Fitness Weight Loss

Program Design for Weight Loss

Josh Elsesser
Josh Elsesser
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A quick Google search for the topic of program design for weight loss provides well over 2 million results. Needless to say, there is a lot of information, and sometimes misinformation, on the “best” ways to lose weight.

Known as the Law of Thermodynamics, weight loss is accomplished when the energy expended in a body is greater than the energy consumed. Simply put, if your clients eat less than they burn, they will lose weight. Simple, right?

With over two-thirds of the American population considered overweight or obese1, and a large number of the population getting bariatric weight loss surgery, fitness professionals are uniquely equipped with the tools to help create long-term change in our communities. 

In order for your clients to achieve weight loss results, they have to create an energy deficit. The focus of this article will be the programming of resistance training. Assuming a structured nutritional and behavioral change approach is being implemented as well, the information provided here will assist in creating effective training programs focusing on weight loss.

You can use the information in this post, alongside our weight loss calculator app, and design intelligent weight loss programs today. 

How to Design a Weight Loss Program Using the OPT model

The NASM Optimum Performance Training™ (OPT™) model provides a simple, yet extremely effective approach for weight loss programming. Specifically, Phases 1, 2 and 5 will be the most effective for your clients with weight loss goals.

Phase 1: Stabilization Endurance

Increasing caloric expenditure is the key to helping your clients achieve their weight loss goals. In Phase 1, the implementation of resistance training as it pertains to improving stabilization and balance will provide an excellent way to burn more overall calories. In addition, the cardiorespiratory training will help to optimize the use of oxygen and increase caloric expenditure.

Time Under Tension: In Phase 1 the repetition range is 12-20 reps. The higher rep counts, combined with the slower 4/2/1 movement tempo is more metabolically taxing with the continuous demands placed on the body2.

Rest: The recommended rest interval in Phase 1 is 0-90 seconds between sets. The shorter rest intervals raise the metabolic demand by keeping your clients moving, in turn, increasing calories burned.

Cardio: In Phase 1, cardio is all about improving the aerobic base, also called Stage I. The better your client is at utilizing oxygen to burn fat, the greater weight loss they will experience. Stage I cardio should be kept in Zone 1 (65-75% of heart rate max (HRmax)) for extended periods of time (about 30-45 minutes).

Phase 2: Strength Endurance

Phase 2 increases the demands on your client’s metabolism and speeds it up by increasing the overall volume and intensity of training. Cardio in this phase is also focused on increasing intensity by incorporating intervals.

Volume: In Phase 2 your client will be super-setting a strength exercise (8-12 reps at a 2/0/2 tempo) with a stabilization exercise for the same muscle groups. This superset increases overall volume, which places a higher metabolic demand on your client.

Intensity: The intensity in Phase 2 increases to 70-80% of 1RM for the strength exercise. This increase in intensity, coupled with the increase in overall training volume, may increase lean body mass (LBM), providing additional energy expenditure both during exercise as well as at rest.

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Cardio: Stage II intervals are used in Phase 2 which increases the fat burning effect by incorporating Zone 2 work (1 minute of 76-85% HRmax) with Zone 1 recovery (3 minutes). Repeat these intervals for 30 minutes. Replace 1-2 Stage I weekly cardio sessions with Stage II cardio intervals.

Phase 5: Power

Power training focuses on producing force as well as velocity. Utilizing this phase will really ramp up your client’s metabolic demand and further improve weight loss. Phase 5 cardio will progress all the way into Zone 3, increasing the energy demand even more.

Superset: The Phase 5 superset is a strength exercise followed immediately by a power exercise. Since the strength exercise is at near maximal intensity (85-100% 1RM, 1-5 reps), and the power exercise is performed at maximal speed (8-10 reps at 30-45% 1RM), the metabolic demand is substantially increased.

Cardio: Phase 5 uses Stage III cardio, which incorporates Zone 3 intervals (1 minute at about 90% HRmax) with recovery in Zone 1 or 2 (1 minute). Repeat for 20 minutes. Replace 1 cardio session per week with Stage III.

More Than Just Weights and Cardio

As mentioned earlier, the most effective weight loss programs will utilize an integrated approach. Trying to achieve results with only one part of the puzzle will become frustrating for both you and your clients. Incorporating proper nutritional guidance by a trained nutrition professional, in addition to behavior change strategies will provide the best overall environment to create lasting change.


  1. Flegal KM, Carroll MD, Kit BK, Ogden CL. Prevalence of obesity and trends in the distribution of body mass index among US adults, 1999–2010.Journal of the American Medical Association. 2012; 307(5):491–97.
  2. McGill EA, Montel IN. NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training. 2017

The Author

Josh Elsesser

Josh Elsesser

Josh Elsesser is a passionate, dedicated Fitness Professional with 20 years of experience in the Industry. He holds multiple certifications from NASM including: Master Trainer CES, PES, and BCS. He currently owns Kinetic Strength, a corrective exercise and metabolic conditioning company in Southern California. He is also one of the founders of The Mastermind Project, a collaboration of successful Professional Fitness Coaches that are dedicated to providing business and professional development to trainers.


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