The Fat Loss Pyramid for Women

You know what’s really awesome?

Helping women get stronger and more athletic in pursuit of their fat loss goals.

Look, a majority of women want to lose a few pounds here and there, build a little strength and look really freakin’ good.

But the problem is a lot of the advice many women listen to is bad advice.

Things like doing cleanses and detoxes, or avoiding weights because they’ll add ‘bulk.’

Nonsense.

To help you reach your fitness goals I’ve written this handy guide so you know exactly what you need to do and how to do it to get into the best shape of your life.

This article is specifically for women who want more out of their fitness plans and for those who are willing to put in the work to get what they want.

A Quick Overview of the Fat Loss Pyramid

To keep things simple and easy to understand, I’ve broken down what I think are the most important components of fat loss for women.

fat loss pyramid

The base of the pyramid, nutrition, is the #1 priority you must focus on. The next priority is resistance training because it helps build muscle and strength. Lastly, cardio is at the top of the pyramid because it’s not essential for fat loss, but can be one of the tools to enhance progress. Let’s dive into each one a bit more now.

The Foundation: Your Nutrition

You already know eating right is a big part of the fat loss equation. But just how important is it?

To lose weight, you must be in a caloric deficit. This is just a fancy way of saying you must burn more calories than you consume.

Rather than using a ton of fancy calculators, use these guidelines to figure out your calorie and macro needs:

  • To estimate starting calories multiply your bodyweight by 11-12. For larger females this might need to be 12-13, and for petite females around 10-11.
  • Calculate your protein needs. Multiply your bodyweight by 0.7g-1.0g/lb of bodyweight to find out total protein every day.
  • Multiply your bodyweight by 0.3-0.5 to find grams of fat per day. Higher activity days you may eat less fat, while rest days you’ll probably eat a bit more fat.
  • Fill in the remaining calories with carbohydrates.

As a quick example, we’ll calculate out the starting calories and macros for Lisa the lifter, a 135lb female.

Calories (135×12) = 1620

Protein (135x 0.7-0.9) = 95-135 grams = 380-540 calories

Fat (135x 0.3-0.5) = 40-67 grams = 360- 600 calories

Carbs = total calories (1620) – our protein+fat ranges (740-1140) = 220/120 carbs per day

Because nutrition is an individual thing, you can vary the amounts of fats and carbs you eat so long as your calories and protein needs are taken care of.

Nail the calorie targets and protein needs and you’ll have about 80% of your nutritional needs covered.

4 Quick Tips for Improving Your Fat Loss Diet

There Are No Good or Bad Foods

Understand there’s no such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods. Foods simply contain varying amounts of calories. Some are better in certain situations because they contain fewer calories.

When dieting for fat loss, it would be very beneficial to get most of your calories from whole food sources. They’ll keep you fuller longer and also provide important vitamins and minerals needed for recovery and growth.

Use the Scale But Don’t Rely On It

I 100% believe you should use the scale to track progress. I also understand a lot of women get anxious and worry and freak out over seeing fluctuations in bodyweight.

One thing I emphasize with my female online coaching clients is the reality of scale fluctuations. are completely normal. Water retention, hormonal changes, bloating etc can all affect your weigh-ins.

They’re completely normal. Water retention, hormonal changes, bloating etc. can affect your weigh-ins.

Rather than just worrying about the number on the scale, I like to have them send me their morning weigh-ins 2-3x per week to track changes over time. Sometimes the scale won’t change a ton, although it should be trending down over time.

Also, use progress pictures as another method of measuring progress in addition to how you’re feeling and performing in the gym.

Awareness is Your Greatest Tool

Being aware of what you’re eating might just be the best tool you could have.

Food awareness simply means you know what you’re eating and how it can affect your results. Are you eating protein at every meal? Getting loads of fruits and vegetables in, too? Eating some foods you enjoy while keeping the calories on target?

You control what you eat, so take advantage of it and feed yourself properly to reach your goals.

 Go Hard or Go Home

Catchy, right? Many women get trapped into thinking they have to constantly be ‘dieting’ for fat loss. Instead of eating in a deficit for a year straight, try breaking up your efforts into blocks of 3 months or so at a time. This way you can focus more effort in those 3 months without burning out.

By taking a mental and physical break from dieting at the end of your diet, you’ll be much more ready to continue if you still have more weight you’d like to lose.

 Resistance Training is Your Friend During Fat Loss

More and more women are starting to catch the lifting bug which is awesome. If you haven’t yet gotten into resistance training, or lifting weights, then you need to.

I hate to break the news, but walking backwards on a treadmill or kicking your legs around when doing the stair master just isn’t going to deliver the results you desire.

Enter good ol’ weight lifting.

Now I’m not talking about weight lifting like you see in the Olympics. Although Olympic lifting is becoming more popular these days, what I’m referring to is simply getting into the gym and picking stuff up and putting it back down.

Every single one of my female online coaching clients lifts weights to some degree. It all depends on their abilities and goals.

But, every one of them ‘lifts weights.’

If you’re looking to create a strong, athletic and fit body to aid in your fat loss, add some lifting into your lifestyle.

Train the Heck Outta the Basics

Whether you’re new to lifting, or you’ve been training for 15 years, the basic exercises still reign supreme.

Variations aside, be sure to include these kinds of exercises in your own routine:

  • Squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Bench Press
  • Rows
  • Pullups
  • Pushups
  • Overhead Presses
  • Romanian Deadlifts
  • Curls
  • Extensions
  • Single leg work like lunges, step-ups, single-leg rdl’s

Too many people see fancy dancy exercises in fitness magazines and think it’ll work for them. Rather than doing these gimmicky style workouts, put in lots of quality work squatting, deadlifting and doing single leg work if you want to build and tone your butt.

If you want to build upper body strength, bench pressing and rowing to your hearts content will get you there. Not wobbling around on a Bosu ball.

I think the first few months should be dedicated to learning the movements, practicing them, and gradually adding more weight with good technique.

There’s no need to get crazy with variations here. The simpler the better in this case.

For women looking to maximize fat loss progress, build lean muscle, and look really freakin’ good, follow the guidelines below:

  • Train the big compound lifts multiple times per week (your workout structure is up to you, ie upper/lower, body-part splits, total body etc)
  • For the purposes of fat loss, moderate to higher rep ranges works well. Lift most of the time in the 6-15 rep range.
  • Add weight slowly over time (this will build strength as well)
  • Keep rest long enough so you can execute the next set with good technique.
  • If possible use the tools of the gym in this order- barbells, dumbbells, machines, cables
  • Train to get stronger and build muscle (this will help you burn more fat actually)
  • Don’t be afraid or intimidated by lifting. Dive right in and get after it 🙂

Lifting Will Pay Off

When my online coaching client, Carrie, and I started working together, she had pretty minimal experience with lifting.

To say her progress has been phenomenal would be an understatement. And not just physically, but also in her ability to improve her technique and get stronger.

Here’s the very first squatting video she sent me for me to review:

And here’s a recent video of her squatting after working on her technique:

By working on her technique through video analysis, constant feedback, and her willingness to work hard, Carrie has made great progress. Her biggest motivation was getting ready for her big wedding day (Congrats, Carrie!) and she’s crushed it.

Here’s Carrie, down 11lbs and more confident and strong than ever before:

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What’s most important to understand about lifting is that you can’t rush it.

It takes time and practice to develop good technique, but it will pay off big time if you learn how to lift properly.

Do You Need Cardio for Fat Loss?

No.

You 100% don’t need to do cardio to lose fat.

However, it can be a useful tool in burning more calories, speeding up the process slightly, and allowing you to eat a bit more food.

But you don’t need to do cardio.

What Kind of Cardio Should You Do?

The choice is yours if you decide to do cardio or not. Some people like it, while others would rather eat glue before going for a walk or run.

The type of cardio you do is really up to you and your preferences.

While cardio isn’t really a ton of fun, it can be beneficial to accelerating the fat loss process. You can use cardio to create more of a calorie deficit. This means you could eat a bit more food so long as you’re still in a deficit and you’ll lose weight.

Most of the cardio being done by my online coaching clients is often not prescribed until later on in the diet. If they like to swim, they can swim. If they like to run, then running it is.

I’m never going to tell a client they have to do one type of cardio over another.

Why?

Because they won’t end up doing it at all.

So why not give them a few options they might enjoy?

  • jogging
  • biking
  • swimming
  • rowing
  • walking
  • elliptical/treadmill
  • stairclimber
  • circuit style workouts
  • recreational sports

Use Cardio as a Tool

Don’t rely on cardio to make up for a crappy diet.

Use it as a tool to get into better condition and shape.

You cannot just do hours of cardio and then eat thousands of additional calories and think fat loss is around the corner. 

Rely on your diet to do the bulk of the work, your lifting to aid the process, and cardio to put on the finishing touches.

Strictly speaking from a fat loss perspective, cardio should be the last thing you worry about. Make sure you’ve got your nutrition dialed in first and resistance training program second.

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