What did you just say?! Training won't help fat loss?!
All my efforts have been for not?!
But Stevan you said that I could get stronger, healthier AND leaner by training a certain way!
I know I probably just broke the internet, but it's the truth!
Is your mind blown? Are you questioning the last 2 years of your training life? Considering just giving in and eating that whole sleeve of Oreos?
Don't do it!!! Before you go making any large lifestyle changes let me explain myself a bit.
This article was actually inspired by a conversation I had with my business partner, Dane Parker, yesterday on our way home from the Lair of Awesomeness and a day spent training Superhumans. We got on the subject of how a lot of trainers have a huge knowledge gap in their understanding of exercise physiology and how to apply that knowledge to writing programs both in terms of structuring them for the long and short-term.
I found myself sharing with him the idea of fat loss being untrainable, which is what we are addressing today.
I know I know every other trainer, coach, or celebrity would have you believe that their workouts train fat loss, but it just isn't the case. I mean I am even guilty of it myself, but I don't think any of us do it maliciously. I think we do it because of marketing. Trainers and coaches (including myself) understand that a lot of people who would be interested in their services are desiring to be leaner and more aesthetically appealing which are both accomplished when body fat is lost. Thus in a lot of marketing we make claims about training and it's ability to cause fat loss.
But in our ability to market this benefit I think there has been something lost in translation and I think it's important to clarify this.
You can not train fat loss. Fat loss is not a tangible physical attribute.
What I am trying to say is you don't have people walking around who brag about being an epic loser of fat. Nor do you hear the bros at the gym talking bout their last loss of fat PR.
In my opinion then because fat loss really isn't a physical attribute it really can't be DIRECTLY trained through a program.
That is I can't prescribe specific exercises or set and rep schemes that are designed to "burn fat."
However there are physical attributes that I can write programs and prescribe specific exercises and set and rep schemes that will directly apply the stimulus necessary to make someone stronger, more muscular, better conditioned, or more flexible.
Does this make sense? At all?
I know this probably seems like a technicality of sorts and while I am not one to get caught up to much in the minutia I do think it's an important one to clarify so that everyone can have realistic expectations about what exercise and a training program can really do for you.
So when a coach or trainer or even myself make a statement that includes both fat loss and training this is what you need to remember is that training indirectly enhances fat loss.
In other words we can train in certain ways to optimize the body's desire to rid itself of excess pounds of fat.
Typically for myself I think of this in terms of two mechanisms.
First If I can make some stronger I can stimulate more muscle growth.
If I can add more muscle to someone's body then I can increase their resting metabolic rate. Which means that because they are burning more calories while at rest they will also burn more fat as the body prefers fat as it's fuel source during lower intensity activity.
Thus I can write a training program that through the promotion of strength and muscular adaptations promotes additional fat loss as a by-product.
Second I can prescribe individuals specific conditioning such as high intensity interval training that will take advantage of a physiological response to certain kinds of conditioning known as Excess Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption or better known as EPOC.
This response occurs in an effort by the body to overcome the "oxygen deficit" that is created through intense anaerobic exercise. In other words the conditioning disrupts the body's homeostasis and in response the body ramps up a number of metabolic processes in order to repair and recover from the disruption.
This increased oxygen consumptions leads to increased metabolic activity and thus increased mobilization of the most prominent source of energy in the body, fat. This effect of EPOC is greatest immediately following exercise and begins to decline over the next 24 to 38 hours.
Again though the conditioning is a stimulus that is meant to train the cardiovascular and metabolic systems not train one's ability to lose fat. The increased metabolism and mobilization of fat stores is merely a by product of the primary adaptation.
Yes then we can give training programs that enhance and increase the body's chances of losing fat, but we can' directly make the fat burn and melt off your body through physical training.
Not to mention the fact that fat loss also requires the necessity of a caloric deficit and proper hormone levels. All of which is largely impacted by how you live your life the other 23 hours outside of the gym.
Training in my opinion is by far the smallest influence of fat loss. Rather instead people who want to lose fat need to not only be training their asses off they also need to be sleeping enough and eating the right foods in the right amounts.
Of course entire books have been written about the subjects of sleep, diet, and training for a better body so I don't really want to dig into the specifics of it all. Plus I really think you are better off hiring a coach who can help give you feedback on what you are doing and how you are progressing so adjustments can be customized to you.
I know someone will probably think that I am arguing a lot of semantics here, but I feel this is an important discussion that needs to be had and that is not being had in the fitness industry.
To sum it up:
Fat loss is not a physical ability that can be trained (at least in my current opinion).
Training causes adaptations to the body that make fat loss more favorable and likely given the correct nutritional and hormonal conditions.
Training CAN INDIRECTLY promote and enhance fat loss.
I don't want to dissuade you from you training efforts. Instead I want you to have realistic expectations about the physical results you will get if you are just training two or three times a week and are not sleeping enough and eating shitty.
No doubt your training is going to give you more strength, more muscle, and more endurance, but it definitely can't guarantee you fat loss.
Happy moving and heavy lifting!
Practical, Purposeful, Effective Training