They Key to Fat Loss: Go Harder and Go Shorter

I hear this all the time at the studio: “How can I lose more fat?” Very often this is followed by “I will just do more cardio.” At this point, I’m clutching my cardiac muscle as I rapidly descend to the floor because this isn’t the way to do!

Want to know the best way hands down to lose fat? Lift weights. Thanks for reading this week!!!!

If only it was that easy right? Well, why don’t long bouts of steady state cardio burn fat? Why is it better to lift weights  to get lean?

Have you ever seen Olympic gymnasts or 100m track sprinters (runners)? They are pretty lean individuals, people that I am very much jealous of by the way. Want to venture a guess as to how they didn’t get to look like that? I guarantee you it wasn’t long bouts of cardio.

They live in a world of IT MUST HAPPEN EXPLOSIVELY NOW OR YOU WILL LOSE!! This is how they train: several bouts of high intensity interval style training mixed in with explosive body weight and free weight training.

Now before they can even fathom reaching those heights of completely body shock and awe in the weight room, they had to master the basics of sitting/standing, pushing/pulling, stability and mobility. The average person would NOT be able to survive one their workouts (I know, I’ve tried) given how well most people “move.” While these are the most effective ways to lose fat and gain muscle, there’s a pretty high price to pay.

The bar tab starts with damn near perfect movement mechanics of the above mentioned basics. The biggest problem most people skip the mail room in search of the corner office with the windows and the view (ask me about my office across from the runways at SJO and the F-16 one day!). This is ONLY after your joints have been deemed structurally sound enough to even think about these exercises let alone do them.

If you have muscular security clearance to try this method of training, you’re in for one hell of ride and huge gains in your fitness levels. The reason is because you will blow your EPOC (Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption) through the roof, and this is what you want. This is by far the most effective way to lose fat and get lean.

In their article “Resistance Training and EPOC,”  Jeff Reynolds and Len Kravitz PhD (no, not THAT Lenny Kravitz) state that:
“Research suggests that high-intensity resistance exercise disturbs the body’s homeostasis to a greater degree than aerobic exercise. The result is a larger energy requirement after exercise to restore the body’s systems to normal (Burleson et al. 1998), and thus an explanation for the higher EPOC.

The underlying mechanisms that cause the higher EPOC observed in resistance exercise include elevated blood lactate, and an increase in circulating catecholamines (epinephrine and norepinephrine) and anabolic hormones.”

Loosely translated, when you tax the muscles with resistance training at a high energy output/intensity, when you are done training, you will utilize more energy to bring your body back to a normal state than you do with aerobic training.  This is why metabolic circuit training is so effective.

“The physiological mechanisms responsible for increased metabolism following exercise include oxygen replenishment, phosphagen (ATP-PC) resynthesis, lactic acid removal, increased ventilation, and increased blood circulation and body temperature,” says Yuri Elkaim BHPE, CK, RN in his article “What is EPOC, and Why is it Your Fat Burning Friend.”  He goes on to write “Your body can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 48 hours to fully recover to a resting state. Studies have found that the magnitude and duration of EPOC depend on the intensity and duration of exercise.”

So what does this mean for endurance athletes who need to go long at slower rates to meet the performance demands of ultra endurance events (Ironman Tri’s, marathons, centuries, etc). Since we’ve got several of those types of athletes at the studio, I asked 2011 Race Across the West winner and 2012 Race Across America participant Joan Dietchman her thoughts on this subject, and here’s what she said.

“Most people in the endurance community would tend to believe that their best shot at losing weight is while doing all the high volume low intensity workouts, and that the off season is the time when it’s ok to gain a few pounds – when in fact the complete opposite may be true.  After years of doing endurance athletics, my body became incredibly efficient at working at low intensities – it is after all the body’s adaptive response system at work – by repeating something, you train your body to be better and more efficient at it.

When you first start doing longer workouts, you’re still stressing your body in ways that it’s not used to, so you may see results for a while in terms of shedding some weight, however as your body adapts and becomes more efficient, the weight loss will stop, and in fact if you don’t monitor your food intake appropriately, you may actually be left scratching your head wondering why you’re doing mega mileage yet still gaining weight.  This is where intensity comes into play – by doing intense efforts, you’re pushing your body to it’s current limits, and as those limits increase, so will your effort since you’re pushing yourself as hard as you can.  So although your body is adapting and getting stronger, you keep challenging it to do more.”

This has been a formula that has worked well for her. She changed up her off season training this year to reduce volume and increase intensity, and here is what she discovered.

“In 2.5 months I lost 14lbs of fat and gained 4lbs of lean body mass, and my body fat percentage dropped from 25% to 17%.  I’m certainly no light weight compared to most women (I’m 5’7″ and 160lbs) but I’m healthy, lean, and strong.  Even better than the weight loss itself though is the fact that I feel stronger than ever on the bike.

I’m reaping the benefits of all the free weight and single leg exercises that we do at IPF which isolate and strengthen the muscles that we need to be stronger cyclists and endurance athletes but which don’t get strengthened by doing those endurance athletics.  I’m also seeing the benefit from all the high cadence work, single leg drills, and standing segments that we do in the IPF spin classes – my pedal stroke feels more fluid and even, and I’m climbing out of the saddle much better than before.”

One of the bigger reasons she wasn’t leaning out prior to changing up her training approach was because her body had become incredibly efficient at burning calories. Once that happens, you don’t need as many, but the flip side, most people think “well I rode/ran/swam X miles today, so I’ve earned all of these calories I’m going to eat.”

Unfortunately, that thought process ultimately sets you back farther than it does to get you ahead. This leads to a positive caloric balance where you are taking in more calories than you burn. This is what expands the waist and shrinks the sanity.

So, now that I’ve told you the best way to lose fat is with short duration high intensity weight training, you’re probably wondering what you’re supposed to do, right? Well rather than go into the nuts and bolts of sets and reps of specific exercises, I’m going to do you a much bigger solid. I’m going to give you a plan as to how to pull this off, and here it is:
20 weeks (hey, this is not a get rich quick scheme, so get over it!) of progressive exercise meant to improve (4 weeks/phase):
1) Joint Mobility
2) Joint Stability
3) Total Body Strength
4) Power
5) Power Endurance

We have used this to darn near perfection at the studio, and it has worked wonders. Now, if you go through these 20 week 5-phase progression and have mastered movement fundamentals, then you can use the following resources to put together a training program that will put you through the metabolic ringer in the gym:
1) “Cardio Strength Training,” Kevin Dos Remedios CSCS
2) “The New Rules of Lifting” book series by Lou Shuler and Alwyn Cosgrove
3) “The Female Body Breakthrough,” by Rachel Cosgrove

These are the best books I’ve seen that break down exactly how you are supposed to lift, and when you should introduce new variables in to your training program to continue to progress. As always, BEFORE you start any new exercise program, ALWAYS get the green light from your physician. This also includes getting a thorough movement screen from a qualified/trusted strength coach or physical therapist.


Check out the newest site in the VeloReviews Media family, The Trainers. Click here to get cutting edge fitness information to help you Move. Eat, Sleep and Repeat!


Never attempt any new exercises mentioned in the VelowReviews blog without a thorough evaluation from a physician, personal trainer, strength coach, athletic trainer, physical therapist or sports chiropractor.

  • 2 or 3 hours? sigh. :D

  • Al Painter

    Yes you are, limit this to 2x/week and get out for 2-3 hours on the weekends at a pretty good clip.

  • Al Painter

    Thanks for asking the question. Anyone else have something to ask? ANYONE! C’MON, DON’T STICK ME WITH DORT!!

  • Ok, so instead of trying to find to motivation to ride 40 miles, I have instead picked my 20 or 6 miles loops on the road, or gotten up way early in the morning to got do 5.5 miles of MTBing on the short up and down trails at the local spot before work. And I have been starting off easy and letting the intensity naturally build. I am still trying to find a long hill to do intervals on, but in the mean time am I woring in th right direction, or just against myself?