In the first part of this weight loss article series, we went over the nutrition side of rapid weight loss in detail.
In this article, we’re going to look at exercise tips that can help you lose weight fast without losing muscle, damaging your metabolism, or otherwise harming your health. In the final article in this three-part series, we’ll talk about how to use supplementation to further help your weight loss efforts.
If you’re a man around or above 20% body fat, or if you’re a woman around or above 25% body fat, and you combine all the strategies outlined in these three articles, you should be able to lose 15 – 20 pounds in one month, with a large percentage of it fat, and little-to-none of it muscle. (A certain percentage of weight loss is always water and glycogen).
So then, let’s get to the training strategies that help you lose weight fast!
The more you exercise, the more fat you burn, but if you push things too hard, you can quickly find yourself burned out.
You see, just being in a calorie deficit raises cortisol levels (cortisol being your body’s “stress hormone”), and intense exercise—both lifting and cardio—further stresses the body.
In terms of weight loss, the proper training frequency is one that provides maximum fat loss while keeping physiological stress levels moderate and under control.
There are many opinions as to what this means in actual hours spent in the gym.
On one end of the spectrum are the “no pain, no gain” types that want to spend 10+ hours per week exercising, and on the other end are the extremely “conservative” types that believe you should dramatically reduce training frequency while cutting to avoid over-stressing the body.
The reality is there is no one-size-fits-all answer to optimal training frequency, as some people’s bodies deal with stress better than others. In my experience, however, both with my body and with the hundreds of people I’ve worked with, it’s quite a bit harder to reach this point of overtraining than some experts believe.
Generally speaking, readers on my programs have absolutely no issues lifting 3 – 5 times per week and doing cardio 3 – 4 times per week while cutting. I’ve actually yet to meet someone that had to dramatically scale back their lifting or cardio due to issues of overtraining.
The success of my readers is likely due to a combination of factors:
If, however, one were to make the workouts too long or too intense, make the calorie deficit too severe, replace nutritious foods with junk, sleep too little, or drop out supplementation altogether, it’s more likely that the training frequency cited above would result in burnout.
So, my recommendation for losing weight quickly and healthily is this: Lift weights 3 – 5 times per week, and do cardio 3 – 4 times per week.
Many “gurus” recommend that you follow a high-rep, low-weight routine to really help “shred up,” but this is actually the complete opposite of what you want to be doing.
The reality is your body is “primed” for muscle loss when you’re in a calorie deficit, and by focusing exclusively on muscle endurance (higher rep ranges), you’ll be setting yourself up for rapid strength loss, with the potential for significant muscle loss as well.
The key to preserving strength and thereby muscle while losing weight is to lift heavy weights. When you do this, you continue to progressively overload your muscles, which is one of the primary mechanical drivers of protein synthesis and muscle growth.
There are fat loss benefits to heavy weightlifting as well.
A study published by Greek sports scientists found that men that trained with heavy weights (80-85% of their one-rep max, or “1RM”) increased their metabolic rates over the following three days, burning hundreds more calories than the men that trained with lighter weights (45-65% of their 1RM).
Yes, hundreds more calories. That’s significant.
And if you want to really score extra calories burned, focus on compound lifts like squats and deadlifts, because these are the types of lifts that burn the most post-workout calories.
(This, by the way, is one of the reasons why people do so well on my programs both in building muscle and losing fat–they are performing heavy, compound lifts every day.)
You’ve probably heard of “high-intensity interval training” or “HIIT,” but in case you haven’t, or have and aren’t sure what it is, here’s how it works:
You start your HIIT session with a short (1 – 5 minute) warm-up, followed by 30 – 60 seconds of all-out exertion. This spikes your heart rate and really gets you huffing and puffing. You then do 30 – 60 seconds of low-intensity “cooldown,” followed by 30 – 60 seconds of all-out exertion, and so forth. You repeat this for as long as desired.
Why do I recommend this type of cardio for rapid weight loss instead of the traditional, “low-intensity steady state” type of cardio?
Well, studies such as those conducted by Laval University, East Tennessee State University, Baylor College of Medicine, and the University of New South Wales have shown that shorter, high-intensity cardio sessions result in greater fat loss over time than longer, low-intensity sessions.
According to a study conducted by The University of Western Ontario, which had subjects exercising for 6 weeks, doing workouts consisting of just 4 – 6 30-second sprints in a workout burns more fat over time than workouts consisting of 60 minutes of incline treadmill walking.
That’s how much more effective HIIT is for burning fat.
Researchers have found several reasons for HIIT’s superiority in weight loss:
BUT WAIT…THERE’S MORE…
Research has also shown that the longer your cardio sessions are, the more they impair strength and muscle growth. Thus, shorter cardio sessions are better for preserving muscle and strength.
Only high-intensity interval training allows you to do short (under 30-minute) workouts and burn an appreciable amount of fat.
Types of HIIT Cardio You Can Do
My hands-down favorite type of HIIT cardio is cycling (recumbent cycling to be specific).
Well, not only is it convenient that I can bring my iPad and read or watch a show or movie while doing it, it turns out that cycling itself has special benefits for us weightlifters.
According to research conducted by Stephen F Austin State University, the TYPE of cardio you do can have a profound effect on your ability to gain strength and size with weightlifting. The study subjects that ran and walked gained significantly less strength and size than those that cycled.
What made cycling special? Well, scientists concluded that it was due to cycling more closely imitating weightlifting movements that cause muscle growth (like squats, for instance).
Therefore, I recommend recumbent cycling for your high-intensity interval training (the next-best choice would be sprinting, as this too involves many of the same muscles; my third choice would be the elliptical machine), and I recommend keeping your sessions relatively short (20-30 minutes).
In terms of an exact protocol, here’s what you can do.
Before we move on, I want to note that while HIIT cardio is best for maximizing fat loss and preserving muscle, it does place more stress on the body than steady-state cardio.
If you follow my recommendations of lifting five 3 – 5 times per week and doing HIIT cardio 3 – 4 times per week and begin feeling overtrained, then I recommend you replace HIIT cardio sessions with LISS (low-intensity steady-state) and see if that helps.
Start with replacing one HIIT session with LISS and see how you feel that week. If you’re still having issues, replace another and see if that does it. Continue this until you’re feeling better or all HIIT sessions are now LISS.
When you eat food, your pancrease produces insulin and releases it into your blood.
Insulin’s job is to shuttle nutrients out of the blood and into your cells, such as the amino acids from protein, the glucose from carbohydrate, and the fatty acids from dietary fat.
When your insulin levels are elevated–when you’re in a “fed” state–no fat burning occurs. Your body uses the glucose in the blood for all its energy needs, and stores the excess. Depending on how much you eat, this state can last for several hours.
But, as the nutrients eaten are absorbed, insulin levels decline, and the body senses that its post-meal energy is running out. It then shifts toward burning fat stores to meet its energy needs.
Day after day, it juggles these states of storing nutrients you eat, and burning its stores when the temporary supplies run out.
Now, your body is in a “fasted” state when insulin is at a “baseline” level, and your body is relying completely on its energy stores. After you eat a moderate-sized meal, it takes 3 – 5 hours for your body to enter this state.
Exercising in this fasted state accelerates fat loss, with weightlifting particularly effective in this regard. Fasting for longer than 6 hours has been shown to further increase your body’s ability to burn fat, so early-morning fasted training is a great option.
Fasted training does have one significant drawback, however: accelerated breakdown of muscle tissue. Fortunately, preventing this is simple.
You should supplement with 10 grams of BCAAs or 5 grams of leucine (as this amino acid directly stimulates protein synthesis) 10 – 15 minutes before training, which will suppress muscle breakdown during your workout.
I should note that some people simply don’t do well with fasted weighlifting. They have very low energy levels and their strength really takes a nosedive. If that happens to you on your first fasted lifting session, try it for a few more days.
If, after a week or so, your body still hasn’t adapted and you feel like going to sleep during your workouts, then you should reduce the frequency of fasting lifting (maybe only 1 – 2 days per week), or stop altogether. Keeping your workouts intense is more important.
Another option is swapping your cardio and lifting workouts if you’re separating them, doing your cardio fasted and your lifting later in the day.
We’ve covered a lot of ground in the first two parts of this series, so I want to just give you a quick summary of the key points thus far:
Well, that’s it for the exercise advice for rapid weight loss.
In the third, and final, part of this article series, we’ll go over how proper supplementation can help you lose weight fast.