Friday 15 February 2013

Becoming Fuel Inefficient for Fat Loss

Ask most people at most gyms how to burn fat and the standard answer you get is cardio. This seems logical when you understand that aerobic exercise uses a greater percentage of fat as a fuel source. It is also a method that works well for many beginners to get those initial pounds of fat off. However, many people end of up hitting a fat loss plateau long before they reach their goal. The problem is that cardio and endurance training makes you fuel-efficient and if you want to burn fat, you need to make yourself fuel-inefficient.

Which do you want your body to be like?

To get a better understanding exercise and fat loss, please check out my previous posts on training for fat loss:
After understanding this information, let's expand on fuel efficiency and fat loss...

Cardio and Fuel-Efficiency
One of the reasons cardio works so well for beginners is that they are not good at the type of cardio they choose. Take jogging for example. Let's say you have two people - a newbie runner and a veteran runner. The newbie bobs and bounces along in a painfully in-efficient manner and suffers with each step. In contrast, the veteran runner glides across the ground with effortless ease and a very economical stride.

The newbie expends a ton extra, unnecessary energy because he/she is not good at running technique. Also, with all this extra effort, the newbie works more anaerobically than aerobically and thus gets a much greater EPOC benefit. On the other hand, the veteran has great technigue and thus uses less energy per stride. He/she is also able to work more aerobically and thus gets less relative EPOC. While is these improvements are desirable if distance running performance is your goal, they stink if fat loss is your goal

In addition to this, the initial weight loss makes any exercise where you move your body easier and thus less effective for burning fat. 

Now I'm not saying that you should not do any cardio if fat loss is your goal. However if you want to get lean you need teach your body to become more fuel in-efficient. Remember with fat loss, the goal is to expend, not conserve energy!

Learning to be fuel-in-efficient
Here are some practical methods to teach your body to expend, not to conserve energy.

Power Training
Explosive power training is a fantastic way of teaching your body to harness its energy and expend it quickly. If you can do explosive weightlifting exercises such as the snatch or clean & jerk, they can be very helpful here. If not, even simple jumping and and medicine ball throwing exercises can be effective (see my YouTube playlist on explosive speed & power exercises for ideas - just be sure to pick something that is appropriate for you). This will be a different, less-exhaustive feel than endurance training, but its okay. Make it harder by trying to jump or throw the medicine ball  higher/farther NOT by adding more reps or sets.

Sprint Training
Sprint training has the same benefits as mentioned above with power training. A simple way to do sprints in this context is give yourself a specific time limit that is 10 seconds or less and see how much distance you can cover in that amount of time. Each session try to beat your previous distance. This way of training teaches you to expend yourself, not pace yourself. Note: while actual sprinting is fantastic for those who have space and can safely do so, feel free to adapt this concept to other modes (e.g. cycling, swimming). 

Strength training
Many people have realized the benefits of resistance training for fat loss. However, most of the time do endurance training and again end up being fuel efficient. Think back to high school gym class when that hard-nosed PE teacher asked you to do 20 push-ups. What did you do? Your figured out the easiest way to survive that activity. Cut your depth, drop your head, sag your hips, flair your elbows and hope the teacher is not watching for proper push-up form. Or think of what you see in a typical group fitness class: light little dumbbells lifted for seemingly countless reps until the light weight makes you tiered. 

Thought to ponder: people try cardio and find it fails to deliver their desired fat loss. Then they try strength training but end up making strength training just like cardio - the thing that they already tried and found it didn't work.

Take some big, barbell movements (e.g. squats, deadlifts, overhead pressing) and spend a few minutes near the start of your training session getting stronger. If you don't know how to do these exercises, my YouTube channel can help, but nothing replaces hands-on coaching. Invest the time it takes to learn to do these movements safely and effectively. Once you have your form down start with a comfortable weight for low reps. Resist the urge to make it harder by doing more reps or sets. Instead, make it hard by progressively adding weight to the barbell most training sessions. Also focus on trying to accelerate the weight up as fast as you can (notes: this does not mean jerk the weight up with sloppy form. Also, the weight may not look like it is moving fast to someone else, but if the intent to move it up quickly is there, you will get the benefit!)

Putting it all together
Again, I'm not saying you should drop all other forms of exercise and just do strength & power training. However, some power, speed and strength training at the start of your training session can be a huge help. Here is how you could do that:
  1. Warm-Up
  2. Jumping or med ball throwing exercise 3-4x3-8
  3. Speed training 3-6 sets of <10sec
  4. Strength training: 2-3 exercises for 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps
  5. Whatever else you do for fat loss (e.g. circuits, intervals, higher-rep work, etc)

On off days, use low-intensity cardio to burn a few extra calories and to recover from the high-intensity work. 

Some final advice 
Many people these days make the mistake of focus on feeling instead of results they get from their training. If you are used to high rep endurance training and cardio, you are likely used to feeling the burn and getting really tiered. Strength, speed & power training will have a very different feel. It is hard, but not exhausting  Note: if you feel a burn when doing strength, speed or power training you are doing it wrong and too long. If you are new to this type of training, it will seem very easy at first. This is because you lack the skill and strength necessary to make it harder. Don't worry. Just start at a comfortable level and do the movement properly. As you get stronger and more skilled you will find this type of training more and more effective and you will "feel" it more. Enjoy!

For a complete guide to turning your body into a calorie-burning machine, check out my book Athletic Training for Fat Loss

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