by Andrew Heming T-Nation
Here’s what you need to know…
- If you’re serious about stripping off body fat, you must make time for proper nutrition. If you don’t have time for this, make time.
- Too often people trying to lose body fat just use intense metabolic resistance training and HITT (high intensity interval training). With fat loss programs, you need to switch as needed to different strategies such as metabolic resistance training, strength training, bodybuilding, and strength plus conditioning.
- When designing a weekly plan for your training, consider how different styles of training affect different systems and thus affect recovery. You need to allow for some “space” between different kinds of stressors such as nervous system stressors, joint stressors, spinal compression, and metabolic stressors.
- When trying to burn fat, you should rotate between different types of alactate (without lactic acid) conditioning that consists of short, intense work and lactate (produces lactic acid as a byproduct) conditioning that consists of longer duration work.
- Want to lose body fat quickly and keep it off? Stop following those mainstream fitness workouts designed for your granny. Real fat loss training should build calluses on your hands. Here are eight rules for effective fat loss training, plus a sample workout plan that puts them all into action.
8 Rules for Fat Loss Training
1 – Prioritize Nutrition
Yes, this is a training article, but nutrition is the single most important thing for fat loss. If you’re serious about stripping off body fat, you must make time for grocery shopping, cooking, meal prep, doing dishes, and keeping a food journal. If you don’t have time for this, make time. Cut down on time wasters like social media, web surfing, playing on your cell phone, or TV.
If you truly have eliminated every possible time waster and are still pressed for time, train less to have the time to take care of your nutrition. That’s right, train less! For example, in my fat loss programs, I have Tuesdays and Saturdays as shopping/meal prep days. You can still train on these days, but if you’re truly pressed for time, sacrifice your training on these days to take care of your top priority for fat loss – your nutrition.
As far as what to eat, there’s no rule that says you have to perfectly follow a particular diet. You probably already what foods are getting you into trouble. However, certain aspects of certain diets are worth emulating. For instance, you can take aspects of the paleo diet (natural, single-ingredient foods, meats, fish, whole eggs and vegetables) without unnecessarily restricting other foods that are not paleo but still support your training goals, like quality supplements such as fish oils, BCAA’s, protein, peri-workout nutrition and some starchy carbs such as rice).
2 – Pick Big, Hard Exercises
Regardless of your goals, effective training starts with picking the right exercises. The best exercises for fat loss are the best exercises for almost any goal. The big, hard compound movements are the ones you should be doing.
3 – Get Stronger
While most people understand that getting stronger is important for building muscle and enhancing performance, its relevance for fat loss is often overlooked. When your goal is fat loss, you want to burn as much fuel as possible. To do this, you want your body to be as fuel inefficient as possible. One of the huge problems with cardio for fat loss is that the more you do, the better you get at it and thus the more fuel efficient you become. With resistance training the opposite is true. The better you get at strength training, the more weight you can lift and the more it takes out of you. Spending some of your training time getting stronger allows you to do all your other forms of training (e.g., metabolic resistance training, conditioning) at a higher/faster level and this makes them even more effective for getting rid of unwanted body fat.
4 – Build Muscle
Virtually everyone trying to lose body fat should gain some muscle. Most people know this, but it bears repeating again and again. Even a few extra pounds of lean muscle means a lot more calories burned each day.
5 – Jack Up Metabolism Post Training
Years ago exercise scientists told us to do long, slow cardio in order to burn fat. However, this answer was a response to the wrong question. Fat loss training isn’t about what burns the most amount of fat during a training session, it’s about what burns the most amount of fat in a 24 hour period. Short, high-intensity exercise creates an oxygen debt (known in geekspeak as E.P.O.C., or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) and this results in a metabolic boost long after the training session is over.
6 – Schedule Wisely
When designing a weekly plan for your training, consider how different styles of training affect different systems and thus affect recovery. For example:
- Joint stressors: sprints, high impact jumps, heavy barbell training
- Spinal compression: heavy squats, deadlifts, farmer’s walks
- Nervous system stressors: speed/power training, heavy, low-rep training (especially >90% 1RM), training to failure
- Metabolic stressors: lactate work (i.e., doing things that last about 30 seconds to 3 minutes and produce a lot of lactic acid. Great for fat loss, but harder to recover from)
Allow for some “space” between different types of stressors. For example, if you stress something one day, do a lighter session or work a different type of stress the next day. The sample plan at the end will show you how to program this.
7 – Rotate Strategies
As with any goal, following an effective program will only work for so long before you hit a plateau. Too often people trying to lose body fat just use intense metabolic resistance training and HITT (high intensity interval training). While these are excellent, they won’t work forever. With fat loss programs, switch as needed to different strategies such as the following:
- Metabolic resistance training: Use moderate weights for moderate reps while alternating upper/lower body exercises or doing whole body circuits.
- Strength training: Use more traditional strength training methods to allow you to lift more weight when you return to metabolic resistance training.
- Bodybuilding: Focus on building lean muscle to raise metabolic rate and doing brisk walking to burn a few extra calories.
- Strength plus conditioning: Focus on getting stronger in the weight room and doing challenging forms of conditioning to boost EPOC (that after-burn effect).
The trick is to not only periodize your training, but to periodize your diet, too. When some people try a lower-volume strength training program, they find they gain fat. This isn’t because of the training. Obviously, strength training doesn’t cause fat gain. However, if you switch from higher volume training (think typical fat loss metabolic stuff) to a lower volume training (think powerlifting program) and don’t drop down your carbs and total calories, you’ll gain fat.
8 – Get Outside
We’re made to be outdoors. While it’s not always practical to haul a whole barbell set outside or train at Muscle Beach, look to do something physical outside. Run sprints at the track, find a hill and do sprints, push a Prowler or pull a sled. Grab a sledgehammer and try to beat an old tire to a pulp. Also, consider bringing minimal equipment like kettlebells to a park and having an outdoor session. Or, do what I do, which is train with barbells in my basement gym and then do farmer’s walks up and down the sidewalks of my neighborhood. Also, doing some other activities such as sports or outdoor recreation is great to not only burn a few extra calories, but also to have fun, reduce stress, and enjoy the benefits of the finely conditioned machine you’re building in the gym.
8 Rules for Fat Loss Training
Do what you need to do to get warm and ready. Foam rollers, dynamic mobility, and corrective exercises are all fine here, but don’t get carried away with these. Five to ten minutes should be fine for most, unless you’re a real mess. Including a few short sprints, jumps, or medicine ball throws to excite your nervous system is also a good idea.
Exercise Sets Reps Rest
A Deadlift (Dead-Squat™ Bar, regular or rack) 2-3 3-5 2-3 min.
B1 Dip or Close-Grip Bench Press 5 3-5 1 min.
B2 Weighted Chin-Up 5 3-5 1 min.
C Farmer’s Walk * 2-4 30 yd. 2-3 min.
* Farmer’s Walk — Use Dead-Squat™ Bar, farmer’s walk implements, or heavy dumbbells.
Alacate Conditioning (Alactate means you’re using the ATP-CP energy system that doesn’t produce lactic acid. This consists of short, intense work that won’t cause a burn.) Do this later on in the same day after your weight workout. Sample options (choose 1):
- 40-60 Meter Sprint: 5-10 sprints, 90 sec. to 2 min. rest.
- Hill or Stadium Sprints (short <40m): 5-10 sprints, 90 sec. to 2 min. rest.
- Sledgehammer (hitting a tire): Max number of hits in 10-20 sec., 5-10 rounds, 90 sec. to 2 min. rest.
- Prowler Push or Sled Pull (walking or running): 5-12 sets (use a 20 meter course, 1 set = there and back once), rest 90 sec. to 2 min. between sets.
Tuesday Running and Shopping/Meal Prep Day
Cross-Field Tempo Runs (Do these if time permits, otherwise, prioritize the meal prep).
How to do them: Find a soccer field. Starting in one corner, sprint diagonally across the field at about 75% of your max speed to the opposite corner. When you get there, walk across the width of the field to the corner on the other side. That is one set, repeat for 8-15 sets. This will help improve your conditioning while facilitating recovery so you’re ready for the next day’s hard training. If you don’t live in Brazil where there are soccer pitches everywhere, improvise. A park will do. Pick two trees instead of corners.
Exercise Sets Reps Rest
A1 Dumbbell Bench Press or Weighted Push-Up 3-5 8-10 45 sec.
A2 Kettlebell Swing 3-5 8-10 45 sec.
A3 1-Arm Dumbbell Row 3-5 8-10 45 sec.
A4 Prowler Push or Heavy Sled Pull * 3-5 30-40 yd. 45-60 sec.
* Prowler Push or Heavy Sled Pull — if you don’t have a Prowler or sled, do walking lunges for 20 yards
Lactate Conditioning (Lactate means you’re using an energy system that produces lactic acid. It consists of longer exercise that will create a burn.) Do this later on in the same day after your weight workout. Sample options (choose 1):
- 400 meter sprints: 2-4 sets, 2-5 min. rest between sets.
- Battle Ropes: 45-75 sec., 4-6 rounds, 1-2 min. rest.
- Prowler Push or Sled Pull (walking or running): 4-6 sets (use a 30 meter course, 1 set = there and back twice), rest 2-5 min. between sets.
Tempo runs (same as Tuesday) or 30-60 minute brisk walk.
Exercise Sets Reps Rest
A1 Front or Back Squat 4-5 3-5 1 min.
A2 Pull-Up (Neutral-Grip or Pronated) 4-5 3-5 1 min.
A3 Clean and Press 4-5 3-5 1 min.
Alactate Conditioning Same idea as what you followed Monday, but you can use a different option than you did the previous time. For example, if you did 40-60 meter sprints on Monday, do Prowler pushes, stadium sprints, or sledgehammer.
Saturday Your Choice and Shopping/Meal Prep Day
You get to pick your poison today:
Option 1 Sports
One great option is to play (not watch) an intense physical sport.
Option 2 Outdoor recreation
Hike, mountain bike, rock climb, etc. Just make sure it’s decently intense.
Option 3 Track Star
Do some lactate training as described in Wednesday’s workout. You can add a few more sets since you’re not doing resistance training first.
Option 4 Strongman Day
Grab some friends and load up your trucks with whatever training gear you have: sleds, Prowlers, sledgehammers, big tires, kettlebells, farmer’s walk implements, etc., and head to a park or field. If you do this only occasionally, you can plan things on the fly. If you’re doing this regularly, write-up a program based on these guidelines:
- Move from higher-skilled to lower skilled exercises.
- Use shorter than 10-second sets for alactate training and sets of 30 seconds to 2 minutes for lactate training.
- Keep your sessions under an hour in length.
- Seek weekly progression on your main exercises.
Occasionally, try adding a “that was a dumb idea” finisher. This means that one person in the group comes up with an original idea for the group to try. The goal is to come up with something that won’t injure anyone, make you vomit your protein-rich breakfast, or cause rhabdomyolysis. It should just be something challenging that will have all of you (including the person who came up with it) saying, “This was a dumb idea.” This gives you a mental challenge so you can learn that maybe you’re tougher than you think.
Option 5 Beach Muscle Day
If you’ve done all the other training on the previous days, feel free to enjoy a day of some “pretty” bodybuilding work.
Exercise Sets Reps Rest
A1 Standing Dumbbell Press 3 8-10 10 sec.
A2 Side Dumbbell Raise 3 12-15 90 sec.
B1 Barbell or Dumbbell Curl * 3 8-10 10 sec.
B2 Dumbbell Hammer Curl 3 8-10 10 sec.
B3 Barbell or Dumbbell Curl 3 8-10 2 min.
C1 EZ Bar Skull Crusher with Pull-Over * 3 8-10 10 sec.
C2 Weighted Close-Grip Push-Up 3 8-10 10 sec.
C3 EZ Bar Skull Crushers with Pull-Over 3 8-10 2 min.
D Standing Calf Raise 3-5 8-10 90 sec.
E Suspension Strap Fallout 3 8-10 60 sec.
* These tri-sets are based on Charles Poliquin’s method. The third exercise in the tri-set is a return to the first exercise, only you use less weight when you come back to that exercise.
Sunday Light Activity
A brisk walk or leisurely bike ride.