Q: What is the “best” exercise / routine to do, and are there exercises that burn more calories and are therefore better for fat loss?
A: The “best” exercises are often the most simple and basic ones (e.g. deadlift, squat, press, pull, carry, plank) because they represent the fullest expression of human performance under load, and because they require strict focus and concentration for developing efficiency and progression in your movement skills.
Simply put, the better you can get at a task, the more intensely you may perform that task, the more it challenges you and the more return on investment you get.
Fat loss is dependent on a balance of how much fat you store vs. how much you expend (notice how I didn’t say “burn”) over a long enough timeline to see appreciable loss. How much energy you expend is a combination of several mechanisms: your basic daily energy requirements (BMR), your non-exercise activity (NEAT), the thermic effect or digestive requirements of food (TEF/DIT), and finally exercise or work (EA).
BMR + NEAT + TEF + EA = Energy Out
If all these add up to more than the food energy you take in, you will lose fat. Some exercises burn more calories per minute on average than others - but of course this is dependent on how much effort you put into the exercise. No matter what exercise you do, the harder or faster you work, the more calories per unit time you burn.
If you perform kettlebell swings with a challenging weight, and burn 20 calories per minute, then that is very effective for fat loss… but not if you only do 20 seconds worth for 8 rounds and call it a day. Yes, it is hard! But you only worked for 21/2 minutes total. That’s only 52 calories! If you eat at maintenance calories (the amount to sustain weight), you need to burn at least 300 calories per day to see appreciable and consistent weight loss, until that loss slows of course.
You may have also been told that high-intensity or “HIIT” training is great for fat loss because of EPOC (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption). The American Council on Exercise describes EPOC as “the amount of oxygen required to restore your body to its normal, resting level of metabolic function (called homeostasis).” Following intense exercise an “oxygen debt” accumulates, and it has been reported that EE may remain elevated for a few minutes up to 8 h post-exercise depending upon the nature of the activity (e.g., intensity and duration). Thus it is argued that HIIT can help you lose weight because you are burning more calories than if you were not in oxygen debt. Unfortunately this logic suffers from the same practical flaws as the ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting. You can expend more calories at rest than normal, but if you eat more calories than your oxygen debt accounted for, you will not lose weight.
The rate of energy expenditure at a single point in time does not dictate end of day energy balance.
As a matter of fact, several recently published meta-analyses focused on comparisons of exercise protocols have not supported the potentially beneficial effects of high-intensity interval training on long-term fat mass reduction compared with continuous exercise.
What we also observe is that subjects who undergo intense training protocols typically move less for the rest of the day because they are so exhausted and mentally fatigued, thus offsetting the mild EPOC effect that occurs by a reduction in TDEE. EPOC is such a mild effect, that the documented difference in EE, accounting for baseline EE, is about 32 kcals per day for H.I.I.T.† Ten-minutes of brisk walking could accomplish the same thing.
It’s the total calories burned by the end of the day that matters, not what exercise burns the most per minute. Unless your goal is to only lose 1 pound, you need to do the exercise routine that you can stick to for the minimum amount of time necessary for that fat loss to happen. If your goal is 10 lbs, your minimum timeline is 5-6 weeks, and that’s if you do everything right (i.e. food tracking, not missing workouts, getting enough protein, maintaining an adequate calorie deficit, etc.)!
† Panissa, VLG, Fukuda, DH, Staibano, V, Marques, M, Franchini, E. Magnitude and duration of excess of post-exercise oxygen consumption between high-intensity interval and moderate-intensity continuous exercise: A systematic review. Obesity Reviews. 2021; 22:e13099. https://doi.org/10.1111/obr.13099
Check out these videos on potential causes of scapular "winging" as well as corrections.
1. Mobility Myth - food for thought on approaching "winging", PLUS some great exercises for serratus.
2. Eric Cressey Vid - Weak/Inactive Serratus Anterior may be cause for over-engaged/tight traps/failure to get overhead without compensation
Sometimes we get so caught up with the idea of "optimizing" our training that we find ourselves unable to switch gears. You don't have to be at your strongest, leanest, and fittest all the time - in fact, many strength athletes and coaches would argue against it.
"You can't have the peaks without the valleys"
Often times life gets in the way, and unfortunately we may often perceive this as a nuisance or detriment, when in fact life's inconveniences serves as a natural mode of deloading our body from mechanical stress. The downside of course is that life's inconveniences are typically fraught with mental stresses, so we have to manage those too.
Training can be very simple, or it can get very complicated. For most people it should be the former, but also remember that without practice, everything is complicated in the beginning. Acquiring skills and honing requires ACTION and AWARENESS. You must take action, but also be aware of the feedback you get from your body: the nuances of the exercise, the consequence of making mistakes, the systemic impact of the whole workout, the muscle messaging you get afterwards (Stiffness, soreness, pain, etc.), and how you adapt to that feedback. Below is a list of the ACTIONS you must take when developing your training regimen, and the part you should pay most attention to (AWARE).
ACTION - Start with the general approach - try many exercises
BE AWARE - of which ones you like best (you are more consistent when you do things you enjoy)
ACTION - Narrow your repertoire - identify a movement fundamentals checklist
BE AWARE - that when training for strength, the human body expresses mechanical efficiency within a limited series of patterns that serve as the basis for all variants (e.g. Hinge Pattern, it's derivatives include: unilateral DL, Good Morning, Hip Thrust, Glute Bridge, Inverted Plank, Hardstyle Swings, Softstyle Swings, Snatch, Clean, Broad Jump, Sprinting, Sumo Deadlift, Medball Slam, Over The Shoulder Throw / Keg Toss, ....). Start with the simplest form, and master it before experimenting.
ACTION - Train all these movement patterns 2-3x weekly, with undulating intensity
BE AWARE - that there is a minimum effective dose for training adaptions. 2x / week / muscle group or pattern is typical, with 3x / week showing a mild advantage. If you try 3x / week per movement but you find recovery taking a hit, go back to 2x / week. This presumes the presence of adequate sleep, hydration, nutrition, stress status.
Undulating intensity means:
Mon - LEGS: HEAVY, 5-8 reps, 8-10 hard sets
Thurs - LEGS: LIGHT, 12-20 reps, 6-8 sets to fatigue
If doing a third day, start with an extra light day - OR - if you are doing SPLIT TRAINING (i.e. LEGS/CHEST/BACK/ARMS all diff days) then you can have 1 extra FULL BODY day to hit ALL MUSCLE GROUPS. Keep it medium intensity, 3-4 sets per muscle group/movement.
ACTION - Predetermine your light and heavy days
BE AWARE - that when left to make the decision yourself, freedom of choice tends to reinforce your bias. So if you tend to find it difficult not going hard every session, without a set program to follow you may find yourself training every session hard & heavy and be on the fast-track to possible overtraining syndrome, AS WELL AS possibly leave some metabolic training adaptations on the table. If you tend to hold yourself back, then if left to decide you will find yourself likely not reaching your minimum effective training stimulus.
The above suggestions aren't meant for you to "optimally strategize your training periodization protocols"....these are just minimum standards to ensure that the time you invest in the gym pays dividends back to your body and psyche.
Join us on December 11 at the Westshore Warehouse in Victoria for our annual Holiday Pentathlon Challenge!
5 disciplines will be performed in a set order as follows:
More details including points and scoring can be found at the IKMF website linked here: https://www.ikmf-world.com/disciplines/ikmf-pentathlon/
See you there!
Check out these video's for a further breakdown on the pentathlon movements and guidelines:
An interesting concept of sport psychology (this applies to weight training as well), is "State of Flow". Flow occurs when we are totally immersed in the activity: we lose sense of time, and are neither bored nor anxious. Concentration becomes automatic, and this feeling of flow is so pleasing that it is intrinsically rewarding. In many cases, we may engage in activity for no other reason than to experience flow.
We talk alot about the objective and quantitative aspects of optimizing training:
However, it is equally important to optimize flow:
It is not unreasonable to assume that lack of motivation to engage in an activity could be directly or indirectly influenced by your perception or expectation of flow. If you tend to think that every session is, or needs to be, so difficult as to cause anxiety, that anxiety or frustration is a good indicator that the challenge is too high.
Similarly, if you are avoiding activity because you think that your session will be boring, then you want to find a way to introduce more or diverse challenge.
Ways to increase challenge:
At the end of the day, people are motivated to fulfill their needs.
The two most important needs of athletes are to:
Having fun includes the right amount of stimulation and excitement. Feeling worthy includes the need to feel confident and successful.
To the first point, this is why I stress the importance of choosing your own path by making your own decisions as to your goals and preferred exercises or activities.
Some people feel pressured to do the things they think they are supposed to do, rather than what they want to do. Do the things you want to do, and just make sure they coincide with your goals. If going to the gym isn't something you want to do, how can you make it so?
Examples might include:
Feeling worthy, confident, and successful is all part of the training (and learning) process.
You receive input, make a decision, execute that decision, and your outcome feeds back as new input to inform your next decision. In training, your input may be that you are influenced to be stronger, fitter, or try a new activity. You make a decision on how you want to achieve that (e.g. get a plan/program, join a gym, join a running group, set a training schedule, etc.). You go and follow through on those decisions, and then here is where I think many people (particularly beginners) tend to make mistakes.
However, when you value and achieve flow - you feel in complete control, and this feeling is enough to keep you coming back, which corresponds with a greater likelihood of reaching your goals.
Did you achieve flow this week?
Having trouble pulling the trigger on a program or diet?
Maybe I can help. DM me for coaching!
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