Every now and then it hits me that i am not General Population when it comes to Health & Fitness. I often forget that everyone else spends most of their lives sleeping, cooking, looking after kids, working, dropping off kids, playing sport, eating when and wherever they can and generally being busy and not able to read the science on strength training, sports psychology, nutrition, lifestyle and everything else we as Strength Coaches and Personal Trainers tend to stay up to date with.
Usually this smack in the face comes from a conversation with an Athlete or prospective client. The reason for this is usually to do with the absolute nonsense peddled out there by vested interests in promoting nonsense health & fitness products. And Gweneth Paltrow. We have all become lazy and have become accustomed to scanning headlines and articles or relying on Google, and believe me that's a dangerous game. Think about the reported deaths of children due to non-vaccines. That's how ridiculous it can get. Yes Big Pharma are dodgy and playing games on certain levels and have serious control on world business and major governments, but that does not mean for a second that all Western Medicine bad/anything else alternative good. Its never black and white, but not only do we want quick answers, we want simple answers. But you cannot have simple solutions to complicated questions. That's major issue no.1 with Health & Fitness
This and Humans unbelievable need to run themselves into the ground with Running, and the completely WRONG belief that running long distances is the answer to fat loss, and nothing else comes close. The most alarming is when someone suggests they train for and run a marathon or a Triathlon "to lose weight". Oh dear. This is major issue no.2.
Now i have well documented my attitude to Marathons on Facebook and in my old blog. And i straight up have made money from training people for marathons, triathlons and adventure racing/weekend warrior type pursuits. However in almost all cases this is close how the conversation goes.
Client - So i want to do a marathon.
Kevin - Why?
Client - Just is something i want to do.
Kevin - So why do you want to do it?
Client - To achieve something
Kevin - You never achieved something? (Knowing well they raised 4 kids and ran a business)
Client - Well you know, physically.
Kevin - Ok, but there is other pursuits you can go after, that take less time, are healthier and will have you looking better you know?
Client - I want to do the Marathon.
Kevin - Ok, i would suggest it will take 3-5 years for you to get up to Marathon Pace and distance safely
Client - (In July) I signed up for the Dublin City Marathon (in November)
Kevin - Great. Have you been running?
Client - Kinda.
Kevin - Ok. I don't think you should do the Marathon in November.
Client - Why
Kevin - Its going to be very hard to do the Marathon injury free without causing long term damage in such a short time frame.
Client - I want to do the frickin Marathon already!!!
Kevin - Cool, i can help you with that, if you totally commit and do everything i tell you to do.
Be honest, if you just want to look better naked then that's totally fine. Fuck doing a marathon to do that though. Its actually insane to do that. If you want to run longer and longer distances and love that challenge, thats fine too. Just do it gradually.
You may (hopefully), laugh. But that really is what goes on. Now its up to me to get a feel for the real commitment of the person. Because if i don't get that right peoples time and money will be wasted. However it has generally worked and that's solely because the person committed themselves completely. Is it ideal? No. But i would rather someone got good guidance and an injury reduction program to go with the running than going all hatchet and running out the door 5 days a week pounding gradually increasing miles.
But if there is one mention of weight loss, or get in shape, then its off. You have to be in or pretty close to "shape" to run a marathon. Or a triathlon or any other endurance sports. You would be better off joining the French Foreign Legion. You would out of that a better person than using a marathon to lose weight, that's for sure.
Check out this article here to see how "Cardio" could be killing you. Scientifically broken down, well worth a read.
The 3rd major issue is the infestation in the general populations of Elite Athlete based training. The use of Olympic Lifting without proper instruction, MetCons with no base fitness, Max Lifting (when we know we don't need Max Lifting to Maximally Strong, there are other cleverer, safer ways to do it) of Squats, Deadlifts etc. This is often done quite simply by Trainers and Coaches who do not understand the load they are putting on the person. I take aspects of Athlete S&C all the time and apply then to General Population, but its a layered approach. It takes months upon months for anyone to get the Olympic Lifts to even a respectable level, i hear all the time of people doing full 80/90KG Cleans within 2 weeks of starting. Thats damaging. Think about it this way, the weight is a force that when lifted at speed into the air and then let drop even for a split second, multiplies in force down onto your shoulders, wrists, hands, back. Learning to absorb that force is a skill in itself. Not to mention the terribly weak forearms and wrists most regular people have now due to Office Based Sedentary Lifestyle. Messed up out of place shoulders affect your elbows and wrists so mobility to get under the bar is a major issue. As is thoracic mobility, as it clavicle stability and so on. That is just one lift out of many that are causing damage. Add in 400M runs, high rep Olympics and so on and you have a Physios dream. Physios admit, this new style of training is making them money.
So what are the alternatives? Well here i am going to detail some of the best methods of losing fat and not hurting yourself, both scientifically and with some of my own methods that while maybe untested scientifically, are successful. And much safer.
Now before we start, this is about exercise. I think it goes without saying that nutrition underpins any fatloss and indeed health in general. But that's not the point of the article, i will detail some tips from that point of view in other articles. What i am also assuming here is that you have gone thru a basic building block progression of building Stability & Mobility and have been taught about and how to perform basic Human Movements (i.e. How to Squat, Hinge, Push, Pull....). How long you are on that Stability-Mobility program is completely dependent on the personas level and also how much of the small simple circuits i provide they do at home.
1. Lift Weights.
In a standard linear fashion. I put this no.1 because even though it does not "burn" the same amount of calories or have the same after effects of some of the methods below, it underpins all those methods. Now while this may not be the very first thing you do when you come to someone like me, it is one of the main modes of exercise we will be aiming for. Building strength and muscle does not mean building bulk or size per se. But building muscular strength, bone density in a logical way does make you a better fat burning machine, even when you are doing nothing only sitting. Building strength by lifting weights is going to improve posture, help you move better, help you sleep better, make you more resistant to colds and flus and generally help make you a more robust person. Lifting weights though has a much greater effect on your body's response to the training and adaptation that say a 5KM run. After doing a full weights sessions your body will be working and regenerating itself for a lot longer afterwards. A common examples of this type of session is here. A session where you concentrate on 2 main lifts (Hinge & Push in exampled case) and base the whole session around this. If you have 2-3 days in a week this is the best approach. Do some stability & mobility every day, do Hinge & Push Day 1, Squat & Pull Day 2 and Step & Press Day 3. Add in various types of conditioning each day and its hard to go wrong.
2. Muscular Endurance Circuits. A more full body session of Muscular Endurance like this one below that i have given to an Online client. I will generally use the 6 basic Weight-room Human Movements like Hinging, Pushing, Squatting, Pulling, Stepping & Pressing. Sometimes i will add Med-ball work and/or Weighted Carries. These circuits have very big payback. They are tough but there is so much going on with them. You are building strength, endurance, muscle, good movement, work capacity and using your full body all the time. 3-5 sets of this and you will know all about it. This works very well for busy people, or indeed as part of an athletes S&C program. I find this type of session super for Field Sport athletes like Hurlers, Footballers and Rugby players and even can be performed for 1-3 sets after a field session to save time and allow more recovery. Its also very easy to manipulate and create more stimulation once the body adapts.
3. Kettlebell Training and Kettlebell Complexes.
When used well, and after a bit of instruction and technique driven coaching, the benefits of Kettlebell training are multiple.
Below are a few of the methods i use. This is not exhaustive by any means. The 3 that stand out there as very useful are "Pillars of Strength, Dynamic Circuit and Aerobic Method and hey are the 3 used the most or close variations.
Pillars of Strength - A very handy circuit that will maintain some muscle mass and strength in times of high sporting activity. 2-3 sets of this after training 1-2 times a week (probably best varying the 2nd session in same concept) is absolutely loads for your average Amateur Field Sport Athlete. Indeed i have used methods like this even with Pro's and Semi-Pro's.
Dynamic Circuit won't kill you, but you will be constantly moving. This takes about 25 mins bang on for most people, so works well in a 30 minute class/PT sessions. Its alot of swings, so be careful, the hamstrings will get a battering. And technique is critical.
The Aerobic method then is similar to Dynamic circuit only you do 3 different KB moves consecutively and then a stability-mobility exercise in between repeating it again, and again and so on. This method is generally good at keeping you well above 130bpm HR, which is where you want to be for Aerobic Training.
The science on the benefits of Kettlebells for aerobic training is mixed. Studies by Jay (2011), Falatic (2015) (Credit:www.strengthandconditioningresearch.com) showed no VO2Max increasement, whereas the other did. Kettlebell practioners have long cited studies talking about HR response thus indicating "Aerobic Zone" effects. The way i would look at it is like this, there is Internal Aerobic development and peripheral Aerobic Development. The internal development of developing the Aerobic system internally to be more efficient in anyway possible. This is what there KB circuits can offer. However for more peripheral (or even specific as opposed to general) you will have to run if its a running based sport. A further extension of that is even more specific Aerobic Conditioning where you load the playing of the game itself at training to develop Aerobic (or indeed any) qualities by using time and environmental constraints to illicit an Aerobic effect.
So from a Sports perpective you could have 3 levels of Aerobic Development
Preparatory: - KB Training - and benefit of Muscular Endurance and Hypertrophy (Muscle development|)
General: Running - Tempo Running, more general Aerobic Capacity Development
Specific: Conditioned Games : Using constrained games to develop an even more game specific level of fitness
I think these methods, when used well, can also really help runners in-season or in a high volume cycle, just to maintain strength and posture, so critical to efficient running.
4. Barbell Complexes.
Like KB Complexes but they need a bit more skill and execution. Fatiguing significantly with a Barbell on your back is a different ball game to it happening with a Kettlebell in your hand. However conversely, Barbell Complexes (very light, usually just the bar), can also be used as a technique teaching tool. The standard use of these is 5 exercises for 5 reps consecutively. 5 X 5 basically. As this amounts to 25 reps in a row i think its good to stick to that number and generally add weight, not volume. These really are for conditioning and/or Fatloss. There is no other reason, so use them as they were invented and not to be muscular endurance circuits.
Traditionally the 5 exercises most commonly used were
These complexes i think are kinda bonus weekend sessions or possibly work well after a more aerobic dominant session like Spinning. They will help a Field Sports Player stay trim and maintain some strength, but it won't really build any significant strength so is more of an in-season tool, much like Kettlebells.
5. Loaded Carry Complexes
Loaded Carries in its simplest form means carrying Dumbbells or Kettlebells like you would carry shopping or buckets.
Loaded Carries are essentially, for most regular people and field sport athlete, a form of "Core" training. The added weight either side (or in more advanced cases one side) forces internal trunk stability as the weights either side move there are actually in-stable and force a central stability. Thats why Heavy Carries work best .
Loaded Carries can be the final piece of a puzzle for an Intermediate-Advanced "trainer" or Athlete. They can add "thickness", shave off a few mm's of fat and develop posture, grip, Core strength and balance. Some of the more complex variations using Unilateral (one sided holds), Contralateral (Heavy one side, light the other) or Ipsilateral (Different positions left to right) can also be used for complexity but also for readressing obvious imbalances. Another major benefit of Carries is grip. Grip Strength in the general population has gotten ridiculously bad. Its a pretty simple reason, people do not hold heavy things for any decent amount of time in their hands anymore. Only tradesmen i coach have decent grip. And some women who live more traditional Home Based lives where they are working in the house, doing the shopping etc. Some of these women would outgrip trained Gaelic Footballs. What does that tell you?
Anyway, for Fat Loss, how do the Carries work?
Normally they are best used in a "Finisher" stsyle. Finishing a Weight Lifting session with some form of "Finisher" is a common method to drive up the metabolic effect of the session and force the body to work for longer after the session has actually finished.
You can use Dumbbells, Kettlebells, sandbags, Hex Bars
Below is a good example of a Loadec Carry Complex
6. Dense Heavy Strength Circuits
A Dense Circuit essentially means a few exercises for multiple sets, generally with little to moderate rest. These can be used at Intermediate level up. A beginner really should be concentrating on multiple movements and not necessarily too heavy either. If someone was training 3 days a week i would do phases of these at either end of the week.
Dense Circuit A (Monday) would look something like this;
7. High Intensity Intervals Training(HIIT)
Everybody knows what HIIT is at this stage, and although there is widespread overuse and missinterruptation it is still a very valuable mehod of Fatloss and indeed building Work Capacity.
Common methods used are Hill Sprints, Bike sprints, Ropes and Straight Line running. Because this training involves very high intensity adding complexity to the exercise can be a dangerous game. The more straight forward the exercise the better. Its conditioning. Its about going 90-100% effort and then having a break, its not about circus acts.
Depending on the levels i usually leave it in 3 categories;
Novice - 20:40 (20 on, 40 rest)
Intermediate - 30:30
Advanced - (40:20)
The energy pathways being used will vary greatly, so i'm not getting into that. The exercise choosen, the level of the person and the time can all change the predominant Energy System being used. Put simply this is about going hard, resting, going hard again. We know this drives our metabolic system and helps us become more efficient at burning Fat.
8. Hill Walking
The benefits of Hill walking go way beyond Fat Loss. However it is one very significant aspect of this very healthy pursuit. I would suggest walking for 90 mins would be a good minimum. The more rolling the hills the better (should not be an issue in Ireland) as you move up and down in terms of effort and Heart rate. Walking hills is great for Hip Mobility The angles of going up a hill) and knee protection (the deceleration of going down a hill at a moderate pace) and really overall is a great recovery tool also for athletes while also fine tuning that Aerobic System even more. One of the main reasons it is so effective is because of the low to moderate effort which will help keep the Heart Rate in the 120-150 zone.
Do not underestimate Hill Walking though, like anything else, build it up slowly. On top of the physical benefits Hill Walking has many social and mental benefits as well.
By far the most underrated form of exercise around for me.
9. Bodyweight/Animal Move Combo's
Animal Movements like the Crab and Bear Crawl have been around for a while now. These are multi-joint movements that often mimic the movements of wildlife. they are extremely popular with kids and are used alot in PE. However as with most adults not moving very well at all, these can be a great tool for getting people really in tune with their body. They can be used in many different formats and their effectiveness depends on the level of fitness but also on some deficiencies. I have seen Elite athletes struggle with Inchworms and the coordination to reverse a Bear Crawl. Seems amazing but it highlights some movement issues these people may have.
For others simple doing a Bear Crawl is a Global Fitness issue, its just hard because its just hard, and they have a low fitness level.
There are a number of ways to use these exercises and i literally use them everywhere. The reason is they are challenging. They challenge your stability and mobility, so we can use a 3 or 4 exercise routine as a warm up, yet the exact same routine can also be a brutal finisher if you have been lifting weights and maybe doing some conditioning.
Ways to use Movement Combos;
1. 3 Exercise Warm Up
*Exact same circuit can be used for a Finisher, and this is where the Fatloss element comes in. Essentially its about using your entire body/
2. As a Tri-Set Conditioner
Here is an example of Hussam doing one such circuit, below. Its not easy to maintain technical integrity of these exercises when you are goosed, and thats part of the challenge.
This one is;
And thats it, 9 methods you can use to support Fatloss. remember diet and lifestyle are just as key, but be comfortable in the knowledge that you do not have to run for 5KM 4 nights a week to lose weight. You do not have to do torturous Spinning sessions 3 times a week either. Not that there is anything wrong with these, but they are not the optimum options, and they often have higher risk and drop out.
The key is to find something that works for you, do it till it stops working, and change it up.