| May 20, 2021

How different training styles can help you get lean

Getting lean is the most common fitness goal for many people. When you look around in the gym, you may notice that a lot of people who share this type of goal tend to exercise differently and vary in their approaches. The human body works in a way that pretty much any type of exercise you do can help you burn fat, albeit in different capacities.

By Trevor Mah

Read time: 8 min.

Getting lean is the most common fitness goal for many people. When you look around in the gym, you may notice that a lot of people who share this type of goal tend to exercise differently and vary in their approaches. The human body works in a way that pretty much any type of exercise you do can help you burn fat, albeit in different capacities. Community is a pillar in the fitness world, so there is always something you can learn from your fellow gym-goer. Here is a breakdown of what you can learn and take away from the different types of training styles as it pertains to losing weight.

Bodybuilder/Physique Competitor

The majority of gym folk fall under this category by default. This is a broad category for basically anyone who trains for an aesthetic goal. While you have the professional competitors at the extreme end of the spectrum, most people fall somewhere in the middle just trying to look better. After all, many people exercise for aesthetic reasons either directly or indirectly. One difference worth noting is the bodybuilder and physique competitor differ mainly in what their respective competitions look for when judging. But for training purposes, they are fairly similar in their approach at the gym.

What You Can Learn:

Professional and credible aesthetic athletes know how to look their best on stage. Their training style programs usually revolve around split routines where they target specific body parts on different days. Because of this, their routines involve many variations of exercises and hit the muscles in different angles. Volume is the main focus as well to ensure proper muscle breakdown and recovery for them to be sculpted from the countless repetitions. For those looking to add on size, this style of training is exceptional for signaling the body to build muscle during recovery. With the added muscle, this helps boost metabolism for sustain weight loss and improved body composition. Additionally, a well-covered regimen will eventually help with shaping and defining the body for aesthetics.

Watch Out For:

Compound lifts (i.e. squats, deadlifts, presses, etc.) are the key for improving muscle mass to drive your metabolism up into a fat-burning machine. Because of split routines, many specialized day programs (chest day, leg day, etc.) will include many isolation exercises. When it comes to fat loss, isolation exercises are generally inferior to classic lifts as they do not work the body as hard nor elicit the same fat burning response. The main thing to think about in this regard is how much time you can spend and how to use it efficiently. For instance, if you are aiming for efficient fat loss, you’re much better off focusing your training session on improving your deadlift than the latest calf burner routine.


Known for throwing large amounts of weight onto a barbell, the powerlifter excels in finding their perfect body position to lift the weight up with maximal force. The sport of powerlifting is based on three main exercises: back squat, bench press, and deadlift. Not to say that only powerlifters do these movements, but generally they are stronger at them than most others.

What You Can Learn:

One can understand proper body positioning and how to brace their core in order to learn the best way to generate force from the ground. One can also learn how to perform proper maintenance techniques from elite lifters as they focus on weaknesses of their body that may inhibit their lifts. Additionally, powerlifting will teach you how to properly breathe while performing these major lifts. Excelling in all the classic barbell lifts allow one to branch out into other exercise variations if they choose to do so. As mentioned before, compound lifts are your best bang for your buck exercises and improving them checks off a lot of boxes when it comes to body recomposition.

Watch Out For:

Powerlifting programs are performed at a high intensity and varied level of volume. Proper warmups and maintenance are required for the joints as it is taxing on the central nervous system. While you may not feel the “burn” sensation from basic programs, the joints do take quite a beating and lifting maximal loads will take a toll on the body. Because of this, rest periods are often long and may not be suitable to less patient or time constrained lifters. Lastly, longer rest periods and downtime between sets are not conducive to cardiovascular conditioning which is important for a well balanced weight loss routine.

Olympic Lifters

Many of the points for Olympic lifters are similar to those of a powerlifter based off of their mastery of barbell exercises. The main difference is that their sport varies in the type of lifts performed. Instead of the big three, they are known to generate explosive force at a great speed for the snatch and clean & jerk. If you really want to be technical with the terminology, they truly are the “power” lifters based on the velocity executed in these exercises. But that would just cause confusion in the fitness nomenclature. Anyways, many Olympic lifters still focus on the big three, but progress to more dynamic movements that carry over a little better to sports performance. 

What You Can Learn:

Just like powerlifters, their ability to move large amounts of weights at a rapid speed covers a lot of the same bases for weight loss. Learning body awareness, proprioception, balance etc. can really take a lot of effort. When properly executed, these lifts make every part of your body work. There is very little to no slack if you want to do these lifts with technical proficiency.

Watch Out For:

Due to the technical difficulty of the Olympic lifts, there is a sharp learning curve for many people. Even when transitioning from your basic barbell movements, coordination and muscle memory will take some time to develop unless you’re lucky. Assess your time and when you are looking to achieve your goals in this case for your weight loss. For some lifts, it can take at least a year to become moderately proficient with Olympic lifts. If your goals for weight loss have a time frame, consider alternatives that will give you more efficient results. However, if you do become proficient, these lifts can be a great addition to your routine.

Cardio Kings & Queens

Upon entering a gym, you will notice a large amount of real estate dedicated to treadmills, ellipticals, bikes, rowers, and many other cardio equipment. The gym business thrives on this model where it attracts members with the most common type of goal (weight loss), and the idea that cardio is essential for burning fat. Even looking at some machine settings, you might even notice some “fat burning zones”. 

A balanced program that includes resistance training and cardio work is essential for weight loss, but sometimes you see the regulars who spend their entire workout sweating on the machine watching TV. 

What You Can Learn:

To get the obvious out of the way, working on your cardiovascular system (i.e. your heart) is important no matter what your goals are. You need to be conditioned to some extent in life, and complementing your resistance training with it is beneficial. If you don’t use it, you lose it. But when it comes to conditioning, if you don’t use it, you really lose it.

Although some advanced lifters may scoff at the cardio regulars, you can also applaud their consistency in the gym. They usually arrive at the exact same time like a German train schedule. They put forth consistent effort and continue to do what they do. 

Watch Out For:

Excessive time spent on machines at a low-moderate intensity has its place, but doing it as your main form of weight loss is ineffective compared to a training program that incorporates resistance and higher intensity work. As these 

Another common pitfall for excessive cardio is injury risk. People who are unaware of proper weight loss default to cardio as the go-to because of outdated fitness ideals. A common way of thinking is that rather than deal with the complexities (programming, learning how to lift, etc.) that running (or biking, stairs, etc.) is low maintenance and easier. However, repetitive movements are actually more likely to cause injury due to underlying mechanical issues. For example, if you count that amount of “steps” in your cardio session (let’s say the often celebrated 10,000/day), but those movements are all faulty because of improper ground striking, then that’s 10,000 poor reps. If you performed that many poor reps of any other exercise, you’re in for a lot of pain.

Basically, having proper form for cardio is just as important as form for resistance exercises. Getting caught up in cardio can make you blind to underlying mechanical issues that can cause injuries to eventually creep up faster than they do when performing resistance exercise. If you get hurt, then it makes your weight loss goal even more difficult.

Crossfitter/Circuit Junkie

Crossfit has grown in popularity over the last decade. Workouts of the day (WODs) on whiteboards, group sessions in the large rigs at gyms, and big digital clocks for timing workouts are becoming common. You see the crossfitter as the one seemingly trying to do as much as possible under a certain amount of time.

What You Can Learn:

Consistency is to be praised for many of these types of trainers. They come in no matter how they feel for the day because they know that once they get going, they will feel very accomplished once they are done. Community is no doubt a key part of CrossFit as you will notice they are all very tight and help motivate each other. Having this support can really help with all goals, not just weight loss. Lastly, they know how to challenge themselves for a workout. While this may be relative, workouts that really tax your body with a strong conditioning component is much more uncomfortable feeling than exercising in other ways. Facing this as a constant challenge, along with the mindset to always improve is a great perspective to have in the gym.

Watch Out For:

As CrossFit has grown in popularity, so has the number of coaches and people adding them to their workouts to spice things up. Unfortunately, for as many competent coaches as there are out there, there are many more who focus too much on effort over execution. Due to this, common problems you may hear of are sacrificing form for performance often leading to injuries. Some people may not be ready for certain movements or sequencing of exercises due to either lack of experience in an exercise or current conditioning. Doing too much too soon may not set someone up along the right path to success, and not regressing certain exercises (or choosing the correct ones) can inhibit the effectiveness of the session.

While there are some hybrid lifters who may dabble in all kinds of training styles, find the one that you work best with and gets you to your weight loss goals. By having a better understanding of why you are training like someone else, you will come out with better awareness of the effectiveness of your actions.

Lastly, although nutrition is paramount towards any training program, it is of the utmost importance if aesthetics are the pure goal. Simply put, no matter how tough it may be to move the next day from a punishing workout, you can never out train a poor diet. This goes for all types of lifters mentioned.

It is imperative that a proper and sensible diet compliments your training program to allow for sufficient recovery. Without it, no training style can overcome sustainable weight loss and body composition improvement.

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