Training in essence is quite simple – training objectives that is. Let’s be honest, most people fall into one of two major training categories – fat loss and muscle building. Of course, there are other goals such as strength, work capacity, endurance and things like that, but most of us are either trying to achieve some combination of fat loss and increased muscle mass.
Today, we’re going to look specifically at fat loss and the most effective ways to shed those dreaded jiggly bits. Notice how I used the term fat loss and not weight loss? The problem isn’t weight, it’s fat! Just because you lose weight doesn’t mean you’re any better off than you were before. The idea is to improve your overall body composition to become healthier, stronger, and fitter overall. Achieving this takes a little more than simply going on a cabbage soup diet and riding the elliptical for 2 hours a day.
What it comes down to is being smart and strategic with both your training and nutrition. If you’ve been training for any length of time whatsoever then you’ve probably made a few mistakes along the way including:
- long, monotonous cardio sessions at the gym
- crash dieting only to gain back the weight you lost and then some
- switching from weight training to cardio exclusively
- using light weights and high reps to try and get ripped
- drastically cutting your calories
- endless ab workouts that still leave you with a flabby belly
- training 7 days/week
It’s all good though, making mistakes is part of the training process. Learning from them is what’s going to take you to the next level. Now let’s get down to business.
There are many ways to achieve great results but I’m going to outline some of the most effective methods that will burn fat AND preserve muscle mass. That’s right, you have to be able to keep your hard earned muscle in the process otherwise what’s the point? Unless you just want to be skinny fat and have the strength of a 10 year old boy then you better listen up.
Here are some proven methods to burn fat in a SENSIBLE and SUSTAINABLE fashion:
1. Lift – Most people that want to lose fat will usually decide to take up jogging or some other cardio activity first. Not the best move. The first step to burning fat is to actually build muscle and the only way to do that is to lift. Studies have shown that people who weight train exclusively lose more fat than people that do aerobic exercise exclusively. Muscle is the engine that burns all fuel, the more you have the easier it is to burn fat.
2. Use big lifts – Once you’ve decided to start jacking weights, you’ve got to make sure you’re using the most effective exercises and those are the big compound lifts. Exercises like squats, deadlifts, presses, and chinups use lots of muscle groups and elicit the greatest metabolic response compared to isolation exercises.
lift big to get lean
3. Interval train – There are numerous studies that point to the effectiveness of interval training. Methods such as HIIT (high intensity interval training) and tabata are prime examples of how better results can be achieved in a fraction of the time. As opposed to steady state cardio, interval training forces you to work at higher intensity causing you to burn more fat while preserving lean muscle tissue. Greater improvements in aerobic conditioning have also been shown with interval training versus traditional cardio. If you’re pressed for time and want a killer workout, give some of these firebreathers a try:
- treadmill – 1min on/1min off x 8 @ 15% incline
- sled pushes – 40 meters x 10 (60-90sec rest between rounds)
- burpees – 30 seconds on/30 seconds off x 8
sled pushes = intensity!
4. Do steady state cardio after interval training – Now I know I just said that steady state cardio is inferior to interval training but all forms of exercise have value depending on how and when they’re used. Studies have shown that interval training helps to effectively release fat cells into the bloodstream to be used for energy. However, sometimes not all of those fat cells get used. Something as simple as 10-15 minutes of steady state cardio after a hard session of intervals can be an effective way to pick up the leftovers and burn even more fat. Think of this as the icing on the cake.
5. Fasted cardio – The idea here is to perform your cardio sessions first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. This is also when your growth hormone levels are highest and insulin levels are lowest. At this time, your body will efficiently use fat for energy. Both steady state cardio and interval training will be effective at this time. If you’re not a morning person or accustomed to training on an empty stomach then you may find it hard to workout at your normal intensity levels. If the quality of your workouts are suffering too much then you may be better off training at other times during the day when your output is higher. However, this is definitely a great option for those of you who like to get your workouts over and done with first thing in the morning.
6. Complexes – This is disputably one of the most effective fat burning methods. Complexes are when you perform a series of compound movements in succession with little to no rest in between each movement. These complexes can be done with barbells, dumbells, or kettlebells as long as there is sufficient overload. The overload allows you to burn more calories and maintain strength and muscle mass while you melt the fat off your body. Here some complexes that never disappoint:
- barbell complex – 10 hang cleans/10 thrusters, 9 hang cleans/9 thrusters etc… 1 hang clean/1 thruster (rest 60-90 sec between sets)
- dumbell complex – 10 db squats/8 db bent over rows/6 db push presses x 5 (rest 60-90sec between sets)
When performing complexes, use the same weight for all the movements and keep strict rest periods to keep the intensity high. The combinations are endless, they key is to go hard to get the best results.
Check out the video below of Rob Orlando crushing the “bear” complex.
7. Crossfit – Yes, believe it or not, Crossfit is a fantastic way to rev your metabolism and shed some serious fat. Much like complexes, Crossfit uses a wide variety of functional movements and when performed at high intensity you get one hell of a metabolic stimulus! The intensity (doing more work in less time) is what makes Crossfit so effective (and controversial). The proof is in the pudding, all you have to do is look at the physiques of some of the top competitors. Of course, Crossfit isn’t for everybody but it’s hard to argue some of the tremendous results it delivers. If you’re looking to spice up your workouts and shock your body, give Crossfit a try.
8. Train 4-5x per week – Workout frequency is just as important as workout intensity. To ensure you are getting enough metabolic output, you should be training 4-5 days/week. This will keep your metabolism elevated and enhance your fat burning efforts.
9. Keep your workouts under an hour – If burning fat is your number one priority, then your workouts should be shorter and more intense. No more long, arduous sessions at the gym. Focus on quality exercises and being efficient with your time. Full body strength complexes or 15-20mins of strength work followed by 15-20mins of interval training is the way to get things done.
10. Train explosively – Not enough good things can be said about the benefits of developing power. Using explosive exercises like sprinting, plyometrics, and Olympic weightlifting are phenomenal for fast twitch muscle fiber development and smoldering fat cells. To learn more about training for power click here.
in the land of strength, power is king..
11. Get plenty of sleep – During sleep, the body has an opportunity to repair itself and set the stage for optimal fat metabolism. Growth hormone and testosterone levels increase during sleep and are vital to burning fat. Keep your hormones and metabolism in check by getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
12. Eat only when you’re hungry – Sounds simple enough but you’d be surprised how quickly we turn to food to be social or to kill time. If you listen to your body more and only eat when absolutely necessary, you’d be surprised how much less you’d consume. I’m not suggesting you starve yourself just simply be more conscious of your intake.
13. Eat plenty of protein – Adequate protein intake is necessary to preserve lean muscle and will keep you full longer. This reduces the urge to snack on refined sugars and processed foods. Aim for at least .75-1 gram per pound of bodyweight.
14. Eat healthy fats – That’s right, eating fat will help you to lose fat. Healthy fats found in foods like fish, avacado, nuts, and eggs don’t spike insulin levels the way refined sugars do. This means that your body will better use these foods for energy rather than storing them as fat. Also, these foods contain more vitamins and minerals making them a better food choice overall.
15. Take caffeine before training – Caffeine has been shown to stimulate the release of fat cells into the bloodstream to be used for energy. A cup of coffee 30-40 minutes before a workout can be enough to jumpstart your metabolism not to mention provide a nice energy boost before your workout. If you’re sensitive to caffeine then less potent options like green tea may be more suitable.
16. Keep most of your carb intake around training – It’s important to maintain a reasonable carb intake even when trying to lose fat. To help fuel your workouts consume some carbs 30-60 minutes before training. Nothing too heavy, something that digests relatively quick like fruit is a good option. To maximize recovery, consume fast acting carbs within 30-60 minutes post workout. Your carb intake can be higher at this time since you are less likely to store excess carbs as fat. Listen to your body and consume enough carbs to give you the energy you need to train without feeling sluggish or depleted but not so much that you are gaining weight.
17. Cut calories effectively – If you’re the type of person that likes to count calories then you need to make sure you reduce them in a rational manner. What I mean is that you don’t want to cut your calories too drastically. If you do, you run the risk of 3 major pitfalls:
- slower metabolism – the body is now burning less fat at any given time.
- reduction in lean muscle – the body is now burning muscle instead of fat for energy.
- increase in fat – restricted calories can lead to cravings for unhealthy, calorie dense foods that promote an increase in fat.
Don’t cut calories by more than 500 per day to ensure normal metabolic function. It’s also important to note what calories you are cutting. For example, you don’t want to reduce your calories from protein too much as they are needed to preserve lean tissue. Manipulating fat and carb intake may be your best bet depending on what your consumption levels are at currently.
Sensible and sustainable are the key words to take home. You can definitely use more extreme methods to cut fat but life will be miserable and you’ll most likely gain every single pound back and more. Training should be enjoyable and rewarding and these methods will ensure it stays that way.
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