Once the penny drops that lifting weights is the best way to burn fat, it’s tempting to haul as much as you can and rep ‘til you drop. But your bravado may be a hot-body buzz kill. WH&F weight training guru Grant Lofthouse re-writes the rulebook
CRITICAL RULE #1: Train more often
For the last few years, fitness gurus preached that you shouldn’t train more than three times a week because it takes at least 48 hours for your body to fully recover. This is nonsense. The only reason most trainers recommend to train three times a week is that it sells. The proof of the furphy is in the pros – Russian lifters train up to 18 times per week, while Bulgarians train three to four times a day. Many MMA fighters train two to three times a day and gymnasts train every day with full body workouts.
The only time training three times a week will get serious results is when the candidate goes from doing nothing to something. Otherwise, the ‘average Jane’ who’s in decent shape and wants to take her body to a new level of ‘wow’ needs to increase her training frequency.
That’s not to say you should jump straight from three days a week to six – the jump is too extreme. Instead, add one session a week each month until you have reached a higher training frequency.
CRITICAL RULE #2: Be honest
Failure is when you push your body to the max so you have to cheat the exercise to complete it. If you need a training partner to help you complete extra reps, you’ve hit your limit.
But what about that burn? Just because you feel pain doesn’t mean it’s doing anything good – a headache from banging your head on a brick wall doesn’t mean your self-injury was ‘effective’!
The two main reasons you shouldn’t train to failure are: 1It fries your central nervous system (CNS). CNS burnout is common when you train to failure all the time. When you fry your CNS you will be significantly weaker. 2It hinders your recovery. When you train to failure, you place greater stress on the body, which will result in longer recovery time – not terribly conducive to increasing your training frequency.
CRITICAL RULE #3: Ditch the equipment
Many people these days want to swing around a kettlebell, slam a medicine ball and flip tyres for a workout, yet they often can’t do 10 push-ups to save themselves.
If you cannot control your own body weight, what makes you think you should add extra external load?
Take a look at female gymnasts. They are lean, strong and fit, and all they do is train for their sport, which consists of body weight training.
The reason for gymnasts’ physical and performance success is due to the fact that whenever you move your body through space there is a greater neuromuscular demand. Simply, the body will produce greater strength and lean muscle gains on a pull-up than a lat pull-down. Both are the same movement, but pull-ups require you to move your entire body through space as opposed to just moving your limbs.
Another perk of body weight training is that it allows for more natural movement and is, overall, less taxing on the body, resulting in better recovery time towards that goal of greater training frequency.
That’s not to say you should eliminate all typical strength training exercises such as dumbbell presses and rows. But you should definitely add more body weight exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups, inverted rows, handstands, front levers and single leg exercises.
CRITICAL RULE #4: Stop at six
Renowned Soviet fitness trainer Pavel Tsatsouline states that anything above five reps is bodybuilding, so for women doing light weights and performing sets of 10-plus reps because “lifting heavy will turn you into a bodybuilder”, I’ve got bad news: You are actually bodybuilding.
If your goal is instead to be lean, but you don’t want to gain weight, you must perform no more than six reps. This doesn’t mean you use a weight that allows you to get 20, either. You should choose a weight that is heavy enough to allow you to leave one to two reps in the bank. For example, if you are doing six reps per set, you want a weight that allows you to get eight reps – no more, no less.
CRITICAL RULE #5: Go easy on the cardio
Since high intensity intervals hit the scene, easy cardio has been labelled a no-no. But the truth is that easy cardio should remain in your training schedule two to three times a week to keep your heart healthy, improve your overall recovery and burn fat.
Bodybuilders have been performing easy cardio for years, to strip body fat in conjunction with a well designed nutrition plan.
What is easy cardio? This is where too many people get it wrong. I break cardio into three categories:
- Low cardio – walking or a very slow jog that allows you to hold a conversation.
- Moderate cardio – that middle ground between a slow jog and a sprint.
- High cardio – a sprint. Most people spend their time in the middle area, which is counterproductive, as this zone elevates cortisol – the stress hormone that promotes the storage of body fat and breakdown of metabolic muscle.
If you want to get lean you need to keep your cortisol levels down, and that can only be done with low or high intensity cardio. Since you cannot perform high intensity all the time due to CNS and recovery needs, low cardio is your only other option.
Grant Lofthouse is a Melbourne based PT and founder of cardiohaters.com, a site for fitness enthusiasts who hate cardio.
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