Here in the UK, it’s that time of year again - we have awoken from our semi-hibernation winter state which involves eating and drinking in the dark and cold and not moving - except for toilet trips and going from sofa, to kitchen to bed. We then spend spring waking up a little and realising that the overindulgence of the past 4 or 5 months has not done wonders to our bodies, so we decide that it’s probably best to lose some weight, then suddenly realise it’s a few weeks till holiday. Uh oh!
Now the path we choose from here determines whether we lose weight healthily, and give ourselves the best chance NOT to get ill on holiday, or do some weird fad diet of only having cabbage soup for 3 solid weeks or whatever the latest craze is, completely unsupported by science, with some ridiculous 40 day shred challenge consisting of just doing sit ups everyday (by which you supposedly can do like 1000 by the end of it, if you don’t give up after a week). This method of losing weight results in an unhealthy, nutrient deprived, and unsustainable method of losing weight, and certainly does not deliver on those promises it makes at the beginning.
The only way I advocate to lose weight is healthily – ensuring you are getting all the nutrients required, whilst also doing a well-planned exercise programme to aid in burning excess fat as efficiently as possible (and a way you are going to stick to – so you need to make it fun and sustainable!).
We are covering the food side of healthy weight loss in our other blog post in the nutrition series, this is going to be our next post – hopefully tomorrow, and will be wonderfully written by my lovely fiancée Jenny. Trust me, fat cannot be lost through exercise alone, and definition cannot be gained from food alone, they go hand in hand!
I am however going to write about how to get the most out of the exercise you are going to do. I myself have in fact done the below steps this summer (after coming back from an all inclusive 2 week holiday in February, and not shifted the weight by May). I will first talk about the method of which types of exercise are best, and then I will give an example routine below.
First things first – there’s no such exercise that targets “belly fat” or “thigh fat”. You want to lose that belly fat or thigh fat, I’m afraid you will have to lose fat all round! There are however exercises which can add definition to certain areas, to make them appear to have less fat. So, if you are wanting to lose fat for aesthetic reasons, then you CAN target those areas you want to be more defined. However, if you are wanting to lose fat for health reasons, the good thing is you can lose it all around!
Yes- sorry to those who hate cardio, but you’re going to need to do it if you are wanting to lose fat. Cardio though doesn’t have to be running on a treadmill solidly for 30 minutes, if you do not enjoy running then don’t! I would however say if you do like running on the treadmill for 30 minutes, this is certainly not going to damage your fat loss programme! Alternative cardio routines could include the rowing machine, a full body – light weight workout (think bodypump if you’ve ever been to one of those classes), high energy dance like Zumba, swimming etc etc, the list goes on. There is surely one of these that you enjoy!
The reason cardio is needed for fat loss is simple - it is a very efficient way to lose weight. By that I mean, you burn lots of calories per minute of exercise. For efficient weight loss, you want to be burning more calories, and you want your body to be using fat as the primary source of the energy! Cardio provides a good way for this to happen. When you are doing cardio, you keep your heart rate at an elevated level for a sustained period of time. Due to this, you end up burning more and more calories - the higher the intensity, the more calories per minute you will be burning, great! If your routine mostly involves weight training at the gym, whilst this is still great for burning fat (as I will go onto later), in order for you to burn those extra calories in the limited time frame of your gym session, adding in some cardio is going to be key. Cardio is also a more sustainable form of exercise than weights, i.e. you likely will be able to do a good paced jog on consecutive days without much trouble. Try and do the same weights workout two days in a row, however, and this will be harder – this is because your muscles haven’t had time to repair!
You want to keep the level of cardio at an aerobic level. In order for the body to use fat as an energy source it needs oxygen. Hence why the aerobic level is needed. Make sure you go at a pace that you could relatively comfortably hold for half an hour, with a proper breathing technique. This will mean that the body continues to use fat as the primary form of energy. Aerobic simply means with oxygen - the body is using oxygen to burn the fat and turn it into energy for you to exercise. This is opposed to anaerobic which doesn't use oxygen to create the energy, which produces a build up of lactic acid, due to lack of oxygen - you will likely be used to this sensation, i.e a stitch or the burn you get from weight lifting!
In my opinion, weight training is the fun one! I love pushing myself with weights. There are three main reasons why weight training is good for fat loss. Firstly, the bigger the muscles, the more calories you burn by doing nothing! Yes, that’s right, when you are sitting on the sofa watching TV, all other things being equal, if you have more muscle than the person next to you, you will be burning more calories than them. That being said, doing weights does not necessarily build large muscles, bodybuilders with big muscles take years and years of specific training to get those large muscles, so even if you are not wanting to increase your muscle size, weights are still the way forwards! Of course, if you are wanting to increase muscle size, weights are also the way forwards, just with a different technique, which I will cover in a body-building blog post soon. As I said above as well, doing weights will “tone” you up. This will give the illusion of less body fat, even if you have the same amount.
The second reason weights are good is because it gives an afterburn effect. Whilst your muscles are repairing you will also be burning more calories (yes by doing weights you do cause little tears in the muscle fibres – that’s what’s meant to happen, then they repair stronger!). Even after you’ve finished a weight workout, you will carry on burning calories – result!
Thirdly, if you do them right, with the correct rest periods, correct repetitions, sets and weight, you can still burn a lot of calories during the workout as well!
When and how should you do cardio?
This will depend on your daily schedule and routine, but personally when I am losing fat, I get up half an hour earlier and go on the exercise bike for 25 minutes. For me, I find it’s a great way to start the day, gets the blood pumping and means I’ve burnt a good few calories by breakfast.
You should try and do the cardio at least 3 times a week - but if you can manage more then great! Try and do it for a period of 20 to 30 minutes each time and, as I previously said, go at a pace that you can sustain relatively comfortably which will keep you burning the fat as the primary source of energy!
If you cannot do your cardio in the morning by getting up a little earlier, you should add it into your weight’s routine. Start the whole workout with the cardio, before moving onto the weights. This has the added benefit of fully warming up your body before doing weights – meaning less chance of injury!
When and how should you do the weights?
Again, really when your schedule allows it. The ideal time really should be around midday, after your body has warmed up from walking, you’ve had your breakfast and let it go down and you aren’t exhausted from the day’s activities yet. However, I know a lot of us (me included) don’t have the ability to go to the gym at midday, and morning certainly isn’t happening, so evening is fine, the important thing is you do it!
I would recommend 5 times a week, but anywhere between 3 and 5 times a week is fine and will still give results – just ensure you are covering all of the muscle groups in your workouts! More than 5 times a week isn’t necessarily better, as your body does need some time to repair, especially if you aren’t used to working out that often.
In terms of repetitions, sets and rest period, for weight loss, you will want to work your muscles to exhaustion, so in order to do this I would recommend 4 sets of 12 with rest periods of 1 minute to 1:30, these shorter rest periods mean your muscles will work to exhaustion and your heart rate will remain elevated throughout the workout. Also aim to do 4 exercises on each muscle group, and target only one or two muscle groups a session. Try to do slower, controlled movements on the weights, and add pauses in to increase the burn and engage more muscle fibres.
Also aim to do the bigger lift of the muscle group first. I.e squat, deadlift, bench-press or shoulder-press.
An Example Day of Working Out (legs and abs)
30 minutes of running at a relatively easy pace
Squats – 12 reps of 4 sets with a slow controlled movement
Leg extensions – 12 reps of 4 sets with a pause midway
Goblet squats – 12 reps of 4 sets, slow controlled movement with no lockout (really feel the burn)
Calf raises – 12 reps of 4 sets, slow and controlled with a pause midway.
Ab machine – 12 reps of 4 sets, with a pause at contraction
Hanging leg raises – 20 reps at 4 sets, slow controlled movements (higher reps due to only doing bodyweight)
Crunches – 20 reps at 4 sets, slow controlled movements, without letting yourself go fully against the floor (this keeps the abs constantly engaged).
Example week of working out
Day 1 – Full body workout
Day 2 – Cardio only
Day 3 – Chest and Back
Day 4 – Cardio, Legs and Biceps
Day 5 – Cardio, Shoulders and Abs
Day 6 – Deadlifts and Triceps
Day 7 – Cardio only
Hopefully this has been of some help to put you in the right direction to achieving your goal if your goal is to lose bodyfat! I will be doing a further blog post in the coming weeks on if you’re wanting to put on healthy weight (bulking), so don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten those with a different goal.