Monday, 5 September 2016

Cardio or Weights for Fat Loss?

Are you wasting your time on the treadmill?

For the most part fat loss is about energy expenditure. Calories are units of energy, fat is made up of stored energy, ergo to burn fat you must use up energy.

I’m going to tell you how you can burn more energy, without spending precious extra time in the gym.

Your muscles are the engines of your fat burning. The harder they work, the more energy [calories] you’ll burn.

Whilst running on a treadmill/outside, cycling, or jumping on the cross-trainer for 40 minutes will burn energy and improve your aerobic fitness, it’s not going to work your muscles particularly hard, especially after a few weeks of doing it when your body becomes accustomed to the workout and more efficient at it (more efficient = less calories burned).

For the most part, the sheer amount of time people spend running is what produces any fat loss results, but also normally comes with a loss of muscle too (picture a typical long-distance runner – not the most muscular people).

If your goal is fat loss, without the accompanying loss of muscle and strength (remember you want to keep hold of your muscle to burn more calories, and I see no reason why anyone would want to get weaker!) then resistance training is your best choice.

Already I can hear the usual response (normally from women): “But I don’t want to get muscly”

You won’t.

Let me explain.

To burn fat, you need to be burning more calories than you consume – should be quite obvious.

To build muscle, you need to be consuming more calories than you burn (you can’t build muscle without adequate fuel – it would be like trying to build a wall without any bricks).

So while there are some slight differences between training protocols, training for fat loss and training for muscle gain are very similar. The difference comes from your nutrition.

By lifting weights (resistance training) you will be burning more of the fuel in your muscles. This fuel then needs replacing, which will come from your food, or if you’re burning more than you’re eating, from your energy (fat) stores.

Enter the next problem: Gyms full of machines.

Machines made to target specific muscles are great for rehabbing an injury or for targeting problem areas for body-building, but for the weight-loss community, they’re using too few muscles to burn any significant amount of energy; and if you spend your hour in the gym going from one machine to the next with your “3 sets of 10” programme, you’re missing out on A LOT of calorie burning.

There’s a reason that squats, deadlifts, lunges, burpees etc. are hated world-wide – because they’re hard work! Hard work means they’re using most of your muscles at the same time, draining your energy (burning it) and getting you out of breath (muscles need oxygen to burn fuel – so the more out of breath from lifting weights you are, the more energy you’re likely burning [as a side note – this also counts as “cardio”]).

THIS is how you should be allocating your gym time. Focussing on large movements with resistance.

Remember, if you’re eating less calories than you burn, you won’t be able to build lots of muscle! For women, you also don’t have the right hormones to build muscle easily, especially without eating enough.

Some people will notice an ‘apparent’ increase in muscle size to begin with. If you’re not used to lifting weights, your muscles will draw in more fluid (water/blood) in order to repair, and they’ll also become more efficient at storing energy (which is a good thing because it’s easier to burn it from here, and it means less will be stored as fat if more can be stored in the muscle).

This is not your muscles growing, just becoming more efficient; and it will not continue unless you are over-eating – don’t panic about your jeans getting a little bit tighter around your thighs initially.
Fat-burning is much, MUCH faster than muscle-building so this will be a non-issue very soon.

Another point to remember is that bodybuilding requires the muscles to grow in size. This means striving for the famed “pump” in the muscle. This shouldn’t really be an issue if you’re using large, full-body movements instead of isolating small muscle groups, but if you’re worried about this, avoid lifting light weights for high reps – a sure-fire way to get a pump in the muscle and a common mistake women make when lifting weights, as people generally believe that this is better for “toning”!

This is a classic trap that women lifting weights fall into – too scared to get big and muscly, so they lift light weights.

If you want a leaner, more toned, firmer look, you need to make your muscles firmer and more toned. 

To do this you need to put tension through your muscles with heavier weights.

“Toning” requires heavy weights, not light weights and high reps.

Please be aware though that as with any training there is risk involved and by “heavy” I mean the heaviest weight you can lift with good technique. If you’re unsure of technique, get a good trainer and make sure your focus is on technique, not going for PB’s (personal best’s) every session.

*Until your technique is near perfect, you should NEVER increase the weight you’re lifting!*

In summary:

● For fat burning you need to lift weights (even just bodyweight exercises are sufficient) as oppose to spending countless hours doing “cardio”.

● Choose large, full body exercises over small isolated ones.

● Technique comes first and foremost, only then can you add more weight.

● As long as you’re burning more fuel than you’re consuming (calories), you CANNOT build masses of muscle, just a small adaptation to begin with as the muscles adjust to the extra work.

● More sets, less reps, heavier weights (with good technique) are preferable.

● Eat a healthy diet full of nutritious foods and avoid over-eating, but don’t drop calories too low; as long as calorie intake is less than expenditure you’ll lose weight, but if you drop calories too low your calorie expenditure will drop to match it and weight loss will stop.

For guys (or girls) wanting to burn fat AND build muscle this becomes quite complicated. Without a good coach I would recommend you focus on just fat burning first – if you’re doing strength training you’re unlikely to lose too much muscle so focus on getting leaner. Then, when you have lost an adequate amount of body fat, change to a muscle building routine (it’s easier to build muscle when you’re leaner as testosterone/oestrogen balance is more favourable for this with lower body fat).

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