Do what is most effective
Hands down, weight training is the single most effective training method you can choose to help you in your quest to get leaner.
By making hypertrophy style training the basis of your fat loss program, you can reap some amazing benefits not found with ANY other kind of exercise.
Not with cardio. Not with HIIT. Not with any kind of bodyweight or moderate intensity training method that you can think of.
Training using moderate weights (of around 75-85% of your one rep max), and training at a high volume (3-5 sets per exercise, around 20-25 sets per workout) when you are dieting ensures that;
– muscle tissue is spared from being used as fuel
– you enhance your insulin sensitivity and boost fat loss by periodically reducing your glycogen stores
– you ensure more effective mobilisation of both carbohydrates and stored fats, and
– you avoid looking “soft” and puffy by losing your muscle, and instead, can retain your shape as your body fat drops.
The other benefit of hypertrophy training is that it can be targeted to enhance specific body parts, and to create size in specific muscles so that you can, for example – make your waist look smaller by growing your shoulders and lats, and balance out wide hips by creating an upper body which is in symmetry and balance.
The problem may come with this style of training however, is when you’re doing too much.
Fat loss requires eating in a deficit, so if you’re not recovering enough and you’re adding in too much “junk” in your day, you’ll be hampering your results.
And by junk, I don’t mean food.
I mean unnecessary extra activity, usually done to “burn calories.”
MORE IS NOT BETTER
Extra training such as long duration cardio and excessive amounts of HIIT, which can have it’s place – but should not be overused, and should never be the sole focus of your training if fat loss is your goal. Your calorie deficit should come primarily from your diet, as it is difficult to accurately track, measure and account for the calories burned during training.
We also need to consider that there are a multitude of variables which will affect the amount of calories burnt during a weight training session including the amount of time you rest, the weight you are lifting and the muscle groups used.
Like many of the best things in life, more is not better and training is one of them.
Target your training effectively by hitting each of the large muscle groups of chest, back and legs at least twice per week each. Eat for recovery, and manage your stress to ensure you optimise fat loss and still have plenty of stamina and energy.
Avoid spending every waking moment in the gym and make sure you’re sleeping well and getting some downtime and you’ll actually be able to get better results while doing less.
WHERE DOES CARDIO FIT?
Cardiovascular training is not without it’s benefits and it’s place here, but it’s not nearly as effective for body recomposition as popular media and opinion make it out to be! Adapatations to cardio training include greater mitochondrial numbers and density, which can enhance fat loss.
However, other adapatations to cardiovascular training include a reduction in the hypertrophy of type 2 muscle fibres, the very fibres that give us muscular “tone.” In order to become better at cardio, we also become more “efficient,” which means that the total amount of energy burned during the same intensity and duration of training will be reduced over time.
Cardio has use for fat loss, but is often abused. It often takes up too great a focus in people’s approach (typically women’s) where weight training could confer more benefits. Ideally, cardio will not impact upon your ability to train with weights in the gym, and will not be so high in frequency, duration or intensity that we cannot recover.
When training fitness and figure models to get to a very low bodyfat percentage, my approach with cardio was this;
– encourage clients to walk daily and to stay as active as possible
– use the DIET as the means of creating the calorie deficit, and finally
– add cardio in when calories have dropped to a point where if they were reduced from the diet any further, it would impact upon hormonal health, strength, muscle retention and recovery.
Below a certain calorie level, nutritional deficiencies are much more common. So to prevent losing the quality of nutrition my clients needed, I would implement cardio in amounts which were sufficient to do the job. So cardio would be added as a last measure of progress, and we would add in an extra 5 or 10 minutes or an extra sprint here or there, but only when needed.
Avoid adding hours of cardio right at the start of your fat loss journey, and be smart about how you use it.
HIIT is great, but if you’re training legs very hard and heavy, it may impact on your weight training.
Lower intensities are far easier to recover from, and do not contribute to the reduction in type 2 fibres that you might find from activities such as long distance running, but they also take more time to do in order for a sufficient effect to be felt.
As with anything, there are pros and cons and the risk / benefit ratio needs to be considered on an individual level.
TRAIN SMARTER, GO HARDER (sometimes)
If you’re currently following a program which is volume or hypertrophy based, be aware that you also have to mix it up periodically, and stagger your training to prevent burnout, overuse of specific joints and muscles and to allow time between sessions for your nervous system to recover from your training.
A heavy deadlift session for example, can take over a week for the nervous system to recover from, particularly if you are moving significant, challenging amounts of weight. The stronger you are, the greater the demand on your central nervous system, connective tissues and muscles but yet – you’re also more conditioned to handle this kind of training than someone new to lifting. Striking a balance between training hard and recovery is therefore imperative not just for results, but for preventing injuries and burnout long term.
Consider too, that the hip or shoulder joint are involved in literally every single compound exercise you can do. So it also makes sense from a stability, strength and injury prevention measure to switch up the exercises you use periodically. Train the same muscles using different angles, altering your exercises every 2-3 weeks or amending your program every month will ensure both a better result, and less likelihood of aggravating or creating an injury.
So when you go to the gym, avoid doing high volumes of the squat, bench or deadlift in only one way for months on end. Mix it up. Use different rep ranges, from 6 to 15, to create fuller, more developed muscle tone. Add a different element every so often, and look at what muscles you may be overlooking, overworking or underdeveloping.
Because if your goal is fat loss, then you’ll also want to retain and create beautiful lines or curves and make sure you’re not going to injure yourself or burn out. You can’t do this doing loads of cardio and neither can you do it undereating, overexercising and repeating the same program.