Training for Fat Loss: Q&A

By: Josh Bryant

I have been busier than a mosquito at a nudist colony answering emails about training. So I have compiled a list of common questions and my responses for this newsletter. Assuming most guys are lifting in the 8-12 rep range, what changes do you think should be made to weight load and reps to start getting leaner? Are higher reps with lighter weight the answer? Should they keep to heavier weights? Mix in both while changing other factors? When cutting down, you have to train heavy!  Most people aren’t looking to become bodybuilders but bodybuilders that have that dense look on stage train heavy.  Your limit strength is your base, so you don’t want to completely shy away from heavy weight. Avoid the three sets of 10 syndrome, which over time will make you mentally stale and physically flaccid.  Your body is smart; if you repeat the same routine over and over your body will adapt. To make progress you have to overload. There are a variety of parameters you can use to induce overload: increase the numbers of reps you have done with the same weight previously, shorten rest periods, increase the number of sets, add weight on the bar, add bands, add chains, and increase frequency;  the possibilities are endless. You will need to use a variety of rep ranges and training weight intensities. A lot of guys will naturally start incorporating more single-joint work (flyes, curls, pressdowns, etc.) to try to “cut up”. Is this the most effective way for them to burn body fat and elevate metabolism, or should they be doing more compound moves? Why or why not? Free weight compound exercises are the most energy-demanding movements in the weight room. These are simply multi-joint movements that necessitate several different muscle groups to work together to lift the weight; examples being pull-ups, overhead press, dips, squats, deadlifts and bench presses. These movements burn more fuel because they involve more muscles and allow heavier weights to be used.   Try a maximum intensity set of 20 deep squats, and then do the same intensity with 20 cable bicep curls; it should be obvious that you expend a lot more energy with the squats. Compound movements help you produce more of the good hormones, like testosterone and GH, naturally, which facilitate muscle growth and fat loss.   Whether bulking up or cutting down, compound movements are the “base” of your training. Muscles and joints synergistically work together to perform movement patterns and produce force; muscles are not designed to work in isolation.  Take a look at the leg extension, real life movement patterns do not isolate the quads and remove contributions of other lower body muscles. This is the functional trainer’s argument against the implementation of isolation exercises.  From a functional movement standpoint, the argument seems very logical.  From a muscular overload standpoint, the functional trainer solidifies the need for isolation exercises.  Muscles do not work in isolation, by forcing them to do so with single joints movements, overload is taking place. Furthermore, if a single muscle group is weak and a movement pattern is faulty by not “isolating” the weak muscle you will develop compensatory movement patterns, plateau, get injured or a combination of the aforementioned. The average guy on the street can produce a respectable, imposing physique with primarily core lifts only.  For the more freaky-looking physique you need unnatural development in certain areas that will take more than overloading compound movements. The middle delts will generally not develop the “capped” look with presses alone.  Arm development is important to most gym rats and regardless of what you read on the Internet, at some point, it will take more than heavy presses and chin-ups to maximally develop arm musculature. Quadriceps, the sweep, or “vastus lateralis” is tough to develop with squats alone; leg extensions will provide a huge overload to “unnaturally” overload this area and build the sweep. A respectable, no-nonsense physique can be built with primary compound movements; to maximize muscularity like you see in magazines, some isolation exercises will be needed.  The answer is you need both in your program. Josh talks about working “muscles” verses “movements”

  Clock-watching is an area guys tend to be deficient. What are some ways they can adjust rest periods to get leaner? 30 seconds or less? Active cardio during rest periods? Circuit training? For core lifts, generally, I would stick with 1-2 minutes and even longer for really strong guys; if you go much shorter you won’t handle heavy enough weights.  Majority of fat loss should come from diet.  Accessory movements can be shorter from 60 seconds or less on single joint movements.  You are at the gym for a purpose, carry around a stop watch and stay on top of rest intervals. However, let’s look at an old-time strategy to shake things up; Peripheral Heart Action Training (PHA) is circuit training on steroids! The idea is to use primarily compound movements for efficiency.  Four different sequences of exercises are performed consecutively; each of the sequences is designed to encompass every major body segment.  This is extremely taxing on the cardiovascular system, which the obvious benefits are a reduction in body fat and, of course, improved metabolic rate. This was a favorite cutting strategy of bodybuilders in the 1960s. Because each sequential body part covered in each sequence is getting adequate rest between each circuit, strength will be conserved allowing you to use heavy weight.  Even though your heart will likely beat at over 150 beats per minute throughout the entire workout, this does not give a license to reduce the weights used. Here is a PHA Circuit: Sequence 1 Overhead Press-8-10 reps Leg raises-10-15 Reps Pull ups-8-10 reps Squats-10-12 reps Repeat this sequence 4 times. Guys will figure since they usually train a body part once per week, that 2-3 times will be even better for getting shredded. What say you? More is not better.  Lots of guys will do better training a body part twice a week.  Remember, when cutting you are already in a caloric deficit which can slow down your ability to recover. Some will do better on once a week and others more, we must all take into account total volume. I like to periodize frequency. CARDIO: When it comes to cardio, how do you know how much to use? How much will start to eat away at muscle? What’s the best adjustment to make with cardio if you have 45 days to get lean? Are there methods of cardio that you would avoid? Studies have shown that intense aerobic exercise performed over long durations can greatly increase cortisol levels and oxidative stress; in other words, long-term aerobics performed at a high intensity will suppress your immune system and open up the catabolic door, counter to your muscle building goals. One 2004 study published in the Canadian Journal of Applied Physiologyshowed that rats that swam intensely 3 hours a day five days a week for a period of four weeks not only decreased testosterone levels but, in fact, testes and other accessory sex organs decreased in size. (Yes, that one) Steady-state cardio at over 75 percent of your heart rate for 30 minutes multiple times a week has been shown to eat away muscles. An alternative is walking. Walking is a great leisure activity. Make it fun instead of slaving away on the treadmill. On days you are not training, go outside get some fresh air, even take the dog along. Interval training a couple times a week coupled with 20-30 minutes of walking 2-3 times a week will keep you healthy, happy, lean, and mean.  Keep your heart rate 55-70 percent of max heart rate. Here are some benefits of moderate walking, a few times a week.

•    Increase General Physical Preparedness (GPP)

•    Decrease Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness (DOMS enhancing recuperation)

•    Increase heart health

•    Decrease stress

•    Help maintain healthy joints/muscles

•    Decrease body fat

•    Increase energy levels

In 1994, Angelo Tremblay and some of his colleagues at the Physical Activities Science Laboratory at Laval University in Canada tested the long-held belief amongst most exercise and medical professionals that long, slow cardio at a low intensity is superior for fat loss. In fact, they compared the impact of moderate/low intensity to high intensity interval training in hopes of finding what was superior for fat loss. One group did 20 weeks of endurance training, while the other group did 15 weeks of high intensity interval training. The cost of total energy expenditure was much more in the endurance training group than the interval group! Additionally, Tremblay and his associates found that the endurance group burned nearly double the amount of calories during training than the interval group. Interestingly, skin fold measurements showed the interval training group lost more body fat than the endurance training group. This may not seem to make sense at first glance, but the team found, “When the difference in the total energy cost of the program was taken into account…, the subcutaneous fat loss was nine fold greater in the HIIT (interval training) program than in the ET (endurance training) program.” In layman’s terms, interval training trumped long, slow cardio for fat loss! The interval trainees got nine times the fat loss for every calorie burned during training. The researchers from Laval University found that metabolic adaptations that were a result of interval training may lead to enhanced lipid utilization post exercise, effectively accelerating fat loss. Intervals stimulate your post workout metabolism much greater than long, slow cardio. Additionally, intense intervals have been shown in studies to increase anabolic hormones post workout. The kicker is intervals recovery is like intense weight training, two days a week of intense intervals will suffice, some great HIIT techniques are: barbell complexes, strongman events, prowler pushes and hill sprints. Get the Interval Training Bible! 

What role to advanced techniques, which are generally meant to take muscles past failure, play in getting leaner? Which ones are best? Why? —–> On a related note, some advanced techniques seem more beneficial for mass-gainers. Rest-pause, HIT, LVRT (chains/bands)…these things are all kind of geared toward maximizing hypertrophy but I guess you can always adjust weight and reps using these techniques. Do these have value as well for the guy trying to get super lean? A recent study entitled “Resistance Training to Momentary Muscular Failure Improves Cardiovascular Fitness in Humans: A Review of Acute Physiological Responses and Chronic Physiological Adaptations” published in the Journal of Exercise Physiology concluded  “Resistance training performed to failure can induce acute and chronic physiological effects which appear to be similar to aerobic endurance training, which in turn produces similar enhancements in cardio vascular fitness.”  Certainly this would have implications for getting leaner. Variable resistance exercises, like bands and chains, overload the entire movement.  Think about a squat, it is hard to lift the weight out of the bottom position but the last quarter reps is fairly easy, so instead of focusing on producing maximal force at the end of the movement you can relax and go on “cruise control; bands and chains are a game changer!  As your leverage improves with a lift and you could lift more weight, resistance increases causing overload throughout the entire movement.  You are forced to use recruit a greater number of muscles fibers because of the increased overload throughout the entire range of motion.  More muscle fibers involved means more fat loss! Other techniques like superset, rest pauses, etc. can play an important role in fat loss.  The key is not to overdo it; periods of perpetual high intensity have to be followed by periods of lower intensity to let your muscles and central nervous system recover.  I call this period a deload. I recommend to deload every 3-6 weeks, this is a period of reduced volume and intensity by approximately 30-50 percent. Give me one or two additional factors to consider for getting lean. Layoff the alcohol!  Numerous studies show that alcohol consumption lowers testosterone levels. For HIIT, try strong events as finishers; things like tire flips, farmer’s walks, or carry heavy odd objects, do this for 30 seconds on with a 2-3 minute rest interval with maximum intensity.  This will be a new kind of pain that will produce a new kind of result! Get the Ultimate Encyclopedia of Workouts  ]]>