenge* we’ve talked a lot about focusing on performance goals as a way to shift the focus from the number on the scale towards something performance related. This might be deadlifting a certain amount, just flat out performing a deadlift, working on a full chin up, or for most females, working up to a push up from the floor.

Full confession here, I thought I was doing just fine with push ups until I worked with a coach. Once he cleaned up my technique, I realized that push ups were actually much more difficult than I thought they were, and it took me close to a year to work my way up to (or I should say down) to a push up from the floor. 

Push ups from the knees make you better at doing push ups from the knees. And bigger boobs make it...well...different....

Push ups from the knees make you better at doing push ups from the knees. And bigger boobs make it...well...different....

When I was in high school and college we were taught to perform “girl push ups” - with knees on the floor. (See below). That technique takes your core entirely out of the equation and makes you better at doing push ups from your knees.

Check out the video below for more details: