Our Top Tips to Get Lean : A Comprehensive Guide

When it comes to fitness a lot of people have a main goal of shedding a few pounds and toning up their overall physique. Forget the fad diets, the extreme low carb diets, the detoxes and the never-ending sit-ups. Instead of putting yourself at an extreme caloric deficit and doing too much cardio, here are some of my top tips to get lean.

I wanted to share this with my readers because my fitness journey was a lot of trial and error. However, when I finally discovered the specific training I needed to incorporate in order to achieve the results I wanted coupled with the right eating habits, things sky rocketed from there. I was a typical ‘cardio girl’ spending endless hours a week on the treadmill. Often people have this misconception when it comes to cardio. Yes cardio does burn fat however when you overdo it you will start to burn muscle as well. Therefore this defeats the purpose of burning body fat and building muscle as well as strength to tone your body.

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Ladies, lets just clarify something… lifting weights WILL NOT make you bulky (another common misconception). Weightlifting was actually a big factor in my transformation. If you are a beginner make sure you read my post about free weights for beginners.

It is so important to understand that if you are trying to get leaner you can’t ‘spot reduce’ fat in specific areas. This is going to take time, dedication and motivation.

By making a long term commitment to fitness this will ensure that you are on the right track to living a fitter, healthier and positive lifestyle. It’s more than just trying to achieve the perfect beach body for summer. What about after that? This is a long term commitment and I find that a lot of people fail to realise that and want to see quick results hence the lure into fad diets and these so called quick fixes.

Here are some of my top tips to get lean:


You cannot reach your fitness goal by solely doing cardio. A lot of people think that if their goal is to lose weight, that they need to spend 45-60 minutes daily on the treadmill. While cardio does contribute to weight loss, it is important not to over do it and create a balanced training schedule. Too much cardio will cause your body to revert to burning muscle instead of fat if it is done for long duration frequently. This was a mistake I made when I embarked on my fitness journey. I would be on the treadmill daily for at least 45 minutes, fiddle around with a few machines after and then leave. I did not understand why I was not seeing results and it was truly disheartening.

I was completely clueless when it came to weightlifting and the impact it had on weight loss. Along with increasing your overall strength, weightlifting also increases your physical work capacity. Through consistent training you will be able to work harder for longer durations. Moreover, there is a decrease in sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass and strength) which therefore promotes fat-free body mass. If weightlifting isn’t incorporated in your training, you won’t be able to be build lean muscle and lower your body fat percentage. There are two categories of weightlifting movements: isolated and compound.

  • Isolated Movements: An isolated movement is completed in a way that leaves one particular major muscle group isolated which allows the muscle group to do all of the work by itself. This type of exercise is one that targets major muscle groups i.e. glutes. A lot of women that incorporate squats into their routine with the aim of growing their glutes will reach a plateau if they are not incorporating weights or isolation movements. Simple glute isolation exercises can ensure that your glutes are activated and thus maximising their engagement throughout the routine. I love to do glute isolation exercises with a resistance band prior to completing my leg day workout (see some of my favourite isolation glute activation exercises here).

Some common isolation exercises include:

Flat, Incline or Decline Flyes (dumbbell, cable or machine)
Muscle Group Trained: Chest

Lateral Raises or Front Raises (dumbbell, cable or machine)

Muscle Group Training: Shoulders

Biceps Curls (barbell, dumbbell, cable or machine)
Muscle Group Trained: Biceps

 –Triceps Extensions (barbell, dumbbell, cable or machine)
Muscle Group Training: Triceps

Leg Extensions
Muscle Group Trained: Quads

 –Leg Curls
Muscle Group Trained: Hamstrings

Calf Raises
Muscle Group Trained: Calves

  • Compound Movements: A compound movement is one that uses more than one major muscle group at a time (a key factor in weight loss and to build overall strength). There is usually one larger muscle group that will do the main bulk of the work and one or more muscle groups that are smaller, will be recruited on a secondary basis.

Some common compound exercises:

       -Deadlifts (many variations)
Primary Muscle Group: Posterior Chain (Hamstrings, Glutes, Back, etc.)
Secondary Muscle Groups: Much Of Lower Body, Much Of Upper Body

       –Squats (many variations)
Primary Muscle Group: Quads
Secondary Muscle Groups: Most Of Lower Body (Glutes/Hamstrings), Lower Back

       –Flat, Incline or Decline Bench Press (barbell, dumbbell or machine)
Primary Muscle Group: Chest
Secondary Muscle Groups: Shoulders, Tricep

       –Overhead Shoulder Press (barbell, dumbbell or machine)
Primary Muscle Group: Shoulders
Secondary Muscle Group: Triceps

       –Dips (on parallel bars with slight forward lean)
Primary Muscle Group: Chest
Secondary Muscle Groups: Triceps, Shoulders

       –Dips (on parallel bars with no forward lean)
Primary Muscle Group: Triceps
Secondary Muscle Groups: Shoulders, Chest

       –Rows (barbell, dumbbell, or machine)
Primary Muscle Group: Back
Secondary Muscle Group: Biceps

      –Pull-Ups, Chin-Ups, Lat Pull-Downs (any type of grip)
Primary Muscle Group: Back
Secondary Muscle Group: Biceps

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

For me HIIT was the ultimate game changer. Since incorporating HIIT into my training I have drastically lowered my body fat percentage. All of my cardio sessions are now HIIT-based.

If your goal is to burn fat, interval training should be part of your workout program. HIIT allows intense periods of work with minimal recovery. Interval training is beneficial because you can give maximum effort and increase the intensity of an exercise while still maintaining your form.

HIIT does not just work while you are at the gym but post-gym as well because fat continues to burn. HIIT creates an oxygen deficit in your muscles because oxygen cannot get their fast enough. Therefore, your metabolism is kicked into overdrive and will continue to act like this after the gym.

I will usually start every workout with a 10-15 minute HIIT session and end every workout with a 10 minute HIIT session. Some people may prefer to rock out one 25 minute HIIT session in their workout to get it over and done with. However, I like to break it up to ensure that my heart rate is up throughout my workout and after.

 Here is an example of a really simple and versatile HIIT circuit that you can do anywhere. All you need is a jumping rope (I love to use weighted jumping ropes, very cheap and effective) and a timer. This circuit was created by Personal Trainer Mike Duffy.

Round One:
> Burpees
> Mountain Climbers
> Jumping Jacks

Three circuits: 10 reps first round, 15 reps second round and 20 reps third round. Non-stop no rests.

> Jump rope 3 minutes

You can also check out my ‘Fat Burning HIIT Dumbbell Circuit‘.

Reps and sets

Now when you have devised a training plan a common question is usually ‘How many reps and sets should I do per exercise?’. It is important to note that this varies from person to person and is dependent upon your goal i.e. weight loss, hypertrophy

Training for Hypertrophy

If you are training to increase muscle mass it is important to choose a weight by which muscle failure can be met by doing reps in the range of 8-12. Basically, post warm up, your weight should allow you to complete a minimum of 8 reps and a maximum of 12 reps. Try to aim to do at least 4 sets (the amount of times you will complete the exercise i.e. 8 reps x 4 sets). To ensure that muscle growth is stimulated it is important to rest for 1-2 minutes.

Training for Strength

If you want to increase your strength you need to gear your focus towards training with heavier loads (i.e. loads in the rep range of 1-6 reps). Aim to do 3 sets per exercise.

I try to incorporate 1 or 2 exercises in my daily training schedule for strength building. This usually consists of compound exercises such as deadlifts, barbell squats, chest press etc. It is important to emphasise that you should make sure your form is correct before increasing your load. If you have an incorrect form and start increasing your load this can lead to injury. Rest periods between sets are variable and fall within the range of 3-5 minutes depending on the person. If recovery is too short this can inhibit the completion of full sets, so make sure you are giving your body enough time to recovery between sets.

Training for Endurance

Oxygen plays a vital role in aerobic exercises as it allows for the maintenance of your activity levels for longer durations. This occurs in low-intensity, high rep training where by slow-twitch muscle fibres are recruited. Thus muscles will use oxygen more efficiently.

This type of training aims to increase muscle endurance without necessarily increasing muscle mass. By doing this kind of training, lighter weights are usually used to complete 15-20 reps for 6 sets. Rest periods should be kept to a minimum as oxygen deficits and lactic acid build up will not act as limiting factors.


I will do a future blog post all about exercise tempo in more detail but for now here are the basics that you need to know.

Completing an exercise for a given amount of reps x sets isn’t always about how fast you can do it. These different exercise tempos make exercises more challenging and allow you to focus on technique and form.

Eccentric: Also known as the ‘negative phase’. This is the amount of time your muscles are under load while lowering. For example, when you squat and lower your body this particular tempo consists of a slow lowering movement.

Isometric: The amount of time that you hold an exercise at the midpoint. For example, in a glute bridge the midpoint of the exercise would be the bridge when your hips are elevated and glutes contracted. You will pause at the midpoint in the exercise for a few seconds and this should be completed for each repetition.

Concentric: Also known as the ‘positive phase’. This tempo is focused on the amount of time your muscles subsequently shorten under load. For example, in the squatting position when you are getting ready to rise you would rise slowly.

Mix up tempos between exercise. If you are looking to make endurance workouts harder since a lighter load is often used then try various tempos. Saying this, tempos aren’t inclusive just to endurance workouts and could be used with any type of training.


A major factor of getting on track with your fitness goals is diet. Ever heard the saying ‘Abs are made in the kitchen? Well to be honest it’s not that bizzare because food does play a major factor in this.

When I first embarked on my fitness journey, I thought that because I was working out daily I could eat whatever I wanted and still achieve my fitness goal: WRONG. If you’re training is on point but your diet isn’t, you may often find that this is the reason why you aren’t seeing results or you have hit a fitness plateau. It doesn’t mean that you need to put yourself in a caloric deficit and just eat salads. Focusing on hitting your daily macro target is a key element (future blog post all about macros and calculating them will be up soon). Saying this, I adopted the 80/20 diet. This is a realistic eating plan whereby you will eat healthy, clean wholesome foods for 80% of the time and then have treat meals for 20% of the time during the week. Completely depriving yourself of treats can often lead to failure and binge eating. I found that the 80/20 diet paired with my training allowed me to see results faster because I was finally moderating what I ate and filled my body with nutrient dense foods and occasional treats.

Before I developed a healthy relationship with food I thought that eating less and putting my body in a caloric deficit state was the way. Its funny, because I eat more than I ever did before yet this is the fittest, happiest and leanest I have ever been. I eat 3 meals a day and have 3 snacks in between meals. This constantly keeps my metabolism working and the great thing is i’m not starving between meals.

Frequency and duration of workouts

I get asked frequently how often I work out. It blows my mind that some people think I workout everyday 7 times a week.. wrong again. I workout 3-4 times a week for a maximum of 45 minutes. I try not to spend an excessive amount of time in the gym because it can be an overkill. This allows me to be more flexible with my training as I schedule all of my workouts around my daily schedule.

Remember: rest days are important! Your body needs time to recover especially after an intense workout session. If your workouts are more than one hour then try to limit that to at least 45 minutes.

Activity outside the gym

I try my best to keep my daily activity level up when I have left the gym. This could be simple things like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or walking home instead of taking the bus. Low impact exercises such as walking and swimming are great to include into your schedule during the week.


Water is a necessity!! I will be honest, I was horrible at meeting my daily water intake but you need to make sure that you are regularly hydrating yourself. I aim to drink at least 3 litres of water daily. I couldn’t have done this without the Hydrate M8 water bottle. This water bottle keeps me on track daily and shows me the amount of water I should be drinking at a given time. Therefore this makes it a lot easier for me to meet my daily water intake. If you are not a big water fan like myself, then trying infusing it with yummy fruits or vegetables. You can read all about the Hydrate M8 bottle and different water infusions here.

Everybody is different. What has worked for me may not work for you. However I think it is important to share my journey with others and the things that I have learned along the way. There is no quick fix to living a healthy lifestyle. This takes time, dedication, motivation and the drive to succeed.

Yes there have been many times that I have wanted to give up and throw in the towel but I think about why I embarked on this journey to begin with. I want to be the best version of myself. I want to be a happy, confident, strong, food loving person. I can happily say that 2 years later I am finally that person.

Wearing Boohoo FIT

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About the Author

This blog post was written by PumpUp member @fitnessgeekx. Follow her journey on Instagram @fitness_geekx and check out her blog here