Successful fat loss hinges on your ability to effectively combine the right approach in three basic but essential elements – diet, weight training and cardio, in that order.
As they say in the industry, “you can’t out-train a bad diet”! That’s why getting your nutrition game on point is the most important step, whether you’re starting a transformation to lose 20 kilos or simply want to shed the winter weight before hitting the beach.
Next on your transformation to-do list should be an effective strength training program. Yes, lifting heavy weights with high intensity is non-negotiable. And, no, it won’t make you ‘bulky’. While this form of training adds more muscle, this type of tissue is more metabolically active, which helps you burn more calories throughout the day.
That’s right, when you combine solid nutrition with a weight training program you’ll lose weight and firm up, and isn’t that what we’re all after?
Aim to perform at least three full-body strength sessions at a high-intensity each week.
Then, to top off your efforts in the kitchen and the gym, it’s helpful to add in a few cardio sessions to burn extra calories and fat to speed up the process and improve your conditioning.
Adding the right kind of cardio, however, will take your results from good to brilliant. But don’t blindly follow that old-school approach to cardio – you know, hours spent pedalling away on the stationary bike or walking endlessly uphill on an inclined treadmill. Bleh!
Cardio training for fat loss has evolved. Today, the most effective approach is one that takes you through a wide range of heart rate zones.
This not only burns more calories per minute, but a large proportion of that energy will come from stored body fat. You’ll also boost your fitness levels, and you’ll benefit from the ‘after-burn’ effect.
You see, the problem with lower intensity steady-state cardio is that once you’ve finished your workout, your body recovers quickly.
This means you’ve done little to elevate your metabolism and create the right hormonal environment to burn more fat.
So what should you do, then? Well, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a great option. This entails using the same pieces of cardio equipment you normally would, but alternating between intervals of intense almost all-out effort, with active recovery intervals in between. Think 30 seconds of pedalling at 100rpm, followed by 30 seconds of easy pedalling at a slower cadence.
Enter the metcon
But if the idea of traditional cardio doesn’t appeal to you, there’s another option. Metabolic conditioning or ‘metcon’ training is a form of exercise that has grown in popularity due to its effectiveness and the challenge it poses.
The true definition of metabolic conditioning means conditioning the muscles to store and use energy more efficiently. All you really need to know, though, is that metcons for fat loss work and they build muscle in the process – it’s a win-win!
It works for weight loss and fat loss because you burn more calories per minute during your training session compared to steady-state cardio, and often more than HIIT cardio as well! Secondly, your metabolism stays elevated long after you’ve stopped training.
This increase in metabolism after training is often termed the ‘afterburn’ effect. It happens because your body needs to fuel the recovery process and when your session has been more demanding, your recovery needs are that much greater.
As a result, following bouts of high-intensity metcon training, your body uses a significant amount of calories to return itself to a state of balance, called homeostasis.
This afterburn effect can elevate your metabolism by between 10-25% for up to 48 hours, with some studies showing an increase in metabolic rate for up to 72 hours. This equates to hundreds of extra calories burnt every day, which, over the course of a few weeks, becomes significant.
To benefit from metcon training, it’s essential that you understand the basic principles that need to be followed to get the most from your sessions by creating the biggest afterburn effect possible.
1. Use compound exercises – they’re the most demanding
Big compound exercises like a dumbbell squat press require more energy to perform and recover from because multiple joints and muscle groups are involved. Other full-body dynamic exercises that boost the burn include jumping, sprinting and sled pushes.
2. Keep the intensity high
Keep the intensity of your session high to elevate your effort levels. Metcon training at the appropriate level should leave you breathless. Find the balance between lifting as much weight as you can for as many reps as possible, and resting as little as possible between sets.
3. Progressive overload
Your workouts should get progressively harder over time. By pushing yourself harder and harder at each subsequent session, you’re guaranteed to see results. You can make progress in your metcon sessions by increasing the weight you use, performing more work in the same amount of time (density or volume), decreasing your rest periods, or increasing the duration of your workout.