In a world of an increasing number of sedentary individuals, exercise and nutrition programs are not only becoming a good option for people, but are actually becoming necessary. As most of us are aware, obesity and lack of movement have increased quite a bit in the last 50 years. Although there are more initiatives now to get people moving, we still don’t do it enough. While there are many reasons that some type of fitness-related program may become necessary, fat loss programs are, without a doubt, the most common. But what many don’t know is that a fat loss program is not just about losing fat. In order to gain true health, you also want to be increasing or preserving muscle tissue and incorporating a piece that will improve bone, joint, and heart health.
Whether you’re looking to start a fat loss program because you want to get rid of 15lbs or 100lbs, the components remain the same. Throughout this month, we’re going to unveil what it takes in order to have a fat loss program that will yield RESULTS. This has been proven time and again and combined with our 30+ years in the fitness industry, this is what we have deemed as essential for fat loss to be optimized in an individual.
Component #1: Exercise
As mentioned above, a true fat loss program should aim to decrease body fat, preserve or increase muscle mass, improve bone and joint health, and improve heart health. After all, the goal is to achieve optimal health WHILE you get to receive the added benefit of looking and feeling good.
For these reasons, the exercise portion of a fat loss program should have a combination of strength training and cardiovascular training.
We’ve mentioned before that strength training should be the foundation of your workouts. Why is this you ask? Strength training not only helps you to build muscle tissue, but it also allows you to improve your range of motion (better mobility and pain-free movement), increase your bone mass (<—many do not realize that strength training actually allows you to ADD bone tissue to your bones, which decreases your susceptibility to osteoporosis and other bone degenerating issues), and relieve pain (low back pain can often be completely eliminated through proper strength training).
With this said, the way you go about your strength training will also play a role in your success. Rep ranges, # of sets, intensity, and rest periods dictate what happens when you lift weights. Let’s dive into each of these a bit:
Generally speaking, 1-5 reps is ideal to build strength, 7-12 reps is considered hypertrophy (muscle building) and 13+ is considered endurance. However, there is definitely crossover and you can still build muscle in the strength ranges as well as build strength in the hypertrophy ranges. Not much is absolute in strength training and different people respond slightly differently to each piece.
For fat loss purposes, we generally stay in the hypertrophy (7-12 rep) phase but do include strength and endurance as well. Once again, it’s important to get strong at a variety of rep ranges and each will give you a slightly different benefit. The reason we tend to stay in the hypertrophy phase more often than not is that during a fat loss phase, it is expected that you will not only lose fat, but also some muscle tissue. The goal is to minimize this as MUCH as possible, which is why proper protein intake and strength training are ESSENTIAL in a fat loss goal. Since the hypertrophy range tends to do the best at building muscle tissue, it makes it an ideal place to be in a fat loss phase.
Simply eating less food without paying attention to proper macronutrient intake and no strength training in order to lose fat will leave you looking and feeling like a deflated balloon.
# of Sets/Volume
The number of sets you do in an exercise program will affect the overall volume (total number of reps you do) of your workout. The intensity or load of the exercises has to do with how much weight you’re using in a given exercise. Volume and load makes a big difference in the types of results you see. The number of sets you do in any exercise program can range from 1 set all the way up to 10 sets. For fat loss purposes, we usually stick to 3-4 sets. With our hypertrophy rep range of 7-12 reps on MOST (but not all) exercises, this puts our volume per exercise to about 21-48 reps.
How hard you push yourself will also have a great effect on your results in a fat loss program. Ideally, he load (weight used) should make your last few reps very difficult. So if you’re doing a set of 10 reps, your last 3 reps should be hard and your last rep should be VERY hard. If it’s anything less than that, an increase in weight is suggested. We should note that ideally you will not have to use forced reps (using momentum) to complete a set, so if that’s the case, the weight may need to come down. Forced reps are not necessarily a bad thing, but are typically reserved for experienced lifters.
In a strength phase or goal, you want longer rests in order to perform and be as strong as possible going into each set. In a fat loss phase or goal, you want enough rest to recover, but not enough that your heart rate comes all the way down. In an endurance phase or goal, you want as little rest as possible to keep your heart rate up. For our purposes, we are talking fat loss. 60-90 seconds is a typical rest period in a fat loss phase, although 0-60 seconds rest is also very common in a fat loss program. A combination of the two seems to be best, where exercises focusing more on strength (like squats or deadlifts) will have a 60-90 second rest and exercises focusing more on conditioning (like burpees or box jumps) may have little to no rest in order to keep your heart rate up.
This typically surprises people, but additional steady-state cardio is not always needed in a fat loss program. For some it may be, but for most people, the right nutrition component combined with a well-designed strength training program will yield great results. I mentioned earlier that in a fat loss phase, it is common to lose other tissues, such as muscle. Cardio can contribute to muscle atrophy (loss) and so instead of sending you to spend time on a machine multiple times a week, it is proven to be more effective to include higher intensity intervals into your strength training. This might include jump rope segments, rowing, a quick jog or run, or plyometrics. Trust us, your heart will be receiving the cardiovascular benefits it would be getting from spending all day on a treadmill in a fraction of the time.