Free Delivery For Some Products*
The amount of information on the internet surrounding fat loss for females is, for lack of a better word, astounding. Most female fat loss plans don’t offer advice on how to customize a program to meet your needs, tout low-calorie diets, or discourage women from lifting heavy enough weights to actually build any muscle.
As a female who will always encourage other women to stop avoiding the weight room and to fuel their bodies properly (even if you’re trying to get leaner), I’m here to debunk the misinformation surrounding female fat loss plans and provide some useful recommendations on how to tailor a program to suit your needs.
In this article, I’ll discuss whether or not it’s easy for females to lose weight, review some common issues with most female fat loss plans, and show you the proper way to structure a female fat loss workout plan.
I’ll also provide diet recommendations for females going through a fat loss phase and offer a sample fat loss workout program at the end.
Is It Easy To Lose Weight For Females?
In general, women have a harder time losing weight than men. This doesn’t mean that women can’t be successful when following a fat loss program. It just means that we may see slower rates of fat loss than men, and often those struggles are due to factors beyond our control.
Below are some of the reasons why women tend to have a harder time losing weight.
1. Women don’t have as much lean muscle mass
Women typically have higher body fat percentages than men and don’t carry as much lean muscle mass.
There are a few reasons for this. For one, women don’t have as much testosterone, which is the hormone responsible for growing and maintaining muscle mass. Men have four to five times the amount of testosterone as women do.
Women also tend to carry more fat because it helps with biological functions such as childbearing and breastfeeding. Having a higher body fat percentage is also necessary for us to have regular menstrual cycles.
2. Women have more hormonal fluctuations
Women have more hormonal fluctuations due to the menstrual cycle. Depending on where you are in your cycle, your hormones may make you feel hungrier or more tired than usual. This can cause you to eat more, and that can make it more difficult to lose fat if you aren’t consistently monitoring your calorie intake.
Hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy and menopause can also affect women’s metabolisms. As well, conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which occurs in 5-20% of women of childbearing age, can cause significant hormonal imbalances that make it harder to lose weight.
3. Women are too afraid to lift weights
If you step foot into any large chain gym, you’ll likely find the weight room overrun by men. There may be a couple of females lifting weights, but most women prefer to take group fitness classes or stick to the cardio machines.
Society has come a long way in being more accepting of women with muscular physiques, but many females still avoid lifting weights because they’re afraid to get bulky.
But lifting weights is necessary if you want to increase your lean muscle mass, which helps to burn more calories throughout the day. Women who avoid strength training may be missing out on the metabolism-boosting effects that increased lean muscle mass can offer.
4. Women have to balance a lot of familial and professional responsibilities
Even when women have a lot of help from their partners when it comes to taking care of their children, they are usually the ones waking up in the middle of the night to feed a baby, driving kids to and from school or extracurricular activities, and preparing meals for the family. Many women work full-time jobs on top of all that as well.
All of these responsibilities don’t leave women with much free time. When they’re putting their family’s well-being above their own and trying not to neglect their professional obligations at work, workouts and healthy eating habits sometimes fall to the wayside.
5. It’s more common for women to be emotional eaters
Men can certainly be emotional eaters, but some studies have shown that women are more likely to eat sugary, fatty, carb-laden foods when coping with stress while men experience decreased appetites.
Part of this is due to the hormonal fluctuations in females I discussed above. Researchers have also hypothesized that women are more likely to possess a gene trait that blocks serotonin, the hormone responsible for mood stability and general feelings of happiness.
Women that exhibit this gene trait tend to engage in emotional eating more often, which can cause them to overeat.
The Problem With Most Female Fat Loss Workout Plans
Before I get into my own recommendations for how to structure a fat loss workout plan for females, I think it’s necessary to address some of the issues with most plans you can find on the internet.
Being aware of these issues will help you understand why I make the recommendations I do later on in this article.
1. Lack of variety
This workout plan from Muscle & Strength has you performing the same exact exercises with the same set and rep schemes for 10 weeks. It offers no guidance on how to adjust your sets and reps throughout the course of a fat loss phase.
The exercises it prescribes aren’t actually that bad. They hit all of the major muscle groups and include a combination of compound exercises (ones that work multiple muscle groups at once) and isolation exercises (those that work just one muscle group at a time), which I like.
But doing the same thing over and over again for 10 weeks can lead to boredom. It also doesn’t provide enough of a challenge to work your muscles in different ways or give you the opportunity to strengthen areas that may be lagging.
2. No recommendations for rest days
The workout plan above from Muscle & Strength has you working out 7 days a week. Three of those days are for cardio or low-impact core work, but it still perpetuates the idea that you need to work out more in order to lose weight.
For the vast majority of women, there’s no need to train every single day. On your rest days, you can simply focus on stretching or getting in enough steps without putting extra stress on your body. I provide examples of ways you can increase your activity without exercising further down in this article.
3. Lack of guidance when it comes to load management
In that same workout plan from Muscle & Strength, there’s no mention of how to properly select a weight for each movement. There are also no guidelines to follow when it comes to adding weight to each lift every week.
I understand that it’s hard to do that when you’re writing something for the masses and can’t possibly know every single reader’s workout history or current strength levels. But there are general recommendations you can provide to at least get people started. I share some of my own guidelines for weight selections later on in this article.
4. Illogical weight selections
If there’s anything worse than not offering any guidance at all when it comes to weight selection, it’s telling women to lift weights that simply don’t make sense.
Take, for example, this workout program from Muscle and Fitness Hers. On one of the trainer’s strength training days, she advises doing a glute exercise with a 3lb ankle weight.
Three pounds is nowhere near enough of a stimulus for most healthy women to actually build muscle. That’s lighter than most things you carry on a daily basis!
Healthy newborns that are carried full-term weigh more than that when they’re born. I’d even be willing to bet that your purse or the tote bag you take to work every day weighs more than 3lbs.
You can’t expect to get stronger if your workout doesn’t challenge you to lift weights that are heavier than the bags of groceries or toddlers that you carry every day.
5. Unsustainable diet plans
Nothing bothers me more than diet culture and “health experts” who prey on women’s insecurities by telling them they need to eat less. This diet plan from Women’s Health magazine — which claims to be “the best diet plan for weight loss ever” — is especially problematic.
The writer just assumes that any woman who wants to lose weight should eat 1,500 calories per day. Even if you’re not a professional athlete, that’s not enough food to support an active lifestyle. And to put into perspective just how few calories 1,500 is for an adult woman, that’s the same amount of daily recommended calories for a 7-year-old girl.
Expecting an adult woman, especially one who’s physically active, to sustain a diet of 1,500 calories a day is unreasonable. You likely burn more calories than that just by existing.
Diet plans like these also assume that all women need to eat the same amount of protein, carbs, and fats each day regardless of activity levels, current body weight, and other lifestyle factors. There are no guidelines on how to make the diet work for your individual needs, other than suggesting that you have a post-workout snack if you’re at the gym frequently.
Factors To Consider When Designing A Female Fat Loss Workout Plan
Taking what you know to be inaccurate or just illogical when it comes to most female fat loss programs, let’s review the proper way to structure a fat loss workout plan for women.
1. Exercise selection
A female fat loss workout plan should include a combination of compound and isolation movements.
Compound exercises such as squats and bench presses are beneficial because they can help you maintain or even gain strength even if you’re eating in a calorie deficit. They also burn more calories since you’re recruiting more muscles with each rep.
Isolation exercises, on the other hand, can help you maintain musculature in the smaller muscle groups such as your calves and biceps as you’re trying to get leaner.
I also recommend switching up your movements every 4-6 weeks. Certain exercises such as squats, deadlifts, and bench presses should remain, as these are some of the best movements for developing overall strength. However, if you need a break from them, you can choose different variations such as pause squats or Romanian deadlifts.
But choosing different accessory movements — for example, swapping lunges for Bulgarian split squats — can help prevent boredom and allow you to work your muscles in different ways.
Related Article: Leg Day Workouts For Weight Loss (10 Must-Do Exercises)
2. Training volume
When you’re eating fewer calories than you’re used to, you need to train with the goal of preserving as much lean muscle mass as possible.
This typically means training with rep ranges in the 5-10 or 10-15 range, depending on the exercise. I’d recommend doing lower reps for compound movements like squats or deadlifts and higher reps for isolation movements like calf raises or tricep extensions.
You may also find that you can’t complete all of your prescribed sets or reps per exercise as your calories get lower. You may even find it difficult to do all of your exercises, period.
You can alleviate this by cutting your sets or reps in half. So if you are supposed to do 4 sets of back squats, you can reduce it to 2 sets. If you’re really low on energy, you can even decrease both sets and reps based on however much you think you can handle that day.
3. Training intensity
When you first start a fat loss phase, you may not notice that much of a decrease in energy because you’re not in too significant of a calorie deficit. You can likely continue training at a high intensity without gassing out halfway through your workout.
But as you get deeper into a cut and decrease your calories more, you’ll likely find it difficult to sustain high-intensity workouts. Training with weights around 70-75% of your 1RM may be all the intensity you can handle in the last few weeks of your cut.
You’ll need to closely monitor how you feel so you can determine what kind of intensity you can train at each day.
Related Article: How To Plan Your Strength Training While Cutting (Ultimate Guide)
4. Training frequency
Maintaining a training frequency of 4-5 days per week is beneficial during a fat loss phase to prevent the loss of muscle mass. But when your daily calories are reduced and energy levels are low, you may find it difficult to keep up with that training schedule.
As such, it may become necessary to cut out at least one workout per week. Even if you only have enough energy to train two days a week, you can still maintain your strength, though you may still feel weaker until your fat loss phase ends and you increase your calories again.
Related Article: Can You Get Stronger Lifting Once A Week? (Yes, Here’s How)
5. Load management
Experienced lifters will likely have a good idea of what weights to start with when beginning a new workout plan. But if you’re new to strength training, you probably have no idea where to start.
The best way to figure out a starting point is to experiment. I recommend starting with an empty barbell or a light pair of dumbbells and doing 10-12 reps of an exercise.
If you can complete all of the reps easily while maintaining good form, you can go heavier the next time you do that exercise. If you couldn’t complete all of the reps, you’ll need to lower the weight. If you completed all of the reps but the last few were a struggle, you can stay at that weight.
You should follow this same protocol when deciding whether or not you should increase your weight from one workout to the next. You can likely increase your upper body weights by 5lbs and your lower body weights by 10lbs each week. But on some lifts like the overhead press, you may only be able to increase the weight by 2.5lbs every week.
With each set, you should also avoid lifting to failure — in other words, your form shouldn’t break down even during your last couple of reps. You should also finish each set feeling like you have 2-3 reps still left in the tank. If you don’t, your weight is likely too heavy.
6. Weight progressions
In addition to properly selecting the weight for each exercise, you’ll also need to determine how to manage your weight progressions as you become more experienced and your calorie intake gets lower. Eventually, your progress will stall whether you’re in a fat loss phase or not.
When that happens, you may wish to train based on your rate of perceived exertion (RPE). RPE training refers to how challenging a weight feels to you on any given day. Instead of adding weight to what you did the previous week, you’ll rate how difficult a lift feels on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being easy and 10 being an all-out effort.
Let’s say my back squat 1RM is 200lbs. I may normally be able to do 3 sets of 5 at 75% of that weight (150lbs) at an RPE of 6. But when I’m in a calorie deficit and my energy level is low, those sets may feel closer to an RPE of 8.
If my workout plan is prescribing 3 sets of 5 squats at an RPE of 6, I may need to decrease the weight to 140lbs.
RPE training is beneficial during a fat loss phase because you can still train safely while effectively managing your fatigue. It also removes the pressure of adding weight to your lifts every time you work out, which not only becomes impossible to sustain in general but is difficult to do when you’re in a calorie deficit.
Proper recovery during a fat loss phase is key. Since you won’t be eating as many calories, you may find that you’re more sore than usual or that a workout that was once easy is now challenging to get through.
Getting 7-8 hours of sleep can help you effectively manage your fatigue levels while drinking at least 75oz of water per day can keep you hydrated and help prevent muscle soreness. Taking 2-3 rests days and scheduling a deload week every 4-6 weeks is also important during a fat loss phase because it gives your body and mind a much-needed break from intense training.
Stretching for 15-20 minutes per day and engaging in some gentle active recovery such as walking or light cycling can also help alleviate muscle soreness. Just be sure not to add too much intensity to your active recovery sessions since that can prolong your recovery.
Do You Need To Do Cardio On A Fat Loss Workout Plan?
If you’re in a true calorie deficit and prioritizing lean proteins, healthy fats, and nutrient-rich carb sources at each meal, cardio is not necessary for fat loss.
This doesn’t mean you should avoid cardio altogether. Cardio is great for heart health. But you don’t have to slave away for hours on the treadmill. Doing just three moderate-intensity cardio sessions per week for 30 minutes can be enough to help boost your fat loss.
If you want to increase the number of calories you burn each day without doing any cardio, you can also find ways to increase your non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT).
NEAT refers to the physical activity you do outside of the gym that you normally wouldn’t count as exercise. Cleaning the house, gardening, taking the stairs at work, using a standing desk, and playing more often with your kids all count as NEAT.
Female Fat Loss Workout Plan
The sample female fat loss workout plan below is a 5-day plan, with 4 days of strength training and one day of cardio. I also provided the option for a sixth day to do some active recovery, but you should take at least one full day off from the gym per week.
My favorite way to train during a fat loss phase is to follow an upper/lower split. Each training day will focus on upper or lower body exercises only, and you’ll train the upper and lower body each twice per week.
I also like to have each day focused on one main compound movement, so each day will prioritize squats, bench presses, deadlifts, or overhead presses. The rest of the movements that follow target the other lower or upper body muscle groups such as the hamstrings and calves or biceps and triceps.
For the first compound movement of each day, I recommend selecting a weight that feels like a 6-7 RPE. This should be around 70-75% of your 1RM. If you don’t have a current 1RM, go by how you feel, but be very honest with yourself. Avoid training to failure, as you’ll want to leave 2-3 reps in the tank so you can keep increasing weight each week.
For the accessory movements, you can aim for an RPE of 8-9. Since you’re working smaller muscle groups, the exercises won’t be as taxing, and you can afford to push the intensity a bit. However, I would still advise you to leave 1-3 reps in reserve. And if your energy levels are low in the later weeks of your cut, feel free to scale these movements back to an RPE of 6-7.
If you can easily complete all sets and reps for any given exercise, bump up the weight the next week. If you struggle to complete all of the work or if the RPE feels more difficult than it should, keep the weight the same the next week.
Day 1 – Lower Body and Core
|Bulgarian split squat||4||8-10 each leg|
|Lying hamstring curl||4||10-12|
|Seated calf raises||4||12-15|
Day 2 – Upper Body
|Seated dumbbell press||3||8-10|
Day 3 – Rest or active recovery
Do no more than 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio such as cycling or rowing. You can also use this day to work on mobility or get 8,000 – 10,000 steps.
Day 4 – Lower Body and Core
|Walking lunges||3||8-10 each leg|
|Standing calf raises||4||12-15|
|Ab wheel rollouts||3||8-10|
Day 5 – Upper Body
|Incline DB bench press||3||8-10|
Days 6 – Moderate-intensity cardio
Perform a maximum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio. This could be by jogging, using the elliptical machine, rowing, or going on an easy hike.
Day 7 – Rest day
This should be a complete day of rest. Mobility work and getting in your daily steps are fine, but avoid doing any kind of exercise in which you’re overexerting yourself.
In order to see the best results from your fat loss program, you should train consistently for at least 12-16 weeks with at least one scheduled deload week during that time. The workout plan you choose to do during this time should also take into consideration your training history and schedule. In the Fitbod app, you can enter the workout plan above or choose a different plan that best suits your goals. The app will also adjust each workout based on your recovery and how much work you completed in the previous training session.
How Much Fat Can You Expect To Lose?
How much fat you can expect to lose when following a fat loss program depends on several factors. How high of a body fat percentage you’re starting with, what kind of training you do, how you eat, your stress levels, genetics, and how active you are outside of the gym can all affect how successful you’ll be.
In terms of weight on the scale, you should aim for a loss of 0.5-1lbs per week. This is a sustainable approach because you likely won’t have to cut your calories too low from the start, and it will ensure that you preserve as much muscle mass as possible.
Body fat percentage is harder to measure unless you can go somewhere that has a DEXA machine or hydrostatic weighing mechanism in which you go underwater while sitting on a scale. But if you can measure it, a reasonable goal to shoot for is to lose 1-3% of body fat per month.
If you start at a high body fat percentage, your results may be at the higher end of that scale. If you’re already somewhat lean, your results may be at the lower end of that scale.
Diet Considerations for a Female Fat Loss Plan
In order to lose fat, you need to eat in a calorie deficit, meaning you need to eat fewer calories than you burn.
However, while I know you’ll likely want to start your fat loss phase right away, you shouldn’t start blindly trying to reduce the amount of food you’re eating each day. Before you officially begin your fat loss plan, I recommend figuring out your maintenance calories first.
Maintenance calories refer to the number of calories you can eat each day without gaining weight. Women, in particular, tend to undereat without even realizing it, which is why it’s important to get a true understanding of your maintenance calories before you enter a fat loss phase.
By doing this, you may find that you can maintain your weight while eating more than you initially thought. You’ll then be able to start your calorie deficit at a higher daily calorie limit, which will make your fat loss diet easier to sustain.
There are a few different ways you can determine your maintenance calories:
- Use an online nutrition calculator such as Precision Nutrition’s macro calculator
- Tracking your calories for 1-2 weeks in an app like MyFitnessPal to gauge how much you’re currently eating. If you think you could be eating more, you may wish to gradually increase your daily calories by 100-200 every week over the course of 2-3 weeks while monitoring your weight. If you can keep increasing your calories more and more without gaining weight, it’s a sign that you were inadvertently depriving yourself before.
How To Determine Your Macro Breakdown For A Fat Loss Phase
Once you know how many calories you can eat per day without gaining weight, you can begin to adjust your daily calorie intake so you’re in a calorie deficit. A good rule of thumb is to start by reducing your calories by 200-300 per day.
However, while your total calorie intake is the most important number to focus on, eating the right macros throughout the day can also help you achieve the most optimal results.
Macros, short for macronutrients, refers to the three main nutrients in your diet: protein, fat, and carbs. Getting enough of each macro during a fat loss phase is essential because it gives you energy for your workouts, keeps you satiated for longer, and helps with recovery from training.
Every female is different, so you may need to experiment with a different macro breakdown until you find one that makes you feel your best during your fat loss phase. However, you can use the below guidelines as a starting point:
Eating enough protein is necessary during a fat loss phase because it helps prevent you from losing the lean muscle mass you already have. You should aim to eat at least 0.8g of protein per pound of body weight each day. So if you weigh 160lbs, you should eat at least 128g of protein.
Carbs are arguably the most demonized macro, but they’re necessary for active females so you have enough energy for your workouts and can recover properly.
Carbs can take up anywhere from 40-50% of your total daily calories depending on how active you are. If you’re relatively sedentary outside of the gym, you may want to lean towards the lower end of that range. If you lift weights for 2+ hours and have a physical job, your carb intake should be at the higher end of that range.
If you’re aiming to eat 2,000 calories per day with 40% of those coming from carbs, 800 calories should come from carbs. This would equal 200g of carbs per day because there are 4 calories in each gram of carb and 800 ÷ 4 = 200.
Eating enough dietary fat is essential for hormone health. Fats should take up at least 25% of your overall calories. Using the same example from above of eating 2,000 calories per day, 400 of those calories should come from fat sources. This equals about 55-56g of fat per day because there are 9 calories in each gram of fat and 400 ÷ 9 = 55.5.
How Do You Know When To Decrease Calories Further?
During a fat loss phase, it’s important to track your weight at least 3 days per week and take your average weight for the week to determine whether or not you need to decrease your calories.
This is because your weight will rarely stay exactly the same from one day to the next. What you ate and drank the day before, how well you slept, and what kind of training you did the day before can cause your scale weight to go up or down by a couple of pounds.
Where you are in your menstrual cycle will also affect your weight. Bloating and water retention from PMS can cause temporary increases on the scale. If you cut your calories based on one weigh-in the day before your period starts, you could be eating fewer calories than necessary.
I also recommend waiting at least two weeks before making any significant changes to your diet. When I’ve been in fat loss phases in the past, I’ve sometimes gone 2-3 weeks without dropping a single pound, and then I’ll suddenly lose 2-4 pounds without changing a thing.
So as hard as it is to do, you’ll need to stay patient. Rushing to cut your calories too quickly can make your diet more difficult to stick to. You’ll be more likely to succumb to food cravings or skip your workouts because you’re too tired to get them done.
It’s also important to note that when decreasing calories, you should keep your protein levels the same and cut calories from carbs or fats first to avoid the risk of losing too much muscle mass.
How Long Should You Stay In A Calorie Deficit?
I recommend ending a fat loss phase after about 12-16 weeks. Eating in a deficit is a stress on your body, and combined with working out on top of your other daily responsibilities, it can be difficult for your body to handle all of that stress for a long period of time.
After 12-16 weeks, you should slowly start to increase your calories again until you’ve reached a new maintenance point. Each week, you should increase your daily calories by 100-200 per day until you can determine how much you can eat without gaining weight.
With all that said, if your calorie deficit isn’t too aggressive, you still have plenty of energy, and your workouts aren’t suffering, you can extend the length of your calorie deficit.
However, if you do decide to extend your cut, I’d recommend taking a one-week diet break every 6-8 weeks. Temporarily increasing your calories for a week can give your body some relief from the stress of eating in a calorie deficit. Just be sure to continue making smart food choices and keep up with your training so you don’t negate your progress during that week.
What Supplements Should Females Take During A Fat Loss Phase?
While social media fitness influencers, health and nutrition stores, and some professional athletes may have you believe otherwise, you don’t need a ton of supplements when you’re trying to lose fat.
The most important supplements you should take when you’re following a fat loss program are:
- Protein powder
Whether you drink coffee or like to take a preworkout supplement before your training session, caffeine can give you the energy you need to get through your workout. For the most optimal effects on training, you should consume caffeine about 40-60 minutes before training.
If you decide to take a preworkout, you should be mindful of dosing as too much caffeine can disrupt your sleep, make you jittery, or cause an increase in heart rate or blood pressure.
The majority of preworkout supplements on the market will list dosage amounts on the label. I wouldn’t recommend taking any more than what’s listed on the label, but you can take less if you’re sensitive to caffeine.
Active females, especially those who lift weights, have higher protein requirements than others. It can be difficult to consume all of the protein you need through food alone, which is why protein powder is beneficial.
Most protein powders have 20-30g of protein per serving. Whey protein is most common, but you can also get plant-based or other non-dairy protein powders if you can’t eat dairy.
It’s also important to note that protein shouldn’t be used as a meal replacement for every single meal. There’s nothing wrong with using it for a breakfast on the go every once in a while, but you should still consume whole food sources as much as possible.
Creatine is one of the most highly researched supplements. Studies show that it can help improve strength, increase muscle mass, and improve power output on high-intensity exercises.
Creatine is an amino acid that’s found naturally in muscle cells. It can also be found in protein sources such as red meat and seafood, though you’d need to eat a significant amount of both to get to the recommended 5g of creatine per day.
Creatine yields the greatest results when it’s taken post-workout, but you can take it at any time of the day.
Most female fat loss plans are too vague and lack proper guidance when it comes to exercise selection, load management, training intensity and frequency, and how to properly fuel your body.
But to achieve the best results, you need to structure your workout plan and diet properly. Lifting weights, eating in a calorie deficit, and doing 30 minutes of cardio 2-3 days per week are your best bets for seeing results. You should also prioritize protein as much as possible and increase your NEAT throughout the day to accelerate your fat loss.