Editor’s note: You don’t need another article telling you about the “secret of fat loss.” There really aren’t any mysterious ways to lose fat. You’ve heard them all—from the diets, to the exercises, and all of the (mostly worthless) supplements.
What you don’t hear enough?
How to make fat loss work for your body. Sure you might know about HIIT or interval training, but both are often abused in a way that stalls progress more than it helps.
More is not always more, and a big part of adding fat loss finishers is to gradually increase frequency and intensity.
While exercise isn’t rocket science, it still is a science—and one that heavily depends on all of the demands you place on your body. To achieve faster fat loss, any training plan won’t do. A great workout for someone else might not work for you because of genetics, or it could just be that it doesn’t fit with the other stressors in your life.
To help you crack the personalized aspects of fat loss, I turned to Jen Sinkler, author of Lift Weights Faster 2. [Note: I have no affiliate relationship with this product and don’t receive a penny for promotion. Jen’s approach to fat loss works, but more importantly, her programming helps people find the right program for their body.]
This post will not share a new exercise or routines. But it will explain how to find the best workouts for your body (especially if you’re busy and short on time), and that is maybe the most valuable secret there is for transforming your body.
Faster Fat Loss Workouts
By Jen Sinkler
I make no bones about being a fitness eclectic — from competitive powerlifting to lifting weights faster to calisthenics to clubbell yoga, I love mixing up my workouts, testing out the new and novel, and learning from the best and brightest coaches in the biz.
I have no hard-and-fast rules about the best way or only way. There are many roads to fitness and they vary, by and large, from person to person. But I do have one general rule of thumb that I follow wholeheartedly: I train intuitively.
I’m a huge proponent of listening to my body, heeding its signals, and making adjustments to my training. That means some days, I can push hard and feel amazing.
Other times, depending on life stressors — such as increasing lack of sleep, poor nutrition, hard deadlines, or writing a e-book (ahem) — it’s important to pull back a bit (or, in some cases, a lot) on the metabolic-resistance sessions or sprint training that I love so much.
But intuitive training doesn’t only apply on a workout-by-workout basis.
As you learn your body’s natural cycles and its responses to training and other stressors, you may notice longer-term cycles of turn-it-up and dial-it-down. By making cyclical adjustments, you can make the most of your training and maximize them gains.
I’m essentially talking about naturally periodizing your metabolic-resistance sessions, or finishers, just as you might more officially periodize your main strength plan.
Lifting 101: Understanding Periodization
Periodization is a training methodology most commonly applied to strength training that divvies up workouts into week-long, month-long, and year-long cycles.
It’s an up-and-down training “map” that ratchets up the intensity for a chunk of time — generally three to six weeks — and then tones it down.
The point is to get the best results without overstraining, overtraining, and zapping yourself completely (or, for that matter, undertraining and making no progress).
While this concept is usually applied to traditional strength training, there’s no reason it can’t apply to your conditioning workouts, too. In fact, you should fully expect to go through periods of time every three to six weeks when your body needs a break. Don’t ignore that urge — use the opportunity for variety and recovery so you can come back stronger and faster in the next “up” cycle.
What does this look like in practice? For one, it doesn’t have to be anything formal. You don’t have to rigidly schedule your deloads. Instead, it’s about identifying what you’re doing, and how you can adjust your fat loss additions to accelerate results without slowing down your body or needing to spend more time in the gym.
The Fat Loss Matrix: Creating Your Plan
Fat Loss Trick #1: Go Heavy on Heavy
Make your conditioning match your main session in terms of demands placed on the body. You’re looking to tax your body in similar ways on the same day, says Alex Viada, CSCS, founder of the coaching company Complete Human Performance.
If you’re lifting heavy, focus conditioning on short, fast barn-burning sprint sessions or circuits.
The contrast allows your body the best chance to recovering from that stimulus between sessions.
This is in contrast to doing activities that impose vastly different demands — if you’d pair heavy squats with a long, slow bike ride, for example — which may impede speedy recovery.
Fat Loss Trick #2: Less Load Means More Volume
If you’re going lighter that day or doing more bodyweight or calisthenics movements in your strength sessions, then do more bodyweight circuits as finishers.
You’re always balancing two goals—fat loss and recovery. With less total load (read: not taking the “go big or go home” attitude) there’s usually less stress on your body and recovery can be quicker.
That means you don’t want to sacrifice that strategic approach by adding heavier loads for your fat loss finisher. Instead, add in more bodyweight work, but with the techniques that will make the workouts more metabolic.
Fat Loss Trick #3: Watch the Clock
If your main lifts take up a lot of time, do a short finisher with exercises that round out your workout and hit the muscles you’d like to focus on that day.
Doing a full body workout, crush a quick countdown workout of kettlebell swings and squat thrusts (think modified burpee without the pushup). Do 10 reps of both exercises, followed by 9, then 8, and work your way all the way down to 1, resting as little as possible. It doesn’t look like much on paper, but your body will feel different once you’re finished.
Even high-intensity bouts of 10 minutes or less have been shown to deliver crazy good results. This is what most people struggle to understand; up to a certain point, it’s not about how much time you spend in the gym.
Instead, it’s all about your intensity and how much work you can cram into a period of time. For the same reason that slow cardio can slow fat loss, fast cardio can speed the process.
Fat Loss Trick #4: Schedule Your Fat Loss Workouts
I generally recommend doing at least a short conditioning workout two to three times a week — some people do great with four or even five — in addition to following a more traditional strength program.
How do you know what’s right for you? Generally, start on the low end. More is not always more, and a big part of adding fat loss finishers is to gradually increase frequency, assuming that you’re not left exhausted or struggle to recover.
Remember, adding fat loss finishers should improve your overall conditioning and speed your transformation process. But the core of your program is still your main workout. So if those training sessions are struggling, then it’s best to scale back on the number of finishers you do each week.
Fat Loss Trick #5: Establish “Levels” of Difficulty
This one is simple and extremely effective, both from a physical and mental standpoint. Doing one short, one medium, and one long conditioning workout per week, can allow you to easily match up fat loss finishers on days that make sense.
Only have time for 20 minutes one day per week? Consider making that your “long” conditioning workout—but make it all that you do. Twenty minutes will never feel more effective.
Fat Loss Trick #6: Cycle Your Finishers
Do only short conditioning workouts (10 minutes or less) for one week, followed by a medium-length conditioning week (20-ish minutes), and then a week of longer (in the 30-minute-or-above range). Then, repeat the three-week cycle — as long as you feel physically, mentally, and energetically awesome.
What’s The Right Plan for You?
The truth is, the following variables will impact how you respond to fat loss finishers:
- your fitness level
- other activities
All of these will all affect what you can handle. “Too much” and “too little” are relative concepts, not just from person to person but for you, personally, on a daily, weekly, monthly or even yearly basis.
However often you lift weights faster, the important thing is to adapt as necessary. Start small and then build big. Try one of the fat loss tricks, add it to your workout, and then test for at least 2 weeks before reassessing. If it’s working, either stick to the plan or add another wrinkle.
Even though lifting weights faster is one of the most effective ways to speed up results, fat loss is not a race.
Push the intensity and be patient, and the results will be worth the process.
Adam Bornstein is a New York Times bestselling author and the author of You Can’t Screw This Up. He is the founder of Born Fitness, and the co-founder of Arnold’s Pump Club (with Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Pen Name Consulting. An award-winning writer and editor, Bornstein was previously the Chief Nutrition Officer for Ladder, the Fitness and Nutrition editor for Men’s Health, Editorial Director at LIVESTRONG.com, and a columnist for SHAPE, Men’s Fitness, and Muscle & Fitness. He’s also a nutrition and fitness advisor for LeBron James, Cindy Crawford, Lindsey Vonn, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. According to The Huffington Post, Bornstein is “one of the most inspiring sources in all of health and fitness.” His work has been featured in dozens of publications, including The New York Times, Fast Company, ESPN, and GQ, and he’s appeared on Good Morning America, The Today Show, and E! News.