If your primary goal is to shed some stubborn body fat, then you’re in the right place. The reason you’re in the right place is because no doubt you’re overwhelmed with information on how best to do it.
Should I do steady state cardio or should I do HIT?
Do I count reps, time or distance?
What are the best exercises?
Do I even need to change my training, isn’t it just diet?
Everyone has an opinion but unfortunately, they’re all wrong. Yes, The Fitness Maverick is the only person in the world with the one true secret to fat shredding success!!!
Hopefully you know this is a joke, right!? Because the secret is THERE IS NO ONE BEST WAY.
Nail The Basics First
Let’s put nutrition aside for a second, and accept that to lose body fat you need to create a calorie deficit. You need to move more and eat less, but in a strategic way.
Exercise of course is the do more side of this equation. Going for a walk is doing more, as is lifting weights, and as is doing some cardio.
But let’s just assume you’re doing most of these things. You’ve got a good progressive weights program, you’re moderately active during the day, and you’re doing a little cardio already. Theoretically you can’t do any more given the time you have.
If, however you’re not doing these things already then there’s the answer above as to how you can do more. Don’t overcomplicate things, just ensure you have the basics nailed down first. Lift some weights, do a little cardio, and make sure you’re hitting at least 10-15k steps ever day. Providing you’re not eating more to compensate for the extra exercise, even the worst program in the world should allow you to lose a little body fat. That’s the best advice that can be given to any beginner, and to not confuse the matter.
If you’re doing more than you were before, and your energy intake is a little less, it’s inevitable you’ll see some results without having to starve yourself or spend hours in the gym. Providing your mindset is in the right place (or you have a Coach to help with the accountability).
If, however you’re maxed out on time, and it becomes how you can get that bit extra out of the time you’re already spending right now then we can start talking specific tactics. But as you’ll see we can still approach it with some simplicity.
Steady-state or high-intensity cardio – in short
In short you should focus on steady state cardio only if you want to become great at endurance, you’re overweight and your joints can’t take the impact right now, or because you just hate high intensity exercise. Put someone on a program they don’t like, and that program will fail no matter how “scientifically” good it is.
We can also argue that if you’re on a low carbohydrate diet it may be easier to do steady-state over high-intensity conditioning work, since higher-intensity training is more reliant on glycolytic energy pathways. When you’re low carb and don’t have much muscle glycogen to spare, eating away at what little stores you have through anaerobic glycolysis can make you less of a fat burning machine and more of a muscle burning machine. Not a good idea if you care about your hard earned muscle.
Apart from if you’re one of the above, nine times out of ten high-intensity conditioning will work better for you. It burns more calories in less time, it’s more muscle-sparring, and due to the EPOC effect you’ll continue to burn calories even after you’ve finished.
There are endless ways to do it, but there’s a really simple way you should approach it that works.
A simplified approach that works every time
We’re going to choose to keep it glycolytic, so on that note you should be working hard for sets of around 15-45 seconds. Any less and your rest will have to stay short to compensate, and any more your intensity will be too low and you’ll rely more on the aerobic system.
Yes, it’s a bit more complicated than this and there are loads of ways you can do it. But keep it simple and don’t try searching Pubmed for some research that says otherwise. Trust that it’s been read, but let’s not overcomplicate it.
We also don’t want complete recovery (3 minutes or more), or inadequate recovery so your performance suffers.
Again, let’s keep things simple. However long you work for, that’s how long you’ll rest. At worst though you can rest up to twice that length of time. Another way to put it is that you should be using a 1:1 to 1:2 work to rest ratio.
As an example, if you’re working hard for 30 seconds you’ll also rest for 30 seconds, but up to 1-minute depending on your fitness levels.
A simple progression may look like this:
- WEEK 1: 30 seconds work, 60 seconds rest
- WEEK 2: 30 seconds work, 50 seconds rest
- WEEK 3: 30 seconds work, 40 seconds rest
- WEEK 4: 30 seconds work, 30 seconds rest
How many rounds should I do?
4-8 minutes is a good time frame. That means if you were using a 1:1 ratio of 30 seconds work followed by 30 seconds of rest you should repeat that between 4 to 8 times. There’s nothing wrong with going over that, but this is when psychology starts to play. 8 rounds of the same exercise on and off again can be pretty monotonous, especially when you have so many choices of exercises.
Your entire conditioning workout should never last you more than 40 minutes if using this approach either, and no less than 20 minutes. For example, in a 30 minute workout you could 3-6 different exercises. It could look like this:
- Exercise 1: 30 seconds work, 30 seconds rest, 4 rounds
- Rest 3-5 minutes or active recovery before moving on
- Exercise 2: 20 seconds work, 20 seconds rest, 6 rounds
- Rest 3-5 minutes or active recovery before moving on
- Exercise 3: 15 seconds work, 15 seconds rest, 8 rounds
Hopefully you’re still following along because you’re about to get a few exercise ideas. All of which super effective and you really would be splitting hairs at this point if you thought one was that much better than another.
Yes we want to be hitting as much body mass as possible in the same movement, but your choice of exercise is largely down to psychology. When we’re talking about conditioning workouts, for the average person we’re no longer talking about muscles or even movements (unless there’s a sport involved). We’re talking about energy systems. We’re talking heart rate, intensity level, and what sort of metabolic pathways we’re using to produce movement. So your best option here is to pick the movements you’re most comfortable with, and where you know your technique will not decline much even when fatigued.
Many have started to use and see the benefits of loaded carries. You can go for distance but the distance should be dictated by how long that distance takes you. Some can be super fast walkers while others carry with pride and control, so ideally do your carries for time. You can do different carry variations for core, for shoulders or knee stability, there are many reasons why carries are great. But for energy systems work we don’t want a carry variation that’s too complex that form will deteriorate under fatigue. So keep the carries basic, such as farmers carries, front loaded carries, uneven load or suitcase carries.
Metabolic Resistance circuits
Pick between 2-8 resistance exercise and using a weight a little lighter than your normal rep max, simply do as many quality reps as you can during your work period. Rest, then do the same with the next exercise. Go back and forth between a few exercises or vary it up.
For example for a full body circuit try this format (fill in the specific exercises depending on your level):
- 30 seconds squatting movement
- 30 seconds rest
- 30’s pressing movement
- 30’s rest
- 30’s hip-hinge/deadlifting movement
- 30’s rest
- 30’s pulling movement
- 30’s rest
- 30’s core movement
That’s four and a half minutes of some of the most effective high intensity training you’ll ever do, especially if you fill up that format with some effective movements. The Metabolic Edge Program uses a similar approach to shred body fat.
Battling Ropes or Boxing
Put in a class together as these are slightly more upper body focused and similar actions can be performed on battling ropes, as can boxing gloves on a bad or pads. Upper body exercise can in fact spike your heart rate up quicker than lower and get those energy systems working hard in a much shorter period of time. Studies using hand bicycles versus leg bicycles can confirm this. If you have any lower limb issues or injuries these are especially great options. Remember keep it simple, work hard, and time your bouts of exercise. Here are a few battling rope variations.
Push Something, Anything!
A sled, a car, a prowler, a weight plate across the floor, even a heavy sandbag can slide along some surfaces. Just like the weighted carries, go for time instead of distance. Or choose your distance based on predicted time.
Kettlebell or Dumbbell Swings or Cleans
There’s nothing that’s quite like exerting powerful movements for time. They hit so much mass, while at the same time being fairly simple to perform even when slightly fatigued. Especially as we get older maintaining the ability to do things fast and explosively is super important.
Low Intensity Plyometrics
First of all, a warning to never use high intensity or high impact plyometrics for conditioning purposes. You might see someone else do them, and they may be one of the lucky ones and never have any problems. But high intensity plyometrics such as box jumps, high hurdle jumps, weighted squat jumps and so on are not a tool to be used for conditioning purposes. They may be hard, and they may burn calories, but for all the wrong reasons, and won’t set you up for success in the long-term. The Fitness Maverick is all about the long-term approach and making you unbreakable. Skipping, ladders, low hurdles are all good low intensity plyometric options. You could include sprinting in this category too.
Common (or uncommon) Cardio Equipment
Spinning bike, Assault Bike, VersaClimber, Rowing Machine, none of them are really much more effective than the other. Do what the piece of kit is intended for, but for short periods of hard work followed by short periods of rest. You can jazz it up by going for a set amount of calories, a Tabata or EMOM, whatever you like, but consider what energy systems you’re trying to target.
Simple Bodyweight Moves
There needs to be little room for error. Burpees may be hard but how often do you see a perfect burpee with minimal rounding of the back? Just because you’re trying to burn fat, it doesn’t mean it’s okay for technique to go out of the window. Hindu Squats paired with Hand-Release Push-Ups are a great combo that hit everything all at once. So are lots of crawling variations. There are many options to choose from.As you can clearly see once you have a basic protocol to use it’s easy to start building a more effective fat burning workout. Setting up any metabolic conditioning protocol like this will work for most people, the individuality of the protocol will in large come from selecting the most appropriate exercises to get the job done.