How to lose weight at the gym: Tips & tricks for beginners

We ask the experts how to lose weight at the gym – should beginners pick up the weights, or stick to the treadmill?

Woman using cable machine to lose weight at the gym
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Joining a gym can help you stick to regular workouts – helping to relieve stress, reduce anxiety, improve sleep and, of course, get fitter. 

But the huge range of equipment on offer can confuse beginners, who often just want to know how to lose weight at the gym. The best exercise machines to lose weight, including the treadmill, rower and elliptical machine, are all here sitting alongside cables, smith machines and free-weights. Where to go first?

HIIT workouts burn serious calories in a short space of time, and can be carried out using a range of cardio machines. 

And while beginners may shy away from the weights section, there’s really no need. Even a simple workout using free weights like dumbbells or specialized weights machines raises your metabolism, making weight loss easier over time. 

 How to lose weight at the gym: Be clear on your goals 

So, should you choose one type of exercise or mix up your routine? Jake Chapman, Head Trainer at F45 Maidenhead, says beginners need to be clear on their goals before they start working out. 

“Is losing weight your primary goal? Or fat loss more specific?” he asks. “What’s your timeline? Is this for health, performance or aesthetics?” 

“Once you are able to answer these questions, you will be able to be more goal-orientated and create a training and nutrition routine that has a healthy balance between being goal specific and allowing you to enjoy the journey and develop life-long, productive, habitual changes.” 

“The most successful people are those who have specific goals and find a method to enjoy the process.” Sounds good so far – but which method should you use? 

man on treadmill trying to lose weight at the gym

(Image credit: Getty Images)

 Gym-based weight loss strategies: HIIT  

 High Intensity Interval Training involves short bursts of intense exercise followed by periods of recovery. Typically, a HIIT workout will last 30 minutes or less, meaning they’re great if you have limited time in the gym. 

You can use your favourite cardio machine, like one of our best treadmill or best exercise bike entries, to do these workouts using the machine's in-built timer speed functions. Most gyms come fully-loaded with high-tech cardio equipment, and you can use this to your advantage. Alternatively, you could go back to basics: find some floor space, grab a light kettlebell and start doing kettlebell swings for time. 

“With a high calorie burn and the opportunity for a lot of variety, HIIT will challenge each of us to our limits and give those without loads of spare time a chance to get a quality workout in each day,” says Jake. 

Gym-based weight loss strategies: Weights

Lifting weights builds muscle and contributes to fat loss – so it’s a great strategy no matter your exercise goal. This is because increasing your muscle mass will raise your metabolic rate, meaning you burn more calories. 

To be more specific, one study by Current Sports Medicine found that ten weeks of resistance training may increase lean weight by 1.4 kg, increase resting metabolic rate by 7%, and reduce fat weight by 1.8 kg. 

If you’re unsure about where to start when implementing weights in your workout, Jake recommends trying cables and weights machines. 

“The benefit of cables and weights machines is that they allow for complete isolation of certain muscle groups, for which many gym-goers will require,” he explains. “They also offer stability during the lifts for those with injuries.”

Gym-based weight loss strategies: Variety

Working out at the gym gives you access to lots of different equipment, and means that you don’t have to stick to one type of exercise. Creating a varied routine will prevent you from getting bored. In fact, a study by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that the more varied the equipment available, the more likely people were to keep up their exercise routine. 

Creating a varied routine will also make it easier for you to lose weight at the gym, Jake explains. 

“Losing weight essentially comes down to two things – being in a calorie deficit and having a good training routine that uses a mixture of strength and conditioning work.” 

“To lose weight we simply need to consume fewer calories than we burn, so simply losing weight isn’t down to any particular exercise,” he says.

“However, a healthy nutrition plan with a decent amount of protein, carbohydrates and fats, coupled with exercises that will increase calorie burn and allow for muscular development, will help sculpt a more athletic physique whilst also increasing the calories burned.” To get started on upping your protein consumption while staying true to your fitness goals, you can check out our best protein powder for weight loss guide.

Woman attempting to lose weight at the gym

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Your first gym routine

If you’re looking for some inspiration for your first gym routine, Jake recommends drawing inspiration from the Foxtrot workout created by F45, which will get the heart racing and challenges participants to maintain consistent hard work throughout. 

The full Foxtrot workout (which can be seen in the video below) consists of 12 exercises, with four back-to-back sets on each, before moving on. 

However, first-timers and inexperienced gymgoers may want to pick just three or four movements (such as the rowing machine, push-ups or squats, and kettlebell swings) and add more exercises in future sessions. 

“Make sure the movements you choose are accessible and easy to follow, and that you make sure to warm up," Jake says. “ This gets the heart rate gradually higher and allows for muscles and joints to prepare for the workout ahead.”

Perform each exercise for the following, before moving on to the next one:

  • 45 seconds work / 15 seconds rest
  • 20 seconds work / 10 seconds rest
  • 45 seconds work / 15 seconds rest
  • 20 seconds work / 10 seconds rest

“We advise repeating this format once a week for four weeks, with progression from week to week, Jake says. “This can be in the form of higher skill-based movements, higher rep goals or heavier weight being used.”

“If ever in doubt, ask a trainer for help with exercise choices and/or progressions.”

Watch the full Foxtrot workout below:

Lucy England

Lucy is a freelance writer with a background in marketing and journalism. Over lockdown, she kept fit by climbing lots of Welsh mountains and finding the coldest lakes for wild swimming. Now she’s trying to get back into martial arts and always needs to do more yoga.