By Nick Tumminello
A 2015 systematic review and meta-analysis published in the Journal of Diabetes and Metabolic Disorders came to two conclusions about the preponderance of evidence when it comes to exercise and fat loss. These two conclusions are:
1. Resistance (RT) was more effective than endurance training (ET) or a combination of RT and ET, (particularly when progressive training volume of two to three sets for six to 10 reps at an intensity at or greater than 75 percent of 1RM, utilizing whole-body and free-weight exercises).
2. When exercising for the purpose of maximizing fat loss, the focus of the resistance training “should be on producing a large metabolic stress.”
The take-home point from these results is: When training for the goal of maximizing fat loss, you want to use metabolic resistance training. Metabolic resistance training is designed to help you maximize fat loss while minimizing muscle loss by maximizing the metabolic demand of each resistance-training workout. This increases the caloric expenditure, not only during the workout, but also for up to two days after the workout due to the effects of excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), otherwise known as the “afterburn.”
The Three C’s of Metabolic Resistance Training
When it comes to using resistance training concepts with the primary goal of maximizing the metabolic cost of each workout in order to accelerate metabolism and decrease body fat while building and keeping muscle, there are three training concepts I emphasize in my book, Strength Training for Fat Loss, which I call the three C’s of metabolic strength training:
1. Strength-training circuits:
A continuous series of exercises using multiple pieces of equipment, which involves sequences of three, four or five compound exercises using heavy loads and alternating between upper- and lower-body exercises. For example, a “Big Four Circuit” would look like this: six to eight reps of an upper-body pushing exercise (e.g., bench press), six to eight reps of a lower-body hip exercise (e.g., deadlift), six to eight reps of an upper-body pulling exercise (e.g., one-arm dumbbell row), lower-body leg exercise (e.g., dumbbell reverse lunge). That’s one round of the circuit. You’d perform three to four rounds, resting two to three minutes between rounds.
2. Strength-training complexes:
A continuous series of exercises using the same piece of equipment. As an example, perform the following exercises back-to-back without resting between exercises: eight to 10 reps of dumbbell chest presses plus eight to 10 reps (on each arm) of one-arm dumbbell rows, plus eight to 10 reps of dumbbell squat jumps (holding the dumbbells by your sides), then finish by performing 10-12 reps of overhead shoulder presses. That’s one set of the complex. You’d perform two to four sets, resting two to three minutes between sets.
3. Strength-training combinations:
Multiple strength-training movements blended together to make one exercise, using the same piece of equipment. An example is to grab a barbell (with the appropriate load for your strength level) and perform a bent-over row plus deadlift plus hang clean plus overhead push press. That would be one rep of the combination exercise. Of course, you’d repeat this sequence for six to eight reps per set. You’d do three to four sets, resting two to three minutes between sets.
Four Reasons the Three C’s Are So Effective
There are four reasons why the three C’s of metabolic strength training are extremely effective at helping you to burn fat.
1. They’re high intensity
Workouts that utilize the three C’s use challenging loads or lighter loads moved fast, both of which create a high intensity in nature and force you to work hard each time you move the weight. The higher the intensity, the greater the metabolic impact!
2. They involve the entire body
Since the metabolic cost of a given exercise relates directly to the amount of muscle worked, each of the three C’s of metabolic strength training uses the entire body, involving your upper body, lower body and core muscles. Put simply, the more muscle you work, the calories you burn, the more productive your workouts will be— and the faster you will lose body fat.
3. They demand extended repetitive effort
Research consistently reports that a direct relationship exists between the duration of exercise and excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), which is the number of calories expended (above resting values) after an exercise bout. Metabolic resistance training methods take more time to complete than traditional weight-training sets. So, not only do they require you to perform high-intensity, total-body efforts, but also you’ll be performing them for extended bursts.
4. You’re less likely to lose muscle when you’re using it
A 1999 study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition looked at two groups of obese subjects put on identical very low (800) calorie diets. One group was given an aerobic exercise only protocol (walking, biking or jogging four times per week), and the other group was given resistance training only three times per week. After 12 weeks, both groups lost weight. The aerobic exercise group lost 37 pounds, 27 of which was fat and 10 of which was muscle. However, the resistance-training group lost 32 pounds— and 32 pounds were fat, while zero was muscle.
In other words, the resistance-training group lost significantly more fat and didn’t lose any muscle. Not to mention, when resting metabolic rate was calculated after the study, it was found that the aerobic (cardio) group was burning 210 fewer calories daily. In contrast, the resistance-training group had increased their metabolism by 63 calories per day.
You don’t have to be an exercise scientist to see how the combination of these four factors will burn a ton of calories and be super effective for losing fat and building metabolic muscle— something that a morning stroll on the treadmill simply can’t match.
A Word on Cardio and Nutrition for Fat Loss
In the past, you may have heard about research, such as the 2012 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, which looked at the effects of aerobic and/or resistance training on body mass and fat mass in overweight or obese adults, and concluded that “a program of combined Aerobic Training and Resistance Training did not result in significantly more fat mass or body mass reductions over Aerobic Training alone.” Although it seems these results contradict the research discussed here, it’s far more likely that those who did cardio lost more fat than those who did strength training simply because cardio burns more calories per minute than traditional strength-training methods. And, it’s well established in the research that fat loss comes from being in a caloric deficit (i.e., burning more calories than you consume).
It’s important to note this isn’t to discount that some calories are more nutrient dense than others; we’ve all heard the term empty calories before, but one can still gain fat from eating “healthy” nutrient dense foods if they eat too many calories.
Now, there are two ways to create a caloric deficit. You can either eat fewer calories or you can eat the same amount of calories and increase your activity level to burn more calories. With this in mind, instead of spending the extra time doing more cardio to burn (let’s say) 300 calories, you can simply cut 300 calories out of your diet each day and end up with the same result without having to bother with all the boredom and time consumption involved with the additional cardio. This is why cardio training isn’t emphasized in my book, Strength Training for Fat Loss, as in most cases, you essentially eliminate the need for it (from a fat loss perspective) when you simply eat fewer calories to create a deficit.
It’s important to note that this information is not intended to convince you to quit running or cycling, especially if you enjoy these activities. It’s simply to inform you that these activities have not lived up to their hype as being the necessary part of the fat loss process.
The Bottom Line
In summary, when it comes to fat loss, you won’t find a more science-based exercise programming, sensible strategy than this: Focus on strength training to improve the shape of your body and watch your diet (instead of doing lots of extra cardio) to reveal your shape.
Bench press: Lying on a bench, use a wide overhand grip to dismount the barbell from the rack over the upper chest. Lower the weight to the chest and press upward until arms are extended, and repeat.
Barbell deadlift: Bending at the knees and hips, grab a loaded barbell with an overhand grip, a littler wider than shoulder-width apart. Stand up without allowing your lower back to round, and thrust your hips forward as you squeeze your glutes. Pause for a moment before lowering the bar back to the floor, keeping it as close to your body as you can.
One-arm dumbbell row: Using a flat bench and a dumbbell, position your body on the bench, with one knee and one hand on the bench, while the other foot is planted firmly on the ground, and the arm on the same side as the foot on the ground is grasping the dumbbell. Begin with your arm straight, back straight, head up and chest out. Using your back, pull the dumbbell toward your body. Slowly lower and repeat.
Dumbbell chest press: Lie down on a flat bench with a dumbbell in each hand. Raise the dumbbells up above you as pictured before slowly lowering and repeating.
Overhead shoulder press: Standing with your feet about shoulder-width apart, hold a dumbbell in each hand, raising them to head height and elbows at about 90 degrees. Lift the dumbbells straight up until they almost touch and pause for moment at the top. Lower dumbbells and repeat.
Dumbbell reverse lunge: Stand with dumbbells at your sides. Step back into a lunge with one leg until the knee of rear leg almost touches the floor. Keep your torso upright. Return to start position and repeat with other leg, alternating legs each time.
Dumbbell squat jump: Holding dumbbells at your side, start with feet a little closer than shoulder-width apart, toes facing forward in a deep squat position. Jump up and when you come back down, land back into a squat. Repeat.
Bent-over row: With knees slightly bent and holding a barbell in front of you, bend over with back straight. Pull the bar to your upper waist and then return to starting position, extending arms until shoulders are stretched downward. Repeat.
Hang clean: Stand with a barbell, holding it with an overhand grip slightly wider than shoulder width. Feet should be pointed forward and be hip-width apart or slightly wider. Bend your knees and hips so that the barbell touches the middle of your thigh with your shoulders over bar and arms straight. Execute the motion by jumping upward, shrugging shoulders and pulling barbell upward with the arms, allowing the elbows to flex out to the sides. The bar should be kept close to the body during this movement. Catch the bar on the shoulders while getting into a squat position. At the bottom of the squat, immediately stand up.
Overhead push press: Grasp the barbell with an overhand grip, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. The bar should be positioned chest high, and retract your head back. Execute the motion by bending the knees, hips and ankles slightly. Then, explosively drive upward with the legs, driving the barbell up off the shoulders and extending the arms overhead. Return barbell to shoulders and repeat.
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