We’ve said it a million times: The fastest way to losing body fat is through diet (or “Abs are made in the kitchen.” Take your pick). And it’s still true. Our estimate is that about 75 percent of the body fat you’ll lose has to do with what and when you’re eating. But that doesn’t mean that other 25 percent — your training — can’t figure in massively, too.
This week, we will examine four ways you can train to start burning fat: prolonged cardio, HIIT cardio, super-, tri- and giant-sets and skilled recreational training, plus we’ll provide a sample of each one and list the best supplements you can use to complement your fat-loss training. Each day, we’ll have an addition to this running blog with a way to burn fat through exercise. We’ll start today with No. 1: Distance cardio.
The most popular, long-touted form of aerobic exercise is about as simple as it gets: You just run around for anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour, and that’s your workout. You maintain a steady pace, focus on your breathing and keeping your legs and, sure enough, you’re beat when you’re done.
Is this our favorite form of cardio? No. But it can be effective in spots. Plus, some people really do find the run itself to be a time to decompress and think lucidly. A 2-to-3-mile jog has its benefits; runs that long definitely can start burning up fat, provided you allow your body to do so instead of catabolizing and eating muscle.
Our basic say on distance cardio wants you to follow just a couple rules:
- Don’t do it before your weight training, or as a warm-up. Your muscles need all the energy (glycogen) they can get for weight training. When you run before you lift, yes, you use up blood sugar and body fat for energy, which is what you want. But if you use your glycogen stores for your weight training first, your cardio will get to body fat anyway, and without the risk for catabolism. (That’s provided you supplement correctly … which leads us to our next point.)
- Take BCAAs before prolonged, static-state cardio, and even during if your sessions are extended. Most distance runners have a certain look: Very skinny, yes, with low body fat levels and scant musculature to go with it. Prolonged aerobic running/elliptical/treadmill activity eats up body tissue, fat and muscle, alike. Once your body is done with glucose, it turns to muscle BEFORE it turns to fat for energy. If you invest in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), however, you can provide a “buffer” — your muscles are protected, and fat stores are targeted instead.
- Challenge yourself. Our experiences, and those of the thousands of clients we’ve helped, have yielded one truism above all else when it comes to training: Intensity matters. A 3-mile jog is not as good as a 3-mile run; a 3-mile run with intervals or a “kick” of high-intensity speed at the end is even better.
HIGH-INTENSITY INTERVAL TRAINING
We’ll come out and say it: This is the best cardio you can do for fat loss — our apologies if you just really love running long distances. The basic principle is that you bust your butt as hard as you can for a minute, then take another minute to slow it down or rest before cranking up the intensity again. The idea isn’t that you run a certain distance in a certain amount of time; it’s that you run for specific amounts of time at varying degrees of intensity.
Studies across the board show that HIIT is superior to prolonged, single-state cardio for fat loss, metabolic change and muscle support. It’s harder — you go for about 85-90 percent of what you can do given your state of fatigue in your “on” intervals — but it is much less time-consuming and much more effective. The calorie burn, additionally, can last up to 24 hours. A few notes on HIIT:
- Sprint, swim, jump rope, use a machine — whatever. Anything that gets your heart rate up and your body moving is a good option. Swimming is particularly good for you, given that it requires full-body support and it’s easy on the joints compared to pounding the pavement.
- Use a stopwatch. Simply put, there is no other way to keep yourself accountable than to actually know that you’re going for a full minute of all-out intensity (followed by a minute of rest, or low-intensity cardio). You’d be surprised at how long a minute actually is, and how horrible your mind can be at “counting” seconds when your body is exerting itself.
- Supplement properly. Just as with distance cardio, HIIT is much more effective at burning fat when body fat becomes the primary energy source. Try to avoid all carbs in the period before your cardio workout; instead, take a dose of BCAAs and stack regularly with KETOLEAN (for advanced lipid replacement to further promote body fat loss) and METABOLIC SPIKE. This trio will help ensure that your fat stores are getting targeted through exercise and from within.
SUPER, TRI AND GIANT SETS
Not all fat loss has to come from running, swimming, hiking or other forms of cardio. In fact, many cardiophobes prefer this very method for that reason: You can still get your heart rate up and avoid traditional aerobic exercise with your weight lifting — it’s all about blood flow.
Super sets involve consecutive sets, with no rest in between (trisets feature three sets, and giant sets four or more). It’s particularly effective for rushing blood all over the body to mix an upper-body lift with a lower-body one; say, pull-ups and Romanian deadlifts. Other supersets depend on your goal, but none of them are bad for fat loss as long as reps are toward the high side (usually a minimum of eight reps per set; so 16 per superset, is what you want).
Versatility is one of the keys of this type of exercise; how you pair them can mean quite a lot. An explosive movement, like box jumps, could pair well with a heavy one, like deadlifts; likewise, you can get a great pump and build strength by working antagonistic muscles (a set of bent-over rows, paired with incline dumbbell press).
Finally, super-, tri- and giant sets are a great way to shake up your workout routine. I’ve always found that when things are stagnating a bit, throwing in a few supersets gets the blood flowing and energy going (plus, it saves on time).
Some people like putting in the time for cardio, but playing a competitive sport like basketball, soccer or football is an outstanding way to not only burn fat through exercise, but to have fun while doing it.
Basketball and soccer, in particular, are fantastic options because they offer a very similar approach to HIIT — lots of full-speed sprinting, plenty of endurance training and the added benefit of lateral and backward movement. Running and jumping competitively, for even short periods of time, provides an excellent aerobic workout, and when you add in things like body control and skilled movement — necessary in sports — it becomes even more challenging and rewarding. Other extremely underrated sports for fat loss (and, obviously, muscle gain) are wrestling, boxing and variations of mixed martial arts. If you can find a good trainer or gym, you’ll see just how hard of a workout these sports can provide.
Even if you’re not looking to play sports, you can train like an athlete would. Basketball wind sprints (“suicides”) are renowned for their HIIT style and can torch the fat in no time, and they’re a personal favorite of ours for in-the-gym cardio when you don’t want to give a bunch of time to aerobics.