Five Factors for Fat Loss Training
1. Metabolic Resistance Training
Basically we're using resistance training as the cornerstone of our fat loss programming. Our goal is to work every muscle group hard, frequently, and with an intensity that creates a massive "metabolic disturbance" or "afterburn" that leaves the metabolism elevated for several hours post-workout.
A couple of studies to support this:
Schuenke MD, Mikat RP, McBride JM.
Effect of an acute period of resistance exercise on excess post-exercise oxygen consumption: implications for body mass management.
Eur J Appl Physiol. 2002 Mar;86(5):411-7. Epub 2002 Jan 29.
This study used a circuit training protocol of 12 sets in 31 minutes. EPOC was elevated significantly for 38 hours post-workout.
Thirty-eight hours is a pretty significant timeframe for metabolism to be elevated. If you trained at 9AM until 10AM on Monday morning, you're still burning more calories (without training) at midnight on Tuesday.
Can we compound this with additional training within that 38 hours? No research has been done, but I have enough case studies to believe that you can.
Kramer, Volek et al.
Influence of exercise training on physiological and performance changes with weight loss in men.
Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 31, No. 9, pp. 1320-1329, 1999.
Overweight subjects were assigned to three groups: diet-only, diet plus aerobics, diet plus aerobics plus weights. The diet group lost 14.6 pounds of fat in 12 weeks. The aerobic group lost only one more pound (15.6 pounds) than the diet group (training was three times a week starting at 30 minutes and progressing to 50 minutes over the 12 weeks).
The weight training group lost 21.1 pounds of fat (44% and 35% more than diet and aerobic only groups respectively). Basically, the addition of aerobic training didn't result in any real world significant fat loss over dieting alone.
Thirty-six sessions of up to 50 minutes is a lot of work for one additional pound of fat loss. However, the addition of resistance training greatly accelerated fat loss results.
Bryner RW, Ullrich IH, Sauers J, Donley D, Hornsby G, Kolar M, Yeater R.
Effects of resistance vs. aerobic training combined with an 800 calorie liquid diet on lean body mass and resting metabolic rate.
J Am Coll Nutr. 1999 Apr;18(2):115-21.
The aerobic group performed four hours of aerobics per week. The resistance training group performed 2-4 sets of 8-15 reps, 10 exercises, three times per week.
V02 max increased equally in both groups. Both groups lost weight. The resistance training group lost significantly more fat and didn't lose any LBM, even at only 800 calories per day. (The reason the calories were so low was to really take any dietary variables completely out of the equation and compare the effects of the exercise regime on LBM and metabolism.)
The resistance training group actually increased metabolism compared to the aerobic group, which decreased metabolism. It seems that resistance training is a more significant stress to the body than a starvation diet.
In my experience, full body training in a superset, tri-set, or circuit format (with non-competing exercises) in a rep range that generates lactic acid (and pushes the lactic acid threshold or LAT) seems to create the biggest metabolic demand. It makes sense: training legs, back, and chest will burn more calories and elevate metabolism more than an isolated approach training one of them.
The rep range that seems to work best is the 8-12 hypertrophy range, although going higher will work just as well with a less trained population.
For a powerlifter or an advanced bodybuilder, doing one max effort exercise or heavy, low-rep lift is more than enough to maintain your current strength levels. Examples:
Exercise One: Max Effort Squat — work up to a 3RM. Transitioning into metabolic work.
1A: Bench press, 2-3 sets of 4-6 reps
1B: Row, 2-3 sets of 4-6 reps
Transitioning into metabolic work
2. High Intensity Anaerobic Interval Training
The second key "ingredient" in fat loss programming is high intensity interval training (HIIT). I think readers of T-Nation will be well aware of the benefits of interval work. It burns more calories than steady state and elevates metabolism significantly more than other forms of cardio. The downside is that it flat-out sucks to do it!
The landmark study in interval training was from Tremblay:
Tremblay A, Simoneau JA, Bouchard C.
Impact of exercise intensity on body fatness and skeletal muscle metabolism.
Metabolism. 1994 Jul;43(7):814-8
This study pitted 20 weeks of endurance training against 15 weeks of interval training:
Energy cost of endurance training = 28661 calories.
Energy cost of interval training = 13614 calories (less than half)
The interval training group showed a nine times greater loss in subcutaneous fat than the endurance group (when corrected for energy cost).
Read that again. Calorie for calorie, the interval training group lost nine times more fat overall. Why? Maybe it's EPOC, an upregulation of fat burning enzyme activity, or straight up G-Flux. I don't care. I'm a real world guy. If the interval training group had lost the same fat as the endurance group, we'd get the same results in less time. That means interval training is a better tool in your fat loss arsenal.
3. High Intensity Aerobic Interval Training
The next tool we'll pull out is essentially a lower intensity interval method where we use aerobic intervals.
Talanian, Galloway et al
Two weeks of High-Intensity Aerobic Interval Training increases the capacity for fat oxidation during exercise in women.
J Appl Physiol (December 14, 2006). doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.01098.2006
This study looked at high-intensity aerobic interval training and its influence on fat oxidation. In summary, seven sessions of HIIT over two weeks induced marked increases in whole body and skeletal muscle capacity for fatty acid oxidation during exercise in moderately active women. In layman's terms, the interval work appeared to "upregulate" fat burning enzymes.
Basically this means we can burn more fat in other activities as a result of this inclusion. In other words, we get some more bang for our buck.
A quick disclaimer though: my colleague Alan Aragon once said, "Caring about how much fat is burned during exercise is equivalent to worrying about how much muscle is built during exercise." In other words, substrate utilization during exercise isn't really an important variable in the big picture of fat loss — total calories burned overall is.
4. Steady State High Intensity Aerobic Training
Tool number four is just hard cardio work. This time we're burning calories — we aren't working hard enough to increase EPOC significantly or to do anything beyond the session itself. But calories do count. Burning another 300 or so calories per day will add up.
5. Steady State Low Intensity Aerobic Training
This is just activity, going for a walk in the park, etc. It won't burn a lot of calories; it won't increase muscle or EPOC.
There isn't very much research showing that low intensity aerobic training actually results in very much additional fat loss, but you're going to have to really work to convince me that moving more is going to hurt you when you're in fat attack mode.