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Fat Loss for Beginners - 8 Tips for Getting Started

by Tom Venuto - author of Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle

EVERYONE who wants to get leaner should read this article. Yes, I know it says "Fat loss for beginners," but sometimes we veterans forget what we once knew or we don't practice what we now know. If you're a beginner, this will be an introduction. If you're experienced, let this be a reminder.


There are so many opinions about how to lose body fat that many people end up completely confused and they don't do ANYTHING!

They've read about 27 ways to diet, 34 ways to do cardio, 101 ways to lift weights and 79 supplements to take. But they still don't have a clue how to start.

You stuff your brain with so much information it feels like it's going to explode, but then you never do anything about it. You're like a deer stuck in headlights. Sound familiar?

I call this the "paralysis by analysis" syndrome.

The most important thing you can do is take action. Just begin the journey and figure it out as you go. Better still; get a coach or trainer right from the start.

Actually, losing fat is not that complicated. You don't need a PhD in exercise physiology to figure out that any exercise is better than no exercise. You don't have to be a genius in nutritional biochemistry to figure out that an apple is better than a pop tart. Getting lean is simple: Exercise. Eat healthier foods. Eat smaller portions. Isn't this stuff just common sense? Didn't your mother tell you this?

So what's stopping you? What makes you freeze up?

If you're like most people, FEAR is stopping you. You're so afraid of doing something wrong, you choose to do nothing rather than make a mistake or look foolish.

What you must understand is that people who accomplish much and people who accomplish little BOTH have fears. The difference between the two is that the latter feels the fear and lets it immobilize them. The former feels the fear and does it anyway.

Begin the process. You can always fine-tune your program as you go. Naturally, it's better to aim and then fire, but its better to fire and then adjust your aim later than not to fire at all. You can't win a battle by hiding in the trenches.


Ok, so you've decided to forge ahead in spite of your fear and start working out. Congratulations. Now what? How do you choose between Stairmaster, Tae Bo, Lifecycle, Yoga, Kickboxing, Elliptical machine, jogging, swimming, etc.?

Any exercise is better than no exercise so stop over-analyzing: just pick something and start. Just do it.

If you can't make up your mind, then here's the simplest, easiest, most guaranteed way for any beginner to successfully start a fat loss program:


Here's why:

It requires no equipment
It requires no knowledge of exercise technique
It can be done by almost everyone, regardless of experience
It can be done almost anywhere
It's safe

For all these reasons, walking is the perfect way to begin. However, the better your condition becomes, the more you'll need to advance to higher levels of exercise intensity to reach higher levels of fitness.

I'm not saying you should abandon walking, but if you decide to keep walking, a casual stroll will no longer do. For an experienced exerciser, I would consider walking a method of locomotion more than a serious workout.

There's a big difference between walking for health vs walking for fat loss. Even a 10 or 15-minute casual walk has health benefits. But if you want to turn walking into an effective, fat-melting workout, you'll need to push yourself for 30 minutes or more several days per week. Walking briskly uphill (or on an inclined treadmill) is an excellent fat-burning workout for anyone.


Read any book about success and it will tell you "pay attention to detail." Sounds like good advice - unless you haven't mastered the fundamentals yet. In that case, it's the worst advice you could follow.

Every day people send me questions like these:

"Should I use a fast acting protein powder like whey or would casein be better? What if I mix both and also add a little bit of Soy? If I use all of them, what ratio of the three would be ideal and when should I take them?"

"I want to do the ephedrine-caffeine stack and it says to take 20 mg of ephedrine with 200 milligrams of caffeine. The ephedrine comes in 25 milligram tablets, so should I chip a little bit off the tablet to get the right ratio?"

Do you see the problem here?

These are legitimate questions, but they're completely moot if you're eating doughnuts and sitting on the couch all day long. Fix your diet and get your butt moving first, then worry about the little things.

Emerson said, "The height of the pinnacle is determined by the breadth of the base." The heights you reach will depend entirely on how broad a foundation you build. Great coaches such as Vince Lombardi and John Wooden credited most of their success to drilling their players on fundamentals.

Forget about ALL the minutia until you have the fundamentals down cold!

Forget about supplement dosages
Forget about macronutrient cycling
Forget about tempo manipulation
Forget about glycemic indexes
Forget about the latest Bulgarian or Russian periodization program

Master the fundamentals first!

The fundamentals of fat loss include: (1) Do your cardio, (2) Lift weights, (3) Burn more calories than you consume (4) Eat 5-6 small, frequent meals and never skip meals, (5) Keep your fat intake low, but include small amounts of good fats, (6) Eat natural foods; avoid processed & refined foods, (7) eat more complex carbs, fruits & vegetables, (8) eat lean proteins with each meal, (9) Think positive: visualize yourself as you would like to be.

If you're not doing all these things, and you're looking for the perfect supplement stack or the optimum periodization plan, I'm afraid you're barking up the wrong tree.

I don't want you to think that details don't matter - they do. The "Law of Accumulation" states that every success is a matter of hundreds or even thousands of tiny efforts that often go unnoticed or unappreciated. Everything counts. Everything either helps or hurts. Nothing is neutral.

The problem is when you get bogged down in minutia before you've even learned the basics. Minor details produce minor results. Major fundamentals produce major results.

Don't major in minor things. Lay your foundation first, then move on to the finer points. And remember, as Jim Rohn says, always be suspicious of someone who says they've found a new fundamental.


The most important dietary factor in fat loss is not how many grams of carbohydrate, protein or fat you eat, the most important factor for fat loss is calories. Eat more than you burn each day and you will store fat. Eat less than you burn each day and you will lose fat. It's just that simple.

Where the calories come from is important too, but unless you understand the calorie concept, nothing else matters.

I'm appalled by how many people claim to sincerely want to lose body fat who admit they haven't a clue how many calories they eat.

Get serious! If you don't have the faintest idea how much you're eating, how can you expect to make any progress?

Did it ever occur to you that your ONLY problem might be overeating!

Do you realize that too much of anything gets stored as fat?

That's right - even if you're eating nothing but "natural and healthy" foods, if you eat too many of them, you're still going to get fat.

Portion control, my friend, portion control!

On the other hand, maybe you're under-eating and slowing down your metabolism. There's a fine line.

For all the details on your daily calorie needs, refer to my article Calorie Calculators


Do you know what is the biggest mistake made by beginners?

They quit!

Remember in the January issue, where I mentioned how attendance in our gym shoots up for about 6-8 weeks around New Year's? Well, it's back to normal now because all the quitters dropped out already.

What's especially sad is that most people quit right when they're on the verge of making substantial progress.

Remember: You're never a failure as long as you're working on the progressive realization of a worthy goal. But the second you quit, then it's official - you're a failure.

Quitting should not even be an option because...


Don't let these four words slip by you just because it's an oft-repeated cliché. This is an important mindset! You have to stop thinking of getting in shape for a New Year's resolution, vacation or wedding (or a contest, you bodybuilders). You must start thinking about getting healthy and in shape FOR LIFE.

When you're just starting out, firmly resolve that quitting is not even an option. Don't approach this endeavor with an "I'll try" attitude. If you accept quitting as a possibility, you might as well not even start; just grab that remote control, a bag of chips and get back on the couch where you were before.

Also, understand that results may come slowly in the beginning if you're not the genetically-gifted type. This process requires great patience and persistence for most people.

Most beginners never allow themselves the time it takes to get any momentum going. They expect too much too soon, get discouraged and quit.

It takes a big push to get started. It's like getting a rocket off the ground - it uses most of its fuel just launching off the pad, but once it's in the air and the inertia has been overcome, it can keep going with very little energy expenditure. Don't quit just because it's difficult to "launch!"


Life is too just too short to learn everything there is to know on your own. Don't waste time climbing the ladder only to find it's leaning against the wrong wall! Learn from the experts. Get a trainer, personal coach, or mentor to help you start right - right from the start.

Don't know what to look for in a trainer? Read my new article about personal trainers. You'll find it in the Fitness Renaissance website library here:

Can't find a good coach or trainer?

E-mail me at I now have a few openings for protégé's in my personal coaching program. I'm looking for a small handful of serious students who are prepared to make the commitment.


I admit I'm showing my bias by saying everyone should join a gym (I'm in the health club business), but I sincerely believe nothing beats working out in a high quality health club. In a well-equipped gym, the possibilities are endless, the atmosphere is motivational and people are there to help you.

More often than not, however, beginners start at home. That being the case, I admit that you don't need a gym to get started. You also don't need any of that garbage advertised on late night TV. The only piece of equipment you need has existed for over 100 years - that's right, the humble DUMBBELL!

Remember - don't overcomplicate this - think basics, basics, basics (and dumbbells are as basic as it gets.)

Dumbbells are the single most versatile piece of equipment in existence. You can perform hundreds, even thousands of exercises with dumbbells.

Ladies, a set of 3 to 20 pounds will be more than sufficient. Guys, a set from 10 to 40 pounds should do the trick (for now). I've also heard wonderful things about Powerblock dumbbells for space-saving, although I don't have first hand experience to cite.

If you also get yourself a bench and clear out a little corner in your favorite room, then you're ready to roll!

Here it is - The beginner's all-dumbbell routine:

1. Dumbbell bench press (chest)
2. Dumbbell side lateral raise (shoulders)
3. One arm dumbbell row (upper back)
4. Dumbbell extension behind head (triceps)
5. Dumbbell Bicep curl (biceps)
6. Dumbbell Lunges (thighs)
7. Dumbbell One leg calf raise (calves)
8. Dumbbell leg curl (hamstrings)
9. Crunches (abs)

There you have it. Simple and effective. At home or in a gym.

If you're just starting, do this routine for 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps per exercise, except calves and abs, where you can go up to 20 reps. Rest 1 minute between sets. You'll train your whole body in each workout, 2 -3 three days per week, non-consecutive days.

After 3 - 6 months, you'll probably need to add exercises and move up to a split routine. (So I guess I have to do another article, called 8 tips for intermediates: How to keep going).


It's is a common misconception that you should start with aerobic workouts and lose the fat first before adding weight training.

Unfortunately, the best you can hope for from diet and aerobics alone is to become a "skinny fat person." You may lose weight, but you'll have a poor muscle to fat ratio and a "soft" appearance.

Obviously, weight training is the key to developing strength and muscle. What few people realize is that weight training also increases fat loss, although it occurs indirectly.

Weight training is anaerobic and burns carbohydrates (sugar).Cardio is aerobic and therefore burns fat. So it seems logical to focus on aerobic training for fat loss.

However, something interesting happens "beneath the surface" when you lift weights. Weight training increases your lean body mass - aerobic training does not.

Low calorie dieting and aerobic training without weight lifting can make you lose lean body mass. If you lose lean body mass, your metabolism slows down, and this makes it harder to lose fat.

If you increase your lean body mass, you increase your metabolic rate and this makes it easier to lose fat. With a faster metabolism, you'll burn more fat all day long - even while you're sleeping!

If you have limited time, and your main priority is fat loss, then do a very brief weight training program and spend the majority of your time concentrating on cardio. But never neglect the weights completely - always do both, and if possible, devote equal attention to each.



By Mark Cambria

After some serious thought and consideration, I came to a revelation. The fact is that it takes a certain level of discipline and desire to achieve full potential, to accomplish all that one desires and reach beyond expectation surpassing even the most difficult of goals.

Whether we speak of business, love, education, or spirituality, a journey to more complete self begins with a destination in mind. My destination was the night of September 20th. The National Gym Association hosted an Eastern regional body- building competition, so I elected to enter in order to gather some motivation in the never ending pursuit of aesthetic perfection. What I encountered was an awakening of mind, body, and spirit; A fantastic dream come true. It was a rebirth since never in my short 22 years of existence have I felt so alive.

The preparation was grueling. Calorie counting, nutrient ratios, supplement stacking, long hard core workouts, sleep deprivation, water restriction, long hours on the bike, and of course the ultimate sacrifice, my relationship with my family and friends suffered due to the irritability I experienced from such drastic biological metamorphosis. Despite all these circumstances, my focus remained unaffected.

In the past, with both eyes on the path to success, I was left without a destination in my view. With judgment day in sight there was no choice. I knew my goal and mapped out a plan to get there. There was no time for deviation. I had made a commitment and am a man of honor. I promised myself to make a night to remember for all those who wished to support me through my endeavor and there wasn't a chance I was letting anyone down.

Perhaps it was more. The recent death of my grandmother and very dear uncle gave me even more motivation to shed some joy onto the faces of my family. The one person in the world I wish could have been there was my grandfather, who took pride in everything I did. The man never missed any activity I participated in. Be it football, lacrosse, or anything else, but for some reason I think that this new undertaking would have made him especially proud.

With this in mind, I thought of his brother, my uncle Nicky. Uncle Nicky is, to say the very least, an avid fan of all sports. A very kind stand up kind of guy who has always had my utmost respect for being a perfect gentleman and a class act. Although I never really had a chance to get to know him as well as I would have liked in my youth, I always knew that he has a way about him that could make the most dejected individual feel alive and vivacious.

With the recent passing of his brother (my Uncle Christie), Uncle Nicky just could not be himself. I felt that there had to be something I could do to not only cheer him up, but to bring him closer to my life to let him know just how wonderful a person he is. I wanted Uncle Nicky at the show in the worst way. My mother was hesitant, but since she knew how much it meant to me to have him there she asked him at my uncle's wake if he would honor us with his presence. Needless to say that Uncle Nicky never gave it a second thought and agreed to support me.

The day came. I picked up my friend and trainer Tom Venuto, who has been nothing short of an embodiment of inspiration and a pillar of willpower in his own right. Giving me last minute advice and confidence we entered the prejudging at 11:00 AM. I froze. I was lean, hard, big, and prepared, but immature, inexperienced, and to say the least nervous. Frankly, I messed up, but I knew it.

Tom told me his honest opinion. "Definitely Top Five," he said. I knew this was his way of saying fifth place. The reason was I needed to present my physique a whole lot better, and I knew it. It was time to move on. The torment of the prejudging rounds were over, and I knew that the family was going to be at the night show. I couldn't let them know how disgusted I was with my earlier performance. They came to see a show, and I refused to disappoint my rowdy friends and enthusiastic family. 7:00 PM was showtime and it was time to have some fun. I had no idea what was in store.

After taking in some simple carbs and a slew of supplements, I began to pump up. I was looking sharper, harder, and fuller as the day went on, and by this time I was prime and confident. I was not nervous in the least, since I knew that all of the grading for place was done hours ago. This performance was for the audience, 28 of them being there for me and there was NO chance I was going to disappoint them.

All the middleweights were lining up. My heart was racing. I knew who was out there. It was time to give them what they paid for, the show of their lives. I was sweating, and walked out on stage too soon, before they called my name, but it didn't even matter to me because the crowd immediately roared like thunder. The ovation was so loud that I couldn't hear my music cue in. Who cared. The energy level was on the rise and I was absorbing it like a sponge. I hit a rear double biceps shot and the place erupted. I started to lip synch and dance to the beat while showboating my body. The crowd started clapping and singing right along making me feel like I was on top of the world. I was giving them a show to remember. Finally I hit a side triceps pose and ended the routine. I casually glanced over at my mother and saw the glow in her eyes and the thrill on her face. Uncle Nicky was ecstatic. I felt a new aura of confidence and pride in my friends and family. It was as if they carried me through the whole routine. I felt their energy bolt through me like electricity and I gave it my all.

When we all finished our individual routines, they called out the top five contestants for a pose down. "All right! I made top five and will definitely carry home a trophy!" It was time to give it everything I had left. This is what I worked so hard for and its payback time. This was my last chance to fire it up. With this in mind I walked out on stage more cocky and confident than ever. "Hearts on Fire" by Survivor started playing, and being an Italian and die hard Rocky fan, I was immediately feeling chills. I flexed everything I had and the applause was there but not Earth shattering, at least not yet. I ran to center stage and pointed out to my rowdy, drunken fraternity brothers and gave them a crab pose (straight out of WWF Wrestling) they went berserk I could no longer hold back.

The energy was so intense that my heart was pounding through my chest. There was no way on earth I was going to be showed up on the pose down. This one belonged to me. I ran back to the extreme left side of the stage (almost off of it, there wasn't even lighting here) and posed directly in front of my family, exuding excitement and pointing right at my mom, I hit a side chest that made her fill with uncontrollable pride and laughter. The house was rocking and I knew it was all worth it when the music stopped and I took a modest bow.

That night, I came home with a fifth place trophy which would bear no greater value if it had read "First Place." It is simply an object that reminds me of a moment in my life that I made a mark far more profound than I could ever have possibly fathomed.

I really could not relate to the immortal words of Theodore Roosevelt until that night. Now I live by them. "It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly who errs and come short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."

The trophy they gave me on stage read "Fifth Place," but the trophy I carried home that night was symbolic of a victory far sweeter than words can possibly describe.

Fitness Renaissance, LLC
605 Washington Street
Hoboken, NJ 07030
(201) 222-3000
(201) 222-8530 (fax)

Copyright 2002 by Fitness Renaissance, LLC. All rights reserved

This article originally appeared in the March 2002 issue of Tom Venuto's Bodybuilding and Fitness Secrets (BFS) Newsletter. If you enjoyed this article and would like to receive others like it for free every month, you can subscribe to BFS here:

Author Tom Venuto

Tom Venuto is a bodybuilder, gym owner, freelance writer, success coach and author of "Burn the Fat, Feed The Muscle" (BFFM): Fat Burning Secrets of the World's Best Bodybuilders and Fitness Models. Tom has written over 150 articles and has been featured in IRONMAN magazine, Natural Bodybuilding, Muscular Development, Muscle-Zine, Exercise for Men and Men’s Exercise. Tom's inspiring and informative articles on bodybuilding, weight loss and motivation are featured regularly on dozens of websites worldwide. For information on Tom's "Burn The Fat" e-book, click here.

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