When I spoke to a couple of my friends regarding effective fat loss all that they would advise is to carry out extensive cardiovascular exercise and have a specific meal plan. It’s very common for anyone to draw to that conclusion as an hour in all the cardio equipment in the gym will make you sweat a gallon and feel as though you just burned all the fat in your body. What we fail to understand is that cardio is great for fat loss but that alone may not be the secret to effective fat loss. For me, losing weight also means getting in-shape and this in-turn translates to getting stronger. Let’s break it down and analyze why cardio is not your best option.
Losing fat with cardio
It’s not only walking on a treadmill or using an elliptical trainer. Cardio means that you are increasing your heartbeat with rhythmic activity. It is about raising your heart rate to a particular level where your body will start burning fat and calories. There are various techniques of cardio training and the most popular are Low-Intensity Steady State (LISS) and High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). Cardiovascular workouts can get boringly repetitive for someone who just started working out. More than lifting weights.
What I think is not right with only cardio
When cardio is performed without resistance training, people get to the point where they push themselves harder on HIIT trying to burn more fat. This is bad as too much of cardio will make you lose more muscle with the fat that you burn. But why is muscle even need when your goal is just to lose weight? Simply because the amount of muscle decides two things; 1. How strong you are and 2. The Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). Strength is something that I can never compromise. I will not be happy being just lean. We all need strength for various activities in our lives and I honestly feel powerful when my wife asks me to move something heavy. Even for better mobility and agility, you need your strength which is lost when you perform excessive cardio. BMR shows the lowest energy consumed by your muscle mass. BMR and muscle mass are directly proportional and people with higher BMR will tend to stay more fit than people with lower BMR.
Well if cardio alone is not the solution, what is the secret? Well, I have given you enough clues. The secret is to improve your muscle mass. Yes, you read it right, that is primarily what you need. With that said let’s see the science behind hypertrophy. There are 7 protocols to increasing muscle hypertrophy;
1. Focus on heavy compound movements
2. Progressive overload
3. Mechanical tension
4. Metabolic stress
5. Protein intake
6. Energy balance
While all these are much needed for better hypertrophy, focusing on heavy compound movements is the most important of them all when it comes to burning fat. Why do I say this? Because compound movements involve a lot of muscle which means all these muscles are fired up when you lift and eventually depleting the glycogen stores in them. This will create a need for our body to replenish the glycogen stores in those muscles thereby needing additional calories which as mentioned earlier increases your BMR.
Now if you have just started lifting you will be going through a phase called “muscle re-composition” where you lose your fat and gain muscle proportionately which may seem like you’re not having any changes in your body. That is exactly why just weighing your body weight alone cannot be a good indicator of your fitness level. Measuring the body fat percentage and measuring the size of your muscle may help you see the changes quite well.
Hybrid workout plan
Now if you are a person who is in the overweight or obese range in the BMI scale, just doing cardio or resistance training may not help you reach your goal quickly (note that consistent training will surely help you reach your goal but the time required may be different). This is why professional trainers suggest a mix of both cardio and weights. While cardio can help you burn excess calories resistance training can help you develop muscle to continue burning fat through a process called EPOC (Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption). Strictly cardio must be restricted to 2-3 times per week since excess cardio can induce chronic stress releasing a stress hormone called Cortisol which switches the body to the catabolic state leading to muscle breakdown which is counterproductive. And now let’s see what are the basic compound movements that can help you in this plan.
Bench press (3 sets of 8-12 reps)
The bench press will focus on your pectoralis, deltoids, and triceps. Set up your bench and barbells with weights and follow these instructions;
1. Arch your back and tuck your shoulder blades
2. Voluntarily un-shrug your shoulders
3. Let the barbell touch your chest for every rep.
4. Keep in mind quality reps with capable weights are better than useless reps with heavyweights
Barbell Squats (3 sets of 8-12 reps)
Barbell squats work your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and to some level the abdomen and back muscles.
1. Use a comfortable weight on the barbell and place it on the back of your shoulders
2. Make sure that you don’t rest it on your spine
3. With a slightly wider stance and toes pointing outwards, squat just about making a 90-degree with your thighs and crus (lower leg)
Deadlifts (3 sets of 5-8 reps)
The deadlift is a very complicated exercise where the risk involved in hurting your back is more if you do not perform it in proper form. I would advise you to stay away from this exercise if you have had any back injury in the past.
1. Stand with your mid-foot under the barbell (you should be able to see your shoelace under the barbell)
2. Keep your back straight, never round your back
3. Grab the bar in shoulder width, make sure that there is no slack in the bar and pull it up and stop when your body is erect
These compound movements with progressive overload in conjunction with other weights and cardio will show you impressive results. Remember, weight loss is a very slow process and hence keeping unrealistic goals is not going to help you. Unless you are obese, I can safely say that it is possible to lose up to 2 Kg per month.