Here’s the bottom line, yes if you want a great physique strength is important and obviously how much muscle you have is important too.

But for those of you who want improve body composition you need to have a low body fat percentage with a decent amount of muscle.

Diet is going to be the biggest factor contributing to changes in body composition but what you add to your training routine is going to be important as well.

Naturally, caloric expenditure during a training session is going to be crucial.

The number of calories your body burns is going to be dependent on work, or training volume.

Training intensity dictates all training variables including total volume, rest periods, training session length and the number of sets you are going to use.

Total training volume and rest periods are also going to dictate how many calories your body burns after a session and the source of fuel your body uses (fat vs glucose).

If you want to know the most time efficient training intensity to maximize fat loss keep reading.

Caloric Expenditure During Resistance Training

The number of calories that you burn is the result of the exercise you use, the distance the bar moves, and the weight on the bar.

  • Bigger muscle movements burn more calories: a squat for 10 reps will burn more calories than a lat pull down for 10 reps
  • Greater distances mean more work which means more energy is used
  • Heavier loads also mean more work which also means more energy is used

Volume Matters

Different training routines vary in the intensities (% of 1RM), rest periods, repetitions, and sets used. All of these variables share a relationship. If you train at a high intensity (90%) rest periods will need to increase, reps will decrease and training volume, per unit of time will decrease.

Bodybuilding style routines might take roughly 25% of the time compared to a powerlifting style routine to get the same amount of volume (1).

To demonstrate this, let’s take two people with the same squat max of 405. One person follows a powerlifting style routine and does 4 sets of 5 at 85% with four minutes rest between sets.

A bodybuilder follows a 3×10 routine at 70% and rests for 1.5 minutes

Intensity Sets and reps Volume Rest periods Total set time
Powerlifter 85% 4×5 6,800 pounds 4 minutes 9 minutes
Bodybuilder 70% 3×10 8,400 pounds 1.5 minutes 4.5 minutes


We can see that the bodybuilding routine gets 1,600 more pounds of volume in half the training time* (755 pounds/minute vs 1,866 pounds/minute).

Per repetition, the powerlifter will burn more calories because of the heavier load but they cannot accumulate as much volume and they need to rest longer.

Is there an Ideal Training Intensity?

This is really a question about training density. Is there an intensity a person can train at where they can maximize the amount of work they do in a given time period?

Let’s look at a variety of different training routines based on different training intensities, volumes, and rest periods.

It would seem that at some point, somewhere between the 20 and 35 repetition range that reducing the training intensity to accumulate more volume is no longer beneficial.

If you are trying to get the best bang for your buck while training, working at 60% of 1 RM and using a 20-repetition scheme might be your best option for an optimal training volume/unit of time.

You Still Burn Calories After You Train

After a resistance training session your body is still burning calories for a period of time.

It’s not going to be as much as during a session but over the course of time this extra caloric expenditure can add up to significant numbers (i.e. 3 pounds of fat a year).

As an added benefit, your body is burning predominately fat during this period.

For caloric expenditure (i.e. 5RM vs 10RM) higher intensities are favored but the impact (i.e. 20 calories) probably isn’t significant. Total training volume and shorter rest periods all maximize the magnitude of calories burned after a session but volume is likely the most important factor (2).

How do I put this Into My Training?

Training should be specific to the goals that you have. If you want to get very strong it’s not going to happen at a 60% intensity.

Training at this intensity might be beneficial for muscle growth but it’s likely on the lower end of the intensity/muscle growth continuum.

But if you do want to shed some body fat you should probably consider adding in some big muscle circuits that utilize the 60% intensity.

Adding a single set of the following routines to maximize training volume and calories burned could be added to the end of a training routine. Rest 15-30 seconds between exercise and 2-3 minutes between supersets.

Because of the relatively high volumes accumulated in such a short period of time it would be best to use a routine like this only once or twice a week with the split routine being the most favorable option.

Lower Body Routine

By doing this routine a person with decent strength levels could accumulate an extra 15,000+ pounds of training volume in under 10 minutes.

Exercise Reps Weight Volume
(A1) back squat 20 185 3,700
(A2) Sumo Deadlift 20 225 4,500
(B1) Trap bar deadlift 20 225 4,500
(B2) Barbell RDL 20 135 2,700


Upper Body Routine

With upper body routines it would be easier to use a split routine (i.e. push-pull), giving one body part a chance to rest. By doing this you can accumulate 16,000+ pounds of volume quickly.

Exercise Reps Weight Volume
(A1) Bench press 20 165 3,300
(A2) Cable row 20 200 4,000
(A3) Barbell push press 20 95 1,900
(B1) Dumbbell bench press 20 140 2,800
(B2) Chest supported rows 20 120 2,400
(B3) Dumbbell press 20 90 1,800


Split Routine

A split routine might be the best as it gives other muscles an even longer time period to recover (over 20,000 pounds of training volume!).

Exercise Reps Weight Volume
(A1) Bench press 20 165 3,300
(A2) Bent over row 20 165 3,300
(A3) Sumo deadlift 20 225 4,500
(B1) Back squat 20 185 3,700
(B2) Dumbbell chest press 20 140 2,800
(B3) Trap bar deadlift 20 225 4,500


None of this is exactly rocket science but it lends credibility to high rep metabolic conditioning finishers.

These routines are challenging and will leave you sweating and breathing heavy off. In 10 minutes you could easily burn over 200+ calories when combining what you burn after the session.

So, if your goal is to get improve your body composition and lose fat, try pairing one or two of these circuits each week with a healthy diet.