Let’s run straight through Platform 9 ¾ and journey straight to Hogwarts. Let’s jump on the Hogwarts Express, with it’s deep scarlet magical metal plating and smoke billowing out of the engine. Let’s eat chocolate frogs and hit Malfoy with a full body-bind curse.
Pretend that we’re at Hogwarts now. We’ve wandered the stone lined hallways and found an unused classroom. The unused classroom. And we’re now standing in front of the claw footed, gold framed Mirror of Erised.
If you look into the enchanted mirror, the mirror that shows you your deepest desires, what do you find staring back at you?
I personally find myself living on a beach. I’m laying in a hammock drinking a beer. I’m a best selling author. I have enough money to care me, and those closest to me. Somehow I’ve got sun kissed skin, impossible for most half gingers, a beautiful lady curled up in the hammock beside me, and I’m absolutely shredded.
And for most people, from a physique perspective, that’s how they feel. The vast majority of the people who step into a gym are trying to drop body fat. And seeing how I practically live in various gyms, that means most of these people tend to ask me a basic question:
Should I be doing strength circuits?
I really like doing curls. Do I need to give them up on a fat loss program?
Should I start doing more cardio?
They’re all different, but they all boil down to this basic question:
Should I be training differently for fat loss?
And the truth is, at the most basic level, things don’t really change much when it comes to getting jacked, getting strong like bull, or melting body fat to show off your abs. You still need to be lifting heavy weights with plenty of compound moves, a few isolation moves, and you need to switch things up every 4-6 weeks or so to keep adapting.
It’s always the same song – the sultry sounds of iron, just a different verse.
That’s a 30,000 foot view. From way up in the clouds much of the world looks the same, but when you get closer you see all the beautiful intricacies this world has to offer, and things tend to change.
And the same can be said when it comes to training, specifically for fat loss. As you begin focusing more on melting away body fat, your training focus has to change.
#1 – Calories govern your ability to recover.
It’s important to recognize that when you’re trying to drop fat the biggest factor that needs to be considered is how much you’re eating. When it comes to getting abs or building serious muscle, calories are going to be king.
Calories have one main purpose: to provide you with energy. When you get enough, or more than enough, you tend to feel amazing. Like you can run through walls and Hulk out whenever you damn well please.
Whenever you’re not getting enough things tend to change. You go from The Hulk to Bruce Banner. You’re more tired than normal, more irritable, and constantly dealing with hunger.
When you’re training for strength, it’s typically not that metabolically demanding. Lifting extremely heavy for a few reps may be exhausting, but that’s primarily neurological. Yet you still need plenty of calories to properly recover from that.
Similarly, if you’re trying to get jacked then typically you’re going to be lifting a ton. The overall volume is going to be higher, and you’ll be doing curls ‘till the cows come home. You’ll be eating more, which leads to serious gain and skin stretching pumps.
But when you’re dropping fat, calories are at a premium. You’re eating less than normal. You won’t be able to recover as well from extremely high volume or ridiculously heavy workouts. And even if you do try and do those, you’re not going to get the results you want, because you’re actively starving yourself (to a point) by dieting.
#2 – You have to eat, and train, to support your goals.
Getting strong is fun. There’s nothing more that I enjoy in this world than pulling a heavy ass deadlift. It’s a primal rush that only a few other things in this world deliver. But those workouts aren’t taxing from a metabolic perspective. They don’t lead to much overall energy expenditure, which doesn’t bode well from a fat loss perspective.
And getting jacked is equally as fun. The pumps are ridiculous, and I love walking into the gym every single day feeling like I look bigger, fuller, and seeing the sleeves on my shirts stretch.
But those high volume sessions, while requiring burning through energy than a strength-focused workout, don’t exactly torch through calories. Even though they do require more than strength, you’re typically adding more calories back in. Because, well, you’re trying to get jacked.
However when it comes to training, and what we’re trying to do when we train, that more or less covers it. Get strong? Check. Get jacked? Check. So, what do we do?
Enter: Metabolic training.
Kind of like the marriage between Claire and Frank Underwood; metabolic training, metabolic resistance training, or any other metabolic term is awfully ambiguous.
The Internet has been around long enough, and there are enough fitness bloggers like myself to sufficiently muddy the waters when it comes to terms like those, which makes them difficult to understand. But a basic definition would be something like:
Metabolic training is a series of compound exercises done back to back with little to no rest, with sessions typically lasting anywhere from 20-45 minutes.
That means that CrossFit, strength circuits, bodyweight circuits, or some group fitness classes can all fall under the metabolic umbrella. The one thing all of these have in common is the fact that they’re hard. Really hard, and that’s part of the reason they work so well when it comes to fat loss.
Metabolic workouts challenge you from an aerobic and anaerobic standpoint. They utilize a ton of muscle groups, all working at the exact same time.
All of which, when thrown into the pot and stirred up together requires insane energy expenditure. Because they’re so hard, and because you expend so much energy, you’re forced to adapt quickly to these workouts.
To borrow from MTV Cribs: this is where the magic happens.
The result of that intense energy expenditure is a serious increase in fat burning, work capacity, and muscular endurance. And while that tells us a bit about the why of metabolic training, it doesn’t tell us everything.
#3 – More Energy Expenditure.
I would be remiss to talk about fat loss training if I didn’t mention energy systems and how important they are. We have three main energy systems in the body that fuel all activity.
- Creatine/PCr system:
This system usually fuels intense activity up to about 10-12 seconds. It’s primarily from stored creatine phosphate, which is part of the reason why creatine can help people get stronger and more awesome. Think of an all out sprint or maximal lift.
- Glycolytic system:
This system takes over at about the 12 second mark, and keeps fueling until roughly around the 30 second mark. It’s primarily fueled by stored carbohydrates (in the form of glycogen), and is part of the reason why carbs are so damn important to fueling hard training sessions.
- Oxidative system:
This is the system we live in most of our daily life. It’s fueled primarily by fat, and is part of the reason why traditional cardio is said to be in the fat burning zone – you’re just utilizing the oxidative system to supply energy. We have a seemingly endless supply of oxidative energy. And by seemingly endless, I mean the average person has thousands of calories worth of energy.
Here’s where things get tricky: We’re not solely depending on one energy system at any point in time. They don’t shut off so another can turn on. They work on a curve. So while you’re busting out 20 rep squats, you’re primarily relying on the glycolytic system, but the PCr and oxidative systems are supplying energy as well.
Anyone care to guess what kind of training taxes the three energy systems the most? Metabolic training, for those of you playing along at home.
Thrusters are a perfect example of the kind of move you’d be doing in a metabolic program. Lot’s of muscles working at once + high energy output + short rest periods = shredded.
Each one of those energy systems as an energy cost associated with it. It’s basic body economics. While you’re focusing on fat loss, energy is at a premium. You’re not bringing as much in, and you want to expend as much as possible.
Via metabolic training you’re forcing the body to pay for that energy expended in every way it has available. It’s like paying for the same thing with cash on hand, debit, and credit.
Which should put into perspective just how demanding those workouts are. And the beauty of metabolic training is that you aren’t only paying during your workouts by burning a ton of energy.
#3.5 – You’re also paying after.
Thanks to the phenomenon known as EPOC, which I’ve talked about here and here, you ramp up your calorie burning efforts for hours after your training sessions with the type of training you do. And not just a short period of time, either. We’re talking for 36-48 hours after you finish training.
This is part of the reason that HIIT is so popular, and it’s also why metabolic training works so damn well for fat loss.
By using compound movements, heavy(ish) weights, and condensed rest periods you send EPOC levels through the roof. Which means you may be burning a fuck ton of calories during your training session, but you’re burning even more after, and for an extended period of time. All leading to even faster fat loss.
Should you ever find yourself in Hogwarts, then please visit Dumbledore’s (RIP) office for me. The password is probably still lemon drop. And then go check out the Room of Requirement. I’d love to know what you find. After that, go check out the Mirror of Erised.
And when you do, if you find a shredded version of yourself staring back at you, at least now you’ve got the training tools to make that deep desire a reality.