Most of what we know about losing weight and improving body composition is intuitive rather than learned. For example, we all know that broccoli is better than pizza for weight loss and that too much beer gives you a belly (amusingly an actual study has proven that alcohol will cause specific fat deposits around the abdomen, so it really is a beer belly). We also know that the basics like getting enough water and adequate sleep are essential for our health and well being, both physically and psychologically – Abraham Maslow identified this back in the 1940’s. These fundamentals are often missing as a result of priorities rather than ignorance – sometimes life just isn’t geared around losing weight. In fact, modern life seems to be far better suited to gaining weight and one look at the expanding waistline of our population is ample evidence of that fact. However, we can also see that not just our waistline, but the rest of our health suffers when our basic needs aren’t fulfilled – despite modern attempts to quell these needs.
When it comes to getting started with exercising and trying to improve body composition it is easy to be overwhelmed with the sheer volume of information out there on the topic. There are a multitude of training programmes and often some pretty dogmatic opinions, even though we know from the research that a fat loss programme is only any good if you actually stick to it. Indeed, the best fat loss programme is the one that you actually follow.
However, some of the mistakes we make can let us down without us realising where we have gone wrong, so to get the most from your efforts to improve your health make sure you avoid the following common errors…
1. Picking a programme you won’t stick to:
One thing that looking at fat loss studies tells you is that drop out rates are typically high, a fact that often seems to get left behind while fat loss ‘experts’ build their latest miracle fat blasting workouts based on the findings, often without asking why the study had a 30% or often higher drop out rate.
What this tells us is that the optimal fat loss protocol, may not be ‘optimal’ for you. Sure, intensive interval training is great for fat loss but how often are the psychological demands of this kind of training actually considered? These types of programmes work well for the highly motivated, those with a trainer, or those who exercise as part of a group – but are not so well suited to the person who teeters between trying and giving up and exercises on their own. Similarly, while high density metabolic resistance circuits can also be effective, they work best with those with the requisite strength to train them hard enough. For those who are de-conditioned, local muscular fatigue becomes a challenge long before systemic metabolic fatigue. Those without any resistance training experience would be better served combining lots of walking with a basic resistance training protocol aimed at improving lean mass, increasing strength and building local muscle endurance, prior to attempting high-density metabolic circuits.
So, to avoid making this mistake, first pick a programme that can work for you and be realistic about what you expect from it. Training three times a week is great, but it won’t put you on the cover of Mens Health in 3 months – despite what those selling the programmes might have you think.
Despite the vitriol directed at ‘cardio’ work recently, the fact is that very few individuals (with the exception of the genetically gifted and nutritionally virtuous) can lose weight without it. What type of cardio work you select should be dependent on your current level of fitness, body type, time challenges, and training experience. Beginners, particularly those overweight are well-served in the first instance by trying to accumulate as much exercise as possible such as uphill walking combined with basic resistance work. More experienced exercisers can incorporate interval training combined with some lower intensity work and of course resistance training. The more advanced will be able to choose from a wider range of methods, often using more athletic conditioning circuits, high-intensity intervals, and high-intensity weight training to build improved strength.
Those with a more rounded natural shape tend to benefit from a little more cardiovascular work, while those who are naturally taller and thin (and maybe have more localised fat stores in the abdomen for example) would do better with a bit less cardio and instead to concentrate on adding muscle mass with resistance training. Those lucky mesomorphs in the middle tend to get lean whatever activity they pick – much to the chagrin of the rest of us who aren’t blessed as such – but do well with resistance training and simply increasing activity through anything from walking to recreational sport. However, whatever your build you should avoid an excessive reliance on aerobic work such as running, which over time may not bring results but might well lead to a loss of lean muscle and be counter-productive. However the standard line that sprinters are lean and marathon runners are not so you should train like a sprinter is an oversimplification of the entire story, the research would disagree - finding that sports where bodyweight are supported (such as kayak or swimming) tend to have higher bodyfat levels and that sprinters and marathoners actually have very similar levels of bodyfat, check out the study here. Marathoners tend to have very low levels of body fat too, but sprinters have far greater amounts of muscles mass, in particular the fast-twitch muscle that give us explosive speed and power. You could well ask whether they got to be like that from sprinting, or alternatively if they got to sprinting from having that make up in the first place. My money would be on the latter.
Check in for fat loss mistake number two coming soon.....