The Best 3 Days A Week Workout For Fat Loss

the key points in a 3 day per week workout program for fat loss

If you only have 3 days per week to workout, then what you do in the gym to lose weight needs to be targeted.  

The key points in a 3 day per week workout program for fat loss are: 

  • You need to train most muscle groups multiple times per week.
  • You need to incorporate high reps that take your muscles to fatigue on most, if not all, of your sets.
  • You need to train compounded movements (like squats, deadlifts, overhead press, rows), in order to maintain muscle mass.
  • You need to be in a slight caloric deficit either through the calories you eat or the calories you burn through your workouts.
  • You need to pair your workouts with a high protein diet.

As well, workout programs for weight loss should emphasize weight training over traditional cardio.

Why?  

Because lifting weights is important for muscle retention, which ensures that the weight you lose comes from fat and not muscle.  This will give you that lean, toned, and muscular look when you lose weight, rather than being skinny-fat (i.e. thin with no muscle definition).  

In this article, we will discuss five fat loss workout rules to follow and offer you a sample 3-day workout program that is optimized for fat loss.


Need a workout program? Get 3 free workouts on Fitbod right now.


5 Workout Rules For Fat Loss When Training Three Days Per Week

5 workout rules for fat loss when training three days per week

During a fat loss phase, your workouts should alter somewhat to allow you to maximize muscle retention (not losing muscle) and coincide with your dietary habits of being in a calorie deficit. 

Follow the tips below to maximize your fat loss and muscle retention. 

And if you are curious how much cardio you should do during this period, keep reading!

Rule #1:  Train Most Muscles Multiple Times a Week

Regardless of your diet phase (cutting, maintaining, or bulking) it is important that you train most muscle groups at least twice per week, with some muscle groups like arms, abs, and deltoids being trained 2-4 times a week. By training the muscles more frequently, you allow for more stimulus and adaptations to occur.

During non-diet phases, recovery is often easier since you are well fed and able to use the extra calories to recover, refuel, and rebuild your muscles. In a diet phase, recovery is often harder in later stages of a diet, however you must still aim to signal the muscles that they are receiving stimulus to grow, and in the very least they need to maintain their form and function and hold on. 

A lot of people will drop training frequency, most of the time doing less resistance training and more cardio, which can result in less muscle being retained, and ultimately more muscle loss during the diet phase.

Rule #2:  Take Muscles to Fatigue with Moderate to High Rep Ranges

Now that you know you need to train muscles more frequently, it is important to also understand what sets, reps, and intensities may be best during this time. 

Most of your workouts should be aimed at moving moderate to heavy loads, and sometimes lighter loads to place a muscle at muscular failure (the muscle itself fails rather than your entire body failing). By training in moderate to high rep ranges (8-15 reps, or sometimes 15-25 reps), you drive muscle fatigue and overall training volume up, which can help you maintain muscle as best as you can during a diet phase. 

Furthermore, by training in higher volumes, you are able to do more work and burn more calories than if you were to lift heavy (2-5 reps) for a few sets.

A good 3 day fat loss program will be able to offer enough stimulus to maintain or gain muscle, yet still balance out the fact you may have limitations with recovery if you do too much.

On Fitbod, we can balance these factors for you.  Just select how many days you want to train (3 days) and select your goal (weight loss), and we’ll build each workout as you go based on the performance of each training session.  Click HERE to get 3 free workouts.    

Rule #3:  Still Do Some Heavier Compound Exercises

Despite the fact we just discussed the importance of lifting moderate to lighter loads in moderate to higher rep ranges above, it is still important and beneficial to lift heavier loads to keep strength numbers up and to still challenge fast twitch muscle fibers (which respond more to heavier loads and fast explosive movements).

During non-diet phases, you may be able to spend most of your time training heavier compound lifts in the 5-10 rep range, or even 2-5 rep range. 

However during a diet phase this can be tougher to do since recovery is often a major limitation. I generally recommend choosing one movement per session to train in the heavier rep range (5-10 reps), preferably a compound exercise like squats, presses, and deadlifts. 

The reason being is that you can still stimulate a ton of muscle and maintain as much strength as possible during a diet phase simply by doing the smallest effective dose necessary. 

The total sets may vary, however I like doing 3-6 total sets for 5-10 total reps for my main compound lifts and focusing on good reps and small progressions, or even repeating the same weights and reps in following weeks during a diet phase (with my strength movements).

What about cardio? Well, the truth is you might not actually need to do any cardio in a fat loss phase. Watch this video to learn more.

Rule #4:  Eat a Protein Rich Diet, and Eat Carbs Too

While this is a nutrition based rule generally, it 100% will affect your ability to perform in the gym and maintain as much muscle as you can during the diet phase.

As discussed above, you will need to keep your training intensities hard and volumes higher, especially as you go deeper into a diet phase to ensure your body does not lose muscle. That hard and frequent training comes at a cost, and recovery is the price.

By increasing your protein intake, or hopefully keeping it similar to what it already is (assuming you are eating roughly 1g of protein a day per pound), you can help your body recover from hard training and allow you to keep training harder the next workout.

Carbs are also key during a fat loss phase, especially around your workouts. Despite what fad diets may tell you, your body needs some carbs to train hard, especially if your goal is to train hard to maximize muscle retention (prevent losing muscle) and getting lean, ripped, and toned after a diet phase. 

Your muscles store carbs in the form of glycogen within them, and that helps them train hard during tough workouts. 

When you diet or go low carb, your muscles can run empty of glycogen, which means your performance will suffer, the muscles will appear flat and not hard, and your recovery will be limited. 

The solution: aim to consume a carbohydrate rich meal after your workouts. This is typically around 30-50% of your total carbohydrate allowance (macros) for the day. This will ensure those carbs get put to good use and help you recover in time for your next hard workout.

Check out our weight loss dieting guide for more details. 

Rule #5:  Be in a Calorie Deficit

This is one of the most critical aspects of fat loss, and that is to be in a calorie deficit. If you are in a deficit, you will lose weight. If you are “dieting” yet eating more calories than you are expending, you are not in a calorie deficit and are technically not “dieting”. 

Therefore, focus on eating less and training hard, and track your weight loss week to week. If you are able to do this without the need of doing additional cardio, amazing! 

If you need to do additional cardio to boost your caloric expenditure, then I would consider HIIT workouts following your strength training.  We have several articles on HIIT training where you can learn more: 

Looking to kickstart your fat loss? Check out this article, How to Lose 5lbs in 1 Month!

The Best 3 Days a Week Workout for Fat Loss

3 days a week workout program to help you lose body fat

Below is a sample 3 days a week workout program to help you lose body fat AND retain as much muscle and strength as possible. 

On non workout days, I recommend you do 30-60 minutes of walking or leisure physical activity per day. Better yet, aim to hit 10,000 steps per day, every day of the week.

About the program…

To maximize the effectiveness of this program, the overall training volume and training frequency per muscle group is high. This is done by training total body workouts every training day. 

Additionally, one lower body strength movement and one upper body strength movement is trained per day to ensure fast twitch muscle fibers and strength are still being maintained throughout the fat loss cycle. 

Each workout should take roughly 60 minutes, not including warm ups or cool downs.

If you want to see how workouts progress week-to-week to ensure you don’t stall on your progress, then use the Fitbod App and select “weight loss” as your goal.  You also have the option of customizing the equipment that you have available.  

Day 1: Workout For Fat Loss

This workout starts with back squats for leg strength and pairs them with bodyweight TRX rows to prepare the lifter for some bench press (get the back activated). 

During the low incline bench press strength work, the lifter will also include kettlebell swings to target the glutes and hamstrings. 

Both of those segments should take no longer than 15 minutes EACH, leaving roughly 30 minutes for the last part of the workout.

The last part of the workout is a total body dumbbell workout that should be done with heavy enough loads that the lifter reaches muscle failure in those rep ranges. 

Each round should take about 7 minutes on average, including 30 seconds between exercises and a longer 60 second rest period after the sit ups and before the next round.

  • Barbell Back Squat: 4 sets of 5 reps, with a heavy load, go directly into the TRX Row
  • TRX Row: 4 sets of 8-10 reps, with a challenging angle, rest 60 seconds afterwards
  • Low InclineBarbell  Bench Press: 4 sets of 5 reps, with a heavy load, go directly into the kettlebell swing
  • Kettlebell Swing: 4 sets of 12-15 reps, with a moderate to heavy load, rest 60 seconds afterwards
  • Dumbbell Circuit: Perform 4 Rounds, resting 30 seconds between exercises, 60 seconds after each round
  • Dumbbell Walking Lunge: 10-15 reps per leg, with a challenging load
  • Dumbbell Floor Press: 10-15 reps, with a challenging load
  • Dumbbell Bicep Curl: 10-15 reps, with a challenging load
  • Dumbbell Sit Up: 10-15 reps, with a challenging load

Day 2: Workout For Fat Loss

workout for fat loss

This workout starts with barbell Romanian deadlift for leg strength and pairs them with pull up or band assisted pull ups for back strength and hypertrophy. 

During the standing overhead press the lifter will attack more upper body strength work. They will pair this with standing bicep curls either with the barbell or dumbbells.

Both of those segments should take no longer than 15 minutes EACH, leaving roughly 30 minutes for the last part of the workout.

The last part of the workout is a total body dumbbell workout that should be done with heavy enough loads that the lifter reaches muscle failure in those rep ranges. 

Each round should take about 8-10 minutes on average, including 30 seconds between exercises and a longer 60 second rest period after the sit ups and before the next round.

  • Barbell RDL: 4 sets of 5 reps, with a heavy load, go directly into the pull up
  • Band Assisted Pull Up or Regular Strict Pull Up: 4 sets of 8-10 reps, with a challenging load/assistance, rest 60 seconds afterwards
  • Standing Barbell Overhead Press: 4 sets of 5 reps, with a heavy load, go directly into the kettlebell swing
  • Barbell or Dumbbell Curl: 4 sets of 12-15 reps, with a moderate to heavy load, rest 60 seconds afterwards
  • Dumbbell Circuit: Perform 3 Rounds, resting 30 seconds between exercises, 60 seconds after each round
  • One Arm Dumbbell Row: 15-20 reps per arm, with a challenging load
  • Dumbbell Skull Crusher: 15-20 reps, with a challenging load
  • Dumbbell Step Up: 10-15 reps per leg, with a challenging load
  • Weighted Side Plank: 30 seconds per side , with a challenging load

Day 3: Workout For Fat Loss

This workout starts with the bench press for upper body strength and pairs them with one arm dumbbell rows for back strength. 

From there, the lifter will go into the leg press and close grip push up segment to increase lower body strength and hypertrophy and work more upper body strength. 

Both of those segments should take no longer than 15 minutes EACH, leaving roughly 30 minutes for the last part of the workout.

The last part of the workout is a total body barbell and bodyweight workout that should be done with heavy enough loads that the lifter reaches muscle failure in those rep ranges. 

Each round should take about 8-10 minutes on average, including 30 seconds between exercises and a longer 60 second rest period after the sit ups and before the next round.

  • Barbell Bench Press: 4 sets of 5 reps, with a heavy load, go directly into the box jumps
  • One Arm Row: 4 sets of 8-10 reps, with a challenging weight, rest 60 seconds afterwards
  • Leg Press: 4 sets of 8-10 reps, with a heavy load, go directly into the close grip push up
  • Close Grip Push Up: 4 sets of 8-10 reps, with a moderate to heavy load (you can add a weight plate to your back), rest 60 seconds afterwards
  • Conditioning Circuit: Perform 3 Rounds, resting 30 seconds between exercises, 60 seconds after each round
  • Barbell Push Press: 10-15 reps, with a challenging load
  • Bodyweight V-Up: 15-20 reps, with a challenging load or bodyweight
  • Barbell Split Squat: 10-15 reps per leg, with a challenging load
  • Bodyweight Plank: 45-60 seconds, with a challenging load or bodyweight

Final Notes

Losing fat comes down to being a calorie deficit through a sound diet plan and increased activity. 

Outside of nutrition, weight training is one of the most important aspects of losing fat and not losing muscle during a diet phase. 

All of the workouts above will help you prevent muscle loss, increase your metabolism, and burn tons of calories without needing to “do cardio”. 

Make sure to track your meals and use cardio only as needed if you are truly looking to lose weight and prevent muscle loss during a diet phase.


About The Author

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.