That topic, of course is the idea of metabolic damage, something I have written about on the site previously. But rather than write something new, I just got permission from Alan Aragon to reproduce an interview I originally did for his (highly recommended) research review. It’s only $10 a month and chock full (that’s right, CHOCK!) of the most current research on diet and training along with interviews with top current coaches and feature articles on all topics big and small. Go subscribe, subscribe now.
Ok, so what exactly are we talking about here? As originally claimed, metabolic damage referred to a phenomenon wherby dieters (typically females) who had been on low calories and performing a large amount of cardio (i.e. typical physique sport contest prep)
Hence their metabolism was damaged. I’m mainly bringing this up as the original concept has been somewhat, err let’s be nice and say, “modified” from the original (now being called metabolic adaptation, a concept I’ve been personally writing about for over a decade in pretty much all of my books).
And with that out of the way I reprint my original interview with Alan Aragon (did I mention that you should subscribe to his research review). Everything in bold is Alan, the other dense walls of texts are me.
My big question for you is related to the whole “metabolic damage” concept. Coaches and competitors involved in bodybuilding & physique contest prep – predominantly women – often report cases of consuming very low calories (i.e., in the 700-1000 kcal range), combines with high volumes of cardio (i.e., 2+ hours per day), and all this without any weight loss. What are your initial thoughts on this, as far as validity and/or mechanisms behind it.
First and foremost, I have myself written about how the odd combination of very low calories and excessive cardio can, in some people, cause problems. Some of it is metabolic which I’ll come back to. But most of it is simply due to one thing: water retention. It’s a little known fact that cortisol has cross-reactivity with the aldosterone receptor (aldosterone is the primary hormone for retaining water). But while cortisol only has about 1/100th the affinity for the receptor, there can be about 10,000 times as much. We know that cortisol causes water retention (Cushing’s patients who are often on high-dose cortisone have this problem).
So combine your typical headcase female dieter (who is already mentally stressing themselves out), add a massive caloric restriction, add tons of cardio. And cortisol goes through the roof. And this is worse in some personality types. You can always tell them on Internet forums, they type in all caps with lots of !!! (Subject line: NEED TO LOSE WEIGHT NOW!!!). You can sense the stress in their life in how they write. And what these people do other than mentally stressing themselves out is further physically stress themselves out. And when weight loss stops, they stress harder, cut calories harder, do more cardio. And make it worse.
I mean, hell, a woman can easily shift 10 pounds of water weight across her menstrual cycle. That’s not uncommon in this kind of stress condition. Now add to that the fact that a typical female dieter if she’s lucky, might be getting 1 pound of true fat loss per week. If her stress (due to mental, diet and physical factors) is causing her to retain 10 pounds of water it will appear that her diet is not working for 10 full weeks. During which time she will lose her absolute shit.
What always works in these types of dieters is chilling the fuck out (weed would help too). Raising calories, lowering cardio, a good lay. There’s no metabolic magic, cortisol finally drops when you get them stop being crazy for a couple of days and they experience the magical whoosh (or the LTDFLE, check my site for details). Boom, weight drops by 5+ pounds overnight.
All water. Well mostly. But clearly they didn’t have a 5 pound deficit in one day. They just finally dropped the water they’d been holding.
So that’s part 1. Any questions before I move on to part 2?
Clear so far, please continue…
So, for the most part I think that’s a lot of what’s going on the fat loss is just being masked by severe water retention. I say this simply because getting folks to rest a couple of days, raise calories (especially from carbs, the increase in insulin lowers cortisol levels) and “refeed” invariably causes that big weight drop/whoosh effect. It has to be water.
However, that isn’t to say that there aren’t metabolic effects that can occur due to that combination of variables (low calories and high activity).
I’m going to assume (and hope) that your readers are familiar with leptin. If not, basically it signals to the brain (and elsewhere) about energy stores in the body (and how much you’re eating) and when it drops it induces much of what is often incorrectly called the “starvation response” or “metabolic damage”. I say incorrectly because this simply represents a normal ADAPTATION to dieting that occurs because the body, fundamentally, doesn’t give a damn that you need to look good on stage. It wants to keep you from starving to death.
So falling leptin causes a host of things to occur: metabolic rate slows, hunger increases, you get lethargic, thyroid goes down, testosterone drops, and a whole bunch of other shit goes wrong.
Pretty much everything bad that happens with dieting is controlled, to at least some degree by leptin levels especially at the level of the brain. On that note, studies that have given leptin replacement following dieting show a reversal of these effects; but don’t get your hopes up leptin is an injectable drug and still many hundreds of dollars per day. But drug using bodybuilders have basically been sort of fixing all of the peripheral problems with drugs: anabolics to counter falling testosterone, thyroid meds for thyroid, cortisol blockers, appetite suppressants, stimulants to keep energy levels up. Raising leptin would be more elegant (as it would fix the problem centrally in the brain) but difficult. Refeeds and full diet breaks (discussed on my site and in my books) help a lot. Injectable leptin would be skippy but way too expensive. The leptin-mimicking supplements are all bullshit.
I bring this up because cortisol, among its other fun features, induces leptin resistance in the brain. Like insulin resistance in skeletal muscle (where the cells don’t respond to insulin properly), leptin resistance means that what leptin is around doesn’t send a sufficient signal to the brain. So in those folks who are already psychotically stressed and cutting calories and doing too much cardio, the massive increase in cortisol will have that effect centrally in the brain.
But, wait…there’s more…
WHOOT!!! Keep going.
Ok, so finishing up, which is not to say that there is not a metabolic adaptation/adjustment to dieting and fat loss; that’s really never been up to debate. Once again, we have this leptin system that basically evolved to keep us from starving to death. In that regards, a lot of people think of leptin as an anti-obesity hormone but this is incorrect. Leptin does very little to keep us from getting fat (which had no evolutionary disadvantages until recently); leptin exists to keep us from starving to death. And fundamentally, dieting is just controlled starving to death. But the same things occur.
Now the determinants of total metabolic rate are multi-fold, typically divided up into the following four categories:
But all 4 respond to changing food intake and body weight. So as soon as you start dieting, TEF automatically goes down a bit since you are eating less food. Less food means less TEF (note that this has NOTHING to do with meal frequency). BMR goes down as you lose weight because a smaller body burns fewer calories. So do the calories burned during exercise; at any given absolute intensity, a smaller person burns less calories.
Again, SPA/NEAT is a big question mark since it varies so much. But you generally tend to be more lethargic during the day when you diet, so you end up moving around less, burning fewer calories in total. And while it’s great to think that you can consciously impact this, NEAT is subconscious. At best you can offset it with more exercise (part of why competitors usually raise cardio volume or intensity during a cut).
Even with that said, research has typically divided the drop in metabolic rate into two different components. One part is simply due to the reduction in bodyweight. As I said above, a smaller body burns fewer calories and there’s really not much that can be done about this (wearing a weighted vest might have a small impact on at least TEE). Get lighter and you burn fewer calories.
There’s nothing you can do about this short of NOT LOSING WEIGHT. Which goes against the point of a cut. And yes, I’m using weight and fat interchangeably here: for anybody but a drug-using competitor, fat loss is going to mean weight loss. Don’t get picky.
But there is also evidence for what is called an adaptive component of metabolic rate reduction. Let me explain. Let’s say that someone loses twenty pounds and based on all of the math you’d expect a drop in metabolic rate of 10%. But when you measure it you actually see a reduction in 15%.
That is, the drop in metabolic rate is greater than what you’d predict based on the drop in bodyweight. That extra 5% is the adaptive component of metabolic rate reduction. And it’s hormonally driven, the drop in leptin, the drop in thyroid levels (conversion of T4 to T3 is impaired on a diet), there is a drop in sympathetic nervous system activity (part of why the ephedrine/caffeine stack helps, it offsets this drop), you get the idea.
The thing is that not every study has found this. Some do some don’t. A lot of it depends on starting body fat, the length of the diet, genetic individuality and all that stuff. But in dieting bodybuilders or fitness people, it is going to have an impact. But the preponderance of studies say that it does exist; I’d certainly expect it to occur in lean hard dieting physique athletes who is who we are concerned with (typically when it doesn’t show up is in studies of extremely overfat individuals whose hormones don’t really get mucked up until they have lost a lot of weight).
A-ha, you say, now we have an explanation for the so-called metabolic damage (and note that I’ve seen this term used to refer to a couple of different things: one is that weight/fat loss stops despite a huge deficit; a more extreme claim is that competitors start to regain fat even in the face of low calories/high activity). But wait, there’s more. And yes I’m almost done.
Ready for the big payoff?
I would have to be a crazy person to stop you here. Let it rip, Brofessor McDonald.
Actually I only have a BB (Bachelor of Bro-osity). I didn’t feel like doing advanced academic work to get my MB (Master of Bro-osity) or BrD (Doctor of Bro-osity). Note: I told you this was email and Alan and I were being a little bit silly.
Anyhow, I’ve looked at water retention (which I think is a big part of this) and some of what goes into metabolic rate adaptation. And yes it does occur. No one is doubting that. But that raises the important question. Is the drop in metabolic rate that occurs during dieting sufficient to stop weight loss in its tracks despite a claimed low caloric intake and high-activity level?
Actually, before I get to that, let me expand on the above sentence. You might note my use of the word “claimed” in regards to low-caloric intake. Because there’s an issue here that often gets overlooked. One of the known adaptations to dieting and getting lean is a massive increase in hunger. And even with the strongest willed competitor/dieter, often it becomes overwhelming. Geared bodybuilders often use appetite suppressants, the EC stack has been used perennially but the reality is that getting very lean means being hungry.
And that means binges. You can go to endless forums where competitors, men and women alike report losing their minds and going on a binge of varying types. Some go carb-crazy, some of the “clean-eaters” will have that one taste of something forbidden and go on a Blizzard binge that makes them sick. But most don’t really like to talk about it.
That is, these binges, as often as not go un-reported. So the dieter who is claiming 1200 calories with tons of cardio tends to often conveniently “forget” about the day they spent eating every piece of garbage they could stuff down their gullet. And in light female competitors, if the binges get crazy enough it can readily offset the deficit being created during the week.
But irrespective of that, let’s address what seems like a fairly simple question: Can the drop in metabolic rate, due to the drop in bodyweight and the adaptive component EVER be sufficient to completely eliminate true fat loss?
And the answer, at least based on the last 80 years of studies into the topic (in humans, NOT animal models) says no. Perhaps the classic study in this regard was the oft-quoted (and oft- misunderstood) Minnesota Semi-Starvation Study. In it, a dozen or so war objectors got to avoid going to war and arguably got into something worse. That is, researchers wanted to study long- term starvation as might occur during war or famine or being held in a prisoner camp.
Specifically the men were put on 50% of their maintenance calories, subject to forced daily activity (walking, NO weight training) and basically had their lives controlled and managed for 6 months. And in various sub-analyses, it was found that, by the end of the study the total drop in metabolic rate was nearly 40%. That is, of the original 50% deficit in calories, 80% of it had been offset. Of that 40%, a full 25% was simply due to the reduced bodyweight. Again, lighter bodies burn less calories and there’s no getting around it. But that also means that the adaptive component of metabolic rate reduction was only 15%. Which is about the largest drop ever measured (most studies measure less).
But here’s the punchline, the men had also reached the limits of human leanness. They were in the realm of 4-5% body fat by this point in the study. Even though their fat loss had basically stopped (and at some points in the study WEIGHT loss stopped due to severe water retention) it didn’t occur until they reached ultimate leanness (NB: the claims of bodybuilders to be 2-3% bodyfat is a measurement error). And even they were still losing tiny amounts of weight/fat. It just wouldn’t have amounted to much since most of the deficit had been offset by the metabolic rate reduction.
Now some will (and may rightly) point out that the study was only in men and women’s bodies may be different. And they are correct; I’ve written about this myself (my odd little book on Bromocriptine talks about it in some detail). Certainly women’s bodies do some strange things in this regard, they are more evolutionarily, err, evolved, to hold onto calories and fat stores than men (and there’s some profoundly goofy shit that can occur where they shift upper body fat stores to their legs, discussed in my book The Stubborn Fat Solution). So I suppose it’s conceivable that there might be a woman or three for whom this could occur. Maybe. Not that that woman has ever shown up in a well-controlled study in 50 years. But I suppose she might exist. She probably rides my invisible unicorn.
Because in no study that i have ever seen or ever been aware of has the drop in metabolic rate (whether due to the drop in weight or adaptive component) EVER exceeded the actual deficit whether in men or women. Fine, yes, it may offset things, it may slow fat loss (i.e. if you set up a 30% caloric deficit and metabolic rate drops by 20%, your deficit is only 10% so fat loss is a lot slower than expected or predicted) but it has never been sufficient to either stop fat loss completely (or, even to address the even stupider claim being made about this, to cause actual fat gain).
But even when the drop in metabolic rate is massive, sufficient to drastically slow fat loss, even when it occurs it’s only when that person’s body has more or less reached the limits of leanness in the first place. So for ‘hundreds of women who are self-reporting this in emails’ to a certain coach to exist, well; just let me call that what it is: bullshit.
I think what’s really going on is you have a bunch of neurotic crazed female dieters, who are misreporting their food intake (especially the crazy food binges we KNOW happen in this population) and who are holding onto massive amounts of water due to the combination of low calories, high-cardio and being batshit stressed mentally about the whole process. And who magically start losing fat again when their poorly controlled 1200 calories becomes a well-controlled 1250 calories, well….you’ll have to call me incredulous about the whole thing.
Because the science doesn’t support it in any way shape or form. No study in humans in 50 years has ever shown the claimed phenomenon. I mean not ever. Not a single study showing truly stopped fat loss in the face of a controlled deficit much less fat regain. And with plenty of other mechanisms (like water retention) to explain the “apparent” lack of fat loss that make more logical sense (Occam’s razor for the win).
And that’s my take on the issue. Now it’s time for a nap.]]>
Alright having shared some of my favorite alternative diet and training theories in last week’s APRIL FOOL’S article, I want to do a quick video and talk about a couple of issues related to bodyweight.
Since this is an issue I want to make a quick disclaimer. Do not take this video/article as justification to only use bodyweight as a measurement of anything. Every one of my books I talk about the issue of losing weight versus losing fat, what body composition is is discussed in detail on the main site. I’ve linked to articles related to that.
At the same time, people are going to use the scale, it does have some use in terms of tracking things especially if you use it with another method either a tape measure or a one-spot caliper measurement to track things. So use weight/the scale but use it carefully.
Let’s Talk about Body Mass Index (BMI)
The first thing I want to talk about is Body Mass Index. The BMI is an old measurement, it’s a relationship of height to weight. In metric, it’s weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared and you can use imperial measurements with a conversion factor.
BMI has been around forever and it’s been used as sort of a general indicator of health, body fatness and there’s a lot of controversy over it. Several weeks ago my Facebook feed blew up with an article about a female, I think it was a military office who was told (maybe it was a bodybuilder) by her nurse to go on a diet because her BMI indicated that she was “overweight”
Everybody lost their minds said BMI sucked and needed to be thrown out and I want to go on record as saying I don’t think that’s the case. BMI is a measure or indicator of bodyfatness; the problem is that it’s not meant to be used with trained athletes.
The reality that people who are in the fitness field or work out a lot tend to forget is that the average heavy person is not heavy because they are muscular. Someone who is 5’7″ and 180 pounds for example will have a BMI that indicated that they are obese. Now yes, an athlete at that weight and height may be lean and muscular; that athlete does not represent most weight at that body weight. The problem with BMI is not that it’s inaccurate; the problem here is that it can’t be used for trained athletes.
For everybody else, it’s actually a pretty decent indicator with bodyfat and actually shows a pretty good correlation with true bodyfat measurements. In two of my books (Links of course in the article), I actually give a way to use Bodyfat (sorry, to use BMI) to estimate bodyfat percentage. But again, trained individuals can’t use it.
Should You Weigh or Measure Frequently?
Ok. Having discussed BMI, the next thing I want to talk about is weighing frequency. This was a topic that came up on the support forum and I thought was worth addressing. There’s kind of two different attitudes about the idea of how frequently (if at all) to get on the scale (or take any other measurement).
And again I note that I don’t recommend using the scale by itself; it really should be used with some other method to track results/changes. On the one hand there’s actually pretty good research data (and this comes from mainly from the National Weight Control Registry, which is a registry of successful weight loss, uh weight losers and maintainers) that one common habit is regular weighing.
There data, at least a few years ago, found that 44% of members in the registry weighed themselves daily and 31% weighed themselves weekly. I think the idea here is that by jumping on the scale every so often, you can sort of keep track of where you are and catch yourself before you start to backslide.
That is, we all kind of know there’s that tendency to wear stretchy clothes and kind of ignore the scale and not take measurements because we want to pretend that the weight gain that we really know is happening isn’t happening.
By getting on the scale every once in a while, you can sort of stop problems before they start (or get too bad) and know when you need to get a little more serious about your food intake or your activity.
On the other hand there is this idea that getting on the scale too frequently can cause even more problems than it solves. And I don’t disagree but that has more to do with how people tend to use frequent weighings. And what happens is people start to get really psychotic and pathologically obsessed about the scale and start adjusting what they are doing day to day or even within a given day based on the short-term meaningless fluctuations.
So from Monday to Tuesday their weight will go up a couple of pounds (because they had a bunch of salt at dinner) and they’ll freak out and go do an extra hour of cardio and cut their calories way back. And then from Tuesday to Wednesday the weight will go back down, and now it’s time to celebrate. Probably with a piece of cake.
So what happens is that they are using these short-term fluctuations that don’t mean anything and let it drive them crazy and change their plan or change their daily eating and activity habits. And clearly that’s a bad thing.
It is worth kind of noting in this regard, there’s a study that was looking at the issue of the Freshman 15 in female college students.
And what they did was they figured that by analyzing scale measurements over a 7-day span, they could kind of eliminate these random fluctuations. And they gave the study subjects feedback on their 7-day (essentially it was a rolling average; they were really doing a regression equation with some heavy math that’s not worth getting into. But it was basically a 7-day rolling average.
So what the researchers did is that every day the women would weigh and they would plug the new data into the 7-day rolling average. They’d drop day 1 out and then add the new day 7 and they just kept giving them feedback on that.
And by giving them this feedback, the women who got the feedback basically avoided any weight gain over the 12-weeks of the study. Whereas the women who got no feedback gained anywhere from 2-3 kg (that’s 5-6 pounds for the non-metrically inclined).
So again we get this issue where weighing and using that feedback usefully to sort of steer things on a week-to-week basis can be useful but if you’re using it on an hour-to-hour basis or a bowel-movement-to-bowel-movement basis to decide what you need to eat or what activity you need to be doing, that’s when it gets pathological. So weigh regularly/measure regularly, just don’t get crazy about it.
Ok so recommendations. Clearly I do think that using the scale (especially if you’re using it with some other kind of measurement whether it’s a tape measure, for men usually throw it around the waist, women could be hips or thighs. It could be a single caliper measurement) is not a bad idea just to keep track of where you’re at.
The question then becomes how often to do it, when to do it to get the best results, those are all questions that I seem to come across consistently.
The best advice I can give is that whatever measurement method you decide to use, just be consistent about it. The worst thing you can really do is compare unlike to unlike. So if you try to compare Monday to Friday where Monday you went out over the weekend and drank and ate a bunch of crap and then weigh/measure again on Friday you’re not going to get consistently comparative measurements.
If you compare Friday to Friday or Monday to Monday you’re probably going to get measurements that are at least semi-comparable
I think it’s worth mentioning that for women even week-to-week measurements can really be thrown off by changes in water balance throughout the menstrual cycle. Women vary enormously in this regard; some women can shift 10 pounds (4.5 kg) of water at different weeks in their cycle, others see very little variance. That’s an individual thing.
But if you’ve got a woman who is really sensitive to water weight gain during their cycle, comparing body weight in Week 1 of the menstrual cycle to Week 3 is just not going to give you useful measurements. They may have to even be comparing month-to-month. So they are comparing Week 1 of January to Week 1 of February and Week 2 of January to Week 2 of February to see any kind of reasonably accurate measurements.
For the more mathematically or technologically involved, you can set up a spreadsheet with a rolling average in MS Office or something similar (NOT OUTLOOK EXPRESS) or maybe somebody who sees this can put together an Android or Iphone app and actually do a regression equation like in the study I talked about.
Addendum: Of course this App exists.
You basically just set it up so every time you put in a new data point it recalculates that average and you can look at long-term trends. So if the trend is going up, you’re gaining weight and if that’s not your goal you need to check something. Either tighten up on your eating habits or increase your activity or both. If your weight is going down and that’s not the goal, then you need to increase your food intake or decrease your activity. You get the idea.
The key to these measurements is don’t let the short-term fluctuations drive you nuts. They aren’t telling you everything or anything for that matter. And make sure you compare them over reasonable time frames (i.e. week-to-week). But I do think they are useful to keep track of where you’re at.
Again I want to reiterate that I don’t think the scale by itself is terribly useful since it doesn’t tell you what the composition of what you’re gaining or losing is. But people are going to use it and if you’re going to use it, at least use it correctly.
That’s all I’ve got. If you want you can check out the article on my site for the various links to BMI calculators and a couple of the resources I’ve mentioned. And if you want more information come to my site www.bodyrecomposition.com.]]>
Most of them were developed to one degree or another back in my 20′s when I had a training partner who was, to put it simply, as much of a jackass as I am. We’d sit around in-between work sets and banter and dream this stuff up. Of course we were joking….or were we (we always wanted to submit these ideas to MuscleMag International because, frankly, they will publish anything)?
Relativistic Training Theory
I don’t know that this was our first idea but it’s the first one I’m going to present. It occurred to us as we watched the typical gym rat doing lateral raises with weights far too heavy for them. You’ve all seen this. The weights will be thrown upwards and then, in an attempt to “get the weights to shoulder level” the lifter will dip down with their upper torso, moving the delts below however high (or not) the weights get. Thus they can claim a completed repetition since the weights actually did go higher than the shoulders…sort of.
We figured that, for a brief moment, the weights moving up and the body/delts moving down would achieve relativistic speeds (read: FASTER than light speed). This, of course, would cause a temporal anomaly throwing the lifter back in time to before the workout occurred. But, as we further reasoned, he would have still gotten the stimulus from the training since it was the training itself causing the time anomaly.
Read that closely: by applying Relativistic Training Principles, you get the growth stimulus of the workout but, since you’ve moved backwards in time, do so before having performed the workout. This causes growth without training and, applied consistently, will result in you achieving your genetic muscular potential not only without ever training but before you are actually born. Mind you, we only really conceptualized this for laterals and I leave it to creative readers to apply this to other muscle groups and exercises.
This concept led, quite logically, into the next, a dieting theory.
Relativistic Dieting Theory
Coming logically out of Relativistic Training Theory is Relativistic Dieting Theory. People often note that I eat very quickly (they also often notice that despite my eating a lot of food, I seem to remain fairly light/skinny). Now my normal explanation is that this is a bad habit I picked up in college (when I would be given 15 minutes to clock out, get a meal ticket, order food, eat it, and clock back in) and that I just don’t eat big all the time but the truth is that I’m simply applying Relativistic Dieting principles.
Like Relativistic Training Theory, the concept is this: with regular practice and eating more and more quickly, you will eventually be able to eat at a speed that exceeds C (the speed of light) which shouldn’t be confused with the Speed of Dark. Again this causes a temporal anomaly, throwing you backwards in time. Maybe you can see where this is going.
What happens is that you get to eat all the food but since you go backwards in time, you don’t actually absorb the calories (since technically the food was never actually consumed). It’s the best of all worlds: you can eat all you want and never gain a pound. Simply by exploiting Relativistic Dieting Principles. Moving on.
Magic Repetition Numbers
This concept was originally going to form the basis of my original Weight Training Numerology Article but, again, I couldn’t make it work and got tired of trying so I punted it for this article instead. So I’ll present this concept here in a briefer form. Basically anyone who has spent any amount of time reading workouts has probably noticed that certain repetition recommendations are made (and by extension, others are almost never used). The magic rep numbers (with some notes on them) in my experience are:
* Although I have seen the occasional OL’er do sets of 4 in a pull, under most circumstances 4 is only an acceptable repetition count if it’s in the range of 4-6 reps (NB: the original 5 sets of 5 program was originally developed by Bill Starr by taking a study that had given 4-6 sets of 4-6 and just averaging it out). By the same token, while you will almost never see sets of 6 by themselves, 6 is often seen in a range of 6-8 reps (i.e. 4 sets of 6-8).
I’d also note that if you’re Mark Rippetoe, your magic rep chart only has one number on it and that number is 5.
You might note, as I mentioned above, that certain rep counts are almost never seen and I will argue that is because, empirically, bodybuilders determined that they were catabolic. You won’t see sets of 7 or 9 (and I once criticized the Smug one, Alan Aragon for recommending sets of 7-9 in his otherwise excellent Research Review) or sets of 11 and 13. Or 17 (I very vaguely recall some endurance type recommending sets of 17 reps years ago claiming it would build strength and endurance at the same time; and there’s just so much wrong with that sentence that I have to move forwards).
And while I’m tempted to say that this represents a human bias against prime numbers (7, 11, 13, 17 are all primes) that wouldn’t explain the lack of sets of 9 in most workouts. What it represents I’m not sure of exactly. But it has to be meaningful.
In any case it really only provides background for the final Alternative Training Theory I want to describe.
Isonumeric Training Theory
Again developed by my old training partner, this was based on our simply noticing that, in the history of weight training, lifters had frequently gravitated towards training systems where the sets and reps were the same (hence Isonumeric coming from the Latin words “Iso” meaning “Same” and “Numeric” meaning “Numbers, stupid”). Examples follow:
20 Sets of 20
Back in the day before training got all scienced up, the “classic” way of depleting muscles of glycogen (i.e. prior to carb-loading before a bodybuilding show) was to perform 20 sets of 20 repetitions (Dan Duchaine discusses this in his classic book Bodyopus). So you can see where the Isonumeric concept comes in. It’s 20 sets of 20 repetitions.
10 Sets of 10
10 sets of 10 I imagine most will recognize as German Volume Training, purportedly developed by the Germans (except that I recall at least one article in Ironman magazine describing the same thing although the loading was slightly different between the two) and re-popularized by Charles Poliquin in the pages of Muscle Media 2000. Clearly you can see the Isonumeric concept at work here.
8 Sets of 8
Only the most obsessive of weight room historians are likely to recognize this one; it’s Vince Gironda’s Honest Man’s Workout. It was exactly what it looks like 8 sets of 8 done with relatively short rests (in Gironda-style training you had to “Chase the pump” and I expect about 3 people to actually get that reference).
5 Sets of 5
A classic workout, originally popularized by Bill Starr (and discussed by yours truly in some detail here) who came up with it by averaging out study results that had found that 4-6 sets of 4-6 reps gave the best strength gains. It’s been re-popularized in recent years by any number of coaches all with slight variations on the same theme. Once again we see the Isonumeric training concept at work here.
As an amusing aside, back when I was speed skating my coach mentioned some skaters he had known who, for one season, did nothing but 5 sets of 5 laps all out at each workout. It makes me think that there is something extra special about this particular Isonumeric Loading Pattern but I just can’t seem to get a HANDle on what it might be.
3 sets of 3
This is one for the powerlifters, for a while there was a popular program called the Korte 3X3 which was exactly what it looked like: 3 sets of 3 repetitions. I’d note that this was done for three movements (squat, bench, deadlift) and three days per week. So if you want to get really into it, this would be 3X3X3X3 which is an Isonumeric Training Workout of the 4th power.
1 set of 1
You might be surprised to learn that there is at least one program (I recall it from the pages of Hardgainer magazine) that advocated warm-ups to merely one heavy single. I don’t recall any more details about it than that and can’t be bothered to dig through my collection to find out.
Again we see very specific rep counts and sets being used, tying in with the Magical Repetition Concept presented above along with certain combinations that aren’t seen (as I write this I’m tempted to recommend 7-9 sets of 7-9 but I fear it might just be too catabolic and/or cause injury).
Homeopathic Protein Intake Theory
I’m going to wrap up today with another Alternative Diet Theory (one that I fear Charles Poliquin may have popularized prior to my writing this piece). Based on the well established science of homeopathy (from the Latin roots “Homo” meaning “human” and “pathos” meaning “stupid people will buy anything”) this theory takes the old adage of “You are what you eat” to it’s logical end extreme. As homeopathy has clearly shown, substances can be “imbued” with the “essence” of something else; the human body can clearly absorb that essence.
From that logic, this theory posits that the type of animal meat eaten will imbue the eater with the essence of that animal. Thus athletes should choose their primary protein source based on the characteristic of the animal whose essence they wish to absorb. Sprinters should eat primarily cheetah meat, for example. Powerlifters, due to their requirement for slow grindy strength would be best served with elephant meat. Football players should choose their meat based on position (i.e. linemen should eat gorilla meat). Jumping athletes would want to get kangaroo meat. Swimmers should rely predominantly on fish (ideally dolphin) and bodybuilders should eat nothing but the myostatin-null Belgian Blue cattle meat. Obviously.
And that’s that, some Alternative Training Diet Theories that I’m fairly safe in saying you’ve never heard of (unless Charles Poliquin did in fact use that last one). And may wish you hadn’t heard of now.
And before everyone loses their ever-loving mind and goes crazy in the comments, check the date and get over yourselves.]]>
Okay first and foremost this is not the video I promised when I re-ran the Training the Obese Beginner series. That was just going to be a lot of ranting and raving and as much as I enjoy that wasn’t going to be terribly productive so I decided to ditch it.
Today what i want to talk about is a question that does come up quite frequently, usually among the more general fitness folks who are doing a good bit of weight training, getting stronger or bigger but then decide that for some variety they want to do an endurance event.
Typically that’s a marathon or half marathon; if they are more into bicycling they might ride a century which is 100 miles. Lately there seems to be more interest in things like the Tough Mudder, things of that nature.
The point being that since they aren’t concerned with maximizing their bodybuilding or strength training, they want to go do something very heavily endurance oriented and what they want to know is what’s the best way to keep their gains in the weight room while they do that.
I’m mainly going to focus on that; what I’m going to talk about really isn’t about weight training for endurance athletes although a lot of what I’m going to say is fairly similar to the recommendations I’d make there.
Basic Training Schedules to Complete a Marathon or Century
Now there’s a lot of beginner marathon and century programs online; I’ve linked out to some of them in the text underneath this video. Hal Higdon, Jeff Galloway are some of the big running coaches; there are a variety of Century approaches. They all tend to take the same basic format.
Which is you see three shorter workouts during the week and then one very long workout on the weekend. For running, typically three shorter runs during the week, that one long run on Saturday. For cycling you often see a little bit higher frequency since just because it doesn’t beat you up so badly. But I’m going to sort of work from that template.
During the week the runs might be 3,4,5 miles tops; Wednesday you might see a little bit longer run sort of a medium distance. Or some programs will have some quality work; by quality work we’re not talking about full sprints. It might be mile repeats a little bit faster than race pace. Some people just keep it slow and a little bit higher volume.
The Saturday workout is the long run and that is really where the energy is supposed to go. Running programs start with 5 or 6 miles and might build up to 20 miles by three weeks out; so about 80% of that total distance that they are going to finish in the marathon.
Century programs look basically the same, workouts are a little bit longer since cycling workouts tend to be about twice as long (as running). So you might see an hour bike ride a few times during the week; some people recommend a harder ride on that Wednesday. And then again you’ve got a long bike ride on Saturday. It might start at 35 miles and add 5 mile as week so you’re doing 75-80 miles by a couple weeks out from the event.
Every once in a while you will see a program that recommends working to the full race distance in training; it kind of defeats the purpose. Most people want to do the marathon, do the century to get the t-shirt, get the medal and accomplish the distance in the event. And doing it in training really isn’t that useful.
So I’ve shown that basic approach in the picture above. Again you can see the three shorter workouts during the week and that one long workout on that Saturday or Sunday; it sort of depends on what’s better for you.
Where to Put Weight Training?
Ok, so with that in mind let’s talk about where to put weight training. The big issues with weight training; of course the first one is that people want to maintain their size and strength gains. Whether or not that’s realistic against this volume of training is debatable but done properly you can maintain certainly most of what you gain without a whole lot of losses.
Another issue is that you have to be real careful with where you program the weight training so as not to interfere with the (endurance) training itself. Again that long workout on Saturday is really the big one. You don’t want to go into that tired; that’s the key workout for all these programs.
The Wednesday workout whether it’s a little bit longer or a little bit harder is another key workout so…since running and cycling are both beating up on your legs you really do not want to put weight training before either of those days. Coming into those fatigued is a real danger. Running on tired legs is also a really good way to get hurt.
So what my typical recommendation is is number one to cut weights back to twice a week. When you’re trying to do a high volume of endurance training, there’s just not room or recovery for much more than that. And with that I would recommend two full body workouts.
Typically I would actually recommend doubling up on the harder days. So do one full body workout on Wednesday after the longer run or the quality run or the longer bike ride. And then the other weight workout on Saturday after the long run or ride. The key being AFTER.
This assumes that your schedule will allow it; I know that not everyone has that kind of flexibility but that would be kind of the ideal. This way, it does make for two really hard days. You’ve got that longer run on Wednesday or the harder run/bike ride plus weights and then Saturday is just a hellish day.
But it gives you the most recovery for your legs given the other training. Since you also get Sunday off, Monday off, you get the most recovery from Saturday.
Mind you, not everybody likes full body routines. They kind of come in and out of vogue; I’m a big fan of them. Not everybody likes them. You can do a basic split routine. Again the key is to really be careful not to do heavy leg work before either of the important bike rides or running workouts.
So I’ve shown another split sort of a basic upper/lower split routine. Again, with the lower body days falling on those heavier run or bike days and then the upper body days kind of scheduled separately.
So those are kind of the two basic options. You can do two full body workouts, hopefully after your heavier running or cycling days or you can do as basic upper/lower split routine if you’ve got the recovery and your schedule will allow it. That just depends on you.
How to Program Your Weight Workouts
Before I move on let’s talk a little bit about programming. the key thing to maintain both strength and size gains here is that you’re going to want to cut the volume of your weight training workouts but maintain the intensity. By intensity here I really mean weight on the bar; I’m not talking about percentages of one rep maximum. Effort, yes and no. The key thing is to really keep the weight on the bar as similar as humanly possibly to what you were using beforehand.
The rule of thumb and this has been shown in research to be true and empirically/anecdotally is that you can cut your volume pretty heavily, by up to about two-thirds as long as you maintain intensity. Again, weight on the bar. So if you were doing 5 sets of 5, you can cut back to 2 sets of 5. If you were doing 4 sets of 10, you can cut back to 2 sets of 10. You get the idea.
That will really be ideal for most people. Go, couple of warm-up sets, couple of heavy sets and then be done. For lower body, keep it simple. One compound for exercise for quads, one leg curl exercise or hamstrings. Maybe a secondary exercise, little bit of upper body and get out of the gym. You can make full body workouts different so one day is more quad emphasis and one day is more hamstring emphasis. You know the drill on this.
Again the volume and keep the intensity high. The same thing goes for the upper/lower. Cut your volume on everything. Upper body is involved in both running and cycling; if you wreck your upper body in the weight room, you’re going to have a bad time on the harder run or bike workouts.
One other thing, this is really more for that full body option but can also go with the split routine is that you may even find you have to do a heavy/light routine or a heavy and a speed day. So you might do your heavier workout on Wednesday after that hard(er)/medium/faster bike ride (or run). So you won’t be too wrecked, go to the weight room and that’s really the time to keep it heavy.
Then on Saturday you’re going to be wrecked if you go ride for 50 or 60 miles on the bike or run for 15 or 20 miles. Your legs are going to be tired. Go in, do a power workout, about 80% of the weights you used on Wednesday on the full body, on the heavy day. Keep it short, get out of the gym.
I would also mention that, on Saturday, after you do that long-ride or long-run you’re going to need to do some post-workout nutrition if you’re going to have any chance of doing anything in the weight room. It’s also ideal if you can put about 4-6 hours between the workouts. Your schedule may not allow it but that’s kind of the ideal.
So that’s sort of an overall look at how you might best combine weight training with these types of endurance training goals. Do know that even if you do lose a little bit of strength or a little bit of size, as soon as you cut back that training volume on the endurance stuff and get back to it in the weight room…muscle memory is real and it will come back pretty quickly.
So you can read the transcript on this and get some links to some programs if you’re interested to different marathon or century programs and the graphic are there too at www.bodyrecomposition.com. Thank you.
Addendum: I got a question about this piece to the effect of “How many people have the time to go to the gym twice a day. What about other (even less optimal) options ?” that I should have addressed originally (I’ll chalk this up to still working out the best way to do videos). In this situation, probably the best way to approach it would be to stick with the two full body workout approach and put them on the off days Monday and Friday using the heavy/light approach I discussed in the video/main article. Monday would be the heavy day since the Tuesday workout is short/easy and even Wednesday isn’t too bad. Lifting on Friday before the long run/bike isn’t ideal but so long as the intensity is kept sufficiently low (75-80% of the heavy day and far from maximum), it’s workable.]]>
To determine whether a fast reduction in fat mass can be achieved in 4 days by combining caloric restriction (CR: 3.2 kcal/kg body weight per day) with exercise (8-h walking + 45-min arm cranking per day) to induce an energy deficit of ∼5000 kcal/day, 15 overweight men underwent five experimental phases: pretest, exercise + CR for 4 days (WCR), control diet + reduced exercise for 3 days (DIET), and follow-up 4 weeks (POST1) and 1 year later (POST2). During WCR, the diet consisted solely of whey protein (n = 8) or sucrose (n = 7) (0.8 g/kg body weight per day). After WCR, DIET, POST1, and POST2, fat mass was reduced by a mean of 2.1, 2.8, 3.8, and 1.9 kg (P < 0.05), with two thirds of this loss from the trunk; and lean mass by 2.8, 1.0, 0.5, and 0.4 kg, respectively. After WCR, serum glucose, insulin, homeostatic model assessment, total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and triglycerides were reduced, and free fatty acid and cortisol increased. Serum leptin was reduced by 64%, 50%, and 33% following WCR, DIET, and POST1, respectively (P < 0.05). The effects were similar in both groups. In conclusion, a clinically relevant reduction in fat mass can be achieved in overweight men in just 4 days by combining prolonged exercise with CR.
I’ve discussed the impact (or rather, the often non-impact) of exercise on weight/fat loss a number of times on the site under most circumstances. The reality being (as most studies show) that the types of realistically achievable amounts of exercise by the average obese individual is simply too low to massively impact on energy balance or total weight/fat loss. Certainly there is some effect (that is enhanced when it is combined with caloric restriction) but it’s rarely massive with most research showing that the primary role of exercise being improved weight maintenance.
However, there is the occasional paper that comes along that imposes a fairly large amount of activity and generates a fairly large amount of fat loss. One that comes to mind (that I cannot find at the moment) had subjects bicycle for 2 hours/day 6 days/week and saw a significant fat loss over the length of the study. Every so often, someone will come along on a forum and ask if doing some absurd amount of activity will generate massive fat loss (one person I recall from a forum decided to do something like 6-8 hours of low intensity cycling, while seated at his desk, and keeping calories stable and just lost fat at a staggering rate).
Which leads right into the paper I want to look at today.
As the title of the paper suggests, the researchers wanted to see whether or not a significant amount of fat mass could be lost in a mere 4 days; building on previous research they actually looked at the combination of a very large amount of activity along with extremely severe caloric restriction.
They also decided to look at whether diet composition (pure protein vs. carbohydrate) would exert any differential effects based on the idea that dietary protein is better at sparing lean mass lost. Finally they did follow ups on the subjects at both short- and long-term (4 weeks and 1 year post intervention). A host of health measures and hormonal measurements (insulin sensitivity and leptin for example) were also done. Body composition was measured both with DEXA and Bioimpedance (to get a measure of changes in body water).
So specifics: the subjects were aged 18-55 and had been weight stable for at least three months; all had body fat percentages between 20 and 40% (the average was 31%+- 5% or so) and the study ended up with 7 subjects in the sucrose group and 8 in the protein group (it was a small study). The study was divided into five distinct phases. Phase 1 was one week of normal activity. Phase 2 was the actual 4-day intervention which was followed by Phase 3 which was 3-days of a normal diet and limited activity which was meant to stabilize hydration status. Phase 4 was four weeks where subjects could eat and exercise by their own choice and Phase 5 was a one year follow-up.
Ok, so the intervention; as I mentioned above there were two components. The first was the exercise component (remember again that this was a 4-day intervention). For exercise, each day the subjects followed an overnight fast with 45 minutes of one-arm cranking exercise (at 15% maximal intensity) followed by 8 hours of walking at 4.5 km/h (2.8 mph) for a total of 35 km (21 miles) of walking per day. None of that is a typo; it was 8 hours and 45 minutes of exercise a day all at very low intensities. I can’t find in the paper where they indicate why they decided on this protocol (especially the initial 45 minutes of arm cranking).
The diet was equally extreme, subjects were given 3.2 kcal/kg (1.4 kcal/lb) which was roughly a 90% deficit from their maintenance energy intake. So a 100kg (220 pound) subject would have been consuming 308 calories. Again, not a typo and the total daily deficit was calculated to be around 5500 calories/day. Protein was set at the DRI (formerly the RDA) of 0.8 g/kg (0.36 g/lb).
The subjects either received nothing but whey protein (so about 75 grams of protein per day for our 100kg example subject) or pure sucrose (table sugar) along with some minerals and fluid; they were allowed a rehydrating drink (which looked more or less like Gatorade) during the day. Repeating from the above, this was followed for only 4 days before the subjects were moved back to maintenance calories and rehydrated to stabilize their body weight.
As you might expect, the results were as extreme as the protocol. I’ve indicated the total losses from baseline below.
|Fat Loss||LBM Loss (*)|
|Phase 2 (4 days)||-2.1 kg (-4.6 lbs)||-2.8 kg (-6.2 lbs)|
|Phase 3 (3 more days)||-2.8 kg (-6.1 lbs)||-1.0 kg (-2.2 lbs)|
|Phase 4(4-week Follow up)||-3.8 kg (-8.4 lbs)||-0.5 kg (-1.1 lbs)|
|Phase 5 (1-Year Followup)||-1.9 kg (-4.2 lbs)||-0.4 kg (-0.88 lbs)|
*This loss of lean mass only amounted to 15% of the total loss or so, actually below the theoretically “expected” 25% loss of LBM that is thought to be normal and par for the course.
If you’re wondering why I didn’t make a distinction between the protein group and the sucrose group in terms of losses, it’s because there was no difference. Both groups lost the same amount of fat mass and lean mass and the protein showed no lean mass sparing effect. I’d also note that most of the loss was in the form of trunk fat (and probably some visceral fat loss) which is known to have greater negative impacts on health than fat carried in other places.
I’d noted in passing that the intervention showed equally extreme impacts on measures of insulin sensitivity along with a lowering of glucose and insulin, plasma triglycerides and cholesterol. Note that most of these had returned to baseline by the four week followup.
As the researchers conclude “The present investigation reveals that whole-body fat mass can be reduced by ~3kg with a 4-day intervention combining a reduction of energy intake (to barely 10% of the habitual level) and 9h of low-intensity exercise per day.” They add that “…despite no specific request for lifestyle changes, subjects lost an additional kilogram of fat during the 4 weeks after the intervention.”
One question worth addressing is why the protein group wasn’t superior to the sucrose only group which is in contrast to previous studies on the topic. The researches suggest that the extremity of the caloric deficit along with the very low-calories was probably part of this. They add that “It remains to be determined whether better preservation of LM could be achieved with a higher intake or other types of proteins.” I’d comment that this doesn’t really remain to be determined.
As I discuss in detail in The Protein Book (and in fact based an entire dietary approach around in The Rapid Fat Loss Handbook) it’s been known for quite some time that higher protein intakes (starting at 1.5 g/kg or at least double what this study provided) is required to limit lean body mass losses when calories are restricted. As well, given the very low protein intake in this study, a slower digesting protein such as casein or milk protein would probably have proved superior.
As the researchers themselves point out “…in the absence of dietary carbohydrate and the presence of significant catabolic stress most of this protein may have undergone oxidation or ketogenesis to maintain hepatic gluconeogenesis.” (translation to non-nerd: the protein was burned off or converted to ketones to produce glucose in the liver).
They add “Our results also indicate that when the energy deficit is very high, ingestion of the recommended dietary requirements for protein (0.8 g/kg or 0.36 g/lb) does not prevent loss of body protein any more effectively than the same amount of energy provided in the form of sucrose.” Honestly this is the most perplexing part of the study to me: it’s 2014 and beyond well established that this amount of protein is insufficient on a diet.
I’m not sure I have much to add beyond that and I also don’t mean to present this paper as a protocol to be followed. Even the authors comment “The present proof-of-concept study does not propose an alternative treatment for obesity. Although most of the subjects tolerated the intervention relatively well, all complained of muscle and joint pain, individuals who are less strongly motivated would probably not tolerate this type of intervention.” They also aren’t sure what caused the continued loss of a small amount of fat at the 1-year mark.
Basically I just thought it was an interesting little paper in that it showed what is at least biologically plausible or feasible in the short-term. I’ve seen the occasional person apply something along those lines (usually the massive amounts of daily low-intensity activity without the extreme caloric deficit) and see some fairly stunning results. It’s still not very applicable to the majority although with the increase of some of the new walking/standing desks it might be.]]>
While we can probably argue until the end of time what the “worst” part of training is, I imagine that most would be willing to put indoor cardio (especially of the steady state/aerobic type) right up there near the top. And while certainly one way to avoid the issue is to either take the no-cardio or intervals only approach, I don’t think either are ideal. The simple reality is that whether it’s for fat loss, general fitness, or for endurance athletes who live somewhere where it’s cold, doing longer duration indoor cardio of some sort is usually a necessary evil.
So today I want to talk about some strategies that can be helpful to help folks get through it or, at the very least, maybe enjoy it more. And I’m not going to bore you with the obvious strategies, listening to music, reading a magazine or book to kill the time or whatever. You know that already. If you’re lucky maybe your gym has a cardio theater where you can watch movies; in my experience all that ends up happening is that you end up watching the same middle of the same crappy movie (when I was in Utah, I must have seen the middle hour of the horrible Queen Latifah/LL Cool J movie “Last Holiday” a solid dozen times).
Instead I’m going to suggest a way of modifying/thinking about your indoor aerobic sessions both to make them less psychologically gruelling (read: “boring as hell”) as well as physiologically more beneficial.
The Inevitable Driving Analogy
For reasons I’ve never quite figured out, when people write about weight training they have a tendency to use car analogies. Probably just because cars are something most people understand. Or because they go “Vroom” or something. Regardless, that’s how it is and I’m going to continue with that tradition here.
I imagine that most reading this have had the experience (or misfortune, depending on how you want to look at it) of driving long distances. When I was in college, for example, I did the drive from Tennessee to Los Angeles (2214 miles, a value forever burned into my head) a number of times. Once without sleep jacked up on caffeine and sugar but that’s a different story. And you know that it’s just awful to contemplate especially if you look at the distance all at once; when you’re faced with 24 or 36 hours of total driving, each minute or even hour just doesn’t seem to be having an impact.
Invariably what people do in this situation, certainly what I did, is to break the drive up into more manageable “chunks”. So the first mental break you make is at the half-way point (or whatever distance you might cover in a day’s worth of driving). So it might be 12 hours. Ok, 12 hours is a lot easier to deal with than 36 hours even if you have to do it three times. Or maybe you break it up into an even smaller increment. Now you’re at 6 hours (how far you get between fuel ups if you have a really efficient car). Well everybody can drive for 6 hours, right? I think you see where this is going.
I vividly remember that, leaving Nashville en route to LA, there was a major city about every three hours. That synched up rather nicely with both my need to stop for gas and my need to go to the bathroom and refuel with caffeine. So mentally I wasn’t thinking in terms of having to drive 36 hours. I only had to make it the next three hours. And the next three. And the next three. By chunking it in this way, you’re never facing down the entire distance and your brain can sort of “reset” once you hit each intermediate time point. You hit three hours, reset, now you have three more hours to drive.
Of course, as anyone knows, this can be taken too far. Certainly it’s easy to think of “I only have to drive an hour” or even “Only a minute” but at that point you’ve reached the other extreme. Because 36 by 1 hour isn’t really much better than 1 by 36 hours (or whatever this works out to in minutes or half-hours). Somewhere in the middle is a happy medium where each chunk is a reasonable length and you can divide the entire distance into a reasonable number of chunks.
Here’s a graphic to break up the dense text and attempt to make this a bit clearer. The arrow is the full distance start to finish, the lines are then subdivided at different time points: 1/2, into thirds, into fourths, sixths, twelfths. You could keep going but, again, you reach a point of diminishing returns where you know have an immense number of small increments rather than one large increment. Somewhere in the middle where you get a reasonable number of reasonable length increments is invariably the mental (and physical) sweet spot.
Let’s Apply This to Training
And, as you can imagine, I’m going to suggest applying the same concept to indoor aerobic training (I’d note only in passing that you could very easily apply this equally to high repetition weight training. So rather than think of a 20 rep squat session as 20 reps, break into into 4 sets of 5.) as a way to mentally break up the time into more manageable chunks. So a 60 minute workout becomes 4 blocks of 15 minutes, or 3 blocks of 20 minutes or even 6 blocks of 10 minutes. A 30 minute workout could be divided into two blocks of 15 minutes, three blocks of 10 minutes or even 6 blocks of 5 minutes.
I’d note that there’s no reason you have to make each block an equal time. For example, a 60 minute workout might have a 5 minute warm-up and cool-down leaving 50 minutes in-between to be divided up into varying lengths (you might divide that 50 minutes into 5 ten minute blocks or 10 five minute blocks). There are endless options.
I’d also mention that in every example, it’s not just a function of chunking but of changing something at the time break. This is where it differs from the driving example; every time you reach the end of a block, you’re going to do something different as that sort of signals the “end” of that block.
This tends to get you thinking only of the duration of the time block you’re actually in rather than focusing on the length of the entire session. Not only is this psychologically more manageable, by choosing what you do during the workout, you can impact on the physiological adaptations and training effect. So it’s a double win.
This should make more sense with some specific examples and I’ll be moving from shorter to longer in terms of what happens at each block.
“Structured” Fartlek Training
Fartlek is an old Swedish (or is it Scandinavian?) training concept that translates roughly as speedplay. It was developed in the mid-20th century by Swedish/Scandinavian running coaches as a way to break up long runs (invariably done outdoors) along with introducing some unstructured speed work and speed changes into the workout (since this was more reflective of competition demands). It would typically be done during an easier part of training when the goal was on distance and volume but the coach wanted to keep a bit of speed work in the program (and to keep the athlete from going nuts).
The key here was that it was unstructured, an athlete might be running in the woods and come up on a short uphill. They would then pick up the pace up that hill. Or they’d introduce a short “sprint” to some tree they saw in the distance. This would be done before returning to the easy pace of the run.
I’d mention that cyclists on long road rides have often done a similar thing, folks may decide to sprint for the light pole, or for the signpost up ahead. Everybody throws down and then you go back to gradual riding before the next sprint. Years ago I recall some book or another suggesting a 15 second “Sprint” every 15 minutes during long-duration base training on the bike.
Indoors, mind you, it’s probably better to use something I call, somewhat contradictorily, Structured Fartlek. Since you don’t have the same types of natural targets that would occur outdoors (I suppose you could use a commercial break in a TV program or a particularly upbeat song on your MP3 player), it’s often better to structure out your speed bursts within the workout itself based on time. As above, what block length you pick depends on your own preference and the length of your workout.
As an example, a buddy of mine has been grinding 30 minutes on the Versaclimber and was getting bored with it. I suggested that he introduce a 15 second “pick-up” (an increase in intensity that isn’t all out but takes him out of his normal steady state zone) every 5 minutes before returning to his normal steady state pace. Now his workout has gone from “30 minutes of boring grinding” to 6X5 minutes with 15 seconds faster. Mentally he’s only having to do 5 minutes (ok, 4:45) before doing something else.
This approach really has no downsides, although hardheads have a tendency to turn the speed bits into all-out sprints which really isn’t the goal. It’s just a way to introduce some speed, work a little bit harder, and break things up but don’t go nuts on the hard part of the Fartlek.Moving on.
Aerobic Interval Training
I’ve mentioned the concept of aerobic interval training previously, usually in the context of taking untrained beginners but it also has use for people who are already trained. I want to make it clear from the get go that this is absolutely NOT HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) and shouldn’t be confused with such. The goal is still working in the aerobic training zone but in a more interval way.
Personally I have found that what I’m about to describe is most useful for folks using cardio machines that have distinct “levels” (think the Elliptical, Stairmaster, Stepmill) on them. This is in contrast to something like a treadmill where you can increase the speed in tiny increments. On many of those machines you often find yourself in a place where the current level you’re at is too easy but the next level up is just too big of a jump (or moves you out of the training range you want to be in) for some reason or another.
So let’s say you’re on one of the aforementioned machines at level, whatever, say it’s level 13. You can comfortable grind away an hour without working too hard. But you find that moving it to Level 14 is just too big of a jump in intensity or workload for whatever reason (or moving it up won’t let you complete the hour). In this case you can use the same chunking concept to gradually increase the duration at the higher level while still completing the entire workout. Generally, 5-10 minutes at the higher level alternated with similar amounts (or longer) at the lower intensity seems to work well.
So at the first workout you might break up the 60 minutes into 4X15 minute blocks where the first 10 minutes is at level 13 and the final 5 minute is at level 14. After a few of those workouts, you could go to alternating blocks of 10 minutes at level 13 and 10 minutes of level 14. Just switching back and forth. The final step might be back to 4 blocks of 15 minutes divided into 5 minutes at level 13 and 10 minutes at level 14. Then finally an hour at level 14. Spend a couple of weeks there and when you’re ready, do the same between levels 14 and 15.
Alternately you could do 3 blocks of 20 minutes divided into 15 minutes at 13 and 5 minutes at 14. Then do 10′ at 13 and 10′ at 14. Then 5′ at 13 and 15′ at 14. Then the entire time at 14. You might stay there a week or two to stabilize and then, assuming you wanted or needed to, start building to the next level up by alternating between levels 14 and 15.
Again, there are lots of options and what you choose depends on your personal preference along with how big the jump is. I’ve presented these options in table form below (the number in parentheses after the workout is the total time spent at the higher workload), assuming three workouts per week. I’d mention that this works best when you’re well within the aerobic zone (i.e. roughly a heart rate in the 130-160 range) although it can work when you’re closer to threshold.
|Workout 1||Workout 2||Workout 3|
|Week 1||4X10′@13/5′@14 (20′)||4X10′@13/5′@14 (20′)||4X10′@13/5′@14 (20′)|
|Week 2||3X10′@13/10′@14 (30′)||3X10′@13/10′@14 (30′)||3X10′@13/10′@14 (30′)|
|Week 3||4X5′@13/10′@14 (40′)||4X5′@13/10′@14 (40′)||4X5′@13/10′@14 (40′)|
|Workout 1||Workout 2||Workout 3|
|Week 1||3X15′@13/5′@14 (15′)||3X15′@13/5′@14 (15′)||3X15′@13/5′@14 (15′)|
|Week 2||3X10′@13/10′@14 (30′)||3X10′@13/10′@14 (30′)||3X10′@13/10′@14 (30′)|
|Week 3||3X5′@13/15′@14 (45′)||3X5′@13/15′@14 (45′)||3X5′@13/15′@14 (45′)|
I think you get the idea. And yes I realize that option 1 skips a workout with 50 total minutes at the higher workload. The second option is also clearly more aggressive since the time at the higher workload goes up more quickly.
This approach can also be used when you’re nearer to threshold/sweet spot (see this article for details) but you usually have to use smaller time jumps. As described, a typical workout might be warmups with 2 sets of 20 minutes with a 5-10′ break between sets. It’s damn near all-out and adding a full 5 minutes at the next level up might just not be possible since you’re already pretty close to maximal. It’s also a pretty mentally gruelling workout to begin with, 20 minutes of unremitting discomfort; here, breaking it up into smaller chunks has a huge psychological benefit.
In that case, I’d be more likely to break up the 20 minute work sets into 4X5 minute chunks and add 1 minute at the higher workload every 2-3 workouts. So let’s say you’re currently pushing 200watts on the bike but want to start working towards 210w for this workout. A progression over 12 workouts (which might take 4-6 weeks depending on your frequency of training) might be as follows (again, numbers in parentheses are the total time at the higher workload). After stabilizing at the new workload, you could start the next progression from 210w to 220w.
|4X4′@200w/1′@210w (4′)||4X4′@200w/1′@210w (4′)|
|4X3′@200w/2′@210w (8′)||4X3′@200w/2′@210w (8′)|
|4X2′@200w/3′@210w (12′)||4X2′@200w/3′@210w (12′)|
|4X1′@200w/4′@210w (16′)||4X1′@200w/4′@210w (16′)|
Keep in mind that this workout would typically be done after a 10-15 minute warmup (one block), with a 5-10 minute break in-between each set (another block) and a 5-10 minute cool-down (the final block). So the entire workout just ends up being a series of fairy short (5-15′) blocks all the way through.
This approach to a workout probably has a formal name but I have no idea what it is so I’m going to call it a progressive workout. Now in the three previous workout examples you bumped up from a lower intensity to a higher intensity before moving back down. In this workout you start easy and progressively increase the intensity all the way until the end.
So first you pick your training range, the low-end and high-end workloads (in terms of heart rate, pace or power output) that you want to use. Then break the workout into perhaps 3 even blocks. The first block is done at the low-end workload, the second block halfway in-between the low- and high-end workload and the third block is at the high-end workload.
So during a base aerobic phase, you might set a range of 130-150 heart rate and work at 130 for the first 20 minutes, 140 for the second 20 minutes and 150 for the third twenty minutes. Or if you’re doing 30 minute workouts, you’d go 10 minutes at each pace. If you’re doing 90 minute workouts, you’d go 30 minutes at each pace.
In a later aerobic phase (ideally before moving outdoors or starting racing), this could be taken closer to threshold work. So you might set a workload range of 130-170 beats per minute (or the accompanying pace/power output). The first 20 minutes would be at the low 130 (effectively a warm-up but still in the aerobic range). The second 20 minutes goes to a moderate 150 heart rate and then the final 20 minutes is right at threshold/race pace (170 beats per minute). This is apparently a popular approach to training with Kenyan runners where they start at an ambling pace to warm-up but may finish right at race pace by the end of the run.
You can even take this further and have the last block increase towards an all-out sprint at the very end (this is a workout to do occasionally, not all the time). So in the final 20 minute block you might spend the first 10 minutes right at race pace, the next 5 minutes above race pace, and then ramp up each minute of the final five minutes to a full sprint until you’re done (either make it to 20 minutes or run out of gas). This is about as close to mimicking a race situation as anything you can do indoors. Again, not to be done all the time by any stretch.
This type of workout has as number of benefits. Not only does it break up the total time period into manageable mental chunks but it also (especially with the second version) allows you to find that balance between volume and intensity. This is especially crucial for endurance athletes trying to build some form of base during the winter; doing long workouts indoors is a grind but just cranking out threshold sets of 20 minutes may not provide the long-duration endurance needed. In this type of workout you get a 60-90 minutes of endurance work along with the twenty to thirty minutes of threshold/race pace work all at once.
For competition athlete, this type of workout also has the benefit of teaching them how to push harder as the race goes on. The reality of racing is that even at the same fixed pace, as athletes fatigue they have to push harder just to maintain that pace. And most races get faster towards the end. this workout mimics that.
So that’s that: a different way of approaching winter indoor aerobic training that may help make it more interesting, more manageable and more physiologically beneficial. The above isn’t meant to be comprehensive, I’m sure creative individuals can come up with any number of variations on the above themes of what I’ve presented (some of which are just workouts I’ve personally used to get through the long winters).
Of course, the concepts can be combined. If you want some real hell, try chunking structured Fartlek training with a threshold workout, so you’re working 20 minutes at race pace and every 5 minutes you have go above that (perhaps mimicking a breakaway or uphill) before returning to race pace (instead of a low-intensity).]]>
In Training the Obese Beginner: Part 5, I made a case for the inclusion of both weight training and cardiovascular training for the obese beginner, despite having listed some initial limitations to both in earlier parts of the series. I also gave a general overview of what I did in the first session with those clients.
Today I want to look specifically at how I approached that first day/weeks of training (again noting that there are obviously more ways to approach the situation than just this one). I’ll also look a bit at some things I might do differently now as well as talking about progressions, variation, etc. to keep the obese beginner moving towards their goals in the longer term.
So as a reminder, we’re in the first session with an obese beginner. The first 25-30 minutes has been spent going through basic intake paperwork. Depending on the specifics, body weight, tape measurements and maybe skinfolds have been taken (refer to the last part for more discussing on this topic). Since this is an hour session, that leaves around 25-30 minutes for the actual workout. Here’s what I generally did.
Part 1: Cardio
Pretty much without exception, Id start the client with some form of cardio. Usually I’d use the treadmill and I choose this for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, everybody knows how to walk (at least one study showed that, for the same intensity, people burn more calories on the treadmill since it’s a movement pattern they are efficient at). Second, the intensity can be easily controlled by adjusting pace and incline which is critical for ensuring that the first workout isn’t too difficult.
Third, walking tends not to cause the local muscular fatigue that something like an exercise bike or Stairmaster or whatever does in beginners since it’s more whole body. This limits unpleasant sensations and excessive fatigue that tie into the aspects of generating positive affect I talked about in Training the Obese Beginner: Part 4. Fourth, it gave me a chance to chat and give the first of many mini-lectures without having to worry about anything else; I had a captive audience and it was as good a way to kill the time/distract them from the exercise as any.
I would note that there is no real reason not to go outside and walk if that’s available and the weather permits. It is harder to gauge the intensity but can have benefits in terms of teaching clients that they can always find something to do activity wise even if they don’t have machines available.
But I was always working in environments where the outdoors were busy streets or the gym was in a strip mall or what have you and I had to work with what was available. At one gym I worked at, we didn’t have treadmills so I’d walk with them on the track that surrounded the main area.
In contrast, two friends in the Austin area (who I’ll mention below) get their clients walking outdoors for warm-ups since the area around the gym will support it and they don’t want them reliant on machines. It’s just a function of adapting to what you have available and trainers need to keep in mind that the principles are what’s important; the details less so.
Now many will argue that it’s a “waste” of time for a trainer to monitor cardio sessions and I don’t necessarily disagree (other trainers make their clients do 30 minutes of cardio during an hour session while they watch to cut down on what they have to do).
However, sometimes you have a client that simply won’t do the cardio if you’re not there watching them. I’m not saying it’s right, but it is reality. Ultimately, if a client wants to pay me to keep them company on the treadmill, I guess that’s their problem even if I’d rather them get into the habit of doing it on their own so the training time is spent on relatively more useful things.
But in the initial stages, and especially in that first session (and even the first few sessions), since weight training wasn’t going to take much time, I would routinely monitor cardio sessions. Not only for proper intensity, progression (discussed below) but, again, so I could give all kinds of little mini-lectures on various aspects of training, nutrition, etc. This goes towards the education aspect of training I mentioned in previous parts of this series. Cardio sessions were an excellent time to start educating the client about what they were doing and why they were doing it.
Now, it’s all too easy as a trainer to just say “Do this” (and certainly some clients don’t want to know the whys of what they are doing; they just want you to tell them and be done with it) but that may not help the client ideally in the long-term.
What if they move, what if you move, what happens when you go on a vacation? A lot of things can happen that cut the client off from you. If you’ve taught the client why they are doing certain things and how to train, they can (in premise at least) do it on their own.
If you’ve made them nothing but reliant on you, you haven’t done that. A lot of trainers do this, using a variety of techniques. One is to change the workout all the time, convincing the client that they can’t possibly train without you changing their program every workout (yes, fine, if you’re working with elite athletes this may be valid; for most general trainees and certainly the obese beginner it is not). Another is to use a myriad of horribly over-complicated exercises; again to make the client reliant on you to be there. As you can imagine, I don’t personally believe in that approach.
My goal, in a lot of ways, was to get my clients to the point that they didn’t need me any more. It might not have been the best attitude from an income perspective but it was the only way I felt good about what I was doing. I usually found that, if I were doing my job well, clients would often continue hiring me because they wanted to do so, not necessarily because they needed to do so.
The First Mini-Lecture: The FITT Principle
In any case, a key mini-lecture that I always gave on the first day was to explain the F.I.T.T. principle of training: Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type. Or how often, how hard, how long and what. Specifically with this first lecture I covered those issues in terms of basic strength and cardiovascular fitness along with health.
I needed to make them aware of things like minimums for activity (e.g. 3X/week for cardio work, more if possible but three times per week as a minimum, weight training a minimum of 2 times per week). Time (e.g. 20 minutes cardio as a minimum, more may be better, but that’s the minimum). I’d explain that the type of cardio didn’t really matter so much; the best activity was the one that they would do. You get the idea.
But the big one for this first lecture was intensity. How hard does it need to be to be worthwhile and how hard did I want them working? This ties into the stuff I talked about in Training the Obese Beginner Part 4. Now since most were at least familiar with the concept, I’d first introduce them to the whole idea of heart rate and then basically throw it out, preferring to use the rating of perceived exertion (RPE) scale. It’s less of a hassle than using heart rate and, with practice, turns out to be more or less just as accurate.
I used the 1-10 RPE scale (rather than the original 6-20 scale, which I keep meaning to write about) and would give them an idea of the ranges by describing 1 as sitting on the couch and 10 as an all-out effort. I used the example of getting to the airport late and having to sprint to the terminal and feeling like you’re going to die in the process since that was something most could relate to. I’d tell them that that was a 10.
I’d then explain that, during their initial cardio sessions, I wanted them working at about a 3-4 on this scale, which I described as challenging but doable (so not too hard but not too easy either). Which is sort of interesting since it basically would seem to be what the data on affect and self-paced activity I discussed in Part 4 suggests as optimal; let people work at a self-selected intensity and they’ll work at a challenging but achievable level somewhat below the point where they would cross the ventilatory threshold and start to generate a negative psychological affect.
That research wasn’t around at that point, it just made sense to me so that’s what I did. Invariably they’d pick a fairly slow, brisk walking pace if that but I didn’t care. I told them to make it challenging but not impossible and usually they’d pick the right pace or maybe a little bit below it. I’d ask them during the bout to estimate RPE to start having them learn to correlate the numbers. Using RPE is only effective if you practice so I’d give them plenty of chances to do so.
For the hell of it, I’d usually have them use the machine to check heart rate and it was almost always right in the right spot; at worst it was a little bit below the supposed “ideal” range. Again, as I’ve hammered throughout this series, I was far more interested in them accomplishing the workout successfully than how hard they were working; there would always be time to increase the workload. Pretty much every study ever shows that beginner get fitness gains of some sort with any intensity above “nothing” at all (a recent review has even pointed out that aerobic activity will generate muscle growth in the untrained) so I simply saw no point in pushing them. Certainly not on the first day.
Related to this, someone in the comments section of Training the Obese Beginner Part 4 (when I originally published this series) asked about the “talk test” and, to be sure, this is another valid way of setting a proper aerobic intensity. I would tell my clients that another way to gauge cardio intensity is that they should be able to keep a broken conversation during the workout.
That if they could talk non-stop it was too easy, if they were gasping for breath between words, it was too hard. If they could keep a broken conversation, that was right. This would invariably put them at the same 3-4 RPE and correct workload/HR for them.
Now, as I noted in a previous part, I have had beginner clients for whom 5 minutes of continuous activity at even this low/moderate of a workload was nearly at their limits. I would simply tell them to stop the session if they started to feel particularly fatigued and let the duration fall where it may in that first session.
If it was 5 minutes, that was fine. If they went to 10 minutes, I’d usually still stop them since we had other stuff to do with the remaining time (remember that this is workout #1 and I usually only had 25-30 minutes total to work with).
But now wasn’t the time to push things at all. Remember the goal: break them in without breaking them.
If there were time later in the session, I might take them back to the treadmill for 5-10 more minutes or suggest they cool down after the hour was up to get a little bit more time at that first session. In subsequent workouts, and I’ll talk about progressions below, I might do the same 5-10 minutes up front (and start progressing the time gradually) and ask for a 5-10 minute cool-down. Another option when you have a full hour to work with, as I mentioned, is to alternate 5-10 minutes of cardio with a few weight exercises, accumulating a larger amount of total time without doing it all at once.
But again I’m meant to be talking about that first workout. Ultimately no matter how I cut it, they’d end up with anywhere from 5-20 total minutes of aerobic activity, at a low/comfortable (and usually self-selected intensity) and they’d accomplish it without dying in the process. That was the goal. Hell, even if they only get 10 total minutes, that’s still more than they would have done otherwise.
Of course, I’d always get them to add a minute or two at the next workout to start working on progression immediately. So 5 minutes in the first session would become 7 in the second which would become 9 in the third. Even if it didn’t have quite the same impact (in my experience) as improvement in the weight room, it still felt like improvement to them which is what mattered. They felt progress without feeling like they were having to kill themselves in the process. This is part of how you generate adherence.
Ok, so cardio is done, what’s next?
Part 2: Weights
After that 5-10 minutes of cardio was done, it was time for weights. Now, those of you embroiled in the current trends in fitness are wondering “what about the dynamic stretching, what about foam rolling, what about activation?” Well, I didn’t do any of it. At the time, nobody did and I wouldn’t have had time anyhow during the first session. Full range weight training acts as a dynamic stretching stimulus as it is and I was content with that.
Make no mistake, that’s all fantastic stuff to add if you have time and they have the interest (and certainly it can be important and play a role in the gym). But this is about day 1 and workout 1, the goal was getting them through 20-30 minutes of activity successfully and that meant paring things down to the bare basics.
Even if I had known about all that currently trendy stuff, I wouldn’t have done any of it. Not on day 1 anyhow (I’d often stretch clients at the end of workouts at later sessions). Save it for the second or third session when you have the full hour and more time to work with.
Anyhow, so now we went to weights. And here I will show my hereticism and spur yet another silly debate in the comments section and hatred across the Internet: With few exceptions, in this client population, I almost exclusively used machines in those initial workouts.(sometimes I’d teach a dumbbell chest press if I were bored with teaching the chest press machines).
Yes, I know…it’s non-functional. Yes, I know…body weight is better. Yes…I know all of the arguments for why barbell training is the only thing every one on the planet should ever do. Except that it isn’t. Not in this case. Not in the environment I was in (I’ll come back to this topic at the very end of this series))
Remember my overarching goal here: generate success without breaking the client. Nothing else matters except that one goal initially and no amount of macho dogmatic spew changes that. Because the basic fact is this, when you’re working with untrained obese beginners with no previous training background (and usually no movement background of any sort), almost anything more complex than the simplest of exercises is going to overwhelm them.
And before you argue with me differently, tell me how many people you have ever seen in any gym squatting or deadlifting properly. I’ve been in gyms for damn near three decades (and had a clue what was going on for maybe two of those) and I can count the total on a few hands at most.
Face facts, these movements are too technically complex for most people without a lot of coaching and this is evidenced by the fact that most suck at them no matter what; in the population I’m discussing in this article series, there is just too much to lose and to little to be gained by starting with technically demanding complicated exercises.
Now, people with a movement background can’t understand this, they understand where there bodies are in space, they don’t understand why someone new to activity (whether obese or not) just feels like a total spazz trying to do complicated stuff. They assume that since they can do it, everyone should be able to. They also usually fail to realize that, while the motivated psycho will fight through stuff they suck at, the typical obese beginner will not.
And simply, if you give the “average” obese beginner that type of stuff (whether functional movements or simply complex free weight exercises) right off the bat, they won’t be able to do it well, they’ll feel uncomfortable and embarrassed and all you’ll have done is verified in their mind is that exercise is a miserable horror that they don’t want any part of. And that’s not a good thing to do.
Ultimately, no matter how much I loved squatting and pulling and all of the fun stuff, I didn’t see those exercises as generating the positive reinforcement I wanted out of the starting gate. And, of course, I could always teach those movements later as necessary. This was sort of the vague point I made in an earlier part: with total beginners you have to get them in shape to train. That means using activities that they can actually accomplish meaningfully. Many movements in vogue today simply don’t meet that important criterion in my opinion.
As well, I often only had 3 short sessions to get the person to basic competency in the weight room (i.e. they were willing to purchase a 3-pack of sessions with me to get started). As I discussed in more detail in the Beginning Weight Training series, that tended to limit how complex of a movement I could teach.
You can get anyone to basic competency on machines in 3 sessions. Try doing that with something more complex and they’ll end up killing themselves training alone on those movements. They end up knowing just enough to get hurt. And again before you argue with me about this go to the average gym and look at how people are doing squats and deadlifts; it’s not pretty and you know it.
Now, once again, I realize that the above is heretical in the day and age where “functional” training and body weight stuff are all the rage. So…
Let me Rant A Little Bit About Body Weight/Functional Exercises
I read a lot of training e-books, it’s part of my job to keep track with what people in the industry are doing and where the trends are moving so that I can bitch about it. And I always smile when I see someone advocating things like t-pushups and burpees and all of that trendy bodyweight stuff for fat loss in total beginners….and the exercises are almost always being demonstrated by someone who weighs maybe 160 lbs and is already fit. And who has spent most of their week reading marketing manuals and working on their sales page since that’s clearly more important than honing their actual craft of training people.
So why do I think this is a problem? Let’s look at a simple push-up, assuming a 300 pound client. Let’s assume you let that client do a modified push-up so that they are pivoting off their knees. Let’s make some back of the envelope calculations and say that they are only lifting roughly 2/3rds of their weight (and I know the physics of this is more complicated but I’m not drawing a vector diagram and mathing this out). That’s still 20o pounds.
Let’s be generous and say it’s only 150 pounds of required force. How many obese beginners do you know who can bench 150-200 pounds right off the gate? Exactly. Because that’s very roughly the level of strength this requires. And it’s worse for women who, by and large, are even weaker pound for pound in the upper body than men.
Now you’re telling me that you want to do a one-armed t-push up with that same client? Please. Burpees are often just as bad; they can be done but generally not well. So what happens, as often as not, is that those types of movements end up being a miserable disappointing experience for the beginner obese client (they carry shades of the hell of old PE classes).
They simply require a level of coordination, strength and fitness that generally isn’t there. And since I don’t see them as accomplishing much more in this population than simpler, more easily learned, movements, I see no point to them. At least not initially. Please note that last word before you leave nasty comments on this article.
Similarly, it used to kill me watching some 130 lb female personal trainer putting their 250 lb female client through walking lunge sets. I mean, that’s what the trainer (who is light with years of training behind them) does to look all hot, what’s the problem? But that trainer has no clue about what’s it’s like to be that big, to have no movement background or years of training behind them. Nor do they seem to see the problems the client is having with the movement (knees breaking in, torso collapsing); they are usually too busy flirting with the cute guy in the tank top or another personal trainer.
The same comments could be made for a lot of the currently in vogue functional movements. I see it constantly at my current gym, trainers having un-coordinated, overweight beginners balancing on one leg and doing something stupid with a DB or cable in the other hand. It’s not only not functional (exactly what real world task is this supposed to mimick?) but it isn’t accomplishing much of anything except maybe to waste time and make the client feel like an idiot because they can’t do the movement well.
In a similar vein, I know that it is a popular idea that you should be able to control your own body weight before you lift weights; this appears to have come out of the training of athletes and gotten transferred to the general training mentality. And it may very well be true if you’re used to dealing with young male athletes who can actually do a meaningful number of repetitions with body weight from the get go.
But it’s rarely true if you’re working with untrained older individuals who haven’t done an ounce of exercise for a decade. And almost never true for the obese beginner who I’m talking about in this series. Yes, fine, some lower body movements are going to be doable (if they can stand, they can squat), but most upper body exercises are going to require levels of strength and coordination you just won’t see in this population.
Basically, for a lot of body weight movements, you need a base of strength to be able to do them competently in the first place. And if you can’t do them competently (or at all) because the load of your body is simply too high, then you can’t use them to gain the strength that you need. Because you can’t make a lot of progress when you can only do zero repetitions of a movement.
In contrast, by using machines (or even light dumbbells), you can start that person with a tiny percentage of their body mass. Contrast the push-up example I gave above which might require the rough equivalent of a 150-200 pound bench to starting someone on a machine that may only have 10 pounds on it (or 5 pound dumbbells in each hand). The obese beginner might not be able to do a single repetition of the body-weight exercise, or might only grind out a handful of hard-fought reps. In contrast, they can do a full set of however many repetitions with the machine or DB movement and I can increment that exercise gradually as they grow stronger.
So quick-quiz time:
1. Which exercise do you think will stimulate a training effect so that they can make progress?
2. Which exercise will allow the trainee to accomplish it without murdering themselves.
Bonus question: Which do you think will make the trainee feel good about the workout?
Using machines or less complicated movements also puts the trainee in a far more controlled environment; fine, many will argue that it’s non-functional or removes stabilizers or whatever but that’s the point of doing it this way (move from simplicity to complexity, not the other way around).
In this population, the goal is to get them working out without making them feel horrible. And using simpler exercises, that let you start light without forcing complex movement patterns accomplishes that and gives the possibility for success and positive reinforcement moreso than the converse in my opinion and experience. Which, as I continue to hammer home I feel is a key in training the obese beginner (and arguably less true in training the psycho motivated wannabe athlete in which case, go to town).
As I mentioned way back Part 1, I’ve noted that many beginners are already self-conscious as hell about being in the gym in the first place, and this can be even more true for the obese beginner. Making them look (and more importantly feel) foolish in the gym by giving them complex movements that they can’t do is not good for adherence. They have to feel success and they have to feel it from day 1.
In a related vein, I tried to avoid having my obese clients have to get up and down off the floor too often; as that seemed to also cause embarrassment for some. For that reason alone, even though I think poorly of most of them, I usually used ab machines rather than floor ab work.
I simply taught them correctly (focus on spinal flexion rather than hip flexion). The same would hold true of any stretching or other movements that you might typically do on the floor. And, look, I’m not saying this is universal; but there are considerations that someone who has never been obese just often doesn’t consider when working with that population.
Which isn’t to say that I don’t think that more complex movements are useless in this population; there may very well be specific situations where they are appropriate depending on the specifics (please re-read that sentence until the belief that “Lyle only uses machines with trainees” has left your brain).
They could always be added later after the client was into good habits, had lost some weight, had developed some of the basic strength and fitness needed to do them and needed some variety in their training or to move to something more intensive. There may be situations, which you have to decide on a case by case basis, where you’ll start an obese beginner with more complex movements. I’ll come back to this below.
But I don’t think they are the right thing to start with under most circumstances for most trainees in this population. Beating this dead horse some more, I’m not saying that I used machines exclusively forever (I know at least one person will claim that in the comments section), simply that I usually always started with them. Got it? Good.
Ok, let’s get off that soapbox…I’ll save the rest of that rant for a series on exercise choice that I’m going to write at some point.
Back to the First Weight Workout
So I used machines with the majority of beginners, obese or not. Because my goal was to get people in shape to train, to get them into regular exercise habits and to do it in such a fashion that they got the greatest chance of feeling success from the first to second workout.
And complex multi-planar and/or body weight movements generally didn’t achieve that goal in my opinion. There’s too much going on and too much chance of embarrassment, feeling incompetent and simply having old expectations about how miserable working out is get further reinforced. None of which adds up to long-term adherence.
On machines, I could control not only the loading more accurately but ensure that they got at least something out of it training wise since they could actually do more than a handful of repetitions without dying in the process. So that’s what I did and this is how I approached in in that first session.
Generally, after the cardio was done, I’d have time to do maybe 4 weight room exercises that first day (the routine I traditionally used appears below). Because of what I selected in terms of exercise, I was able to give the client a “full body” workout (with almost no exception I can think of, don’t use split routines with a beginner, certainly not of the bodypart emphasis type or you’ll end up doing some really stupid things programming wise) and was about all I had time for at this point anyhow. Again, it allowed me to break them in without breaking them.
Now I come from the “Tell me, show me, involve me” school of teaching which basically says “Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I might remember, involve me and I will remember.” I generally do all three and in that order.
So first I’d introduce the exercise and tell them what it was and what it trained. For example, “This is the chest press, it will train primarily your chest muscles along with your shoulders and triceps. If you had to pick only one or two upper body exercises, this should be one of them along with the next movement I’m going to show you which is the row.”
Then I’d show them how to do the movement focusing on just a handful of technique cues explaining as I showed a few repetitions. So assuming a chest press machine I might tell them “Ok, we’re going to set the seat so that the handles are directly in line with your chest. You’re going to put your hands on the horizontal grips with your elbows up. You use the foot pedal to bring the weight out to start the set safely. Bring the handles back to slightly behind your chest before pushing straight out til your arms are straight. For now keep the weight under control, moving fairly slowly both directions.” Or whatever the cues for the specific movement was.
I’d also at least show them how the machine is set, how I’d note the settings on the workout card (to get them used to reading it themselves) and how to notate weight and repetitions. I’d also introduce them to breathing although, as noted in Breathing During Weight Training, I didn’t get into many details on the first workout about this, mind you; beginners have enough to worry about. Simply, I cared that they breathed, not how they breathed. Worrying about inhaling on eccentric and exhaling on the concentric could wait until the second or third workout.
Then I’d have them do a set themselves. I always went light, most of this was experience in terms of where to start and I always erred on the side of too light. I know that there are charts with percentage of body weight to start movements at; I never used them and don’t recommend that you do. They are averages invariably derived from tests on lots of people and during a time when humanity was a lot more active on a day to day basis than it is now.
I’d make a quick tangential note about weight selection here, this is aimed primarily at male trainers working with female clients (of the obese or non-obese variety): Guys, a 45 pound bar is often too heavy to start a woman with. I know that no male would dare start lighter than this but I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen a newbie female trainee given a 45 pound bar by a clueless male trainer and get crushed with it. Especially on the bench press but sometimes on squats as well. Again, I’m not saying this is universally true. But it’s more true than I think most trainers realize.
Anyhow, I am of the strongly held opinion that it never hurts to start too light and can hurt a lot to start too heavy. Remember the goal of the first day: break them in without breaking them. Every study ever shows that folks make strength gains with as little as 50% of maximum when they are starting out; in your first workout don’t even worry about that. Just get them through the workout without murdering them. Ultimately, on top of everything else I was trying to avoid generating any soreness in my beginner trainees if I could avoid it (invariably pecs always got a bit sore no matter how light I started them, I have no idea why).
Starting light has another benefit, one of the “tricks” I mentioned in Part 5 of this series to ensure progress by the second workout. By starting super light on day 1, I was almost always able to have them increase the weight a little bit at the second workout. That was along with them feeling much more comfortable in the movement patterns and more confident (this is just from neurologically “learning” to do the movement).
More importantly it was progress that they could usually feel in terms of the movement patterns feeling more comfortable. Seeing the weight go up from workout 1 to workout 2 didn’t hurt either. It was all just huge positive reinforcement for the exercise program, showing them that they could actually do it, not feel horrible at the end of the workout, or be wrecked with soreness and make progress. Again, this is something that weights can accomplish in a way that cardio just can’t.
Now was it real progress in terms of strength improvements? Well, yes and no. Yes in that there is a neural/learning component to lifting that tends to dominate the initial adaptations to training so they were technically “better” at the movement. But no in the sense that, had I wanted them to, I could have had them go heavier in the first workout so it’s not as if the strength gains were “real”.
That is, most of the “improvement” was a function of my starting so damn light that they couldn’t help but raise the weight. It may be a trick but the end result was the same; they could see that their efforts from day 1 weren’t “wasted”, as I keep hammering on about, that immediate progress was part of positive reinforcement. Even if I had to cheat a bit to get it, I wanted them to feel not only success on Day 1 but progress by Day 2.
Anyhow, back to the set. During that single first set (I never had time to do multiple sets in the first workout and wouldn’t have used them if I had), I’d cue every repetition in some form or fashion. It might be just cueing range of motion (“Keep lowering til the handles are just behind your pecs”) or speed (“Ok, slow down the lowering”) or whatever.
Depending on the movement in question and the gender of the trainee I’d use touch training to get them aware of the muscles involved (e.g. placing my hands on their mid-back and cueing scapular retraction during rowing, often actively moving their shoulders forwards and back to show them the movement they should be doing). Be very careful with this: always ask before you touch and don’t touch inappropriately (e.g. a male trainer cueing a female trainee’s pecs or glutes is looking for a harassment lawsuit).
For some movements, I might lead them through the first few repetitions to show them the movement pattern; this was usually the case for DB exercises which required a bit more coordination than machine stuff. So if I were teaching a DB bench press, I’d manually follow them through a few reps with my hands holding their wrist moving them through the curved movement; after a few reps of that I might just use my hands to guide them through a few more reps; then I’d let them finish the set on their own. I might not let them move the weight without some form of guidance until the second workout.
They also got a second mini-lecture during this part of the workout which forced rest breaks between the exercises (which limits fatigue). Mainly I’d talk about intensity during weight training and what their goals were. Generally, I’d tell them that the goal was anywhere between 8 and 12 repetitions and to stop if they felt it getting too challenging. Usually, by selecting the right weight, they always got to 12 the first day. Not every time but almost always. If I saw them struggling before that point, I’d have them stop. They’d always get all 12 reps at the next workout. Hooray, progress.
I also taught them the basics of a single progression approach emphasizing the need for progressive overload over time to keep improving their strength and fitness; basically I told them to get as many reps as they could get in good form and when they got to 12 easily, that they should go up in weight a little bit (this often meant showing them how to use little plates to increment the weights in smaller jumps than most machines will allow). I’d tell them that a weight increase would often drop the reps back to 8 (or sometimes less) and to build back up to 12 and then go up again. Is this an ideal form of progression? For beginners, I think so.
Oh yeah, since it always came up: this was also often a time for a mini-lecture (always to women) about how lifting weights would not make them all huge and bulky and muscle-ly. This was actually a place where my being on the smaller/leaner side was of a benefit; big muscular trainers often have clients assume that they will end up looking like them.
But for those women who were all afeared of this I’d point out that “Look, most guys in the gym are trying to get big and musclely and failing, you don’t have the hormones they do so you don’t have to worry about it. And, even if you are one of those rare exceptions (every female trainee will assure you that she is the one woman in the world who bulks up easily), it’s not as if you’ll wake up overnight and be all huge. When you’re as strong or as muscular as you need to be, simply stop adding weight to the bar.”
Now, here’s the exact “basic” workout I used with beginners of all sorts. Sure I gave them the “you’ll get an individualized program” speech but, let’s face it, this is basically bullshit. Beginners all need basically the same thing unless you’re dealing with injuries or whatever and they’ll all basically get the same program.
|Calf Raise (On Leg Press)||3|
The numbers in the Workout Added column indicate the workout number I introduced them at. So everything with a 1 (leg press, chest press, row, crunch) was done at the first workout. At the second workout, those 4 would be done with the addition of everything with a 2 after it: so the leg curl, shoulder press and lat pulldown and in the order listed (so leg press, leg curl, chest press, row, shoulder press, pulldown, crunch). At workout 3, I’d add the direct arm work and back extensions.
The exercises with an * after them are sort of the “Big 4″ I would emphasize. I’d make the clients aware that, if they had massively limited time (e.g. only 10 minutes to train), just doing those 4 movements would basically work “everything” since the compound leg and chest/back movements also hit the smaller muscle groups. I’ll come back to this point below. You might note that the exercises are ordered to move from larger to smaller and to alternate pushing and pulling movements to help to limit fatigue.
So within 3 workouts, I would move them from 4 movements to a total of 11 with the occasional remedial “Something else” if it were needed (i.e. rotator cuff or some such). Again, doing 1 set of 8-12 reps/exercise and progressing weights as they were able (E.g. get to 12 reps easily, time to move up). By the time you factored in teaching and re-cueing things, along with an increase in cardio duration before and/or after, this usually made for a full hour of training and the weight training portion alone can be completed in 30 minutes unless you really dawdle (figure 1 minute per exercise for setup and performance and 1 minute rest and 11 sets should take about 22 minutes).
So within 3 workouts, having started at a very moderate 25-30 minutes or less of training, I’d have them to a full hour of a basic routine and do it without really overwhelming them too heavily. As above weight routine itself rarely took more than 30 total minutes to complete; as I noted I often moved clients to 30 minutes workouts so long as they were willing to do cardio on their own time.
Before moving on: some of you may question the inclusion of such small muscle group movements as arm work or whatever. A current macho meme is that direct arm or isolation work is utterly useless for beginning trainees and some even think that carries to all trainees all the time. To be honest, to a great degree this was a bit of pandering to the client. Men always want arm work to get buffed and women are concerned with “toning their arms” (especially triceps). So I put it in to keep them happy as much as anything else. Sure, we can quibble but there is an element of keeping the client happy which is part of it. Since it only takes about 2-4 minutes anyhow, it’s no big deal in my mind.
Cardio Progressions and Variations
So that was the first 3 basic workouts, moving them to what I considered a full hour workout fairly rapidly. Often they would go off on their own at that point and I had to hope that I’d given them enough information to progress on their own without me. That was part of the endless mini-lecturing during every workout (many would often hire me again 6 weeks later for a new routine).
But assuming I continued working with them, the focus from that point on was then on progression from that basic workout. With the cardio, the goal was to first get them to a minimum of 20 minutes continuously at least three times per week, regardless of the pace (I wanted to build volume and frequency before I worried about intensity). This is sort of the bare minimum to start building any type of aerobic fitness and get any sort of metabolic or physiological effects and I could get most there without too much trouble within a few workouts. Of course, I always encouraged folks to do more on their own time if they were able or willing.
But that first real goalpost was to hit 20 minutes three times per week consistently. Which may not seem like much to many reading this but for someone who was unable to complete 5 minutes the first day represents a huge improvement. More was better but that was the bare minimum I wanted to see. In some cases, I’d be overseeing the cardio; in others I was only handling weight room stuff and cardio was being done on the client’s own time (either before or after weight training).
Around week 4, clients usually saw the first cardio adaptation where they would invariably report some experience out in the real world where their increased fitness came in handy; even if the initial fat loss was slow in coming this invariably had the benefit of making them realize the benefits of what they were doing (invariably by week 8, measurable fat loss would have occurred).
Around week 4, assuming the client had been getting their consistent cardio in, I’d also usually start introducing them to working a bit harder during the cardio sessions to start introducing them to the concept of progression here. While it wasn’t formal interval type training, I’d get them to start introducing 30-60 seconds of exercise at an intensity that was above their current comfort zone within their cardio session.
It was a way to start getting them used to working a bit harder as well as pushing their fitness up to the next level. It also helped to make them aware, or so I hoped, that they couldn’t expect to stay at the same level of training forever and keep seeing progress; at some point they had to push a bit harder and get out of their comfort zone. But I always made sure that they had reached the first goalpost and gotten into good habits with more accomplishable stuff first.
So if they were doing 30 minutes at a moderate pace at this point, I’d have them go 1 minute harder every 5 minutes and push just a little bit above their current comfort level (I’m talking maybe a small bump in treadmill speed or whatever so if they were currently at 3.0 mph comfortably they might bump that to 3.2 or 3.3 or raise the incline or whatever). Then come back to their previous training intensity and then repeat that multiple times throughout the workout.
And I’d tell them to try to increase the duration of the harder bits gradually while reducing the times at a lower intensity. So the next workout or the one after that they might go 2 minutes harder every 5 minutes. Then three minutes. Then four minutes. Over several workouts, this would eventually have them working the full duration at the higher intensity. Then they could start the progression again. And now let’s talk about the elephant in the room: interval training.
What About Interval Training? (Section Added 2014)
I’ve written extensively on the site about the whole issue of steady state vs. interval training and will try to avoid rehashing most of that here; most of that series really dealt with populations other than the obese beginner so it doesn’t necessarily apply. As well, a lot of the current data wasn’t available when I originally wrote this series (back in 2010) and I feel as if I should address it here. I’d refer readers to an excellent overview article first as I’m going to be addressing much of what is discussed there
Simply, an increasing amount of research is showing that, at least over short time periods, short high-intensity interval workouts may generate as good if not better improvements in a number of metabolic parameters (note that most of this research is looking at health parameters, things like insulin sensitivity, etc.) than longer duration steady-state cardio. Given the time constraints inherent to modern life (most people aren’t going to put hours into cardioing), this would seem to offer a nice alternative to the traditional approach to improving cardiovascular health and metabolic fitness.
Certainly I can’t and won’t disagree with the findings of the studies; the results are there. However, I still question the reality of getting the typical untrained obese beginner to work at the intensities required to make interval training truly work (most of the studies themselves bring this up within the full paper usually noting that “This intensity is far beyond what we’d expect the typical beginner to be able to do”).
That is, the only way that any of the protocols so far examined are effective is if the folks really push themselves hard. In my experience and opinion, the typical beginner (obese or otherwise) won’t have the ability nor the willingness to do it. I mean even look at the Trapp protocol discussed in the article I linked to, warmup to 20 minutes of 8 seconds at maximum with 12 seconds rest. At maximum. MAXIMUM. Athletes who are as driven as they come don’t particularly enjoy maximal interval work; they do it because it’s necessary to achieve their goals. I simply don’t see the typical obese beginner doing it at all.
At least not initially. Again, note that italicized word. Certainly over time, after some basic fitness has been developed and the trainee has learned to push themselves harder, I see no problem with moving towards more formal interval type work to save time and generate better fitness gains. It might be 8 weeks in and you replace one or two steady state sessions with an interval workout (which would be started submaximally and then increased in intensity on the hard bits). You might wait until longer than that to bring it in. Again, that’s a judgement call.
I simply stand by my belief that a basic level of fitness and adherence to the program needs to be developed before you start beating up on people. I just don’t see bringing people into the gym on day 1 and doing it. Mind you, people will do it in studies because they have signed up for it (and feel obligated to do it), have researchers yelling at them, and are often getting paid for their involvement. It’s the same reason the folks on the Biggest Loser put up with Jillian’s shit: with 250k$ on the line, you can put up with a lot. But that’s not most people in most gyms.
So, yes, intervals have their place. I simply feel that they aren’t appropriate right off the bat given the overarching goal I’ve been hammering away: break in the obese beginner without breaking them. Intervals can and should be done at some point, just not in the beginning stages of training.
Ok, so that’s cardio and intervals, how to progress and alter the weight room program?
Weight Room Progressions and Variations
With the basic routine I presented above, at the time I simply had clients doing a single set of 8-12 repetitions on everything, progressing weight as they were able; typically they’d be performing 11 total sets after the first three workouts. So when they got to 12 reps fairly easily, I’d have them raise weight a bit. Depending on the exercise this would often drop the reps back and then the goal was to build back up to 12 over time before increasing again. Rinse and repeat for as long as they keep making progress.
It’s very simple, very doable, very understandable and simply very effective in the initial stages of training (keep in mind we’re talking here about folks looking at fat loss and general health so their strength goals are much more moderate than someone else). I’d note that most studies show exactly the same strength gains with 1 set vs 3 in the beginning trainee and, even if 3 sets does generate more strength gains, you have to weigh a doubling or tripling of workout time against the realities of that population and any gains that might occur. If I can get most or all of the strength gains in 30 minutes as in 60 or more minutes, I’ll stick with the 30 minute program for someone.
And while I started every exercise very light, I’d usually find that my clients would start to push themselves a little bit harder over time simply over their own accord. This was a very gradual progression and happened a lot as a function of the double progression itself. Since they usually wanted to get to 12, especially as they got more confident in the performance of the exercises, they’d start pushing themselves a bit harder over time. They’d want to get to 12 and would push harder to get there even as the weights went up.
My only requirement was that they only did as many reps as they could do in good form. But in addition, I’d often encourage them to get the next repetition when it looked like they were giving up a bit early. Just to teach them that they had more in them and could work harder without dying. Over time this taught them that they could push harder than they thought. So they’d be at 9 reps or something and starting to struggle, and I’d encourage another rep or two. They’d accomplish it and stop. Left to their own devices they might have stopped at 9 but I got them to 11 and they’d start to learn that they were capable of more than they thought. The next time they’d get to 12, then get to increase the weight, you get the idea.
And over the span of the first 4-6 weeks of training, they often got to where they working fairly close to their limits without ever having felt particularly overloaded because the increase happened to gradually. I’d also mention that as the weights got heavier, I’d often start adding a warm-up set first along with another mini-lecture on why it’s necessary, how heavy to make it, etc. So they might do a quick warm-up set of leg press, chest press, and row (those exercises warm everything smaller up anyhow) at 60-75% of the work weight.
What I Might Change Now
Readers may recall my mention of glycogen depletion in previous parts of this series and how that enhances full body fat oxidation, insulin sensitivity and nutrient partitioning and why that’s useful in the obese population. And this is a place where, were I working heavily with this population again, I might do things a bit differently.
To whit, rather than focusing on progressive overload in that moderate 8-12 repetition range, at least in the first few weeks of training, I’d probably be more likely to increase the repetitions first (to get into the 15-20 repetition range) to increase glycogen depletion; still with that single set. Then, rather than adding new exercises, I *might* go to multiple sets of the primary ones (or I might add the new exercises and keep the reps higher).
In this type of approach, I’d still suggest starting with a single set of 8-12 reps at that very first workout. Even in a beginner, pushing the reps too high can cause excessive fatigue and soreness which is to be avoided. But after that first workout, assuming they got all 12 reps, you might push them to 15 reps at the second workout and then 20 at the third workout (the sets should be about 45-60 seconds in total duration so a fairly moderate pace as this is where glycogen will be best depleted). Then you could use a single progression in that 15-20 repetition range (i.e. get 20 reps, add a bit of weight to bring it down to 15, push up to 20, raise weight).
Alternately, as I mentioned above, you could just get them to 20 reps and then add a second set. So rather than building up to the full 11 movements over the first week and then maintaining at a single set, trainers might consider sticking with the big 4 (or some combination) of leg press, chest press, row and something for core and start building the sets up, perhaps adding a set per week of 15-20 repetitions, to a maximum of 3-4 sets (this would take you to week 3-4 of training). I don’t know that one approach is better than another. It probably all works out the same in the end.
Done for 4 compound exercises (or even lower body, compound push, compound pull), that’s 12-16 sets. With a moderate rest interval, that can be accomplished in 30-40 minutes leaving time for other stuff (warmups, cooldowns, foam rolling, mobility work, etc.). And built up over the first 3-4 weeks, this will not only start to build the clients work capacity but do a good job of depleting muscle glycogen to enhance full body fat oxidation. At this point, you could bring reps back down or start adding other exercises.
Combined with a lowering of calories/carbohydrates, this will start to retrain the obese client’s body to use fat for a fuel more effectively as discussed in previous parts of the series; combine with cardio you start to retool skeletal muscle to use fat for fuel more effectively. All of this adds up to both improved metabolic health and fat loss.
And is effectively what a lot of the metabolic type weight training workouts out there are attempting to accomplish. I’m simply suggesting building up to it over the first few weeks rather than jumping straight into the full volume and killing people. And using easily controlled machine movements rather than the complex bodyweight nonsense that I can assure you almost no obese untrained beginner will be able to accomplish.
Back to My Original Program
I’d note that, even within the context of my own basic 1 set routine, usually about week 6 or so, I’d typically introduce beginning clients to some new movements. I might switch out one or two or I might just switch out everything depending on what kind of mood I was in.
So rather than a machine chest press, I’d teach them a DB flat or DB incline press. Rather than the row machine, they’d get a cable row. Machine shoulder presses might become a DB overhead press or lateral raises and I might teach a different variant on the pulldown (medium overgrip rather than narrow undergrip). As much as anything this was to prevent boredom (both theirs and mine), as well it gave them more options for when they were in the gym. Even two exercises per bodypart gives a lot of possible variation for someone even if you never see them again.
This was also often a time where, if I felt they were ready, I might start to introduce more complex free weight movements. Once again, this was a case by case basis but assuming they’d made it to the 6 week mark without any major hiccups, they were probably ready to start doing more involved movements both physically and psychologically. They’ve been nothing but successful for 6 weeks and hopefully are starting to want to do more.
As a trainer, you can always turn this into a positive by explaining “Look, you’ve made so much progress that I think you’re ready for some more complex movements. You won’t be great at them at first but I know you’ll get it.” Now what could turn into a disaster comes across as an expression of faith in them. Additionally, by teaching free weight exercises, the client now has options for when they travel since machines vary from gym to gym.
Now how I approached this could vary. Sometimes they’d do the original workout one day (to keep working at something they were already skilled at, more positive reinforcement) and do the new movements on a different workout. So if you have them three times per week consider doing their original workout Monday and Friday and new exercises on Wednesday; effectively sandwiching the new, less skilled movements in between two positive workouts with stuff they’ve already got dialed in. This way they don’t lose anything they’ve gained on the older movements while they are learning the new ones.
In other cases, often when I had less time, I’d move them to a basic split routine. This was often useful for 30 minute clients as I could get them doing more movements and sets without running over the time I had for them. So rather than 11 exercises for one set of a full body routine done every day, I could get them doing multiple sets of 5-6 exercises at each workout. This was almost always a basic upper/lower+abs type of routine. This also gave more flexibility during the week since they didn’t have to worry about having a full day off after every full body routine.
In any case I think you get the idea of what I was trying to accomplish here. The goal as always was to break them in without breaking them and then get them into a nice gradual progression such that by week 4-6 (past the time good habits are starting to get ingrained) they had actually developed some fitness and momentum without ever really breaking them.
By the time they had built their fitness up from a near zero baseline at the start, they were often working far harder than they ever thought possible and had reached that point by week 6 or 8 without ever really feeling overloaded. They had never walked out of the gym destroyed with fatigue, hopefully never woke up with crippling soreness and never felt miserable. My goal was to make every workout a success.
Intensifying things a bit at this point is not only a good idea but reasonable from a physiological standpoint; they have the basic fitness to handle it now and should have developed enough confidence from receiving positive reinforcement to be ready for it. It still needn’t be some major shock to the system, just a gradual increase in the workload (either frequency, volume, intensity or some combination) to get them moving to the next level of fitness and training. Teach a more complex exercise, add a set or two every few workouts, push them a bit harder. You can consider dropping reps to 6-8. There are tons of options. The key is to always keep the changes gradual and continuous.
If nothing else, it’s crucial to make clients of all sorts understand that progression is the name of the game. People working at the same level endlessly aren’t getting fitter and usually aren’t getting leaner either (you can see this in any gym anywhere). Teaching beginner clients about the critical need to progress over time is a key to the educational aspect of being a trainer. It doesn’t have to be a continuous death-march to higher and higher levels of intensity and volume but over time things do need to progress over time to avoid stagnation.
Your Specific Situation (Section Added 2014)
Before finishing up, I want to add one last section to this article series which has to do with the approach I used and how it might differ (or not) from what a trainer reading this might do. I was working predominantly in large crowded, commercial gyms with full equipment set ups (one silly gym had 5, count them 5 complete sets of different machine circuits ranging from Med-Ex to hydraulic shit that never worked), with clients who often didn’t want to be there in the first place, who had been foisted upon me by a sales team who had lied to them about “free personal training” (we offered free initial consultations). And since I was, and remain, a shitty salesperson, often were only willing to commit to a 3-pack of training sessions.
That, as much as anything, informed my approach to training the client although, given a different set of circumstances, I wouldn’t have changed much in my overall approach in terms of the concept (break them in without breaking them in, gradual increases from a low starting point) although the specifics might be different.
Consider for example two of my close friends, the owners and head trainers at Grassiron Gym in Austin, Tx. They run a private training facility outfitted predominantly with barbells and powerracks (with additional things like TRX trainers, sandbags, some basic cardio equipment, etc.) They work with a lot of beginners (including both obese and older trainees) but the nature of their environment is different.
They invariably have their clients for longer periods of time initially, and they are in a controlled environment (unlike the typical commercial gym) where every trainer and trainee is highly supportive of everyone who comes through the door. So many of the concerns regarding embarrassment, not having the client for long enough to teach more complicated movements to the point of competency aren’t relevant.
And while I know the follow the same basic guidelines I’ve laid out (I trust them; I sent my mother to them the last time she visited), they approach it different in terms of the specifics. But that’s fine; they have a system that works for them and I know they break in their beginners without breaking them. They may use bodyweight squats working up to barbell squats or a trap bar DL while I used the leg press but that’s a detail issue. They do their mobility and roam rolling as part of warm-ups and cool-downs, program basic weight training programs (trust me, you can get a LOT done with only a 40 minute training session), etc.
My point being that your specific situation will inform how you apply (or don’t) the information I’ve blathered on and on about. My point with this wasn’t ever to say mine was the only approach (in terms of the specifics) to use; I used it mainly to try to illustrate the principles of what I was talking about. Again, focus on the fundamental principles of what I’m talking about; they always matter more than the specifics details. Start slowly, try to at least think about the issues that an obese beginner with no movement or exercise background might have that a light motivated trainee might not have to deal with, build up gradually, make sure the client sees nothing but success right off the bat, etc.
So finally, that would seem to wrap this up. I know it took me a long time to get to the point and hopefully the information presented in this final piece was worth the wait. I imagine some readers are wondering about diet, which I only touched on a little bit in previous parts of the series. Frankly, there’s enough information elsewhere on the site regarding setting up diets and such that I don’t feel the need to rehash it here.
With most beginning clients, I tended to focus more on qualitative changes (e.g. making different food choices) to reduce their caloric intake rather than being on so much of a specific diet; much of this was because most simply weren’t that interested in making wholesale changes to their diet.
Certainly lowering calories and carbohydrates accomplishes some nice things and there is good reason to skew towards a higher protein/higher fat/lower carbohydrate diet in the obese/insulin resistant client. But often just making some qualitative changes is sufficient to get things started (one thing I always emphasized was getting some protein at every meal). More details and complications can be introduced as the client is ready for them.
A lot of this was just client dependent and covering that would take another full and overwritten article series. I sort of touch on this idea in How Detail Oriented Do You Need to Be? basically distinguishing between the type-a ‘all the plumbing diet’ types of folks and those who want small manageable changes. There are pros and cons to both approaches depending on the specifics of the client and the situation.
And all of this will be a very long lead in to my next video which I’ll get up next week.]]>
Then, I’m going to describe how I personally approached the first workout with the obese (and usually the non-obese) beginner in terms of structure along with talking about some generalities of training. I’ll finish up in Part 6 (next week) and talk about progressions in the weight room, on the cardio deck, etc.
Let me note up front that some of what I’m going to write simply represents what I did/found to work in this population when I was working as a personal trainer all those years ago; some of it will be more what I would do now were I still working with that population. You’ll note that nothing really would change now except in degree (e.g. I might do things a touch differently in the weight room in terms of rep ranges or total volume). Someone on the support forum asked me about stretching (mainly to address the issues that tend to come along with our modern life) and I’ll try to touch on that at some point as well.
With that out-of-the-way, I first want to look at what I feel are benefits of getting the obese beginner into weight training from Day 1 (when I originally wrote this series, I had apparently gotten some comments that had misunderstood what I wrote in earlier parts of the series).
As I mentioned in Training the Obese Beginner: Part 2, an under-appreciated fact is that the obese frequently gain muscle mass in the process of becoming obese. So while weight training can still play several important roles, putting an enormous amount of time and energy into it is, as I argued previously, somewhat misplaced. You should do some, but you don’t really need tons of it in this population.
So what are some of the benefits of including weight training in the training of the obese beginner?
Benefits of Weight Training #1: Enhanced Fat Burning/Calorie Partitioning
Well, one I already talked about rather extensively in previous parts of the series. Specifically, you can use weight training to begin depletion of muscle glycogen to start improving whole body fat utilization and the efficiency of fat burning pathways. A long with a lowering of carbohydrates/calories in the diet (often by just removing the most egregious foods from the diet), this can exert a powerful partitioning effect by giving the fatty acids (floating around in the bloodstream) somewhere to go to be burnt off.
Quite in fact, as I discussed in Adding Muscle While Losing Fat – Q&A, I suspect that one of the reasons that over-fat beginners can gain muscle while losing fat has to do with some of the dynamics of what’s going on physiologically due to the development of obesity. Now, realize that properly performed training is possibly the single most powerful tool we have to alter calorie partitioning (where calories go) with regular training increasing nutrient uptake into skeletal muscle in preference to other tissues.
So let’s look at a situation where obesity has progressed to a point where, due to the development of whole-body (and especially fat cell) insulin resistance, fat cells are effectively “pushing fat calories away” since they are full. If you now give those calorie a place to “go” through training, you see this situation where the body seems to shift calories away from fat cells and into muscle. Voîla, fat is lost while muscle is gained.
I’d mention again that, as the obese already have gained some extra LBM in the process of becoming obese, specifically trying to gain muscle mass usually isn’t much of a worthwhile goal. It happens but it’s really not the main “target” in this population and it’s not going to accomplish a whole hell of a lot (in terms of metabolic rate or fat loss).
It is worth being aware of as increases in muscle mass can offset scale weight changes (i.e. you’re gaining 1-2 pounds of muscle while losing 4 pounds of fat so the scale only drops 2 pounds) and make it appear as if fat loss is occurring at a slower rate. This tends to generally only be the case in the very early stages of beginner training but it’s something to let your clients know about sooner rather than later.
Benefits of Weight Training #2: Improving Quality of Life
But beyond that, what are some other benefits of weight training in this population? One has simply to do with correcting many of the imbalances that occur as part and parcel of daily life. This was brought up in the comments to Part 3 and is important and worth consideration; never forget that health is (or at least should) be one end-goal of the whole process. And modern life tends to cause a host of problems as a function of sitting all day, etc. At least some of this can be addressed with basic weight training, improving people’s qualify of life.
This goes to my point in an earlier part about keeping the obese beginner coming to the gym until they notice some objective improvement which is sufficient to make them want to keep continuing. While most are focused on body composition changes, even a change in the relative ease of some aspect of their life is often sufficient to keep them coming back.
As an example of this, I remember specifically a client who I was working with who was getting frustrated with the lack of scale changes. Then, about week 3 (when most are losing faith) she went hiking with her husband and child. It was the first time she was able to keep up and carry her kid at the same time and she came into her next session ecstatic about it. That simple improvement in her life was enough to hook her.
There are other things that can be addressed as well. Going to the issue of stretching and mobility work in this population, keep in mind that full range weight training tends to exert a stretching effect. If you do rows through a full range of motion, you get a stretch to the pecs and anterior deltoids, helping to offset some of the postural issues that our modern life causes. Certainly in some cases you can add specific stretching work as needed but that’s kind of beyond what I can cover here. I’ll touch on it in the final part of the series.
In some cases you can also address very common injury patterns that tend to crop up. As another specific example: back in my 20′s, I couldn’t count the number of clients I had with minor knee problems (especially females) or shoulder problems that had persisted for years that went away with even the most basic of weight training. A set or two of end-range knee extensions (now I might use a different movement) and some basic shoulder re-balancing (stretch what’s tight, strengthen the external rotators) fix most of the issues unless there is an explicit injury; my clients always thought I was a magician when I fixed long-standing problems in 2 weeks with simple exercises.
Once again, outside of specific injuries, this usually doesn’t take much work in the weight room but that small time investment can go a long way in helping to convince the obese beginner (reminder: they frequently don’t want to be there in the first place) of how important exercise is because they notice that it’s making other aspects of their life better and/or easier.
Benefits of Weight Training #3: Positive Reinforcement to Improve Adherence
There is another huge benefit to weight training that I think is often under-appreciated and really goes to the stuff I bored you with in Training the Obese Beginner: Part 4; specifically I’m talking about issues of positive reinforcement and adherence. As I’ve mentioned a few times in this series, as a generality, a lot of obese beginners don’t want to be in the gym in the first place (for various reasons). That’s why I argued that beating the crap out of them on day 1 is such a mistake; giving someone a miserable first experience when they don’t want to be there in the first place is a fantastic way to make them never come back.
But reversing that, on top of starting slowly, it’s equally important for such trainees to see damn near immediate improvements in what they are doing. This provides a positive reinforcement and psychological/physical reward that makes them want to keep coming back for more. And, as I found years ago, and still feel now, weight training, at least properly approached, provides that type of positive reinforcement in a way that aerobic training simply does NOT.
The problem is that aerobic adaptations tend to be fairly slow to occur; there’s just not the immediate bang for the buck that I found the typical obese (or non-) beginner needed to make them feel good and positive about what they were doing. It might be 3-4 weeks before someone really “feels” fitter during aerobic work and gets that first adaptation.
Given that some absurd percentage of beginners quit around the 3 week mark, that was simply too slow to make a difference; many clients would quit before they started to feel or see any real benefit. Even if they came out of every workout with positive affect due to proper intensity selection, I needed to make them feel as if they were making progress and moving forwards immediately.
And I found that I could get exactly that benefit with weight training. By approaching it in the way I’ll describe shortly, I made the trainee feel as if they had made improvements from the first to second workout. As you’ll see, some of this was a bit of trickery on my part but, you know what? I didn’t care. Whatever got them coming back was more important than a bit of deception to make it happen.
Basically, by picking exercises and weights that they could see immediate improvement in from the first to second workout, I generated a huge positive reinforcement effect. Rather than feeling as if they couldn’t do exercise or sucked at it or whatever mental state they carried in with them (based on either pre-existing expectations or simply past experiences), I got them an immediate feeling of success. Cardio didn’t do that quickly but weights did.
So there ya’ go, at least three solid reasons to include some resistance training from Day 1 of training the obese beginner: metabolic, functional and psychological benefits. There are probably more I’ve forgotten but, honestly, I think that’s enough reason to include it from the first day out. Again, you needn’t put overwhelming amounts of time and energy into it but I do think that weight training should be part of the training of the obese beginner from the start.
I bring this up explicitly because there is often an odd idea that the obese beginner should just focus solely on cardio to get fat/weight loss moving and worry about weights later. But for the reasons I’ve outlined above and throughout this series, I think that including it in at least some form or fashion from the get-go is worthwhile.
So let’s now switch gears and talk about some of the benefits of aerobic/cardiovascular exercise in the obese beginner population.
Benefits of Aerobic Activity #1: Improving Fitness
I mentioned in a previous part of this series that at least initially, most obese beginners have a very low tolerance for any sort of activity and this tends to include anything but the most low intensity cardiovascular exercise. Even that is often problematic beyond a few minutes at a go. As I detailed, this makes the expectation of burning a tremendous amount of calories or fat through cardio pretty much a pipe dream. At least initially.
I would note, very tangentially, that several studies have found that accumulating activity throughout the day can generate, at least in the initial stages of training, benefits equivalent to doing it all continuously. That is, 10 minutes of activity done three times per day generates at least similar effects to doing 30 minutes all at once. For beginners with extremely low tolerance to activity, that’s one way to get a larger daily total without having any single bout be too overwhelming.
Now, this is normally suggested within the context of someone’s full day. But in some circumstances, a gym trainer can even put this to use. Maybe you start with 5-10 minutes of cardio to warm-up. Go do a few weight exercises. Then back to cardio. Back to weights. Back to cardio. If you have an hour, not only are you breaking things up but, boom, you’ve just accumulated 15-30 minutes of aerobic activity without killing the client or boring them to death.
But beyond that, the only way to improve something is to do it regularly. For that reason alone, doing some cardiovascular work from the get go is important. Even if someone can’t do much to start, this will improve over time. So in addition to any metabolic benefits on insulin sensitivity, caloric expenditure or whatever, the simple fact is that, over time fitness can and will improve if training is applied correctly.
So even if the obese beginner can’t do much to start with, they can gradually increase their capacities over time. As they become fitter, they can do more in their training, driving fitness further, allowing them to do more. It’s just one big feed-forward cycle if you do it correctly. Of course that means starting gradually and not killing them, progressing as they are able, etc.
Benefits of Aerobic Activity #2: Improving Program/Diet Adherence (Maybe)
But what about benefits beyond that? Perhaps one of the most important, and this also got mentioned in the comments to a previous part, is overall adherence to the program, especially to diet. This is something I’ve mentioned in several of my books but, at least in some groups, there is a mental association that tends to occur with activity and diet. To whit, on days that people do some sort of exercise, they often stick to their diet better. There is sort of this underlying logic of “I worked out, why would I blow my diet?” In contrast, days without activity tend to be less predictable or be worse in terms of dietary adherence.
I’d note, and please realize that discussing in detail this would take another overwritten article series, that this is a very complicated issue and how exercise does or does not affect things like dietary adherence or appetite depends heavily on the psychology of the dieter and a host of other factors. More specifically, we’ve all known those people who justify that they “earned that cheeseburger and milkshake” because they worked out, usually based on the faulty assumption that they burned far more calories than they actually did.
But that’s an issue of education as much as anything else (there is a related issue of individual psychology that I’m not going to get into) and making people understand that they did not in fact burn 1000 calories with 30 minutes of brisk walking. Or even an hour aerobic class. Or in anything that they are currently capable of. And in also making them understand that they can all too readily offset (and then some) any deficit from activity if they don’t keep their diet under control.
But assuming they understand that, for many people a day that they exercise is a day that they are more likely to adhere to their diet. That’s good, especially given that dietary modification may be the most important target to work on in terms of getting fat loss started anyhow.
I won’t give it its own section but, as you’ll see below, I personally used cardio sessions during to give clients little mini-lectures since I considered education as important as anything else I was doing. With them walking on the treadmill, I had a captive audience and I could teach them about things like training (I might explain RPE or the FITT equation) or talk about aspects of diet or what have you. Not that I’m suggesting that you necessarily use that part of your hour to do that, but it is another possible way to put cardio to use beyond the most commonly thought of purpose (burning calories and fat).
So there you have multiple benefits to including cardio in the program from day 1. There are the obvious metabolic effects, the simple fact that the only way to improve fitness in an activity is to do it and possible adherence issues. Trainers can also use it as a time to educate their clients while they have them captive and aren’t worrying about details of the weight room. And don’t worry, I’m not skirting the whole “Interval training for beginners” issue; I’ll tack that on in the final part of the series.
Putting it All Together
Ok, with all of that out of the way, let me try to put all of this together in a more applied way. Basically, here I’m going to outline what I personally did with this population of clients years ago. As I mentioned at the outset, I’d probably do some things a bit differently now but the differences would be in the details more than anything else. The overall structure of how I approached it or think it should be approached wouldn’t change.
I’m also not saying that what I’m going to write is the only way to go about things. Clearly there are a lot of workable approaches within the issues I’ve tried to address in this series. This was simply mine (much of which was a function of the gyms I trained in, what I had access to, my client base, how much time I had, etc.) Just focus on the principles of what I’m talking about; don’t get hung up in minor details.
The First Workout
Most trainers work on a 50 minute hour more or less. And all too often make the mistake that if they have an hour of training, they need to fill it up to “give the client their money’s worth”. There is some truth to this (it’s hard to keep someone coming back and writing the checks if you make them sit around half the session) but in the beginning stages, you have to forget that stuff, the goal is not to beat on them for an hour. The goal is to break them in without breaking them as I discussed ad nauseum in Training the Obese Beginner: Part 4. And that’s how I approached it.
Anyhow, here was my ideal first “hour” session with the typical obese beginner (really any beginner):
First I’d spend 25-30 minutes on intake paperwork. Just the various pieces of information, including injuries, health risks, a quick look at diet (to look for any major red flag areas), etc. that needed to get done so I knew what I was dealing with and if there were any major issues. For anybody who’s interested, I’ve uploaded a zip file of the exact paperwork I used. Click here to download it. If I were doing measurements of any sort (skinfolds or tape measure), I’d do them here at the very end of the paperwork.
I’d note that, as I got more experience as a trainer, I often did away with the measurement part of the initial consultation. For the very obese, not only are the measurements pretty useless, they can be embarrassing which is not what you want at the outset. In many cases, you can’t get a good measurement anyhow. Trying to get a good skinfold on the thigh of an obese woman is pointless. Not only won’t you get a good measurement, odds are you’ll make her feel really embarrassed so it’s just a lose/lose situation. It’s just not worth it in my opinion.
Skinfolds also don’t really tell you anything that other less invasive methods won’t tell you, as I discussed in Initial Body Fat and Body Composition Changes, almost any weight loss in the obese is from fat assuming the program is not completely moronic. Taking skinfolds doesn’t tell you anything useful and may be a negative psychologically. If the clients weight is going down, most of it will be fat (again remember that small increases in muscle mass initially may offset fat loss in terms of the total weight loss).
Even if some of that loss is LBM, if they are weight training, it’s most likely inessential LBM and glycogen/water which isn’t worth caring about (recall that many obesity experts accept 25% LBM loss as “normal” and “acceptable” in the obese). Basically, simply putting them on the scale tells you most of what you need at this point.
At most at this point, I might take tape measure measurements but only to show how much those numbers had changed at the 6-8 week mark. This can be useful since often weight won’t show a major change initially although inches are being lost (e.g. fat is being lost while some muscle is being gained and offsetting the scale drop). Again, you have to weigh this against potential embarassment of the client and the simple fact that changes in how their clothes are fitting will tell you just as much as taking formal measurements.
The same goes for exercise testing which I stopped doing very early on. Testing a max bench or leg press or whatever nonsense on day 1 is simply pointless in this population. It tells you nothing since most will improve by the second workout just based on practice alone and given that the goal is to start sub-maximally, there is simply NO logic to putting a beginner through a maximum exercise test of any sort on the first day so that you can then back them off to 50% of that to start the actual exercise program.
Most flexibility evaluations (i.e. sit and reach) are worthless too, they don’t measure what people think they measure anyhow (and yes I realize a lot of people are big into movement screening these days). Just do the paperwork, maybe take tape measure measurements and stick them on the scale and then get them in the gym. The rest of it, if you decide to do it at all, can wait until after the first 6-8 week block of training.
Now, I could usually bust out the initial paperwork, etc. in about 25-30 minutes tops. On an hour session, that left me 25-30 minutes for their first workout. Yes, that’s right I “wasted” the first half of their first session with paperwork and such. But it wasn’t a waste in my opinion. First and foremost, it was information that I needed in the first place and I universally found that 20-30 minutes of activity was about the most that the typical beginner (obese or not) could handle.
Doing it this way got me the information I needed and basically made sure that their first workout couldn’t be too much. Since the client didn’t feel like the first half of the session was wasted either, that was a double benefit. Simply, this was just a way to ensure that their first session was a way to break them in without breaking them. Because in that 25-30 minute training session, I could have them do just enough to get started and walk out of the gym feeling good without doing too much so that they were wrecked. Again, there are always exceptions. If I got an athlete or someone with a previous sports background and I’d do it differently. But that’s not the topic of this series.
But in this population, the rank newbie (again, obese or not) 20-30 minutes was about right. And before you dismiss me out of hand, think about it this way: a coach starting with a new runner might have them go for a 20 minute jog on their first day. Possibly less than that. What makes you think an obese beginner needs more training than that other than the fact that you work on a billable hour and want to “Show them your stuff”?
Quite in fact, I often did 30 minute workouts with people in the long-term. As I mentioned in Training the Obese Beginner Part 3, that’s plenty enough time to do the weight training they need to do. Assuming that they will do aerobic work on their own, I saw no point in charging them for me to watch them do cardio. So I’d often do 30 minute workouts with them.
So specifically what did I do in that first workout and how did I progress it over time? What reps, what intensity, what volume? What about progression? What about interval training which we all know has shown to be superior to everything ever? That I’ll talk about in the final part next week.]]>
This would ideally be combined with progressive amounts of cardio as fitness improves to both burn of fatty acids directly and start to retool mitochondria to overcome that defect. Which is all well and good but doesn’t provide much in the way of practical guidance.
And, make no mistake, I’m going to talk about those very things in the last two parts of the series (again, remember this is all leading into a brand spanking new video at the end of this mess). Today, I want to take a slightly different approach to the topic by looking at of how not to go about training the obese beginner.
Breaking them In without Breaking Them: Part 1
As I noted in Training the Obese Beginner: Part 2 and talked about in the Beginning Weight Training series (in a different context), most beginning trainees have a low tolerance for training. And at least one goal of the initial phases of working out is (or at least should be), to get them in shape to be able to actually train.
I realize that this sounds illogical but trust me it isn’t.
Now, as most will hopefully readily accept probably the single most important facet of improving any aspect of your life (including fitness and health) is consistency. As the old joke goes “Showing up is half the battle” and the simple fact is that getting many people to simply show up in the first place is often the problem. That means getting folks into the habit of performing regular activity.
In the initial stages of training, consistency in training (or diet) is far more important than anything else. It’s about forming habits, you can worry about issues of volume, frequency, intensity later. But first and foremost you have to get people showing up on a regular basis. Because the most brilliant training program isn’t worth a damn if the person isn’t there to actually do it.
And don’t read this as one of those silly things that occasionally gets voiced “Oh, I’ll join a gym after I get into shape.” by people. I’m saying that you can’t really train someone effectively (in the sense of really training them hard enough to improve physiological qualities) initially until you get them in at least basic shape first. Well, you can, in that you can always beat the hell out of them before they are ready for it. But only if you want to hurt them and/or or make them quit.
I’d note that this isn’t specific to the obese client, it really applies to anyone new to training whether the goals are related to sports, performance or simply changing body composition. Anybody new to training needs a break-in period to get them prepared to train effectively and I’d note that all athletes go through at least a short re-break in period after returning from a layoff or their transition phase. Certainly it may only be a few weeks before the real training starts but nobody goes balls out day 1 out of the gate.
However, there are often some subtle motivational and psychological differences between the “average” obese beginner and the wannabe psycho motivated would-be athlete or bodybuilder or whatever that I think many people tend to forget about. And that’s something I want to look at briefly.
In the second case, that of a motivated individual, the psychology is often such that even if you beat up on them the first day, they’ll come back for more. They want to be there, they want to be big, they want to be strong or they want to perform at the highest levels of their sport.
This type of trainee want desperately to be in the gym getting their brains beaten in to get to their goals. So you can beat the crap out of them and they’ll come back for more. I still think it’s a bad idea to do it that way but you can usually “get away” with it without chasing them off. In many ways, they’ll probably equate getting beaten on with reaching their goal anyhow. So they keep coming back.
But that’s generally very different from the situation I’m addressing in this article series, the obese beginner who, with all likelihood not only has a low exercise tolerance but probably doesn’t really want to be exercising in the first place.I mentioned this in Part 1 but will reiterate it here: perhaps they had previous bad/failed experiences with trying to work out. Perhaps their last trainer beat the crap out of them and made them hate exercise.
But odds are that part of what put them where they are in the first place is a general dislike/disillusionment with exercise. Maybe they are just wired that they don’t enjoy it (there is at least some evidence that activity patterns are “hardwired” into the brain). Maybe they just expect it to be miserable and go into it with the wrong attitude, proving to themselves what they already believed.
Ultimately it sort of doesn’t matter what the underlying reason is; rather, my point is that this is a population that generally doesn’t want to be in the gym in first place as often as not. Basically, in contrast to the psycho who wants to be in the gym, in the typical obese beginner, you’re dealing with the diametrically opposed psychology.
And in that population, if you beat up on them the first day, odds are they won’t ever come back. Not unless you got them to pay for the big personal trainer package up front. Sometimes not even then. Even if you know you have them for the next month, beating on them out of the gate is still usually not the best approach in my opinion. Discussing this will take most of the rest of today but will set up for me to finish in the last two parts.
In general, I think it’s fair to say that most who become personal trainers tend to come from the motivated psycho athlete population; if they didn’t have that drive they wouldn’t have become trainers. This isn’t universal of course but I daresay it’s more common than not. And what I find is that the psycho motivated hard head often has no understanding, much less appreciation, of the psychology of someone coming from the obese beginner population; they were never there themselves and can’t understand someone who is.
Breaking them In without Breaking Them: Part 2
Now I know that some trainers operate this way, bringing their clients in, beating them up, and that some of them seem to make it work (Crossfit sure seems to be doing ok despite regularly injuring it’s members). I once asked a trainer I knew “So how do you keep them coming back if you make them too sore to move on day 1?”
His answer, in a deep Scottish Brogue was “Oh, we get the money upfront, it doesn’t matter what we do; they’ve paid enough that we know they’ll come back.” It’s really no wonder he has to steal other people’s work, he doesn’t have a clue about how to actually train someone.
In any case, my goal in training that second population, the non-motivated beginner trainee (obese or not) was always this: I wanted to break them into training without breaking them, to make them realize that exercise didn’t have to be miserable and exhausting and soreness inducing, so that I’d keep them coming back consistently.
As noted above, that’s more important than anything else in the initial stages: keep them coming back consistently enough so that exercise becomes a habit. Consistently enough so that they’d start to see/feel some of the benefits (or see changes in body composition) at which point I’d usually have them hooked. Since that typically took anywhere from 3-6 weeks (depending on what you’re talking about/looking at) that meant ensuring that they were consistent over at least that time frame.
By taking a longer view, focusing on only that consistency, it meant that , over time, gradually increase the workload and move them to higher levels of fitness without ever feeling like they were really being beaten up. And I did it while getting them into good exercise habits by doing my best to ensure that they came back long enough to start realizing benefits and actually wanting to be there.
Towards that goal, every workout was meant to be a little bit of an improvement over the last one (so that they got positive reinforcement and felt successful in what they were trying to do) without ever really breaking them. By the time they reached a fairly high level of output and work performance, they had never really felt the increases because they were so gradual. It just sort of snuck up on them.
To be honest, I wasn’t aware of any of the science or research that I’m going to bore you with below; that’s just what made sense to me. Either I was just lucky, or somewhat intuitive, or simply didn’t have my head completely up my ass when it came to thinking about this stuff. But I didn’t see the logic of beating the crap out of a rank beginner and making them so unhappy that odds are they wouldn’t come back.
Basically, and this can be tough, you have to take the long view on certain things. Because while beating up on them in the short-term may accomplish some things (some good, some bad; mostly bad in my opinion), the long-term results are at risk.
The Biggest Loser is a good example, to harp on that point. What happens when someone who has lost a ton of weight with 4+ hours of training per day and a massively restrictive diet gets in a situation where that’s not feasible? They have no idea where to go because the only approach they know is one that is simply unrealistic in the long-term for most folks.
Again, there are always exceptions to this, I’m speaking here in generalities. There are a time and a place for extreme approaches out the gate (as I discussed in Is Rapid Fat Loss Right for You, some data suggests that faster initial weight loss leads to better long-term maintenance but that’s diet, not exercise and it’s predicated on knowing how to move to maintenance afterwards). And, generally speaking, my feeling is that it’s better to take somewhat of the long view, especially with regards the exercise program to give a better chance of long-term adherence.
Because, if instead of beating the crap out of them on day 1 and every day following, instead, you take the long-view and build up progressively and keep them coming back consistently without ever feeling like it’s miserable or terrible, the odds of getting them into good habits goes up. And that leads me into my last irrelevant tangent for the series (famous last words).
Ok, that dead horse has been beaten, now it’s time to really bore the hell out of you.
Affect, Self-Paced Exercise and Self-determination Theory: Part 1
Affect is a psychological term, think of it very simplistically as how you feel either during or after an activity (I’m sure at least one reader with a psych background will take issue with this extremely broad definition; I can live with it). So if you watch a sad movie and come out of it sad, that might be termed a negative affect.
If you watch a Will Ferrell movie and come out of it laughing and happy, well, two things: First that’s a positive affect, you felt better afterwards. Second, you have terrible taste in movies and no sense of real comedy because that guy is about as funny as a heart attack. But I digress.
In the beginning trainee (and whether this is specific to the obese trainee or not is not relevant here), generating a positive affect from exercise is important, at least assuming you want them to continue doing it. Because as a generality, people don’t tend to continue things that make them feel bad.
And if the first day out of the gate, a trainee comes out of exercise feeling miserable, exhausted, like a failure and wakes up the next day too sore to move, that’s going to generate a negative affect; both during and after the training session. Basically they will have a negative emotional/psychological response to what they are trying to change in their life. In general, that is not consistent with generating long-term adherence.
To beat this dead horse down, if I make you do something every other day that does nothing but make you feel miserable (on either a psychological or physiological level), do you consider yourself likely to continue doing it? Probably not.
Of course, there are exceptions; that odd subculture of folks who equate pain and suffering with positive outcomes. They are usually called athletes. Or masochists. Not that there is really a difference. But that’s doesn’t apply to the majority of whom I’m talking about. Or the majority of mentally balanced individuals (which top athletes never are).
I bring this up as what I see far too many trainers do (and some trainees do in fact ask for this) is bring their beginner clients (obese or not) in and just beat the piss out of them on the first day. Watch any first episode of the Biggest Loser for an example, or just watch the gym and see what the trainers often do with clients on the first day.
There are usually a few things going on here that I think drive this type of mentality.
The first is that the trainer has forgotten what it was like to be a beginner. I see too many trainers assume that what they are doing now (10+ years into their own training) is what everyone should do. Basically they know how to train themselves but have forgotten how to train a rank beginner. My old speed skating coach told me once that he always loved having new beginner skaters (many coaches will only work with established elites) as it forced him to revisit the fundamentals of training and skating. There is a lesson there.
Even there, as I mentioned above, even as beginners they probably started out in the psycho motivated camp I mentioned above; they didn’t mind being beaten up as they wanted to be there and be big or buff. They don’t understand what someone who doesn’t have the drive is going through even being in the gym in the first place. They’ve never been overweight (a point I’ll come back to in a later part) or self-conscious about exercise so they can’t understand why anybody else would be.
A second issue is that trainers often have this underlying need to “strut their stuff” really show the trainee that they know what they are doing. That means putting them through their paces and beating the tar out of them to show them how good they are. No. Bad trainer. Bad. No protein cookie for you.
You can show them how good you are AFTER you get them into a consistent routine. Day 1 is not the time. Neither is Day 3 or even Week 3. Beginners don’t need anything but the simplest stuff to get moving anyhow. There’s just no point to putting them through complex high-volume or high-intensity training out of the gate. It’s not necessary and is likely to have a negative rather than positive effect for most.
Of course, as noted, some clients want this and ask to be put through the grinder assuming that more is better and harder is better (thank you Puritan work ethic). And trainers, who usually don’t know better, are often happy to oblige, feeling that they should give the customer what they want.
But part of being a trainer in my opinion is education and knowing what’s right or wrong for the trainee (this goes for coaches too, athletes usually don’t know what they need; if they did they wouldn’t need the coach and it’s his job to tell the athlete when to shut up and listen). If that means educating them to do less (at least initially) rather than more, that’s what they should do. Not pander to the client’s (confused) belief about what they should be doing.
Ok, where am I going with this?
Affect, Self-Paced Exercise and Self-determination Theory: Part 2
So let’s assume for a second that the goal of exercise is to generate a positive affect, working from the assumption that this will give the greatest likelihood of keeping the person coming back and getting into a consistent routine. Which is not only fairly common sensical but supported by the research. How do we do that?
Research on exercise (mostly aerobic) has found that certain types of activity are more likely to generate a positive affect in beginners/the obese than others. I’d note that some other, really complex studies, find that differences in brain function suggest individual differences in how people’s affect change with different types of training but that’s far more complex than I have space to get into here.
In one specific study, exercise below, at or above the ventilatory threshold (VT, essentially the same as the lactate threshold, a bunch of other stuff as discussed in Predictors of Endurance Training Performance, just think of it as the highest intensity you can maintain for about an hour) were examined for its impact on affect after the training.
The study found this:
This isn’t really surprising except for maybe #2. The explanation for that has to do with internal motivations and individual variance. Some people, and this has to be judged on a case by case basis, don’t feel good about an activity if they don’t feel that they actually did some work.
That is, some folks find that stuff that is too easy feels like a waste of time. For them, working closer to VT generates positive affect; for others it doesn’t. But universally working below VT generated positive affect. And universally, working above the VT was a negative. Other work, using the lactate threshold (which is effectively the same as the VT) shows the same basic response; work below is consistently met with positive affect, work at with highly variable affect, work above with negative affect.
Quick question for all of the interval freaks: where do you think intervals fall relative to VT? What type of affect do you think it will generate in an untrained beginner? Why do you think even the researchers studying this point out that “While these results are interesting, the intensities used are far beyond what a beginner can be expected to sustain?” And yes, I will come back to the interval issue in a later part in more detail.
Seriously, knock that shit off. Even highly trained athletes don’t really “enjoy” interval training; they do it because it has to be done. But it doesn’t generate a positive affect; it’s simply that the benefits are worth the suffering. For the obese beginner…well, knock that shit off.
Affect, Self-Paced Exercise and Self-determination Theory Part 3
The above topic was the topic of a monster paper (with the title “Exercise, affect, and adherence: an integrated model and a case for self-paced exercise.“) and basically argue for using self-paced exercise (that is, allowing the trainee to pick their own comfortable pace for exercise) as a way of ensuring positive affect from it. That is, rather than pushing them to do something that makes them feel miserable and generate a negative affect (impairing compliance), let them pick the pace they want to give a better chance at positive affect and longer term adherence.
Interestingly, left to their own devices, most people will pick a pace that is near but below their own individual VT/LT discussed above. Basically they tend to pick a pace that’s challenging but doesn’t generate negative affect for them. The paper makes a strong case that allowing that type of self-pacing of exercise may be better than using more traditional methods (e.g. based on heart rate or VO2 max or heart rate reserve).
This is especially true given that, in the untrained beginner, things like VT/LT can vary so much that any stock standard intensity gauge (e.g. 70% of maximum heart rate) may put them well out of an exercise intensity that will generate a positive affect.
An additional benefit of allowing beginners to self-select their exercise intensity ties into something called self-determination theory (SDT) which, very broadly, refers to the idea that people who feel as if they have some control over what they are doing and the outcome do better than those who don’t.
Basically, people do more poorly when they feel as if they are just being told what to do rather than having some input over their own program or diet or what have you (at least one recent study showed massively better results with a diet group that applied SDT).
Of course, a counter argument to this is that, left to their own devices (and you can prove this to yourself in any gym by watching folks), most people will piss around for weeks or months without ever working outside of their comfort zone which is an equally poor approach at the other extreme; they’ll “walk” on the treadmill at some irrelevant intensity and never push the pace at all and wonder why magic doesn’t happen.
You have to find a middle ground (some of which involves educating the trainee about the need for progressive overload, etc.) between “murder them” and “piss around at an irrelevant intensity”. And at least some of that goes back to education (from a trainer’s perspective) making folks understand that as they get comfortable with things, they have to start working harder.
Mind you, and I’ll come back to this in a later part of the series (there’s only two more), this is really an issue for the longer term of training, not for the very beginning stages. In the beginning stages, letting folks self-select intensity would seem to provide the best benefits and fewest negatives in terms of long-term adherence type issues. Even if it’s “too low” off the bat, if that means getting them consistently into the gym that’s fine. Every study ever shows that pretty much anything above baseline improves fitness in beginners so hard they are working just doesn’t matter.
Again, mainly here I’m talking about the initial phases of training, how to get someone who has a low tolerance for activity and likely doesn’t want/like exercise, to keep showing up and doing it. That means having them finish EVERY workout on a positive note, and feeling as if they’ve not only accomplished something, but are progressing and feel as if they have some input over the program. But you do have to strike a balance here. But it appears that, at least with aerobic training, there may be some real benefit to allowing a self-paced intensity to be used.
Resistance training is a touch more complex, mind you, since self-selection of intensity can go all kinds of different ways (usually males will try to work far too hard and women won’t work at all). There I find that trainers have to exert a touch more control over things but I’m getting ahead of myself. That’s what I’ll discuss in the last two parts of the series.
Read Training the Obese Beginner: Part 5]]>
One More (Irrelevant) Tangent: Fat Loss vs. Improved Health
Mainly throughout this series, I’ve focused on fat loss as the primary end-goal for the obese trainee but it’s worth noting that this is absolutely NOT the only (or even necessarily the primary/best) end goal when we talk about exercise and dietary modification. Certainly it’s the one that most people are concerned about but that doesn’t mean that’s automatically correct. Because there is also the whole health thing to consider.
Yes, yes, I know, “getting healthier” is not nearly as sexy a goal as “looking better naked” (perhaps literally) but that doesn’t make it any less important. There are a lot of things that can make you look better naked that don’t necessarily make you healthier and there are things that make you healthier that don’t automatically make you look better naked.
And in that vein studies clearly show that even small weight losses (as little as 10% of current weight) can drastically improve health parameters. So even if someone never achieves a “norma”‘ or “ideal” (two very loaded words that I’m not touching here) weight or body fat percentage, that doesn’t make that act of losing weight/fat useless; even small losses may still improve health significantly (in terms of reducing the risk of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, etc).
And in that vein, some studies have even suggested that people who remain overweight but are regularly active may be healthier than folks who are skinnier but inactive (generally, losing weight and being active beats both of course). Please please note my use of the word “may” in that sentence. This is an issue with very mixed data that is contentious as hell. More research is needed so don’t bitch me out in the comments for saying something I didn’t actually say.
In any case, some are now talking about metabolic fitness (in terms of physiological parameters such as insulin resistance of blood lipids or blood pressure) versus things like physical fitness (increased VO2 max or decreased body fat percentage) where it’s possible to influence one without necessarily impacting the second. That is, it may very well be possible to improve health and reduce disease risk even if fitness per se isn’t improved and fat loss per se doesn’t occur.
Back to the Series
Irrespective of all of that the fact is that most folks are looking at fat loss as their end-goal and I did start this series from The Biggest Loser (a show strictly about that) and I’ll continue on with that goal as the primary focus. So for those who skipped the earlier parts, here’s a quick summary of the issues I’ve discussed.
In Training the Obese Beginner: Part 1 I looked at the following:
In and Training the Obese Beginner Part 2, I continued by pointing out:
So given these specifics, lets start looking at how to practically approach the training of an obese beginner to either deal with, take into account, or “fix” these issues.
Becoming a Fat Burning Machine
I want you to know that typing that heading made me die a little bit but that’s how it goes; it’s just such a trite, clichéd and worn out phrase but it actually applies here. As I mentioned in Part 1, a common finding is that the obese individual often has a lot of fatty acids floating around in the bloodstream (secondary to insulin resistance at the fat cell) but tend to rely more heavily on glucose and carbohydrate both at rest and during exercise for a number of reasons (the obese/insulin resistant individual has also often lost metabolic flexibility, that is the ability to switch between glucose and fat for fuel under different conditions but this is still more detail than I want to get into).
Some of this is certainly genetic (i.e. a low baseline fat oxidation may predispose folks towards becoming obese in the modern environment), some of it is due to low activity/impaired mitochondrial function. A lot of it is related to diet with a chronically high carbohydrate intake promoting high carbohydrate oxidation across the board.
This is caused by a number of mechanisms. One has to do with increased muscle and liver glycogen stores; when those tissues are filled, they shift their overall fuel use to carbohydrate. An additional factor is increased insulin levels due to the combination of high carbohydrate intake, high fat intake and insulin resistance that results. Basically, as I discussed very recently in Is Fat the Preferred Fuel of the Body, when carbohydrates are available, the body will prefer to burn them (storing fat).
So the obese individual, despite having tons of fatty acids floating around in the bloodstream, isn’t very effective at burning them for fuel. The solution to this is multi-fold. Obviously diet is a clear place to make changes. Reducing carbohydrate intake with an increase in protein and dietary fat (protein raises insulin very well but fat is relatively neutral) is a good first step. I’m not even saying that a full-blown removal of carbohydrates is required, simply a reduction from the typical chronically high intake will start to accomplish this basic goal. Mind you, this also has the result of reducing total caloric intake which is always required for actual fat loss to occur.
Often times this can be made by making merely qualitative changes in the diet, simply replacing certain foods with others, without having to make actual quantitative changes. This first requires the obese individual knowing what they are actually eating and that means getting a food diary to have them track food.
Less accurate is having the client describe/walk you through a typical day’s eating. Just note that self-reporting tends to be pretty bad as people tend to “forget” or simply not report what they are actually eating. A food diary not only tends to be more accurate but, perhaps more importantly, makes people aware of what they are actually putting in their mouth. So it’s a double-win even if it’s a bit more of a pain in the ass.
But often this simple approach can identify major dietary red flags and places where simple changes can be made that will have big impacts overall. This approach often has the end result of lowering total calorie/carbohydrate control without the person feeling like they are “on a diet”. This is good because it allows people to start reducing their caloric intake without the mental stress of feeling like they are dieting.
But doing this, lowering carbohydrates and raising protein/fat/fiber (every meal should contain all four nutrients) tends to give better blood glucose and appetite control, lowers insulin levels (improving glycemic control which often helps avoid other problems), generally improves a number of metabolic parameters etc.
Again I’m not even saying a full-blown low-carbohydrate/ketogenic diet is required, even something along the lines of the old Zone/Isocaloric Diet/Etc is an excellent place to start. So in the realm of 25-30% protein (better to put this in g/lb), 30-40% carbs and 25-30% or thereabouts. Years ago this was proposed as the optimal diet for the treatment of the metabolic syndrome and it’s still relevant today.
Don’t get hung up on the percentages, mind you, just get them somewhere in that range. Ignoring the fact that I don’t like percentage based diets, of those numbers, protein should come from mixed sources with most of the fat coming from monounsaturated sources (e.g. olive oil, oleic acid, etc.) and the carbs probably needing to come from lower down on the glycemic index scale (this tends to be less important as the quantity of carbs goes down but many find better satiety/fullness from lower GI carbs).
In some extreme situations, a full-blown ketogenic diet (100 g carbs/day) may be necessary to overcome massive insulin resistance. It can also help by eliminating a lot of the ‘trigger’ foods that cause problems with food control for folks. That is, as I talked about in the Comparing the Diets series, many people just can’t do moderation.
For those folks, if they eat some carbs, they want more carbs (this is highly individual but not uncommon with the obese individual). Cutting out everything but vegetables and fruits can go a long ways towards long-term food control and reprogramming food preferences (just expect them to bitch for about 3-6 weeks as their taste buds and such adapt). Especially in the initial phases of the diet (other foods can be added back in after a dietary baseline has been established assuming food control isn’t lost).
Of relevance to fat oxidation, a lowering of carbohydrate will not only reduce carbohydrate oxidation directly but also help the process of lowering glycogen stores within muscle and liver. As that occurs (and I’ll talk about training next), the body will start to increase whole body fat utilization. Ahem, “Becoming a fat-burning machine.”
Studies years ago (I cited them in The Ketogenic Diet) found that full body glycogen depletion (via training) enhanced whole body fat use in both the lean and the obese. I used this strategy for very lean folks in The Ultimate Diet 2.0 but it has relevance here as well to start correcting a “defect” that has occurred as a function of diet, inactivity, obesity, etc.
Now remember back in Part 2 of this series I talked about the “relative” unimportance of weight training (at least for the reasons typically given: increased metabolic rate, etc.) for obese individuals. But mentioned that weight training could still play other roles? Well this is one of them (there are others I’ll come back to later).
Weight training is one of the best and fastest ways to deplete muscle glycogen and start getting fat burning pathways running again. Generally a focus on higher repetitions (more accurately sets lasting about 45-60 seconds) is the goal here. So you’re looking at 12-15 reps on a slow tempo or 15-20 with a faster tempo. In that range.
Multiple sets would be ideal (to fully deplete the body quickly takes about 12+ sets per muscle group) although it would be a massive mistake to try to do this out of the gate with a beginner unless you never want them to come back to the gym. Start with a low volume, increasing gradually over the first few weeks of the exercise program and this will get the job done. It will take a bit longer but this isn’t a race.
You don’t even need a ton of exercises, pick compound movements like leg press, chest press and rowing or pulldowns and you’ve got most of the body. A routine centered around 3-4 sets of 12-15/15-20 repetitions might take as little as 30 minutes. I’ll talk in much more detail about specific exercise routines later in the series.
Of course, cardio, even with the limited amount that can generally be done by the obese beginner also starts helping with this process. As I’ll talk about on in later parts of the series, while the typical obese beginner trainee has a very low tolerance for exercise (and usually not much enjoyment for it), both can be improved over time with the right approach.
This inclusion of cardio has two effects: one of which is to help to burn fatty acids directly (and this effect will increase over time as fitness improves and glycogen is depleted), the second is to start readapting mitochondria to overcome that physiological “defect” of decreased mitochondrial function I discussed in Part 1 of the series. This is a slow process mind you but it will happen with consistent work.
Is that All?
In a sense, yes. All of this blabbering to tell you to lower carbohydrates and calories, deplete glycogen with progressively increasing volumes of high-rep weight training and ramp up cardio over time. From a purely physiological standpoint, that’s really the approach that I’m talking about. But it would be silly to think that that’s all there is to this topic.
There are other practical issues that must be addressed and this means going a bit backwards to look at some other issues of relevance to the obese beginner. But since covering it all in this post would make it too long, I’ll cover that next Tuesday in Part 4.
Read Training the Obese Beginner: Part 4.]]>