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Training for fat loss

Training für den Fettabbau

9 mnemonics - Defined to the bone

At the beginning of the bodybuilding era in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, muscularity was basically just a question of muscle mass. Little emphasis was placed on hardness and definition. In fact, guys like Vince Gironda (who basically paved the way for the hard defined look), when they competed, were not looked upon favorably by the judges. Simply put, this look wasn't "in" back then. Champions of the past like John Grimek, Steve Reeves, Steve Stanko and others did indeed have a lot of muscle mass and some even had good definition. But none of them were really hard and defined. If some of the abs were visible, that was fine.

Fast forward to our time. Today it's all about being hard, defined to the bone, carved out of stone or whatever you want to call it. You have muscles. Fine, but you also need to be able to show them off! As a result, you'll find exercisers in every gym in the world doing everything in their power to lose every ounce of body fat covering their hard-earned muscles. You'll see people spending hour after hour on the treadmill or cycle ergometer, or forcing their bodies through high-volume workouts where there are basically no breaks. Some will even go so far as to risk their health by using illegal fat loss supplements. So we should see countless perfect bodies in all the gyms of the world. Well, we should, but we don't see them!

How can that be? The problem is certainly not a lack of effort. However, most people go about it the wrong way. By making unwise choices, they compromise their fat loss efforts by losing valuable muscle mass. So they will likely lose weight, but only to become a thinner and weaker version of their former self.

One of the biggest problem areas is in the area of strength training. For years we have been told that to get defined we need to increase the number of repetitions we perform, reduce the rest between sets and rely solely on supersets. The underlying idea behind this method was that high-volume training would burn more calories and thereby increase fat loss. And a newer idea is that short rest intervals between sets will increase the release of growth hormone - a hormone that plays an important role in fat loss. The problem is that in the real world, this method is far from the best method unless you are using anabolic hormones to counteract the negative effects of this method (which we will cover later). Some people go on a fat loss diet for the first time in their lives (after basically eating nothing but fast food and junk food before)) and take on a high volume exercise program. They achieve fantastic results and conclude that their exercise program is the main reason for their success. In reality, of course, it's the drastic changes in their diet and not their poorly put together exercise program.

Listen carefully, this could be one of the most important things you'll ever hear: Diet is the most important factor when it comes to fat loss. Training for the energy system (cardio) comes second and training with weights will ultimately do little to directly stimulate fat loss.

Growth hormones or bullshit?

I'll say it once and for all: the purpose of strength training during a diet is primarily to prevent muscle loss or even stimulate muscle gain. A lot of gurus these days like to use strength training exercises to burn fat by using a high number of repetitions (15 to over 20) and short rest intervals (30 to 60 seconds).

Their logic, as mentioned earlier, is that this form of training increases growth hormone release. They argue due to the fact that growth hormone is a lipolytic (fat utilization increasing) hormone, that a training method that leads to an increase in growth hormone release will automatically lead to a significantly higher utilization of fat. While this theory is interesting, it is not as effective in the real world. Why? To understand this, one should keep in mind that when bodybuilders inject growth hormone, a minimum dose of 2 to 4 IU per day for at least 3 months is necessary to produce recognizable results. Many bodybuilders will even argue that anything less than 4 IU per day is useless when it comes to changes in body composition. The medically recommended dosage for growth hormone for a 90 kilogram person is 2.6 to 6.5 IU daily. And this is for medical use - which is often too little to produce any bodybuilding results.

By comparison, the body's natural growth hormone production is between 1 and 2 IU per day (and perhaps 0.25 to 0.5 IU during exercise). So it's unlikely that the small, short-lived increase in growth hormone levels caused by strength training will produce significant short-term improvements in body composition.

Train hard to stay hard

High intensity strength training (in the 70 - 100% range) is better during a diet than low intensity exercise (in the 40 to 70% range). The higher training loads are much better at helping you maintain your strength and muscle mass during a calorie-restricted diet than super high-volume, low-intensity workouts would be. You've been training hard and heavy with basic exercises while trying to build as much muscle as possible and if you're dieting now, you need to give your body a reason to maintain that new muscle tissue. Believe it or not, the human body is more interested in survival than muscles and manliness (or a Wonder Woman body carved out of stone). This is why energy reserves such as body fat are more valuable to the body than muscle tissue, as the latter actually uses energy. When calories are reduced, the body goes into survival mode and the unnecessary, energy costly muscle mass will dwindle as it is broken down into amino acids, which are then converted into glucose for energy.

To maintain your hard-earned muscle mass, you need to give your body a reason to do so. Will training with light weights do this? No. You must continue to train with heavy weights or you will lose muscle mass! We have been brainwashed by a multitude of muscle magazines that want us to believe that we should train with high reps for better definition. This is absolutely ridiculous! Sure, you will use a little more energy during such a training session, but also consider this: the higher the training volume, the more energy you will need to recover from your training session. The more glycogen you burn during your strength training session, the more carbohydrates you will need to recover from it. If you are on any kind of definition diet, the chances are that you will have significantly reduced your carbohydrate intake. So you need more carbohydrates, but you are giving your body less carbohydrates! In addition, your body only has a lower anabolic drive during a calorie restricted diet, which means it can't synthesize as much muscle protein as if you were eating a lot. A super high volume leads to a lot of microtrauma in the muscle structure and a large amount of microtrauma requires a large increase in protein synthesis, which your body is not capable of at this time. So if you use high-volume, low-intensity training during a diet, you will break down more muscle and build less muscle. That's not exactly good news! One of the biggest benefits of high-volume training is increased blood and nutrient delivery to the muscles, but if there is only a reduced amount of nutrients available in your body, then this benefit is lost.

Repeat after me: I will use my diet and energy system training to stimulate fat loss. I will use my strength training to maintain my muscle mass or build new muscle.

That's the bottom line.

The rules for training during the diet

What type of training are we talking about here? The following rules apply to this training:

1 - Use mainly multi-joint exercises

If you are on a calorie-restricted diet, you cannot use a high training volume, so you should use exercises that will give you the most value for your efforts. Isolation exercises can be used at the end of a training session to address a specific weak point, but this should be kept to a minimum.

A good rule of thumb is to use the exercises where you can use the most weight. These exercises will have a systemic effect on your body that will help you maintain or even increase your muscle mass during this period of nutrient deprivation. So focus on squats, deadlifts, various pressing exercises, rowing and maybe even some Olympic weightlifting exercises if you know how to do them properly.

2 - Use low volume training

During a fat loss diet, your body has a reduced ability to recover from physical work, so it won't cope as well with high-volume workouts. Your training sessions should therefore be no longer than one hour, with 30 to 45 minutes being optimal. Try to use three to five exercises per training session (three if you're only training one muscle group that day, four or five if you're training two muscle groups) with three to four work sets each.

3 - Train with high intensity

Your training weights should be in the range of your 4 to 8 RM weight (maximum weight for 4 to 8 repetitions). You're basically performing sets of 4 to 8 reps, getting close to muscle failure on the first two sets and finishing the set about one repetition before reaching muscle failure, while performing the last set to muscle failure. I don't recommend going to muscle failure on all three sets in this specific situation.

4 - Rest long enough to perform at your best

You are training to build muscle. If you have to reduce the weight from set to set, then you are not resting long enough between your training sets! A good way to gauge when you should start your next set is your heart rate. If you feel that it has slowed down to the rate it was before you did your first set, then you can do your next set. Normally we are talking about two to three minutes. Some may be able to cope with 60 to 90 seconds, but it's better to start with longer rest intervals and reduce the rest intervals if this is possible while maintaining performance.

5 - Control the negative repetition and perform the positive phase of the movement explosively

The eccentric (lowering) phase of the movement should be performed in a controlled manner (3 to 4 seconds), while the concentric (lifting) phase should be performed explosively. This will maximize force production and expose the rapidly contracting motor units, which have the greatest potential for growth, to a prolonged adaptive stimulus.

6 - You should train three to four times a week

If you're trying to lose fat, then chances are you're also doing some energy system training aka cardio. Simply put, when dieting you should avoid doing both cardio and strength training on the same day (apart from ten minutes of low intensity cardio to warm up before strength training if necessary).

Remember that your body has a reduced adaptive capacity during a fat loss diet, so too much physical work will lead to muscle loss.

7 - Limit the use of advanced training techniques

You can use some advanced training techniques such as tempo contrasts and isodynamic contrasts as long as the intensity (the weight used) is high enough. But you shouldn't do too much of this work as this type of training is very demanding on your body.

8 - Supersets are fine

Supersets can be used as long as the intensity is high enough. However, when performing a superset, remember to count it as two exercises and not just one.

9 - Use heavier weights

Try to increase the weights you use at all costs (but not at the expense of proper exercise form). Increasing the training load is the best way to tell your body to keep all its muscles up!

Everything understood?

I hope at this point you have understood the message of this article: during a fat loss diet, strength training is used to prevent muscle loss and even stimulate some muscle gain. However, it should not be used as fat loss training! Most of your fat loss will come from your diet and cardio training. It is true that performing a training program with high repetitions and short rest intervals will give you a great pump and you will sweat a lot during such a workout, so it is only natural that you will feel like you are training harder and losing more fat. But you can't judge the efficiency of a program by how exhausted you are after the workout! Efficiency is measured by progress and I've shown you the best way to make progress.

Put this information into practice and you'll lose fat while maintaining your existing muscle or even building muscle - it doesn't get any better than that!

By Christian Thibaudeau


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