This is what I call a "back to basics" blog post. I will be talking to you about the 3 general things that can improve your fat loss. I have to admit I got the gist of this information from another Beachbody Coach, Jenelle Summers, but wanted to expand on her ideas a little bit. As a preamble, I'd like to remind you that the processes of building muscle and burning fat are completely separate. Wouldn't it be cool if we could lift weights all day and then convert all the fat into muscle and just weigh the same but be jacked? Yeah - unlikely, and in fact, impossible. As you will read, though, that doesn't mean strength training shouldn't be part of your weekly routine.
A Brief History of Humans and Fat (a.k.a. my attempt to make this a little more fun)
What is fat? Fat is essentially your body's survival mechanism as long term energy storage. If we were all pre-historic nomads trying to just get by, day to day, eating the occasional Woolly Mammoth, exerting a lot of daily energy hunting, we'd probably find that our bodies couldn't produce enough energy from renewable sources like muscle glyocgen and immediate glucose release from said Woolly Mammoth to survive. Evolutionarily, it therefore makes sense that for times of trouble, famine, or scarcity of food our ancestors survived by having fat stored in the body as energy. The problem is, sometime between Cro-Magnon man and 2011 we've decided that we should be able to do everything we need to survive, including the social experience, on an iPad at Starbucks while sipping a triple-grande-one-pump-half-caf-mocha-no-whip-frappucino, so now many of us (in fact 2/3 of America that is considered obese) don't just store enough fat for essential functions and survival, but we continue to store it to unhealthy levels. Just think, in the time it takes to actually order that Starbucks drink, our ancestors could have killed and eaten a whole Woolly Mammoth (which by the way is an excellent source of lean protein, and has no caffeine - half caf or otherwise - no added sugar syrup, and, well, no foam either).
Add on top of this that American soil is no longer producing crops that are as nutrient rich as even 90 years ago, and the fact that we are cutting corners with mass-produced food and even genetically modified ingredients, and the odds are stacked against us. Sure, our ancestors didn't need Insanity or Turbo Kick or Zumba to stay in shape, but their (our) bodies were built in a harsher climate where the success of every day's hunt and foraging meant life or death. Since we live in an era of extreme convenience, we NEED to find time to workout and need to break the trend of convenience and be proactive with our food prep.
But I know you, like me, are all extremely busy! So I've compartmentalized fat loss into three easy things you can do each week to maximize results!
#1: Intensify Your Cardio
How many people do you know that religiously hit the elliptical machine in their aerobic zone, and never get the results they want? Well the good news is that if you are finding time for 30 minutes of elliptical a day, you can tweak your workout to become an anaerobic interval workout and start maximizing your results today! I can't tell you how many "new" articles I see that say short bursts of high intensity cardio are way more effective at burning fat, plus they help elevate your metabolism throughout the rest of the day so you continue to burn. Programs like Insanity and Turbo Fire are built on this principle! So next time you carve out 30 minutes, start easy, then from minutes 15 through 25, go hard for a minute, then go easy for a minute, and continue alternating minutes. You'll be amazed and how this will affect your fat loss, and also, you'll be amazed at how it can help increase your endurance by bolstering your lactic acid tolerance.
#2: Count Your Calories
I don't want to sound like a broken record, but you really should keep track of your calories, at least for one week at a time, to just "check-in" and see what you are truly eating in a typical week. Don't workout just so you can eat whatever you want - you HAVE to have a caloric deficit at the end of the day in order to lose fat. Don't starve yourself - this is counterproductive, but by creating a simple 100-500 caloric deficit a day, you will slowly chip away at the fat. Not sure how many calories you need? Calculate your BMR (basal metabolic rate, using any number of online calculators), add anywhere from 100-500 calories a day that you burn from your job (500 for VERY active jobs, and 200 for MODERATELY active jobs, and 0-100 for office jobs where you sit all day), then add your calorie burn from workouts. If you have no clue, you can buy a BodyBugg or other heart rate monitor device that can estimate your calorie burn during a workout. Once you have this number (BMR + lifestyle calories + workout) you'll know where you are to break even at the end of the day. Subtract 100 ingested calories from food a day from that number to lose approximately 1 lb. of fat a month, subtract 500 calories from that number to lose approximately 1 lb. of fat a week. All of a sudden that cookie looks a little different - a 100 calorie swing a day could mean 1 lb. of fat in either direction per month.
Also, metabolism is a key factor in this (hence the term bMr), and the BMR calculators are only an estimate based on the average BMR for your age group, at your given height and weight. To boost your metabolism (and therefore your daily calorie burn) always remember to, as best you can, eat several small meals throughout the day instead of 3 gigantic meals, and drink lots of water.
#3: Engage in Strength Training 2-3 Times a Week
You've heard the term "muscle burns fat." Well, it is true (note: as aforementioned muscle doesn't convert into fat)! More muscle means your metabolism will be higher, and for some people every extra pound of muscle means you burn an average of 35-50 more calories a day. Here is the secret: all you need twice or three times a week in addition to your cardio is to do a 15-20 minute session of INTENSE weight training with heavy weights. Focus on two muscle groups per day (possible groups: back, biceps, shoulders, triceps, or chest). Perform 2 circuits, repeating each circuit 3 times. Pick a weight that you can only perform 8-10 reps before exhaustion.
So for example, decide you are going to work biceps and triceps today. Circuit 1: Standing Biceps Curls and Lying Down Triceps extensions; repeat 3x. Take a break. Circuit 2: Preacher Curls and Overhead Triceps extensions; repeat 3x. You will not burn a lot of calories during this 20 minute workout, but by choosing a heavy weight, you will be breaking down fibrous muscle tissue which over the next 48+ hours will rebuild stronger, and denser, and BIGGER. You wonder, "how can this be affective? p90x strength workouts are an hour long." Well, in all honestly 80% of the muscle building work of a p90x workout comes in the first 30 minutes, but they often add a second round so that you continue to burn calories for the full hour. However, if you are doing a quick 20 minute weight session in addition to your cardio, you can get a lot done in a little time. A final note: never workout the same muscle group within 48 hours.
Now a note to all the women reading this: DON'T BE SCARED OF WEIGHTS. Because of your natural hormone levels, you will never get overly bulky, unless you take testosterone supplements, or steroids. You will build lean muscle, even if you follow the "8-10 reps" rule. I'm serious, one of you jokingly told me you were used to aerobics class where you do 50 reps with 5 lb. weights - next time you do a strength workout, I want you to up your weight so those last 3 reps are WICKED HARD, like you don't even think you can muster out that last rep unless you give it all your strength.
So the thing is, you have to be focusing on all three of these things in order to maximize your fat loss. It is no coincidence that both p90x and ChaLEAN Extreme are programs that are built on ALL THREE of these principles. They each have 3 days a week of strength training, the cardio includes bursts of speed with alternating rest, and they include diet guides that keep you within your caloric goals, and which encourage balanced, smaller meals throughout the day.