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Inefficient Exercise for Fat Loss

Article Posted by Chris Bathke, September 13th, 2011


exercises at elemental Way back in June my last article on fat loss addressed the topic of why having more muscle is helpful in dropping fat. And while many of you have probably heard that before, today’s topic is one that at first glance appears counter-intuitive.

There is a saying among fitness professionals that the best exercise program for you is the one you are currently not doing. What we mean is doing movements that you are not used to will be harder, and therefore likely result in greater stimulus to your muscles and result in increased caloric expenditure.

This is why those 60 minute cardio classes stop working after a few weeks. Your body adapts pretty quickly to whatever it is that you do if you do it enough. It’s also why most people tend to gain weight when training for a marathon or triathlon, and why the stereotype of the overweight aerobics instructor exists. The human body is highly adaptive to repeated stresses and will accommodate a high volume of endurance exercise with limited body composition changes.

When training someone specifically for fat loss I will have them do exercise patterns that are fundamental, but also movements which may be unfamiliar. In a few weeks time the person will inevitably get better and stronger at doing that particular movement, so we modify the exercise, or change the exercise altogether to avoid the effect of diminishing returns and keep the results coming.

Keep in mind however that for someone looking to improve sport performance the goal should be to maximize movement efficiency. Runners need to perfect their mechanics and become as smooth as possible. In doing so however that person would like see fewer body composition improvements. Running burns calories, sure, but the more you run the better your body gets at it and the less calories you will burn given the same intensity and duration.

Combining the idea of “inefficiency” into resistance training, which as noted in previous articles is superior to endurance training for fat loss, the use of what we call “metabolic circuits” is highly effective. What this means is putting 2 up to sometimes 5 exercises together in a circuit where the goal is to do a little more work than the previous time, or use a little more weight than last time.

The effect of doing slightly more over a period of a few weeks results in you getting stronger, and by using proper and safe technique also moving better. The trick is of course that by the end of the month those exercises probably no longer work quite as well because you are now more efficient at them and it is time to switch exercises.

Another benefit of this type of metabolic training is improvements in conditioning. Our members often come back reporting of having crushed their best 5KM run time or their favorite tough hike is now considerably easier. Not a benefit while the primary goal is losing fat and feeling better!



Chris Bathke
Elemental Fitness Lab
11 NE Hancock St.
Portland, OR 97212

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