Originally published at FigureAthlete.com
Foundational Fat Loss
by Mike Robertson
Let me tell you a nasty little secret: People want to make fat loss a controversial topic.
In fact, the more secretive and confusing people make it, the more likely they are to get you to pay exorbitant amounts of money on the latest diet, workout, or gizmo to help you lose body fat!
It’s sad, but true.
But before we get into this full-steam ahead, let me make one admission:
I’m not an “expert” on fat loss. I haven’t written any books, manuals, or produced DVD’s on the topic. I don’t go to seminars and lecture on the topic of fat loss, either. And while I consider myself relatively lean, I’m not quite ready to take on that part-time job as a male underwear model (yet).
I’m just a trainer who’s helped quite a few people lose significant amounts of body fat.
This article isn’t geared towards taking the elite Figure Athlete from 12% body fat to single digits. Rather, it’s written to give the average Figure Athlete reader some of the basic, foundational principles that you can apply across the board to shed extra body fat.
Quite simply, if your goal is to shed body fat, smart programming will get you there much faster than some of the old-school methodologies out there.
Goal #1: Get stronger and build muscle
I hate it when people tell me they want to “tone.” If you’ve used this term in the past, it’s okay — I’m not mad at you! But understand that there’s no such thing as “toning.” When someone says they want to “tone,” all that generally means is they want to lose body fat and build a little muscle.
The easiest way to kick start your metabolism is to start strength training. Now, you’re at Figure Athlete for a reason; you’re no dummy! But understand that to build muscle you have to lift relatively heavy weights. If you can carry on a discussion or check out the hot personal trainer during your set, you’re not lifting heavy enough.
Here are some general rules I like to follow when designing fat loss workouts:
• Active warm-up
• Total body workouts
• Superset an upper body exercise with a lower body exercise (i.e. a squat with a bench press)
• 2 to 3 supersets, 8 to 12 reps per set
• Minimal, if any, isolation work
• Short rest periods (30 to 90 seconds)
• Always finish with some energy system work
Goal #2: Include some energy system work
There’s a saying in hardcore lifting circles that goes something like this:
“Working out is for wimps; training is for the serious that want to achieve something.”
I look at the term “cardio” in much the same way. There’s no attitude to it. And when I hear “cardio,” I think of people plodding away mindlessly on the treadmill.
Now, the term “energy system training” has an edge, and at the very least sounds cool when chatting with your friends!
As you can imagine, I’m not a huge fan of traditional means of energy system training (EST) such as treadmills, bikes, or ellipticals. Much of our day is monotonous; why on Earth would we want more monotony during our workouts?
Instead, I’m a huge fan of non-traditional energy system workouts. At our gym, we have jump ropes, kettlebells, a prowler, medicine balls, a dragging sled, and tons of other odds and ends to help keep things fun and interesting.
If you’re at a local gym, at they very least you should be able to do some medicine ball work, some bodyweight circuits, and possibly some jump rope to break the monotony.
The goal is to make your EST fun and exciting so you’ll enjoy it more, work harder, and burn more calories to boot.
Goal #3: Move around more — period!
This may sound simple, but fat loss is really all about creating a deficit. You can work out hard and eat great foods, but if you don’t create that deficit you’re going to spin your wheels!
I was going to write something more profound, but instead I’ll reference this passage from my good friend Leigh Peele’s The Fat Loss Troubleshoot manual, which you can find at Avidity Fitness.
“… at the end of the day, the (caloric) deficit has to be achieved. Broccoli can keep you fat, handfuls of nuts can make you fat, you can drizzle that healthy oil on your lean proteins all you want, but they are still calories. Sorry my friends, fat or no fat, carbs or no carbs, energy production in the body rules all.”
With this in mind, just focus on getting up and moving around more. Take a walk with a loved one (or even someone you just kinda sorta like). Ride your bike around the neighborhood. Take the stairs at work. Basically, anything you can do to move around more and sit less is a good thing and will aid your cause.
Now that we’ve covered training, let’s briefly discuss the need for good nutrition. As a wise man (or woman) once said, “You can’t out-train a bad diet.”
And from everything I’ve seen, they couldn’t have been more right!
Goal #1: Develop a nutritional plan
With so many diets out there, where do you even begin? Who can you believe?
Hang out in the nutrition section of any bookstore, and you’ll be inundated with all kinds of conflicting information. There’s high carb and low fat, and strangely enough, it’s sitting right next to the book that espouses low carbs and high fat. Can someone explain how that works?
Whether it’s Atkins, South Beach, Sugar Busters, the Omega diet, or some crockpot combination of them all, where should you start?
The first thing you need to do is understand that getting lean isn’t a one-month commitment. Sure, we can “diet” to look great at the beach, to fit into a dress, or to win a figure competition, but the term diet itself does not insinuate a long-term change. Instead, we need to understand that many of these purported “diet” books are hard to follow and won’t give us the long-term results we want.
Therefore, I highly recommend adopting a solid nutritional plan developed by an expert. In this case, you could do a lot worse than picking up either John Berardi’s Precision Nutrition program, or Mike Roussell’s Naked Nutrition guide. Both of these guys have the science and the practical know-how to help you get and stay lean.
Keep in mind the focus of these books isn’t to diet; the goal is to give you a nutritional foundation that can produce lifestyle changes and long-haul benefits.
Goal #2: Clean the cupboards
This one is really simple: Whether you know all that much about nutrition or not, many people have a pretty good idea of what they should and shouldn’t be eating. For instance, you know that just because potatoes and potato chips come from the same vegetable, it doesn’t mean they’re nutritional equals.
My pal John Berardi once said, “If it’s in your cupboard, at some point in time, you’ll eat it.”
Prophetic words, if you ask me!
With that being said, step away from the computer right now and get rid of all the junk food in your cupboards and kitchen. Trust me, I can wait.
Goal #3: Stop eating out!
There’s nothing I love more than eating out. I mean, does it get any better than good food that you don’t have to prepare, and better yet, you don’t have to clean up afterwards?
With that being said, though, eating out is a big reason why this country is so overweight. Even our “healthy” options aren’t good for fat loss due to the portion sizes. Put a little bit more bluntly, if you eat a dinner of steamed chicken breasts, whole grain brown rice, and a vegetable that amounts to 1,000 calories, it’s still 1,000 calories even though it’s healthy.
This is where the concept of creating the caloric deficit is lost on some; they assume that just because something is “healthy,” that it’s “low-calorie.” Definitely not one and the same.
One final point on eating out: While this article isn’t necessarily as much about health as it is about fat loss, there’s virtually no such thing as “healthy” fast food. If you’d like more information as to why this is, I’d definitely recommend checking out The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollak.
Goal #4: Ditch calorie-laden beverages
Our final point when discussing fat loss is beverages. Sure, those mocha lattes taste great, but they contain calories. So does every juice, alcohol, etc.
Again, this comes down to the difference between what’s “healthy” and what’s good for fat loss. I can think of tons of foods that are healthy, nutritious, and good for you, but that don’t necessarily help you lose body fat.
Instead, when someone is serious about losing fat I ask them to drink one of three calorie-free beverages: water, green tea, or black coffee. No sweeteners, no additives, nada.
If your palette is dead, this may actually help revive it a bit. Trust me, after a while you get used to it and actually enjoy the taste of natural beverages.
Goal #1: Develop SMART goals and an action plan to achieve them
I discussed this topic pretty in-depth in my previous article, The Top 5 Reasons You’re Not Succeeding.
The bottom line is if you don’t have SMART goals and an action plan to help you achieve them, you’re never going to realize your true potential!
Goal #2: Find external accountability
Even the most dedicated individual will hit trying times throughout their training career. In this case, it definitely doesn’t hurt to find some external accountability. This could come in the form of a training partner, spouse, loved one, or simply a friend. Let them know about your goals and the deadline you’ve set to achieve them.
Most importantly, make sure that the person you discuss your goals with is supportive of them as well. Unfortunately, sometimes those around us aren’t always as supportive as they should be, whether it’s due to their own insecurities or a host of other reasons.
Find someone who’ll support you when you’re down, and kick you in the ass when you need it. You’ll thank them in the long run!
On the Road to Lean and Sexy
Whether your goal is to lose 5 pounds of body fat or 50, applying these principles will help you achieve your goals in a safe and efficient manner.
Good luck and good training!