So it is now mid-May. How many of you are ready for shorts, sleeveless tops and swimsuits? If your New Year’s resolution was to lose (insert number) pounds by summer, how are you doing? If you aren’t where you had hoped to be, I am here to help you…keep reading.
A few weeks ago I gave you an awesome article written by Rachel Cosgrove titled “Women Have It All Wrong.” It was a very popular blog post, and I give Rachel all the credit. She is in the trenches working with women (and men) every day helping them to lose weight and get fit. Rachel just happens to be married to someone equally as smart as she is, who is also her business partner (they co-own Results Fitness in California). Four years ago Alwyn Cosgrove wrote an article called Hierarchy of Fat Loss ~ it was originally written for T-Nation, and subsequently posted on his website (if you go to the above link, you will need to scroll down to the article). This is one of those timeless pieces. The information Alwyn presented back in 2007 still holds true, which is why his article is often referenced and reprinted. Alwyn’s article outlines what, in his (at the time) 17 years of working with clients has proved to be the most effective weight loss strategies.
With our regular clients or with ourselves, we’re usually extremely limited with time. Most of us can only train three to four times per week. With that in mind — with time being our limiting factor — how do we maximize fat loss? Is there a hierarchy of fat loss techniques? I think so.
Alwyn’s article is fairly lengthy; first he outlines a hierarchy of types of physical activity as it pertains to fat loss. Then he discusses the different types of physical activity in greater detail, and then he puts it all together. I am going to give you my “Reader’s Digest” condensed version (although I encourage you to read Alwyn’s full article for more details). Essentially this is meant to be a guide as to what strategies to use for weight loss given the amount of time you have to devote to physical activity.
Rules for fat loss:
1. It’s about the food.
If you don’t have your diet in check, you are going nowhere. You cannot out-exercise a crappy diet.
2. If you have 2-3 hours per week to exercise, use weight training
Yes, weight training. The most effective way to lose fat is to boost your metabolism, and the most effective way to do that is to add muscle to your body. Your body has to work harder to maintain muscle than it does to maintain fat, hence an elevated metabolism. This means you burn more calories all the time, not just when exercising.
Start with two to three 45 to 60 minute sessions. Build up to as much as 3 hours of strength training a week. Beyond this, the benefits seem to dwindle (for both strength gains and for fat loss). From Alwyn’s article:
Several studies have shown the benefits of weight training:
One study showed that after a weight training session lasting 31 minutes, metabolism was elevated for 38 hours following the workout.
Another study compared 3 groups ~ one changed diet only, one changed diet plus added aerobics, one changed diet, added aerobics and weight training. The diet only group lost 14.6 lbs of fat in 12 weeks; the diet plus aerobics group lost 15.6 lbs of fat, only 1 lb more than the diet only group, despite 3 times per week aerobic sessions lasting 30-50 minutes each; the diet plus aerobics plus weight training group lost 21.1 lbs of fat.
A third study compared a group who performed 4 hours of aerobic exercise per week with a group that did weight training 3 times per week. The weight training group had an increased metabolism while the aerobic training group actually had a decrease in metabolism.
3. If you have 3-5 hours per week to exercise, use weight training and high-intensity interval work.
Start with the weight training, then begin to add in some interval training. Intervals involve short periods of high intensity, followed by periods of active recovery. Don’t be afraid of the words “high-intensity.” “High-intensity” is relative to you. If you are currently doing little to no cardio work, your intervals might be at a slightly higher pace or you might add some hills or stairs. As you become more fit, the intensity of your work periods will get harder and the recovery periods may be shorter and/or less easy. Interval training burns more calories than steady state aerobic training and elevates metabolism significantly more than other forms of cardio. Again, from Alwyn’s article:
Another study pitted 20 weeks of endurance training (longer, lower intensity) against 15 weeks of interval training. The interval training group showed a nine times greater fat loss…plus interval training takes less time.
“Interval training is like putting your savings into a high return investment account. Low intensity aerobics is like hiding it under your mattress. Both will work, but the return you get is radically different.” ~ Alwyn Cosgrove
4. If you have 5 or more hours per week to exercise, use weight training, high-intensity interval work, and some steady state aerobic work.
The steady state aerobic work will burn calories, but will not add muscle or boost your metabolism. Use the steady state work as a way to exercise & burn some additional calories but at the same time allow your body to recover a little so that you have the energy for the weight training and interval work.
I love this article and advice so much because I think it is so practical. First, get you diet in check. Second, determine how much time you have each week to exercise and use the hierarchy to determine how to best use your time. Easy peasy. As you have more time available, look at the hierarchy and see what to add. Notice that “steady state aerobic work” is the last thing you add. It is only used once you have gotten in 3 strength training sessions and several high-intensity interval sessions. It is really used more as a recovery workout. How many people use steady state cardio as their workout of first choice when heading to the gym? Is that working for you? Are you losing weight? Are you happy with your body? If not, why don’t you give Alwyn’s advice a try. Give it a month. See what happens. And let me know. Good luck!