This is an excerpt from Strength Training for Fat Loss by Nick Tumminello.
What Is Metabolic Strength Training?
The basis of this book is metabolic strength training, which means using innovative strength training concepts to accelerate metabolism in order to help you lose body fat while building and keeping muscle. In addition, the programs are designed to give you a great workout that you actually enjoy. Let’s check out what the concepts of metabolic strength training are, how they work, and why they may be safer and more effective than other fat-loss training methods.This book uses three metabolic strength training concepts, which I call the three Cs of strength training for fat loss:
Strength training circuits
Strength training complexes
Strength training combinations
How the Three Cs Work
There are three reasons why the three Cs of metabolic strength training are extremely effective at burning fat.
1. They’re high intensity.
These workouts use challenging loads or lighter loads moved fast, both of which force you to work hard each time you move the weight. The higher the intensity, the greater the metabolic impact!
2. They involve the entire body.
Each of the three Cs of metabolic strength training uses the entire body, involving your upper body, lower body, and core muscles. And, as stated before, muscle is metabolically active tissue, so the more muscles you work, the more calories you burn. The more calories you burn, the more productive your workouts will be—and the faster you will lose body fat.
3. They demand extended repetitive effort.
Research consistently reports that a direct relationship exists between the duration of exercise and excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), which is the number of calories expended (above resting values) after an exercise bout.3 The metabolic strength training protocols in this book take more time to complete than a traditional strength training set. So, not only do they require you to perform high-intensity, total-body efforts, but you’ll be performing them for extended bursts.
It’s great to use scientifically proven workouts that have been evaluated in a study, but it’s unrealistic to ask that of every workout, especially when we’re changing workouts every few weeks to keep things fresh and interesting. Specific workout strategies don’t have to be scientifically proven as long as they are scientifically founded, meaning they are founded on the general principles that have been repeatedly shown to elicit the results you’re after. In this case, the three principles described in this chapter not only make scientific sense but also common sense. In other words, you don’t have to be an exercise scientist to see how the combination of these three factors will burn a ton of calories and be super effective for losing fat and building metabolic muscle, something that a morning stroll on the treadmill simply can’t match.
Furthermore, you’ll find that the workout programs provided in chapter 9 don’t just use one of three Cs for the entire workout. Instead, each program provides a comprehensive blend of the three to ensure each workout is more diverse and more effective. This is because, although founded on the same metabolic training principles, each of the three Cs offers unique benefits, and using all three more likely yields better results than exclusively using one.
Three Cs Versus Traditional Exercise Methods
We can’t talk about new methods of fat loss like the three Cs without addressing traditional methods like cardio training, which is commonly thought of as the go-to exercise option for losing body fat. The first thing we’re going to do in this section is give you the naked truth about cardio training by debunking some all-too-common, uninformed training myths. Then I’m going to provide a solid, commonsense rationale for why the metabolic strength training concepts in this book are a safer, more enjoyable, and much more effective training option for building the lean and muscular body you want.
Although any type of physical activity can have positive health benefits, the benefits of steady-state cardio training from a fat-loss (without muscle loss) perspective are often misunderstood and overstated. Especially because research has shown aerobic activity (cardio) to be the optimal mode of exercise—over resistance training—for reducing body fat in a timely fashion.4 Now, these results are only half of the training puzzle because you don’t just want a “lean” physique; you want a lean, strong and athletic-looking physique. And, in order to achieve the “strong and muscular” part, you’ve got to do resistance training, which is why the researchers of these types of studies also commonly state that a program including resistance training is needed for increasing lean muscle.
To understand why common statements such as “If you want to burn fat, do cardio” aren’t very accurate, you must first have a clear understanding of what steady-state cardio training is and what it isn’t. Once you understand what it is, you can better understand what it does and doesn’t do for you.
You’ve probably heard the terms aerobic training, which means “with oxygen,” and anaerobic training, which means “without oxygen.”
Cardio = aerobic training
Metabolic strength training = anaerobic training
The main thing that separates aerobic from anaerobic training is intensity. Here’s a real-world example to help illustrate this concept: Let’s say you and a friend are jogging together. While you are jogging, you are carrying on a conversation. If you’re able to speak in normal sentences without any huffing and puffing between words, you’re in an aerobic state. However, if you both decide to pick up the pace and speed up to a fast run or sprint, you’ll still be able to talk to one another, but you’ll be unable to get out full sentences without taking a breath, which means you’re now in an anaerobic state. This example is called the talk test. It’s a simple but legitimate method of telling whether you’re in an aerobic or anaerobic state.
When you’re in an anaerobic state, your body exclusively burns glycogen, which is what your body turns carbohydrate into after consumption. Glycogen is synthesized and stored mainly in the liver and the muscles. And, it’s your body’s preferred energy source. However, when you’re in an aerobic state, your body has many options available to use as energy, including energy from glycogen, fat, and muscle tissue.
All of this information brings us back to the question, does aerobic training (i.e., steady-state cardio) exclusively use energy from fat? The answer is, no! Sure, steady-state cardio training can burn fat, but it’ll likely use its preferred energy source: glycogen. And, it can burn from muscle tissue as well, which is why few endurance athletes have much muscle mass. Now, with physiology in mind, it’s easy to see how cardio training sessions burn more overall calories than resistance training sessions. But, that fact is: it still doesn’t mean that cardio is the long-term fat loss answer.
Sure, if you’re looking for quick fat loss, I’d certainly say doing a few 20- to 30-minute cardio sessions per week is a good idea to get you quick gratification. And, it’s unrealistic to think that doing some cardio for 4-6 weeks will turn you into a skinny endurance athlete with low muscle mass, especially if you’re using them to complement a workout program that emphasizes strength-training exercise concepts such as the ones provided in this book. However, it does mean there’s no need to go nuts and fall into the false belief that more cardio exercise means more fat loss—especially on a regular, long-term exercise basis. In fact, more cardio (with less or no strength training) will most likely lead to less muscle, which is not a good place to be in terms of strength, performance, or physical appearance.
Strength training is considered anaerobic training because it’s high in intensity and burns energy exclusively from glycogen. That said, remember the previous illustration about talking while running together, and the faster you run, the more anaerobic you become? Well, the cool thing about anaerobic training is that it also gives you the benefits of aerobic training.
Think of a ladder: The higher you climb, the more intense the exercise becomes. In other words, the bottom rungs of the ladder represent aerobic activity, whereas the higher rungs of the ladder represent more intense, anaerobic activity.
When climbing up the ladder, you can’t get to the higher rungs (i.e., anaerobic activity) until you’ve first climbed the lower ones (i.e., gone through aerobic activity). Additionally, when you climb down (i.e., recover) from the higher steps of the ladder, you return to an aerobic state. So, on both ends of anaerobic training intervals (i.e., sets of metabolic strength training) you also get an aerobic training effect. But, if you only do aerobic training (i.e., stay at the bottom of the ladder), you’ll never get the unique metabolic and health benefits offered by anaerobic training.
The time between anaerobic bursts such as sprints or heavy lifting creates an aerobic effect while you allow your body to come down (i.e., rest) between sets. Again, high-intensity activities such as the three Cs of metabolic strength training have been shown to accelerate metabolism for up to 72 hours after the workout due to the effects of excess postexercise oxygen consumption (EPOC).5 Steady-state cardio training, on the other hand, has not been shown to create nearly the same EPOC (exercise after-burn) effect.
Each of the three Cs of the metabolic strength training featured in this book take anywhere from 60 seconds to several minutes of constant strength-based activity to complete. That’s several minutes of high-intensity, total-body effort. Essentially, based on the scientifically-founded principles of fat loss, the metabolic strength training workouts get you better fat-loss results for your training time compared with traditional training methods.
Workout Intensity Is More Important Than Workout Duration
As I stated previously, workout duration is heavily linked to increased metabolic effects. However, doing longer workouts doesn’t always mean that you’re getting better results; in fact, it’s likely that if you’re just going longer, you’re only able to do so because your overall workout intensity is less, therefore giving you the ability to last longer. Even in endurance sports such as triathlons and marathons, it’s not about who goes the longest, it’s about who finishes the fastest. In other words, it’s about who has the most power endurance. With this reality in mind, you should progress in your training by continually trying to perform your workouts better, not just longer for the sake of going longer.
When you add sets or reps to your workouts, they will become longer, and that’s okay. However, you can’t always keep adding on. You can also progress (make your workouts more challenging) by try to complete the same workout in less time than before, which boosts your working intensity. Or, you can try to get more work done (sets and reps or weight lifted in a given workout) in the same time frame that you did in the previous workout, which also increases intensity. As stated, there’s nothing wrong with increasing your reps and working a little longer than you did previously, but solely relying on that method to progress is unrealistic and could lead to overuse injury.
Remember, you only have so much time in the day to work out. The goal is to get as much quality work done in that amount of time in order to maximize your results.
Learn more about Strength Training for Fat Loss.