Arguably the biggest widespread goal of regular gym-goers is getting rid of that pesky extra fat. It builds up inside our bodies and manifests itself into flabby rolls of flesh and, if not taken care of quickly, can easily develop into obesity by medical standards.
The majority of us though do not let ourselves get to such a predicament and are instead dealing with dropping a few extra pounds or those last remaining bits of flab covering your abs. What is so often misunderstood is how useful and necessary fat actually is for normal bodily function.
One pound of fat contains an enormous 3500 calories held in reserve for use at some point when needed. A little bit of extra fat is commonly viewed as a sign of good general health as it indicates plentiful metabolic resources keeping the body in sound condition. Unfortunately, body fat levels have been steadily increasing every decade. Humans are getting fatter.
As a result, become less efficient functionality-wise, higher risks of heart disease and diabetes, among a range of other dangerous concerns. For our purposes, we are wanting to lose fat for aesthetic and physical performance reasons. Look better, feel better, right?
Unrealistic Expectations About Shedding Fat
My training friends and I being guilty of this means I cannot point fingers for fear of being labelled a hypocrite. However, it must be addressed that the concept of eating to excess and thinking “I’ll work this off tomorrow” is scientifically inaccurate. It is incredibly difficult to burn off whatever you consumed. For example, an hour on the treadmill could roughly burn up to 250-300 calories. Open a packet of chips or cookies straight after and it will take you all of four mouthfuls to eliminate any hard work you just put in. When trying to lose fat, diet is of the utmost importance.
Diet is the secret unaddressed key. Largely because of the difficulty in changing our eating habits and abstaining from chowing down on our favourite grub but deep down we all know it ruins our fat loss progress. The fitness models you’ll see in magazines are dieting experts, sometimes to the extreme wherein they’ll starve themselves for a photo shoot or take diuretics to suck out any water between the skin and the muscle.
Personally, I strongly believe in not living like a monk, so to speak. Being afraid to even look at a slice of pizza is a borderline mental health issue. Instead, keeping yourself in a good enough condition where you can afford to have some chips or a burger every day or two is much more realistic rather than maintaining long-term deprivation.
Hence the failure of any and all ‘crash diets’ which require an almost overnight turnaround in long running eating habits. As a general rule, if you want to lose body fat, there must be some form of caloric deficit combined with an increase in physical exertion.
A Little More Detailed Explanation
How much body fat an individual holds is controlled by a gene called the ‘ob gene’. This produces a protein known as Leptin, which regulates appetite, naturally regulating food intake. With an increase in body fat comes an increase in leptin, which is an attempt to stabilise your overall body fat.
A decrease in body fat reduces the production of leptin leaving you feeling hungry as the body temporarily panics to store reserve fat for an emergency starvation situation.
The type of exercise performed plays a significant factor in both body fat and muscle loss. Steady state exercises, such as jogging and cycling, do not subject the muscles to any serious strain which is why they can be performed for long periods of time. Yes, it is possible to injure yourself jogging or cycling but only from doing the activity either incorrectly or for a very lengthy time.
Generally though, they do not place the muscles under any sort of immense stress hence the widespread adoption of it by the masses as their chosen exercise routine due its relevant easiness on the body.
Stroll into any gym and take a look around to see how many people are on the treadmills, bikes, ski machines (don’t get me started) versus how many are hitting the weights hard. Even take into consideration the amount of people outside jogging or cycling compared to how many are inside the gym lifting making friends with the iron.
Also, compare the physiques of the stereotypical natural weightlifter against a joggers…I know which one I would prefer to look like. Fair enough, not everyone wants to or even can undertake weightlifting training. But it is commonly acknowledged such training is highly strenuous and not for the faint of heart. This only further supports the opinion of its general effectiveness for bodily development.
Steady state exercises use only a small percent of the slow-twitch muscle fibres repeatedly. To adapt to the repeated slow and steady pace, our bodies adapt by losing any muscle deemed unnecessary to successfully perform the exercise. Additional is seen as useless for the purpose at hand therefore the process of eating the muscle away begins. This is turn hinders our ability to burn fat due to needing muscle to eat fat for energy.
Should a person perform steady state training for one week consistently every day, it would be easy to lose up to five pounds of muscle tissue. We perceive the exercise to be getting easier as time goes by but not as a result of increased cardiovascular performance and stamina, but due to improved economy of motion from carrying less weight on our frame.
Take that jogger and then put them through a boxing circuit and they will struggle to make it to the end of the session, as I have seen many times as well as marathon runners unable to grapple in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for five minutes without stopping.
Keys to Fat Loss
Understanding that as we get older we naturally lose muscles mass. This leads to it becoming easier to gain body fat. For example, the loss of five pounds of muscle results in a decrease of up to 250 calories burned per 24 hours. If these calories are not being burned, they will be stored as reserve fat. Add this up over time and you could potentially add up to 40 or 50 pounds a year.
Shedding body fat has an unbreakable tie to muscle mass. The single most effective method of gaining muscle, to burn fat, is through intense resistance training i.e. weightlifting. The more muscle on your frame, the more fat it will eat to sustain itself.
There have already been many instances of older men and women undertaking a light weightlifting routine and within a handful of weeks they regain up to 50% of their lost mobility, gain strength, and lose body fat, all of which serves to improve their overall quality of life.
A snowball effect then occurs as the better you begin feeling, the more activity you will be able to subject your body to, ultimately burning more fat. Based on the above, there are four key principles to abide by when setting out to reduce body fat:
Begin a suitable weightlifting routine.
A natural reaction for anyone adverse to this type of training is “I don’t want to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger”. Don’t worry, because you never will. You do not have to set out with the goal in mind to get incredibly bulky. All you need to do is lift according to your own strength and get incrementally better week after week.
Put yourself in a caloric deficit.
Reduce your current calorie or carbohydrate intake, whichever you prefer to measure, and be very prepared to fight the hunger. Realise you will become slightly more irritable and want to cheat often. Set a target weight loss number to hit first so you have a measurable goal which indicates your progress. Once you hit your desired weight or body fat percentage you can afford to be less strict on your diet.
Stay well hydrated throughout the day with water, especially cold water.
Our bodies have to regulate the temperature of the cold water and to do so it burns calories. A knock-on effect of staying well-hydrated is allowing the kidneys and liver to best serve their purpose in the aid of fat loss. The kidneys can eliminate a majority of the body’s waste products if well hydrated, which leaves the liver free to perform its main functionality of processing stored fat for energy. If the liver is preoccupied filtering out waste products it cannot assist in using up the body’s stored fat for energy.
Avoid steady state activities such as jogging and cycling and instead choose intermittent sprinting for cardio.
Sprints have proven to be dramatically more effective for cardiovascular improvement and fat loss as opposed to long duration jogging. Personally, interval hill sprinting has proved to be unquestionably the best way to rapidly increase cardiovascular performance, in a short amount of time, for both my teammates and I.
Shedding fat is generally a very misunderstood goal. In desperation, people can be seen to be employing ridiculous methods in ridding themselves of body fat, going to unnecessary extremes that could be fixed by a handful of simple tweaks for exponentially different results. Getting stuck trying to lose fat with no progress can be astonishingly frustrating. So pick up the weights, eat some red meat and vegetables, drink your water. Remember this is not magic… It is simple science. If you are not burning off more calories than you are consuming then you will continue to gain weight. Thats the reality. By sticking to these 4 steps (primarily the first 3) you will see the results that you are looking for. Guaranteed.