You Should Read This If You:
- Are interested in losing fat
- Want to optimize your workouts
- Are interested in being healthier or “just feeling better”
- Enjoy comparing apples and oranges
It’s no secret that “fat loss” is probably one of the top three most common goals of the non-competitive gym-goer. But don’t read that as a criticism of the 99% of people that never play a sport past their senior year of high school.
Fat loss is a reputable goal. It’s one of the quickest ways to improve your health as your path to fat loss may very well include a decreased risk of metabolic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease, increased energy throughout the day, improved mood, and, of course, an increased probability that you’ll fit into those jeans from when you were 27 years old and looked and felt your best (unless you’re one of my clients because, for some reason, the #bootygains are off the charts and their jean sizes are all increasing – in a good way though).
When it comes to being “getting healthy” or “feeling better,” fat loss is very much part of the equation beyond six-pack abs.
I think the question for many people is, “How do I go about optimizing my workouts so that I’m burning fat while not spending seven-hundred hours every week in the gym?”
Let’s do some science real quick. The burning of fat, also known as fatty acid oxidation or beta oxidation, happens at the cellular level and is the process of breaking down fat to create energy (specifically creating ATP, the fuel source of our cells). The entire process includes things like oxidative phosphorylation and the electron transport chain (neither of which is important for the scope of this article). The important thing to remember is that fatty acid oxidation, though efficient, is slow.
In fact, the metabolism of fatty acids (including both the building and burning of fats) is constantly going on in our body. It’s impossible to create a definitive list of “fat-burning exercises” and anyone that tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something.
So, anyway, fatty acid oxidation. It’s efficient because it creates a ton of energy for your body, but it’s awfully slow and doesn’t really help with intense exercises like weight lifting or sprinting (both short sprints and longer, suckier ones) because those exercises require energy quickly.
However, optimizing our workout for fat loss doesn’t mean utilizing only low-intensity exercise. (Are you following still? Fat burns at low intensities and doesn’t work well for high-intensity because high-intensity exercises demand a lot of energy, quickly.)
You see, optimizing your workout for fat loss means taking into account the fact that fatty acid oxidation occurs at all times of the day, not just during your workouts. This includes when you’re resting, which means that somehow increasing your metabolic activity while at rest would assist you in burning fat in a similar, if not escalated, fashion.
This means performing exercises in our workouts that place a large demand on our recovery systems. That includes implementing compound, multi-joint exercises that stress our entire bodies through multiple joints and muscles while executing a planned strategy of progressive overload that will require your body to adapt and rebuild itself as part of the recovery process.
Simply put: lift weights and somehow add weight, add reps, add sets, or do it faster.
This is where the true answer comes in: we can optimize our workouts for fat loss by practicing progressive overload through multiple avenues and pushing the limits of our recovery ability through volume and workout density.
Like I mentioned above, here are some ideas on how we can accomplish these goals. Our goal for fat loss is to improve our “workout-density.” This means one of the following:
- Add weight to our exercises, while performing the same number of reps and sets
- Increase our overall volume by increasing our reps and/or sets with the same weight
- Use the same weight and performing more overall volume in the same amount of time
When we improve our workout-density, we ensure that all of our workouts are stressing our recovery systems in order to be burning through fat all day long.
But remember this: It’s important to note that you can’t get “stuck” on one method of progressive overload. If you’re constantly adding reps, but never adding any weight, the weights will eventually become too light to demand any sort of recovery. On the other hand, constantly adding weight in the name of getting stronger won’t necessarily torch your bodyfat because as weights get heavier, the demand becomes more neurological than physical.
One last thing to remember (and myth to dispell) is that it’s more important to mix up your methods of progressive overload than it is to mix up your exercises. It’s really difficult to overload your exercises if you’re constantly changing them. You can’t compare do 10 pushups one week and then say you’ll do 11 squats the next, that’s literally apples and oranges. (Okay, not literally but you get the idea.)