Fat Loss Triage

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about this recently, so it’s time I bit the bullet and blogged it.  It’s fat loss season.  Well, it’s late in fat loss season, and if you haven’t gotten started by now, you’re going to be pushing it to be swimsuit ready by beach season.  But that’s beside the point.

Beach body

In a perfect world, we would all be able to spend 20 hours a week on fat loss, attacking it from every angle with multiple training methods.  Alas, the world is not perfect, and most of us have far fewer hours to devote to our goals than we would like.  Since time is a highly limiting factor, how do we prioritize in order to get the maximum fat loss bang for our temporal buck?  We triage.  Maximize our marginal results.  Do what works best first.

  1. Nutrition

    You can’t out-train a miserable diet.  Period.  Check out the Nutritional Habits if you need guidance.  Lock the diet in before you even think about exercise for fat loss.

  2. Resistance training

    Strength training is the cornerstone of any exercise program for fat loss.  It increases muscle mass, which raises resting metabolic rate – the rate at which we burn calories while not active.  Most of our daily calories are burned by our resting metabolism, rather than when we exercise, so maximizing RMR is extremely important for fat loss.  Add to that the calories you burn while exercising, and you have a recipe for extreme fat loss.  In addition to the elevation of RMR by increased muscle mass, intense weight training sessions result in an additional boost to metabolism for up to 2 days following each bout.  Research supports the claim.  Weight training groups burn more fat during dieting phases than diet alone or diet + cardio groups.  Keep your training to total body every session, with high intensity (hit those heavy weights).  Check out Strength Training Basics if you’re new to weight training or total body training.

  3. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

    HIIT is a fancy name for SPRINTS.  Run, bike, or row at MAXIMUM SPEED for a short time (say 20 seconds).  Back off to a moderate to easy pace for a short time (say 60 seconds).  Repeat 5-20 times as necessary.  (Start with 5 and work up.  Try shortening rest and lengthening sprints to progress as well.)  Be warned, this will make you feel like death.  If you do not want to assume the fetal position after the 4th sprint interval, you aren’t really sprinting.  While HIIT doesn’t build muscle like resistance training (OK, it can build some, but not as much), it still burns a lot of calories and, more importantly, creates that 1-2 day bump in RMR just like resistance training.  Research shows that interval training is vastly superior to traditional steady-state cardio, and can result in 9 times the fat loss.

  4. Steady State Cardio

    Steady state is for burning calories only.  It doesn’t build muscle, and it doesn’t elevate RMR after exercise, but it does burn calories.  The higher the intensity, the more calories burned.  So crank it up a notch!  Again, if you aren’t in a lot of pain after 20 mins of cardio, you’re not working hard enough to matter.

Like a doctor on the field of battle, you must treat those first who stand to benefit the most.  Make the most of your time by starting with the biggest “bang for your buck” and work down as time permits.  If you can get in 3 intense total weight training sessions a week no problem, add 2 or 3 days of HIIT.  If there’s more time to be spent, tack on some steady state as well.

Do you triage effectively?  Got a question?  Leave em in the comments.

This post is essentially a carbon copy of a post by top performance/fitness coach Alwyn Cosgrove at Figure Athlete called Fat Loss Hierarchy.  His article is superior to my post in every way, complete with sources cited.  I was halfway through my post before I realized I had read something very similar before.  I guess his words stuck.  For more info on anything I said above, definitely read Cosgrove’s article.