This is the third part on my series about exercise and fat loss. Part one was the post Walking Didn’t Lean Me Out, where I showed how all my fat loss was a result of diet and how exercise played no role. Part two was titled How Exercise Indirectly Kept me Fatter. In that post I covered how twenty years of varying exercise protocols not only didn’t lean me out, but increased my appetite above my activity level during down periods of injury. For the past 3 years I have firmly stated that fat loss occurs in the kitchen and not the gym. I still believe that.
On the surface it appears obvious that exercise would result in fat loss, but the long term success rates are awful. Appetite will rise to meet activity level. Increase the exercise and not only will your appetite increase, but so will your risk of injury. Trying to out exercise your appetite is a losing battle. Your buff personal trainer will blame your lack of discipline, but the reality is the body sees chronically exercising in excess of caloric intake as a threat to its survival. At some point its survival plan exceeds your willpower to override it.
Not For Everyone
This post is not for the typical overweight person. If you are still consuming toxic foods such as grains,
sugar, soy and vegetable oils then you should devote your resources into the fixing that. Remove the toxins and load up on highly nutrient dense foods. In other words, get healthy to lose fat, not lose fat to get healthy. An hour learning to cook will have far greater of an impact than an hour of exercising.
Eating nutrient dense foods like kimchi will do more for fat loss than exercise. Going into energy deficits before you’ve fixed nutrient deficiencies is like trying to a row a leaky boat. Fix the leak first.
The second group this post is not for are the young and genetically gifted. By young, I mean all you 25 year old CrossFitting Parkour junkies with Kevlar joints that scoff at us mere mortals. This post is for the normal sane healthy person who wishes to leverage exercise in a way to accelerate fat loss, while minimizing injury risk and honoring recovery. If your sport requires a higher volume of training, then by all means do what is necessary to be successful. If you like to spend hours every week spinning or jogging, because it is good for your mental health, that is wonderful. This post is just about fat loss.
The Case For Less
Let me start by saying that I am not a personal trainer and the only client I’ve trained is myself. I will say that I’ve read numerous books and a ridiculous number of articles written by industry professionals. I’ve studied the failures of conventional fitness and arrived at a few core principles regarding the role of exercise in fat loss.
- The limiting factor in exercise is not desire, it is recoverability and results. Without sufficient time for recovery, results will be limited and risk of injury will increase.
- Some people have amazing recoverability skills. Modelling your workout with the gifted is a mistake.
- During periods of injury recovery, appetite does not fall to baseline.
- The #1 way to maximize results is don’t get injured.
- Injuries are most likely to happen when volume is too high and recoverability time is too short. The importance of quality sleep can not be overstated. Never sacrifice sleep for exercise.
The key to leveraging exercise for fat loss is minimizing down time, not increasing volume. Bias should always be towards safety. Be patient with your body and focus on the long term.
My exercise plan for fat loss is based upon low frequency, low stress and brief periods of high intensity. It is not about burning calories and volume. I believe those approaches fail in the long run due to increased appetite and risk of injury. For me I want to push the boundaries of what my body is capable of performing. Increase strength and speed in an energy conserving manner and the body will respond in a positive way.
- High Intensity Training (HIT) – The number one exercise is weight training. I use a HIT protocol of SuperSlow and static holds. I favor machines over free weights, as they both honor biomechanics and are safer as the movement approaches failure. Reaching full failure on a leg press is perfectly safe. Going to failure with a back squat will hurt you. I perform a single HIT workout once every 5 to 7 days.
- Uphill Sprints – About 1-2 times a week and never on the day I do HIT, I perform 4-8 uphill sprints modeled after Phil Campbell’s Sprint 8 plan. The twist I added is to improve safety is to only run uphill. Sprinting has been shown to spike growth hormone levels, which can accelerate fat loss.
Rowing Machine – I got this idea from frequent commenter GWhitney. I’ve been rowing now for 2 weeks and I love it. It is a sprint for the upper body. Go all out for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds and repeat for 6-10 sets. Or something close. To see excellent form, watch this 24 second video of Rob Smith. Right now I am rowing about twice a week, although I could see going up to three times as this is even less stressful than uphill running. I do not row on the day I do HIT.
2017 UPDATE: I can no longer recommend Rowing as many trainers smarter than me are seeing high injury rates. A 2 handed kettle bell swing with perfect form is likely superior.
That is it. My HIT workout takes about 15 minutes, which includes light mobility work. The sprint session takes about 10 minutes, where most of the time is spent walking back to the bottom of the hill. The rowing takes less than 5 minutes. Adding everything together I am exercising less than one hour per week.
All my exercising is done in a fasted state. Prior to weight training, I do supplement with BCAA. I don’t know if it helps build/preserve muscle, but it is cheap insurance. After my HIT workout, I consume starchy carbs and protein. After my sprints and rowing, I continue fasting for another hour.
Not only am I leaner than I’ve ever been, but I feel better than ever. I’m not dog tired like I used to be when I was a runner and I don’t get the aches and pains I did when I did volume based free weights.