Spreading the Truth About Running and Fat Loss - Part 2

The Prius Vs. The Hummer

Last week we discussed how you MUST prioritize your goals when it comes to training. The next question is:

Do your training behaviors match your goals?

Let's find out.

Alwyn Cosgrove, an outstanding fitness professional in Southern California, once wrote about something he calls the “hierarchy of fat loss”. Before I summarize that, allow me to describe the typical person's “hierarchy of endurance”, if you will. See if you can spot the differences...

Training for Basic Endurance

  1. Easy, comfortable running with progressively longer runs. 65-75% of Max Heart Rate. You can carry on a conversation and this is an enjoyable pace to maintain.
  2. Pick up the pace randomly when running with a friend, at the end of a run, when a good song comes on. Maybe your heart rate gets up, but when it gets uncomfortable, you back off.
  3. Walking. Actually, it can be very smart to mix some walking into the training when seeking endurance. Prolongs the session without increasing injury risk.
  4. Do more and more until you reach your goal, you don't have enough time to fit in more training, you overtrain, or, worse, you get injured. Or worst... you become discouraged and give up on exercise because you're secretly trying to lose fat and it doesn't work!

OK, so there's a typical homemade endurance program for a complete beginner. Their endurance will definitely improve as long as they are consistent. Could they be doing something different to see greater improvement? No doubt about it – pure strength and speed will actually boost endurance a great deal. But generally are their behaviors matching their goal of greater endurance? Yes!

In fact, a commonly prescribed template for improving endurance performance looks like this:

Contrast that with the best way to improve your resting metabolism...

Training for Fat Loss

Think of a pyramid. The base layer is most important. If you're not doing that, then you are missing the foundation of your training plan! As you travel up the pyramid, the amount of time devoted to that type of workout decreases. The item at the top will have the LEAST impact on your results unless you train according to the pyramid.

The priority should be on activities that burn calories, maintain/promote muscle mass, and elevate metabolism. You need to build lean muscle to elevate your resting metabolic rate. And since the bulk of our calories are burned while “at rest”, we need to address this. Muscle is the answer.

First Priority: Metabolic Resistance Training. Your biggest priority workouts are resistance training sessions that are done with very little rest in between sets. Strict form and weight selection is key. Own the exercise before progressing and choose weights or variations that challenge you to meet the prescribed number of repetitions.

Example: 6 Deadlifts, 6 Feet Elevated Push-ups, 10 Walking Lunges, 12 Dumbbell Rows, rest 60 sec, repeat 2-4 times.

Second Priority: High Intensity Anaerobic Interval Training. Since you'll do the strength training 3 times per week, you have 4 other days to worry about. The next type of workout that will help elevate your metabolism is sprint training. Sure, you could do this with running. You can also do this with rowing, swimming, cycling... but my favorite method is to use bodyweight exercises. Make no mistake- this is TOUGH work and it can be easy to shy away from it. My suggestion is to use a lot of variety.

Example: 20 seconds Plank Walkouts, 10 seconds rest, 20 seconds alternating lunges, 10 seconds rest. Repeat 10-15 times. (This can be made way more interesting, but you get the point)

Third Priority: High Intensity Aerobic Intervals. Again, high intensity wins. Your metabolic rate will stay elevated for a much longer period of time after a hard interval session, than an easy jog.

Example: 3 minutes hard rowing, 3 minutes easy rowing. Repeat 3-6 times.

Fourth Priority: High Intensity Steady Cardio. Example: A hard 3 mile run.

Last priority: Easy Steady State Cardio. Example: an easy short or long run or power walk.

Research and, more importantly, real world results are showing that intensity is the key to faster, long lasting results when it comes to fat loss. You must do things that support the building and maintenance of muscle. “Cardio” doesn't do that.

In fact, if I wanted to lose muscle, I would do lots of steady cardio and eat less. Sound familiar?

Probably, because it's one of the most common mistakes EVER observed in my career!

By doing lots of steady aerobic work like running and cycling, you may be burning a lot of calories during the session, but less in the “other 23 hours of the day”. You're effectively transforming yourself into a fuel efficient Toyota Prius, able to get by on less energy (calories) each day.

Is that what you want? Efficiency? It sounds good until you realize that you're slowing your metabolism!

Instead, if you're looking for fat loss, you'll want to transform yourself into a calorie guzzling Hummer. You need muscle. You need muscle supporting habits like strength training and intense workouts to form the foundation of your training program.

There IS a place for easy running - after all of the other modes of training have been met.

So, again, what is your true goal? Do your behaviors match your goals? Now you can decide more clearly.

Let me just sign off with a quick thought. I'm definitely NOT saying that if you enjoy running or another aerobic sport, that you should stop. So get that outta your head. What I am saying is that if you are only running because you want to lose body fat, there are MUCH better methods.

Training for fat loss and training for endurance are polar opposite goals.  If this post struck a chord with you and you can't bear the thought of giving up aerobic activity, I understand. But how might you take some of the ideas presented here and apply them to your own training while still enjoying some good ol' easy running?

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