A lot of people are confused when it comes to exercise and fat loss.
‘I’ve lost so much weight my clothes are hanging off me, yet I’ve still got a spare tyre around my waist!’
Sound familiar? Or maybe you’ve just noticed how many women can be really thin but still have love handles on the waist. Do you know that anorexics can actually INCREASE their body fat percentage as they drop weight? Why does this happen?
Womens’ bodies are wonderfully designed for a specific purpose: to produce healthy babies. In famine stricken countries women still manage to give birth every day to healthy children, though they may be malnourished themselves. This is because of the lovely fat stores that our bodies will fight viciously to protect. So if you thought that losing fat was hard, you were totally right.
It is a lot easier for men. In one study it was found that women could carry at least twenty percent of their body weight without raising the level of calories burned. So that means if you weigh 120 pounds and you get on the treadmill holding a 12 pound dumbbell in each hand your calorie expenditure won’t be any higher than if you had nothing in your hands. This is because our bodies are designed to be able to carry a baby with maximum efficiency. Women also have a lower resting metabolic rate than men, which means that we burn fewer calories to maintain our basic life functions than men do. We also have larger fat cells than men.
So if you’re carrying an extra 20 pounds or so of fat, it can be extremely hard to lose.
The way to lose fat and gain muscle is to eat enough calories at the same time as following an exercise program that includes weight training and cardiovascular exercise. The two go hand in hand. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you should only do cardio until the excess fat comes off. I tried that before. I spent a significant amount of time running on the treadmill and swimming my butt off every day in the hope of losing some weight and nothing whatsoever happened.
When I began a weight training exercise program as well as cardio and a good diet then I started to see some results.
If you eat too few calories, you will certainly get smaller, but your body fat percentage may not go down very significantly. You may lose quite a lot of lean muscle mass in the process. So you will be smaller, but you may not look a whole lot better. Your body will defend its fat stores, just so that it can nurture a healthy baby should you get pregnant! So your muscle mass will waste away and your fat will remain!
You should either eat enough calories with a fantastic exercise program, or go on a complete fast. There should not be any in-between. It is only on a complete fast that your body goes into a muscle sparing phase and preserves your lean muscle mass while burning fat. As long as you are consuming ANY calories, your body cannot go into this muscle sparing phase, so your muscle mass will waste away. So while you’re not on a complete fast, you need to work out how many calories your body needs and then make sure you are getting that. A site such as nutridiary.com or fitday.com can help you work this out very effectively.
Another thing is to cut your fat consumption. “The fat you eat is the fat you wear” according to Dr John McDougall. A low fat diet is crucial to your success. While you may be able to lose weight on a high fat diet if you’re counting calories, you will find that you will have to eat less and, since your body’s favorite choice of fuel is carbohydrate, you will find yourself hungry, undernourished and fed up. I found that when I did my 30 day no fat trial, I lost weight without cutting my calorie consumption at all.
Adding weight training into your exercise schedule is crucial. And you don’t have to worry that you’ll suddenly look like Arnold, that does not happen by accident. Women who bulk up do so very deliberately and with an ENORMOUS amount of effort, it will never happen accidentally. Lifting heavy weights will just make you more toned and help with fat loss. You can have beautifully toned sleek muscles while lifting heavy weights. If you look too big, you are probably still too fat, not too muscular.
You should choose weights that are challenging enough so that by the end of your set you are seriously struggling. If you plan on 12 reps and could easily do 15 then you are lifting far too light.
You should also change your routine every 4-6 weeks so that you avoid plateaus. The changes you make do not have to be huge. Just mix it up. Choose some different exercises that work the same muscle groups. Or switch from doing sets with rest breaks in between to doing super-sets and no rest breaks.
The more muscle groups that are engaged in the exercise the better. So it is better to do large compound exercises such as pull ups, push-ups and dips, than it is to do preacher curls. Although preacher curls definitely have their place. When you do pull ups you are working multiple muscles all at the same time. Whereas with a preacher curl you are just working your biceps. So make sure you are doing major compound exercises as well as isolated muscle exercises.
Major compound exercises for legs include squats, lunges, leg press and deadlifts. These work your whole leg as well as your back and your abs as stabilizers.
The more muscle you build the more fat you will burn and the smaller your body will get. Not bigger! The people who bulk up, such as bodybuilders, do so very deliberately with specific dietary programs that enable them to do so. Simply having a lot of lean muscle mass will not mean a large physique, quite the opposite. Muscle is smaller than fat and you will get tinier and able to fit into the tiniest items in your wardrobe. So don’t be scared of weights, they are crucial, and keep pushing yourself to lift heavier weights so that you are always challenged.
Remember too not to take long rest breaks between sets. 15-30 seconds between sets is more than enough. Time your rest breaks. You are not doing yourself any favors if you sit for minutes at a time between sets, you might as well start at the beginning again if your rest break has been too long.
Cardio is essential and if you have weight to lose, the more the better. It takes at least 20 minutes for your body to get into a fat burning zone, so try for a minimum of 30 minutes daily, but anything more that you can fit in is a bonus. I am currently aiming for a minimum of an hour of cardio a day. If I do more it is even better.
When you are doing cardio it is essential that you are working hard enough. You should be working out at between 70 and 85% of your maximum heart rate. To work out your maximum heart rate subtract your age from 220. For me the formula is 220 – 32 = 188.
If I want to work out at between 70 and 85% of my maximum I should keep my heart rate between 131 and 160.
I wear a heart rate monitor when I work out so that I can make sure I am always working hard enough. I don’t worry if my heart rate goes over 160 and when I am really working out hard it often goes to 180 and sometimes all the way to my maximum and beyond. But that is always for brief spurts and is generally when I am doing something like walking lunges very vigorously. When you are doing cardio it is better to be more moderate as you can then keep it up for a longer period of time. You should not be gasping for breath, but you should be breathing more heavily than normal and you should be sweating.
What kind of cardio is best?
Any kind of cardio is fine. I like to mix it up as much as possible as I get bored really easily. I do a combination of walking on the treadmill at an incline, the stairmaster, the Arc Trainer and the Elliptical interspersed with bicycle riding and occasionally some running. As long as you can get your heart rate into the right zone then any kind of cardio is best.
What time of day is best for cardio?
First thing in the morning is the best time for cardio as it is the best time for fat loss. In the mornings you are in a fasting state since you haven’t eaten since the night before and you therefore burn more fat than at any other time of the day.
However, if you can’t manage a morning workout than any time of the day is still going to be beneficial. Just doing it is more important than the time of day you do it.
Doing cardio AFTER your weight training is also better. This way you have more energy to put into really strong sets in your weight training.
I am a fan of home workouts as it is great for when you don’t manage to get to gym or when your time schedule is more limited. It is a lot easier to fit in an hour long workout at home then it is to get yourself to the gym for an hour long workout. So I definitely think having some home workout DVD’s around is a good thing. I highly recommend Cindy Crawford – Next Challenge Workout and Cindy Crawford – Shape Your Body Workout.
They were made in the early 90’s but are in no way outdated. The workouts are a fantastic mix of compound exercises that get your heart rate very high, so they incorporate cardiovascular training with muscle building.
How often should you work out?
The more the better. Aim for every day, that way if you only manage five days a week you will still be successful.
It is a myth that you can exercise for only 30 minutes three times a week and still see results. Utter nonsense. If you want to see results you have to put in the time. I would say a minimum of an hour a day 5 times a week to see good results.
Anything you can add to that is a bonus. I am aiming for 2 hours a day at least 5 days a week, preferably more, plus time on the weekends. I am lucky enough to have the time available but if you don’t, I would say that an hour to an hour and a half five times a week is sufficient, so long as you are incorporating both weight training and cardio into your workouts.
If you don’t have any fat to lose, then you could get by with doing a lot less. You could focus on weight training with just a couple of short cardio workouts per week to maintain your health. In this way you could significantly cut your exercise time. However, we are not meant to be sedentary beings, we are meant to be highly active. So even if you don’t have any fat to lose, exercising hard is still a really good idea. Just eat more calories so that you don’t lose weight if that isn’t what you want.
Alison Andrews is a full time author, blogger, vlogger and musician. She is also the author of the book Desperately Seeking Jude: Confessions of a Sex-Mad Beauty Queen. She lives in Dubai with her husband Jaye, and spends her time creating content for her websites http://www.loving-it-raw.com and http://www.alison-andrews.com