You’ve been doing the same thing for the last three months. You go to the gym after work, and once you’re changed, you head over to the “Cardio Area” of your club. Locating a free a treadmill, you start warming up. Maybe you begin with a five minute walk, and then pick up the pace until you’re jogging. Closely monitoring your heart rate, you find what the machine calls your target “Fat Loss Zone.” After about a half hour on the treadmill, you head over to the elliptical for, say, twenty minutes. You may or may not stretch afterwards, and then you head out to get dinner, entirely ignoring the other half of the gym… Sound familiar?
Photo by: Peter SkadbergIf the above description of a gym experience resembles yours, and your main goal is to lose fat, I would like to let you know that there is a more efficient way to do that. Right now, you’re probably thinking: “This guy has no idea what he’s talking about” or “What does this guy know that I don’t?” Hopefully, you’re willing to read the rest of this article because I’m going to share two tips to help you burn more fat before and after your workouts.
The Science of It
Excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) is a measurable increase in oxygen used by the body during and after exercise. This increase in oxygen is used both to perform the specific exercise and afterwards to restore your body to its resting state. During EPOC the body recruits fuel to be used, some of which is believed to be fat that has been stored (i). Your body uses the fuel for recovery from training; the more strenuous the exercise the greater EPOC levels are elevated. Numerous studies (especially Drummond & Vehrs, et al.) demonstrate that resistance training yields higher levels of EPOC than only running. The Drummond & Vehrs study, which tested ten athletes during and after four types of workouts—Resistance Only, Run Only, Run-Resistance, and Resistance-Run—suggests that Resistance only training produced a greater EPOC than Running Only. All workouts lasted 30 minutes, during which subjects performed at 70% of maximal effort; the oxygen consumption of each subject was tested for an additional hour after the workout session. As illustrated in a chart of the study’s results (see Figure 1 below), the oxygen consumption levels of those who performed the Running Only workout actually fell below the Baseline measurement during the 50th —70th minutes of testing. The study goes on to show that incorporating any resistance training into your workout is going to produce a greater EPOC level, giving you a greater chance of burning more fat.
Figure 1 (The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: Vol. 19, No. 2)Adding resistance training can be especially important to your workouts because after resistance training EPOC can actually last for more than 24 to 48 hours. This is most likely due to the fact that your body is recruiting nutrients to rebuild broken down muscle tissue from the resistance training. Also, workouts of greater intensity are bound to yield greater levels of EPOC, whether it be resistance training or simply aerobic activity. A study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise in 2004 demonstrated that more intense resistance training sessions produced higher levels of EPOC and kept those levels elevated longer. Jeffrey W. King also suggests that resting metabolic rate is increased during High Intensity Interval Training because of a rise in EPOC levels.
Alwyn Cosgrove, one of the most sought-after trainers and writers in the fitness profession, writes on his blog that steady state aerobic training (read cardio) may actually hinder fat loss. He refers to a study conducted at the University of New South Wales in Sydney which compared weight change over 15 weeks between subjects doing steady state aerobics (in 40 minute sessions) and interval training (in 20 minute sessions). The results to me were surprising: though their workouts lasted half as long, the interval training group lost more weight.
|Group||Change in Weight|
|Steady State Aerobics group||+ 0.5kg (1.1 lbs)|
|Interval Training Group||– 2.5kg (5.5 lbs)|
Hopefully this brief discussion of EPOC and its relation to fat loss shows that you can’t just rely on the calorie counter on your treadmill. It’s a combination of calories burned during and after the workout. Adding resistance training to your workouts and increasing the intensity of your workouts are two ways to make sure you keep burning calories long after you’ve left the gym.
How You Can Be More Efficient in Losing Fat
Incorporating Resistance Training Resistance training can vary from using weights, which is most common, to simply performing bodyweight exercises, which in recent years has become more popular. For most beginners it is usually better to start with bodyweight movements in order to perfect technique before adding weight. You wouldn’t want to just toss 200 pounds on your back and start squatting, because odds are you’d hurt something really fast. So start with a bodyweight routine, like the one Craig Ballantyne has written. If and when you are ready to start using weights, go ahead and venture into that other half of the gym. Some of my female clients feel intimidated by the huge weights and the testosterone-drenched atmosphere, but once I get them started they actually come to enjoy it and often start doing it on their own. If you’re really unfamiliar with weight training, my suggestion would be to hire a trainer for a couple of sessions to teach you proper form and how to use the equipment. Once you’re familiar with the new exercises and equipment, get yourself on a resistance training routine. There are plenty of free workout routines available online that are designed by professionals. If you feel so inclined, buy a book and follow the workout routine provided in the book. There are a lot of ways to include resistance training, but the important thing is that you start soon because it can be the key to burning more fat.
Increasing Your Intensity With cardio, or aerobic exercise, it is important to know the difference between steady-state and interval training. Steady-state training means exercising at the same speed/pace for an extended period of time (usually more than 20 minutes). Interval training, on the other hand, is performed in short bursts, followed by what is called an active rest. For example, a runner doing interval training might sprint for 30 seconds as fast as he or she can and then jog (the “resting” part) for 60 to 75 seconds. This type of exercise, called high intensity interval training (HIIT), places more intense demands on the body, forcing it to work much harder and burn more energy. Because HIIT is your best bet for fat loss, I recommend using the treadmill or the bike rather than the elliptical. Expert Craig Ballantyne, who trains everyone from business execs to Olympic athletes, writes that the elliptical isn’t as effective for fat loss “because you just don’t do as much mechanical work as you do when you run or cycle. Basically, it’s just easier and less effective. Getting your heart rate up is not the key determinant of fat loss.” The last part of Ballantyne’s statement is one that is important to remember the next time you get on the treadmill or the bike. The so-called “Fat Loss Zone” simply refers to an elevation in heart rate, and there are more important factors in your journey to a leaner body. You may be burning calories in that mythical “Fat Loss Zone,” but as we’ve seen it is important that your body continue to burn calories in the hours after your workout. Building a Better Diet Lastly, and I know this is a cliché, but you are what you eat. Most people think they have a sound diet, but often enough this isn’t the case. If you think you’re going to lose fat without paying close attention to your diet, you may as well forget going to the gym three or four times a week because you’re not going to see the results you want. Personally, this is something that held me back for a while, but once I tweaked my diet, I began to see noticeable changes. And while you may think that it’s hard to change the way you eat or what you’re eating, take it from someone who has done it: it really isn’t. I can’t tell you exactly what it is you need to do, because I’m not a nutritionist or a dietitian, but I can point you to a resource that helped me. One of the best tools out on the market right now is Precision Nutrition V2.0 (PN V2.0). Put together by Dr. John Berardi, PN V2.0 “is [a] system of books, audio and video resources, and online content to teach you everything you need to know to get the body you want.” PN V2.0 is being used by the University of Texas Track team, the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leaves, the Canadian Olympic Cross Country Ski Team, and many others.
Plain and Simple
To sum up: steady state training isn’t as effective for burning fat because it doesn’t generate as much EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) as, say, interval training or resistance training. You have to think about not only how many calories are burned during the session but also in the hours afterwards. When discussing training you always want to do what is most efficient. Here I have shown that resistance training and HIIT can help you lose fat more efficiently, so give them a try. As Alwyn Cosgrove likes to say: “Absorb what is useful — reject what is useless” (Bruce Lee).
i. “Excess post-exercise oxygen consumption,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Excess_post-exercise_oxygen_consumption ii. Santa-Clara, Helena, et al. “Acute Effects Of Resistance Training Intensity On Energetic Metabolism,” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (May 2004) p S351 iii. King, Jeffrey W. “A Comparison of the Effects of Interval Training vs. Continuous Training on Weight Loss and Body Composition in Obese Pre-Menopausal Women” http://etd-submit.etsu.edu/etd/theses/available/etd-0412101-214442/unres… iv. Cosgrove, Alwyn. “Aerobics vs Anaerobics and Fat Loss,” http://alwyncosgrove.blogspot.com/2007/03/aerobics-vs- anaerobics-and-fat-loss.html v. Ballantyne, Craig. “Free Bodyweight Workout,” http://ezinearticles.com/?Free-Bodyweight-Workout&id=591818 vi. Ballantyne, Craig. “The Crosstrainer/Elliptical Machine is Useless for Fat Loss,” http://ezinearticles.com/?The-Crosstrainer/Elliptical-Machine-is-Useless…
Back to the Basics: How to Really Lose the Fat