Many of us want to see the physical improvements in our body composition from the hard work we put into the gym. While celebrities and athletes may have top notch facilities, programs, recovery methods and even daily mapped out meals for fat loss, it doesn’t mean we can’t ride along side them with having a body that you can be proud of.
Genetics sure can be a favorable part for the vast majority, but saying you can’t achieve a better body is just nonsense.It begins with your training, so here are a few basics you want to remember.
#1 Thou Shall Train Both Aspects of The Speed-Strength Continuum
What does this mean?
Basically it’s telling you that you need to train on all sides of the spectrum. Don’t get suckered into lifting heavy weights super slow every time you step into the gym.It doesn’t also give you the rights to think moving light weight fast is the only way to train either.
To better understand this concept, you need to master the force/velocity curve.
It suggests there is an inverse relationship where external resistance increases the movement velocity decreases (maximal effort work) and where external resistance decreases movement velocity decreases respectively (Bomba, 2009).
To better understand you can look at it this way. If you have a baseball you would be able to throw that thing far, but make it a 50lb medicine ball and it’s not going too far. The 50lb ball has slow velocity but we have to overcome a lot of external force (50lbs), however, for the baseball, the force was low while the velocity is high. In terms of weightlifting, the heavier and closer to your 1RM, the higher the force; however, the velocity and bar speed will not be high.
If you are looking to get strong and fast, you need to focus on working both aspects. Let’s remember that type 2 (fast-twitch) muscle fibers deteriorate with age. This is the muscle fiber that is responsible for gaining lean muscle mass so working speed has its benefits.Lets break a few of the components down.
Absolute Strength – Using Loads 90% or more to produce maximal force.
Trap Bar Deadlift
Center your body in the trap bar
Keep feet shoulder width apart, pointing forwards
Squat down grasp the bar, hands slightly greater than shoulder width apart
Thighs should be approximately parallel to the ground, back straight, and eyes looking forward
Keeping the back rigid and arms straight, lift the bar using the legs, keeping the bar as close to the body as possible.(centered with trap bar)
When standing upright, complete the lift by raising the shoulders
Return bar to ground using a controlled technique.
My favorite cue is to focus on “squeezing oranges under your armpits” for the lats to be incorporated correctly
Start off in a side facing stance with the medicine ball at hip height
Initiate the movement by a lateral shuffle in the frontal plane and begin transferring weight/energy into the front hip
Load the front of the hip and begin your motion with the slam by forcefully throwing directly down without distributing so much weight you fall too far forward and off balance
Absolute Speed – This is purely focusing on fast movement. Many athletes spend a lot of time in these areas that include sprints, jumps, and hops.Quite frankly, this is where the average population tends to fall short.
Split Stance Med Ball Slam to Single Leg Jump
Start off in a split stance with you back leg just off the floor to keep tension on your glutes, and quads isometrically
Neutral spine to start and keep the med ball below waist height to start with the lead leg forward closest to the box in a side facing stance
Explosively begin a counter-clockwise windmill slam over the outside of the lead leg (left in video)
One you slam, countermovement into a single leg box jump while sticking the landing on the same lead leg (left)
Depth Jump To Skater and Stick
Start on a knee-high box with your feet hip-width apart
Hop off the box and land softly on the ground absorbing the impact without jamming the joints. Think soft
Immediately explode up and into a lateral skater jump by pushing off with the opposing leg to the direction you are going first
Stick the landing back in neutral
To increase max power, perform after your dynamic warm-up and for explosiveness when fatigued, perform at the end of your workout
Many of us spend too much time in one area which can get your either strong or fast, but not proficient at both.
Your Fat Loss Fix:
Work on cycling certain aspects of the continuum or personally I enjoy training in an undulating fashion where you can mix up your intensities and focuses weekly. Louie Simmon’s dynamic effort training has some merit here, but you must be a seasoned lifter and/or person capable of producing a lot of force and also have some familiarity with olympic lifts.It doesn’t work for the average Joe who doesn’t inherently have a ton of fast twitch muscle fibers.Do what works for you, but don’t skip working the process if you want to train for fat loss, get strong and fast.
#2 Thou Shall Use Compound Movements And Progressively Overload
How many times do you see fitness enthusiasts posting workout videos of them doing bicep curls? This one truly shouldn’t be shocking to most, but you need to be performing lifts that increase strength and performance.Working on lagging muscle groups or isolating has it’s time and place for people who have four or more days to train weekly and the who have the time, but for the vast majority… if your training doesn’t include a bulk of these lifts below, you need to re-think your desired goals. The meat and potatoes of your training for fat loss should include solid compound lifts, some multi-joint and unilateral lifts and the side dishes can be isolation work.
Squat and Single Leg Variations
Bench press & Horizontal Press Variations
Frontal Plane Movements
Out of this list you might think you got it covered, but one I would like to target is the work on frontal plane movements. When was the last time you did a lateral lunge? Most likely, it has been a while. Working the frontal plane is essential for everyone. Adductor and groin injuries are not fun to work with or around, not to mention the carryover that strong hips have on your larger compound exercises. Someone should create a shirt that says “Don’t Skip Hip Day!”
Most of us struggle with hip or groin injuries yearly, and no one likes doing lateral work because it sucks and it’s hard. Suck it up and get used to it. If you want to get stronger squats, deadlifts and sprint faster, you might want to buckle up and wipe the frown off your face when you see slide-board lunges or Copenhagen planks in your weekly program.
Lateral Lunge with Plate Drag
Neutral Spine, Avoid Rounding or Hyperextending as you lunge
Shift weight towards the lead leg
Do not allow your momentum to propel you back to neutral. Stay braced and pull with your adductors.
Do not lunge out so far you can’t compete the drag in one motion.
Trap Bar Farmer’s Carry
Avoid hyperextension of the spine
Brace the abs, take shorter steps over a set distance
Avoid rolling shoulders forward. Stay upright and neutral
Neutral Spine, and aim for a straight line with the body
Do not allow the hips to dip or sag while pressing the dumbbell horizontally away from you
Keep the bottom leg bent in 90 degrees flexion and in line from head to toe
Now, when it comes to progressive overload, the old school mindset has us thinking the only way to do so is add weight to the bar. While this still is a way to go about it, it may not be the most effective.
For most people, 1 Rep Max lifts are not going to be your best option for longevity and getting lean. You need to be able to stay injury free and agile which means incorporating more ways to progress like adding eccentrics, isometrics, band resistance and some accommodating resistance. Then you can manipulate variations with rep schemes to do pre-fatigue sets, drop sets, rest pause sets and even clusters.
To get strong while training for fat loss, you need to be thinking more than just adding another plate to the bar. Joint angles and exercise selection become just as important. For example, say you have a program that calls for 5×5 at 80% 1RM. You could break this into a cluster set of 2-2-1 with ten-second rests between your clusters and use heavier loads near 85-90%. You keep the force much higher with creating less fatigue and can reach a higher degree of velocity than the straight 5 reps.
Now, this may not always be the best solution for programming, as it depends on the individual and their goals, but managing the speed at which you lift becomes more important with experience.
Paused Trap Bar Split Stance Press
Set up in a split stance that is not excessively wide and preferably have the bar setup high in a rack to avoid picking it up from the floor each set
Control your descent and inhale, the split stance creates a bit of added instability to force your core to work harder so bracing through the entire limbo pelvic hip complex is key.
Explode back up with a strong exhale after a brief pause at the bottom and fully extend your arms. For this variation, try to stay at 90 degrees on the descent.
Your Fat Loss Fix:
Focus on larger multipoint movements. This doesn’t mean just do squat, deadlift and bench, but focus on lifts that work for your anatomy and goals. Sprinkle in isolation work and use filler days or the end of your sessions to hit areas that need attention.
Do NOT neglect single leg work! Remember, a recent study titled ‘Load Comparison Ratio in Single and Double Leg Movements’ made a compelling case that one-leg squats can be great for building strength too. Don’t be afraid to combine your single leg lifts to make them a bit more challenging. Remember, training to be like an athlete requires you to add components of strength, stability and speed.
Below is a variation of the bulgarian isometric press. The isometric makes the legs get worked overload with very little weight while incorporating balance and strength to still press overhead.The landmine setup forces a more scapular plane press, which creates a better vector angle for your press to be more natural on the shoulders.
Landmine Bulgarian Iso Press
Setup as you would for a bulgarian split squat, only with this variation a more forward lean is ideal to create a better pressing angle.
Keep a slightly more forward shin angle to also allow for a better angle to press the weight.
Maintain solid bracing throughout the core and hips
The isometric bulgarian begins to fatigue your legs so your body will want to rise up. Avoid this and stay down. You may need lighter weight if you notice this happening
Offset Bulgarian Split Squat
Setup as you would for a Bulgarian split squat, only you will be loading the non-working leg with weight.
The asymmetrical exercise will make it much harder for your core so avoiding lateral flexion is key
Resist rounding your back or letting the weight drift away from your body
Keep your repetitions controlled to fully allow your body’s ability to control and stabilize one side while actively working the other.
Additionally, recent studies have come to the backing of the importance of unilateral work.To summarize the relative load comparisons, they came up with the following:
One-leg squat with no external load > 1.0x BW back squat
One-leg squat + 10% BW in external load = 1.5x BW back squat
One-leg squat + 50% BW in external load = 2x BW back squat
One-leg squat + 100% BW in external load = 3x BW back squat
Some may disagree, but until you prioritize single leg work in your programming you really can’t debate whether it works or not.
#3 Thou Shall Eat To Get Bigger, Stronger AND Leaner
I could tell you numerous times in my career where I have parents come to me wondering why their kids can’t seem to gain weight for their sport.They are teenagers and “eat all day,” most claim. The comical part is seeing the reality of what they really do eat because it is never where it should be for adding size.
You can’t expect to get strong and train like a maniac and eat like a dieting school girl. If you are wanting to train like an athlete you have to be putting in calories to fuel your training. I still can’t get past the mindset of some who believe training more while eating less is a lasting concept they should grasp.
This isn’t just for fat loss. The same applies for those wanting to add size. You can’t expect to get strong without feeding your body. Do yourself a favor and add up your calories for one day. You may realize right then why you are not having the energy and strength some of these intense athletes do. Recently the retired Crossfit champ Matt Fraser came out with his nutrition while he was training for the games his winning years. Every 2-3 hours he was eating, and it was a “chore” as he described it, because of how often he had to eat. He even admitted to having a mini fun size snickers every 10 minutes during his 90 minute heavily intense workouts combining strength and metcons. If you want to be able to perform, you have to fuel. Failing to do so will hinder your abilities in the gym and field, not to mention to physical and digestive problems you can encounter.
Your Fat Loss Fix:
Eat in accordance to your training. You can’t expect to perform and peak if you are trying to be in a caloric deficit even 75% of the year.Training creates inflammation and dieting excessively for long periods of time can lead to this inflammation getting worse and become chronic. Chronic inflammation can affect things starting with sleep and going as far as your digestion and hormones (mainly cortisol).
#4 Thou Shall Get A Minimum 8 hours Of Sleep And Prioritize Recovery As Much As Your Training
This isn’t new news, only that you might be surprised to know that most fat loss happens in individuals that get 7-9 hours a sleep every night.
Even professionals like Lebron James are not shy about their sleep habits where he admits to getting 8-9 during the night then an additional 2-3 during the day.
A lack of sleep can do a ton of bad things when it comes to your body composition and training:
Sleep deprivation is known to run counter to fat loss goals for a number of reasons, including:
Fail to sleep, fail to train with high expectations. A recent study even found that as little as three nights of poor sleep can reduce insulin resistance by 30%.This means that it will be harder for your body to remove unwanted fat, only from just a few bad nights of sleep! (Broussard)
The same goes for your recovery outside of sleep. No one is saying you need to be a couch potato on your rest days, but trying to train 2 or more hours everyday is not feasible long term if you don’t give your body time to recover. I’m sure I don’t need to remind most of you that your recovery is where you grow and repair the damaged muscle tissue, so if you areconstantly creating inflammation, not only will your performance drop, but your body composition and fat loss efforts will take a back seat from the chronic elevations of cortisol and adrenaline.
Your Fat Loss Fix:
Get 7-9 hours of sleep. Shut off your computers an hour before bed and try a few of these tips to get better rest:
Avoiding alcohol and caffeine before bed
Avoiding sources of stress (work emails, texts, social media, news) before bed
Not eating too close to bedtime
Keeping your room cool and dark
Wearing loose fitting clothing
Journaling and/or meditating
Additionally, think about your rest as being just as important as your training. If you are training hard, you need to recover harder. Give your body time to repair.It’s not an excuse to get lazy, but be smart about your methods. Studies have shown small bouts of lower intensity work can promote healing and circulation so staying active is perfectly fine.
#5 Thou Shall Sprint, And Not Just In The Sagittal Plane
I hate to say it, but to get lean, you cant be living on the elliptical everyday.
Sprinting has it’s benefits that no other exercise can match in relation to performance.
Just as many of us squat to lift more weight, we also must sprint to get faster.
One meta-analysis compiled data from 70 studies and found that, on average, sprinting led to a higher fat loss than both conventional high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and moderate-intensity continuous training by 39.6% and 91.8%, respectively.
Comparing it to other options always has it on top. What’s even better is the added core and glute/hamstring involvement.
Additionally, we know by now it increases the proportion of type-II fast-twitch muscle fibers mainly in the lower body which are potent components for muscle growth.Some studies have even shown it to increase protein synthesis and HGH release (by up to 230% and 500%, respectively), boost testosterone, improve insulin sensitivity, and increase mTOR signaling for up to two hours post-training.
Lastly, one thing athletes have is lots of power. Sprinting does jus that by tapping into the central nervous system which is the key player for force production via inter and intra muscular coordination.
Your Fat Loss Fix:
Add sprinting to your regimen. It improves more than body composition.Just make sure you sprint on separate days from your lifting or make sure you do prior to it.Some studies have shown better CNS firing when done prior to your lifting, so if you must sprint, do so before you’re lifting.
While it’s not something we common think about, our bodies naturally adjust to the climates and the risks of injury are far less when our core temperature is warm.Solid warms ups for sprinting include dynamic movements like bounding, A-skips, B-skips, broad jumps, pogo jumps and lunges.
Getting lean and looking like you train hard can be done, but it requires more than just a standard push/pull routine.Aspects of recovery become just as important and your need to fuel properly is something you can’t slack on.Back in my college playing days, the one thing I remember was the absurd amounts of food I ate to be able to perform at high levels every day, so get training and eat up!
Rizzo, Nicholas. “Sprint Interval Training: Burn 40% More Fat Than HIIT in 60% Less Time.” RunRepeat, 31 Mar. 2019, runrepeat.com/sprint-interval-training.
Broussard JL, Ehrmann DA, Van Cauter E, Tasali E, Brady MJ. Impaired insulin signaling in human adipocytes after experimental sleep restriction: a radomized, crossover study. Ann Intern Med. 2012 Oct 16;157(8):549-57.doi:0.7326/0003-4819-157-8-201210160-00005.PMID: 23070488; PMCID: PMC4435718.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mike Over is a former Collegiate Soccer Player, NASM Master Trainer and owner of Over-Achieve Fitness in Pennsylvania where he works with hundreds of everyday gym goers and athletes of all levels, both in person and remotely.