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Which Fat Loss Method Should I Follow? An Analysis of Common Fat Loss Training Methods
As a personal trainer in Singapore, the majority (I would guess 90%!!) of my clients come to lose some body fat. With all the obesity we have, fat loss should concern everyone.
Several really good trainers have come out with excellent fat loss manuals, methods and training programs. So how do you choose?
In this article I will discuss my own experience with various fat loss protocols.
NOTE: ALL of the methods below will not be effective without good nutrition. You need to eat enough protein, vegetables, fruit and healthy fats for this to work.
It has been estimated that you need about 3-4 hours of physical activity PER DAY to overcome a poor diet and still lose fat. In our sedentary lives, we have to eat right to lose fat or it’s just not going to happen.
Method 1 – long, slow, distance training (LSD)
Stair climbers, elliptical trainers, jogging, swimming, whatever. The main idea here is, “let’s burn as many calories as we can during exercise” and “let’s make sure as many of those calories come from fat”. From an aesthetic perspective, the idea is “long-distance, endurance athletes are thin, so to get thin we should train LSD.”
In theory this makes a lot of sense. LSD burns a lot of calories because it can be done (as the name suggests) for a LONG time. A greater percentage of the calories burned are fat due to the “zone” where these activities are performed. But recovery is easy and you won’t be burning calories outside of your workout time.
During my time in the armed forces, long runs were very popular. While training for a half marathon, we ran 12, 14 and 16 km each week. What happened?…I became thin and weak. “Well at least he got skinny” you might be thinking, but I got THIN, not LONG.
I had marginally visible abs, but nothing like the ripped look you’d expect from so much endurance training. I also dropped 30cm off my broad jump and a few tenths of a second off my sprint times.
My bad experiences are the norm for people using this method. Additionally, LSD takes a lot of training time and takes more and more as you get “better” at it and need to increase distances and mileage.
It’s not just about experience as a personal trainer in Singapore, Science also backs up these experiences. For fat loss, LSD is not even an improvement over diet alone.
An example of an LSD exercise program would be 45 minutes of swimming 2 times a week and 45 minutes of jogging 2 times a week.
Does it work? – No, it is inefficient and takes a lot of time.
There is room in rehabilitation and therapy for LSD, but not for fat loss.
Method 2 – Metabolic disturbance training
The main idea of metabolic training is to create so much “disruption” to the body’s systems that we burn calories throughout the day, not just when we’re doing the exercise. In addition, it even maintains and builds muscle, which is important when losing fat.
This disruption is so great that one study shows 9 times greater fat loss for this form of training compared to LSD training. And exercise time was lower for the metabolic exercise group.
They just trained so intensely during that training period that the body burned above normal calories for up to 38 hours after the training session. WOW. Calories burned DURING exercise were about 1/2 of the LSD group, but overall calorie burn was much higher.
What happens? Lots of disruption to body condition, so lots of adaptation. That adaptation is fat loss.
I have used this method extensively with clients and myself. It usually works. Fat melts off. The workouts are short (1 hour or less) and challenging. I have clients who easily lose 10 kg of fat in 2 months.
Here’s an example of a metabolic fat loss workout done just a week ago by one of my pretty strong clients. Note A1, A2, etc. means that the exercises are performed one after the other, a “superset”. All exercises are performed with 3 sec lowering and 2 sec lifting time.
A1: Stiff Leg Deadlift x 12 reps rest 45s
A2: Push ups with one hand x 6 reps/side rest 45s repetition A1 Total 5 supersets
B1: Seated Cable Rowing x 12 reps rest 45s
B2: Barbell Lunges x 10 reps/side rest 45s Repeat B1 a total of 5 sets
C1: Stability ball sit ups x 12 reps no rest
C2: Shoulder external rotation x 15 rest 30 sec. Repeat C1 for a total of 3 sets
The training session ended with 10 minutes of interval sprints on a stationary bike. The total training time was around 60 min.
Does it work? YES!. This is THE preferred method of fat loss for my personal training clients. Results are almost guaranteed, the body simply cannot keep the fat around when it is worked this way.
Method 3 – Interval training
This method burns calories and creates significant disruption and calorie burn after exercise. Its downside is that it’s not as good at maintaining/building muscle as resistance training (but it’s nowhere near as bad as LSD). Interval training can really vary from a sprint (90-100% of your best) + a walk (20-30%) to a brisk walking pace (75-85%) + a jog (40-50%) or anything in between.
I use some form of interval training for all clients who want fat loss. It is not as demanding on recovery as resistance training, so it can be added to most exercise programs.
A trial interval session would be:
10 sec sprint cycle (100% effort) followed by 20 sec slow cycle (30% effort) repeated 20-60 times depending on fitness level. It only takes 10-20 minutes, but it is really effective.
Another example of a lower intensity (not as effective, but less demanding on the recovery ability and can be done more often) –
30 sec fast cycle (80% effort) followed by 30 sec slow cycle (30% effort) repeat 10-20 times
Does it work: Yes. Intervals are a valuable fat loss tool in any exercise program. Not as good as method 2, but intervals can be added for added effect.
Method 4 – Strength training
This method focuses on preserving as much muscle as possible while losing fat through diet. The weights lifted remain heavy and the repetitions per set low. The idea is to ensure that we lose little or no muscle or strength during the fat loss phase.
My experience of this is not from personal training clients, but rather a personal one that I had for my own diet. On a low calorie diet I didn’t do any intervals or LSD training because I just wasn’t eating enough calories to support such training. I went to about 5-6% body fat and had that “ripped look”. If I had used any other type of fat loss training method, my muscle mass would have decreased and that would have been terrible news on a low calorie diet. Training volume (total weight lifted) must be kept low because we match this type of training with a lower calorie diet. But the weight training must use heavy weights to maintain the muscles.
An example of training would look like this
A: Barbell Squat 3 reps x 6 sets 120s rest between sets
B1: Barbell Row 5 reps x 3 sets 90 sec rest
B2: Military Press 5 reps x 3 sets 90 sec rest
C: Step up 5 reps/leg x 3 sets 90 sec rest
Does it work? Yes, but the exercise does not burn as many calories and the disturbance is not as much as metabolic exercise (method 2).
So far all I have provided are the 4 main methods in use today. “So what should I use?” you ask. OK That depends on who you are.
For a beginner to intermediate client (1 year of hard training or less) with a fat loss priority, use methods 2 and 3 together. 30-40 min metabolic training + 10-20 min intervals will do the trick.
For an advanced client (good technique, strong for their body weight), use method 2, 3 and a sprinkling of 4 (1 out of every 6 to 8 training sessions. 40 min strength/metabolic training + 10-20 min intervals
For an athlete in metabolic sports (lots of running around) who needs to lose some fat, use method 2 with a bit of 4. Sports training will take care of the “interval” requirements.
For athletes in a power/speed sport (sprinting, throwing, weightlifting) who need to make a lower weight class, use 4 with a bit of 3. Let a low-calorie diet take care of the fat loss. Use training to maintain strength, power and speed. Also keep the intervals in the high intensity range. If your sports training includes tempo runs or sprints, you can cut out the intervals altogether.
Hope this clears up any misconceptions about fat loss training. Again, you MUST eat clean for fat loss. Achieve your goals quickly and wisely.
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