If November is all about Thanksgiving…
…and December is all about Christmas and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa…
…then January is all about the New Year, and of course, New Years Resolutions.
Every day when I go to work at IFAST, I drive right by a huge commercial gym. The past three to four weeks, the parking lot has been a desolate wasteland.
I’m not kidding when I say it looked like the nuclear winter had struck!
But the past couple of days?
This parking lost was so packed, it didn’t look like you could get a parking spot even if you did want to train there.
So with this slew of people wanting to shed body fat in the New Year, I thought an article on fat loss training would be incredibly timely.
When it comes to fat loss training, let’s be honest here when we say there’s nothing all that complex about the mechanics of it.
In most cases, our clients who want to lose body fat need to do a few simple things:
- Move more,
- Eat a little bit less, and
- Put a premium on recovery.
Now of course if it were really that simple, then these same clients wouldn’t need us, and we’d have to get real jobs (you know, where normal people dress up in shirts and ties – not everyone gets to roll in to work in their pajamas!)
But here’s the issue – too often when writing a fat loss program, we use a one-size fits all approach.
We fall in love with one template, or one set rep scheme, and use that for everyone.
And trust me, early-on I was guilty of this as well!
But as I’ve evolved, I’ve come to think more and more about the person standing in front of me.
Here are just a few questions that I have to ask myself before I put pen to paper and craft their next training program:
- How well does this client move?
- What is their capacity to move well? (I.e. a former athlete typically has a higher ceiling than a non-athlete)
- What is their stress level right now, both in and out of the gym?
- What is their work capacity right now?
(And if you just glossed over those, I would go back and read them again. These are critical questions you must have answers to).
This is just a short list, but if you start to ask yourself these questions, then you’ll have a better idea of how to build a specific program for every client you train.
Below, you’ll find some of my favorite fat loss tools, as well as why I like certain templates for different demographics. (You can also pick up a ton of customizable templates when you purchase a copy of the Physical Preparation 101 DVD’s.)
As you can imagine, the former Division-1 athlete hat has put on 15-20 pounds over the past couple of years is vastly different (in all respects) to the client who has been overweight their entire life.
Let’s do this!
When many fat loss clients are getting started, their ability to tolerate stress is very poor.
Furthermore, their work capacity is poor as well, so you’re working in a very tight window with regards to how much volume you can give them in a training session.
Sure you want to create a stress (and ensuing adaptation), but if you do too much, too soon, these clients will breakdown sooner than later.
To remedy this, you can start with a lower volume week initially, and then ramp it up from there. Here are two of my favorite low volume approaches:
#1 – Easy 8’s then Ramp
I really like this initial structure for many clients, as the base week is quite easy (2 sets of 8 reps), but the volume ramps significantly after that.
Here’s how it looks:
- Week 1- 2×8 (16)
- Week 2- 3×8 (24)
- Week 3 – 3×10 (30)
- Week 4 – 3×12 (36)
That base week allows the client to get their feet underneath them a bit. There’s enough volume to stimulate an adaptation, but not so much that you’re killing the poor guy or girl.
Another great thing about these lower volume approaches is that you minimize soreness early-on. We know when you move to a new program that you’ll probably switch exercises, and new exercises are inevitably going to cause soreness.
But using only two sets will minimize this, and hopefully, keep them coming back for more.
After that first week, we crank things up fairly quickly. In Week two, we increase the volume by 50% by adding another set.
And then in Weeks three and four, we continue to build volume by adding repetitions to the sets.
The goal with this template is to pick a weight early-on that is challenging, and then to either stay at that same weight, or even move up in weight, from week-to-week.
#2 – Easy 8’s and Plateau
While the previous example is one of my go-to approaches, even that doesn’t work for everyone.
As you can see, the volume ramps up quite quickly, and some people simply won’t be able to deal with it.
If that’s the case, here’s an alternative that works quite well:
- Week 1- 2×8 (16)
- Week 2- 2×10 (20)
- Week 3 – 3×8 (24)
- Week 4 – 3×10 (30)
With this program, you increase the volume in a much slower and smoother manner than you do in the previous example.
You still get that easy “base” week in Week one, and then there’s only a nominal increase in volume (two reps/set) in Week two.
In Week three you’ll actually go back to sets of eight, but do three sets.
The nice thing about this set-up is that your total volume increase (from 20 reps in Week two to 24 reps in Week three), but you get more rest by virtue of breaking things down into three sets versus two.
If you have a client whose work capacity and/ or ability to tolerate stress is low, give this template a shot.
Intermediate and Advanced Templates
Now that we’ve covered some of the starter templates, here are a few that are bit more advanced in their application.
But when I say “advanced,” please understand that fat loss training set and rep protocols aren’t rocket science. It’s not like we’re building a triple block periodization program for an Olympic athlete.
Instead, when I use the term “advanced” I simple mean:
- This client can tolerate more volume and intensity (i.e. more stress), especially early-on in a program,
- They have a better understanding of the weights they should be using, and
- Their technique is more dialed in.
So with that being said, here are a few templates you can dabble with for your intermediate and advanced clients.
#1 – Base 8’s and Build
This is similar to our starter template, but instead of having that easy week to start, we’re going to jump into the fray a bit more quickly.
- Week 1- 3×8 (24)
- Week 2- 3×10 (30)
- Week 3 – 3×12 (36)
- Week 4 – 2×8 (16)
This program starts off with three sets of eight, and then increases volume by 20% from week-to-week.
And much like the starter program like this one, the goal is to pick a challenging weight in Week one, and then make it a goal to either stay at that weight (or move up) from week-to-week.
So you’ll build for three weeks, and then have one lighter or deload week at the end.
#2 -Base 12’s and Drop
I affectionately think of this template as “The Hand Grenade,” as you’re dropping a ton of volume on your client right off the bat in Week one.
- Week 1- 3×12 (36)
- Week 2- 3×10 (30)
- Week 3 – 3×8 (24)
- Week 4 – 2×8 (16)
In this template, you probably want to undershoot on loading Week one. Everyone is a hero when they get started on a program, but three sets of 12 reps are absolutely no joke.
And while the goal in the “building” templates is to keep the weight the same throughout, in a “dropping” or “descending” template, the goal is to keep add weight from week-to-week.
For higher level fat loss clients, I absolutely love this approach. The hate Week one (and the pain that comes with it), but they get into things more each week as they’re adding weight and feeling stronger on all their lifts.
#3 – 15’s and Cycle
This is an especially awful template, and one that I reserve for clients who like pain, are fairly athletic, and have a good training base underneath them.
- Week 1- 2×15 (30)
- Week 2- 3×10 (30)
- Week 3 – 3×12 (36)
- Week 4 – 3×15 (45)
As you can see, the “easiest” week is Week one. Yes, you’re giving them 15 reps per set, but the next three weeks you’re adding weight and/or reps to everything.
In this template, start light on Week one and feel it out. Again, many clients look at this program and want to be a hero early on, and it never works out.
Instead, go light on Week one and get an idea of the weights you want to use.
Week two, make sure to bump the weights up so that the 10’s are challenging. And then make it a goal to stay at those weights for Weeks three and four.
Again, please don’t start a new client off on this template. Not only is it awful, but if they haven’t been prepped from a work capacity and technique point of view, they probably won’t do very well on it.
Finisher and Energy Systems Training
Now that I’ve covered some of the templates that I use, let’s wrap up with a few of my favorite finishers and energy systems tools.
KB Swings on the Minute
I’m not sure what it is about kettlebell training, but for whatever reason, it seems to hack off body fat like no other.
In 2009/2010 I was argualbly the leanest I’d been in my entire life, and I think a big part of that was due to a ton of kettlebell training.
But I digress.
One of my favorite kettlebell routines comes up from an old friend, Geoff Neupert. When I was just getting started with the ‘bells, this is the program he told me to use.
And it worked like a charm.
- Watching a stop watch (or a clock with a second hand), perform 10 kettlebell swings at the top of the minute.
- Put the ‘bell down.
- When it gets back to the top of the minute, perform 10 more swings.
- Repeat for seven rounds (on the lower end), and up to 15 rounds (on the higher end).
This is an incredibly simple set-up, but one that I’ve used with great success both personally and with clients over the years.
Another one of my favorite finishers are ladders. In a ladder, you pick an exercise (or exercises) and either work your way up or down the ladder.
Let’s say you’re traveling and have zero space to work out except your hotel room. You could easily do a squat ladder like this:
- 1 body weight squat, 1 breath
- 2 body weight squats, 2 breaths
The cool thing with ladders is that you can set them up a ton of different ways:
- Only work up (ascend),
- Only work down (descend),
- Work up and down the ladder (ascend and descend).
As you can see, there are tons of different options with regards to the ladder itself.
And when you combine the style of ladder with the exercises you choose (squats, push-ups, swings, etc.), you have an unlimited number of ways to structure these sessions.
Last but not least, it may seem odd to have a low-intensity fat loss method in here, so let me explain myself.
Too often, we’re thinking about fat loss as a “here-and-now” proposition.
It’s all about blow torching body fat as quickly as we can, so we can bring sexy back as fast as possible.
And I get it, I really do.
But remember what I said before about clients who have poor work capacity?
Or a poor ability to tolerate stress?
These clients typically don’t need a glycolytic bomb dropped on them. They need some low-intensity work to develop capacity, build resiliency, and increase parasympatethic tone. (Side note: Please read this.)
Furthermore, just because you can beat someone like this up doesn’t mean you should. We don’t take a new client in the gym and test their one-rep max when it comes to strength, so why do we give them our most evil fat loss finisher in their first training session?
Instead of thinking solely about the short-game, start to think about the long-game as well. If someone has 50, 75 or 100 pounds to lose, it’s not all coming off overnight.
Do the right things early-on, and the entire process will be far easier.
So there you have it – some of my favorite templates and tools when it comes to fat loss training.
Remember that while the X’s and O’s of fat loss programming aren’t overly complex, at the same time, you need to take stock of the client standing in front of you and what they can handle.
Be judicious in your programming and I guarantee 2016 will be your best year ever for you and your fat loss clients!
All the best