“I need to lose fat…I’m going to start going to the gym”
This is an extremely common phrase used by approximately everyone who has an upcoming holiday and is hit with the realisation that they’ll soon be required to walk around in nothing but swimwear.
Except that there’s a problem.
This statement assumes that fat loss is a direct result of training and that if you carry on doing everything you’re doing now, but add in some training, then you’re en-route to obtaining some SHREDDED abz.
But it doesn’t work like that.
Science says no
A recent study investigated the effects of adding 3 x 45-60 minute ‘BodyPump’ classes to subjects’ weekly schedule on body composition.
It ALSO compared these effects to –
- Training with a personal trainer
- Training alone
- Not training at all (control group)
None of the subjects (in any group) made any improvements to their body composition.
Just imagine it – ZERO fat loss…despite regular training.
I bet the control group had a good laugh about that.
The other subjects wasted all energy expenditure, when they could have kicked back on the couch and made the same gainz.
Why did this happen?
This was almost certainly because there was NO dietary intervention i.e. the subject continued to eat exactly as they had been.
In fact, I believe that this isn’t the first time that a study has shown zero/minimum fat loss when the only intervention has been to increase activity levels.
So how do we get fat loss?
Fat loss is the result of being in a sustained calorie deficit.
So the FIRST step in any fat loss plan is to work out your optimal calorie intake, and a very quick and easy way to do that is to multiply your bodyweight (in lbs) by 12.
For example, if you weigh 198lbs (90kg) then:
198 x 12 = 2376kcal
Once you’ve done that, then you can start to pay attention to training…
But surely training burns calories and can put you in a calorie deficit?
You could easily be mistaken for thinking that if you at least add some regular exercise on top of your weekly schedule, then you’ll be expending more energy and as a result, can expect to lose body fat.
The body is incredibly good at self-regulating in order to maintain homeostasis (internal balance), which means that –
- Even if energy expenditure is increased as a result of training, it may decrease at other times, so the total daily energy expenditure is averaged out the same
- Appetite may increase and more calories may be consumed as a result of expending more energy in the gym
Furthermore, the body can adapt and become more efficient at the activity, which is noted when the activity starts to ‘feel easier’ – this means that the means that the energy expenditure is less and fewer calories are burned (a topic I’ve discussed before).
Another issue is that training burns a lot fewer calories than most people realise.
Depending on the individual and the training session, training for 60 minutes will probably burn somewhere between 300-600kcal.
But remember, this will decrease as efficiency improves, which means that training may only make a very small contribution towards putting you in a calorie deficit, and in most cases, it is unlikely to be enough to have any significant impact.
Also, you would need to –
- Ensure that your calorie intake is low enough that training puts you into a deficit, which it may not be
- Maintain/increase your non-exercise physical activity (NEPA), so that your daily energy expenditure doesn’t decrease outside of training, which you may do
So can you see how challenging it is to derive fat loss from training alone?
There is an exception
You may have noticed that when someone trains for a big endurance event, such as a marathon, an Ironman etc. that they lose a lot of body fat and may not be addressing their total calorie intake.
However, in these cases, you have to realise that these people are putting in an astronomical number of hours of training per week, which means their energy expenditure is massive.
Also, the fat loss effects that these people experience tends to be a side effect of the training, and not the main focus.
The enjoy the training and can easily make time for it.
Do you really have the time, or the desire, to invest that much time and energy into training?
Could you sustain it?
Would you enjoy it?
Wouldn’t it just be easier to eat less?
So training isn’t important?
Despite everything I’ve just said, training is still important – apart from having numerous health benefits, it will still assist fat loss.
Even though the energy expended during training isn’t going to be great, every little bit will help, so there’s no need to abandon your gym regime.
Furthermore, by factoring in a greater activity level, you will have a greater daily calorie allowance and won’t need to restrict food intake so much, which can make it a lot easier to adhere to your nutrition plan.
Another important point about training is that it has been shown to improve –
- Appetite control
ALL of these things are useful for sticking to your plan, so please don’t think that training should be discredited – just understand that it needs to be performed in conjunction with sound nutrition guidelines.
What kind of training is the most suitable when the goal is fat loss?
A properly devised weight training programme has been shown to be incredibly useful during fat loss.
Restricting calories, in the absence of weight training is accompanied by a loss in lean body mass, which can not only make you look weak, emaciated and skeletal, but it can also lower your metabolic rate.
When you restrict calories alongside resistance training, you will help to preserve your muscle mass, which can not only help retain a strong and athletic appearance, but it can also help to preserve your metabolic rate, which means that as you drop body fat, your daily energy expenditure will not drop as quickly and you’ll be able to burn body fat faster.
However, the key thing to note here is that the weight training programme is ‘properly devised’, which means fully training a muscle AND applying the principle of Progressive Overload.
You really don’t HAVE to perform resistance training, but there is mounting evidence that it is one of the most beneficial things you can do.
(Side Note: If you want your own properly devised weight training programme, then please click here).
What about ‘short and intense’ workouts – aren’t they the best for fat loss?
Naturally, the more demanding the workout, the more energy is expended and the greater the deficit, which theoretically should result in more fat loss.
An example may be a metabolic conditioning workout, which may include a circuit similar to the following –
A1) Squat x 10 reps, rest 10 seconds
A2) Press-ups x 15 reps, rest 10 seconds
A3) Burpees x 15, rest 60 seconds
However, doing this training all the time may not be a great idea…
Firstly, as stated previously, you will start to become more efficient at this type of training, which will reduce the number of calories burned during the session, so a better approach may be to phase it in and out with other types of training, such as strength and hypertrophy.
Secondly, this is quite an intense type of training, and the more intense your training is, the less of it you can do – so your overall calorie expenditure may not actually be that high.
Finally, if you absolutely HATE this type of training, you’re not likely to stick to it.
It doesn’t mean that this type of training is useless – if you’re pressed for time, a short and intense session is going to be a lot more beneficial than an easy and low intensity session.
No ‘specific’ fat loss training
Training sessions do not specifically target fat loss, since fat loss is going to be the result of being in a calorie deficit, which isn’t going to be completely determined by what you do in the gym.
Although training sessions that burn a lot of calories are seen as ‘the best’ for fat loss, they are completely useless if the individual eats a calorie surplus and/or doesn’t expend any further energy during the rest of the day.
People have dropped body fat by including a whole variety of different training types –
- Strength training
- Metabolic conditioning
- Kick boxing
The key thing is that they picked something they enjoyed, gave it 100% and at no point did the did the training EVER feel like a punishment.
And of course, they properly addressed nutrition.
Although fat loss is entirely possible in the absence of a training programme, there are some complications-
- Metabolic rate will drop
- Calorie intake will need to be lower (due to lowered metabolic rate and energy expenditure)
- Mood and energy may not be great (exercise makes you ‘feel good’)
- Appetite is harder to control
- Sleep may not be as good, so energy levels may be lower
So keep training a part of your fat los plan, and include resistance training to help preserve your muscle mass and make you look like an athletic specimen.
Alongside resistance training, pick some other activities that you ENJOY, since you’ll be more likely to stick to them for the duration of your fat loss plan.
Do you want to start losing body fat immediately?
Now, if YOU want to follow a resistance training programme WITH both high AND low intensity cardio options, then I have something for you.
Honestly though, you don’t need it.
But it will rapidly reduce the time it’s going to take working out –
- A 12 week training programme
- Learning new exercises/getting demos of proper technique
- Fitting in cardio options around resistance training
- Working out calories
- Working out macros
- Learning how to effortlessly lower calories
- Working out how to ensure that you get results week to week
- Learning what to do in the event of a plateau
If you’re just the slightest bit curious, then check out my very reasonably priced Project Lean programme (click on the link below):