fat loss

Lets talk about Cardio and Fat Loss

I’ve got a bit of a reputation as a powerlifting coach, strength specalist and strength and conditioning coach probably in that order of what I believe people think to be my competency.  That is the belief for a reason as that is what I am stand out good at doing producing results in strength and power based activities and conditioning athletes for their sport.  However, I have been training at a reasonably decent level of competency and results for over a decade.  I have done the diet thing, I have done the weight loss thing, I have done the fitness thing and I have been fat/lean and everything in between.

I think I bring a unique perspective to this because I bridge the gap a bit a lot of S&C coaches or really well-read people have a bit of experience or have a moderate amount of hands-on with themselves experience.  A lot of bros who have a crap tonne of hands-on experience are really not that well qualified or have a moderate self-taught understanding of training or nutrition.

Where I bridge the gap is I have been a knuckle-dragging retard in training with myself and through experience have learned better approaches and better ways of doing things. I have also traveled the high-performance coaching root going form a know it all 16-year-old studying physical education at high school who didn’t even lift to a 30-year-old British Record holding powerlifter with international honors, with two degrees in sports science being employed in one of the top strength and conditioning jobs in Scotland.

I have done pretty much every fucking diet and training style you can think of (apart from crossfit LOL) and I have read so many fucking articles and books on training that I fucking hate reading sports science books now.  I say this not to boast but to give you a bit of an idea on my background.

Shut the fuck up fat man and show me.

Okay, bro chill out!  Below you will see two pictures both of which are me apart from the meme masks.

Picture one – 7th January 2012, Weighing in at 112kg (246.6 lbs)

Picture two – 5th April 2012, Weighing in at 96kg (211.2 lbs)

During this cut, I ended up at 92.8kg or 205.5 lbs meaning I lost just over 19kg (42lbs) in the space of 6 months.  During this time I also gained strength from memory I think I put on about 20kg (44lb) to my squat, 10kg to my bench (22 lb) and around 20kg (44lb) to my deadlift.

You can read my 2012 training log here

During this cut, I also did zero cardio, not even a little bit of cardio.  Shit, my resting heart rate barely dropped below 100 the whole time (jokes obv, about the heart rate, not the cardio).

Does that mean you should not do cardio when you are trying to lose weight or get fit – lol of course not don’t be fucking stupid.  But what it does mean is that you are probably taking on a whole bunch of fatigue for no good reason let’s talk about why.

Energy systems training

This graph tells us a lot of things when it comes to conditioning it tells us everything we need to know when it comes to conditioning each energy system.  What are these energy systems?

Anerobic (Without oxygen)

Phosphagen (Ph) – 10 seconds of use, used in all muscle contraction.  For 10 second or less maximal effort sole energy source.

Creatine-Phosphagen (Ph+Ck) – 30 seconds of use, creatine stored in muscle cell used to generate Ph.  30 second or less maximal effort Ph and Ph+Ck are used in varying quantities

Fast Glycolitic System (FG) – 1-3 minuites of use.  Glycogen stored in and around working muscle cells are used to generate Ph.  For hard efforts lasting 1-3 minuites in length mixture of Ph, Ph+Ck and FG are used in varying quantities

Aerobic System (with oxygen)

Slow Glycolytic System (SG) – 3-20+ minutes of use.  Glycogen stored in the liver and circulating in the blood are taken into the muscle cells and oxidized to help generate Ph.  For moderate efforts lasting 3-5 minutes in length mixture of Ph, Ph+Ck, FG and SG are used in varying quantities

Fat Oxidation (FO) – used in pretty much all activity done from rest to just below maximal anaerobic activities the aerobic system is oxidising fat or glycogen to produce ATP for muscle energy.  For all efforts below maximal anaerobic activity a mixture of Ph, Ph+Ck, FG, SG and FO are used in varying quantities.

If you understand what we are talking about above you will also understand that we burn the most amount of fat when we are sedentary (sleeping specifically) because we have little or no need of fast energy to drive quick or immediate muscle action.

So hopefully now you can understand that exercising to “burn fat” is not merely wrong it is a stupid way of thinking.

What does exercise actually do?

Exercise exposes the body to a certain stress.  This stress punctuates the bodies equilibrium bringing it under a stage of fatigue and damage.  If the stress is sufficient and the rest allocated then the result of this exercise stress will be a net gain in the specific stress that was applied.

In simpler terms if you perform a good strength workout you will become stronger, if you perform a good sprint workout you will get faster and if you perform a good cardio workout you will become fitter or more efficient at the movement you are doing.

Exercise also induces fatigue.  Fatigue can be measured in calories (it is a unit of energy after all) performing a Marathon is a hugely fatiguing activity and it carries a calorie cost in the 3000-5000kcal range depending on your muscle mass and weight.  It also carries a lot of fatigue that isn’t measured in energy expenditure such as bone microfractures and muscle micro tears.

Your body will also expend energy in the process of recovery (which will also induce fatigue if insufficent energy is avilable in the diet) as it uses a mixture of protein and the aerobic system for the energy needed to carry out cell repair and adaptation.

This is obviously a seriously dumed down version of the actual physiology behind it but it is important you understand this before we move to the next section.

Exercise + Calorie Deficit + High Fatigue = Burn Out

What is the goal of your work out?

1 – To produce a specific and quantifiable change in a fitness attribute?

2 – To Create more of a calorie deficit?

Training for a performance outcome fatigue is a necessary evil and sometimes we train just for the fatigue gain.

If the answer is 1 then we are going to need to accept that fatigue and high stressing workouts are part of what we are looking to achieve.  We are not going to produce an increase in your Vo2 Max or shave 30 seconds off your 5000m time by taking it easy.  There are times we are going to have to go long (capacity) and times when we are going to have to go hard (intensity).  Your training is going to make you tired, stiff and sore and you are going to need to eat and sleep to recover to make sure you are ready for the next taxing workout or event.

Training to lose fat or to get lean.  Fatigue needs to be minimized at all costs.

Forget about all the bullshit you have read about fat loss is calorie deficit, that is it.  Really we should be creating that calorie deficit through diet but we can also supplement it with calorie expenditure from exercise.  Strength training is a must for any person wishing to lose fat as not only will you expend calories doing it and recovering from it but you will also preserve or even build more muscle mass.  Which is a metabolically active tissue which itself burns calories.  Your body is going to want to burn muscle mass off so by having a high protein diet and lifting weights you can either maintain or even gain muscle depending on your training age/experience.

If you are using cardio to help you lose weight be smart with what you are doing.  If you are losing fat you are going to be in a calorie deficit.  This means you are in what is really mild starvation.  Your body is not going to be able to recover or repair as well as it would with sufficient calories so you will not be able to handle fatigue as well as you normally would.

If you decide to do high-intensity exercises that are load bearing and higher in energy demands of high-intensity energy systems you are going to accumulate a fuck load of fatigue.  You will not be able to sustain this fatigue and you will not recover from this fatigue.  You are basically praying for an overuse injury.  Add this to regular weight training and you are asking for trouble.

If you decide to use low-intensity activities with low load bearing such as walking or easy biking.  Not only are you achieving your goal of increased calorie expenditure but you are only loading the cardiovascular system which can take a fuck tonne of load and will recover within minutes to hours vs muscle days to weeks or bone weeks to months.

The point of this article is to make you aware of the exercise you are undertaking and the goal of said exercise.  If the goal is fat loss then you should weigh up the risk/reward of potential injury to potential calorie expenditure before you fire yourself into a high intensity weight training circuit.

There are much easier and less stressful ways to produce a calorie deficit like taking the dog for a walk up a hill or walking to the shops instead of taking the car.

As always the choice is yours.


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