Training for fat loss: What to know!

It is a well known that every year people vow to improve their healthy lifestyle habits. The problem is many people are confused about how to do it. People simply do not understand the proper approach to exercise that will achieve their goals. Here are five factors for fat loss and how you can incorporate them into your fitness routine.

Metabolic resistance training 

The goal here is to work every muscle group frequently and with intensity that creates a massive metabolic disturbance. We want to leave the metabolism elevated for several hours post workout.

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In my experience, full body training in a superset, tri-set or circuit format (with non competing exercises) in a rep range that generates lactic acid (and pushing the lactic acid threshold) seems to create the biggest metabolic demand. This means we do one exercise/station after another without a rest. It makes sense— training legs, back and chest will burn more calories and elevate metabolism more than an isolated approach that trains just one.

High intensity anaerobic interval training

High intensity interval training burns more calories than steady state and elevates metabolism significantly more than other forms of cardio. In this training we like to combine strength and total body core exercises such as kettlebell swings, ropes, sled pushes, and sprints to elicit the proper hormonal responses to absolutely annihilate body fat. Think of sprinting as hard as you can for 30 seconds, then resting for 15 seconds and repeating.

High intensity aerobic interval training 

With lower intensity interval method we use aerobic intervals like a treadmill, elliptical trainer, and step mill (my favorite).

A recent study looked at high intensity aerobic intervals (HIIT) and its influence on fat oxidation. Seven sessions of HIIT over two weeks induced marked increases in whole body and skeletal muscle capacity for fatty acid oxidation during exercise in moderately active women. This means we can burn more fat in other activities as a result of this inclusion, or, we get more bang for our buck. Keep in mind that calories burned during exercise is not really an important variable in the big picture of fat loss, total calories burned overall is.

Steady state high intensity aerobic training

This is just hard cardio work. This time we are burning calories — we aren’t working hard enough to burn calories beyond the session itself. But calories count: Burning another 300 or so calories per day will add up.

Steady state low Intensity aerobic training 

This is just activity. Going for a walk in the park, etc. It won’t burn a lot of calories nor will it increase muscle. There actually isn’t very much research showing that low intensity aerobic training actually results in much additional fat loss (particularly in real world significance). But you’re going to have to really work to convince me that moving more is going to hurt you when you’re in fat attack mode.

Putting it all together 

Now that you have an idea of what works best, here’s how I would suggest managing your workouts based on how much time you have.

3 hours per week?
Use metabolic resistance training. 

This can be in three, one-hour training sessions, or four, 45-minute training sessions. However, once you are getting three hours per week of total body resistance training, it is now time to start adding in some extra metabolic work (intervals cardio, interval strength, etc) as it becomes hard to recover from the demanding metabolic resistance training when you add a fourth day.

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This type of training involves dumbbell complexes, supersets, tri-sets, circuits, traditional strength training work, kettlebell combos etc.

3-5 hours per week?
Metabolic resistance, weight training plus high intensity interval work

Interval training is like putting your savings into a high return investment account. Low intensity aerobics is like hiding it under your mattress. Both will work, but the return you get is radically different.

We like to not only use cardiovascular machines (treadmill, bike, Elliptical, stepmill), but we also use sleds, training ropes, kettlebell swings, slide boards, and bodyweight exercises.

5-6 hours per week?
Use the above, but add aerobic interval training 

Aerobic intervals are a better choice at this point because they have a higher intensity overall than steady state works so they burn more calories. There appears to be a fat oxidation benefit and will still be easier to recover from than additional anaerobic work. Remember, this does not include walking. You still need to work pretty hard and increase the heart rate significantly.

6-8 hours per week?
Add steady state.

If you’re not losing a lot of fat with six hours of training already, take a very close look at your diet. If everything is in place, but we just need to ramp up fat loss some more (e.g. for a special event; spring break, high school reunion, etc.) then we will add in some hard cardio; a long run, or bike ride with a heart rate at 75 percent of max or higher.

More than 8?
Add a stroll or two. 

I don’t think most of us have more than eight hours training time available per week. But if we do, this is where any additional activity will help burn up calories, which is never a bad thing.


Justin Grinnell B.S., CSCS is is the owner of State of Fitness in East Lansing. You can reach him at  517.708.8828.


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