Troubleshooting Weight Loss, Pt. 4

Posted December 20, 2013 by

In part 1 we talked about how it’s crucial to actually be in a calorie deficit in order to see weight loss of any sort, and why many people are unknowingly not eating fewer calories than they burn each day.

In part 2, we talked about the concept of “sneaking calories”, which really is just an adjunct to part 1 because it allows people to inadvertently overeat calories, erasing any deficit they had planned for.

Part 3 was all about learning the difference between muscle/water gain and fat loss, as the former can often mask the latter.

If you haven’t noticed by now, I have been going through these concepts in order of likelihood. The vast majority of you will solve your issues by focusing on one of the first three issues I already went over.

With that being said, there are still a small portion of you who might have all their ducks in a row, yet are still not seeing the results they want. Which brings us to the fourth potential reason behind your lack of results…

Weight Loss Hiccup #4: Your workout program sucks.

There are a lot of sub-par exercise programs out there. It’s not USUALLY the bottleneck for folks looking to lose weight, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an issue, and even if it’s not the bottleneck for you, you can always improve your results by optimizing everything you’re doing—so hopefully this will get you thinking critically about your workout program.

By far and large, the number-one mistake people make who try to go off on their own and lose weight, is that they focus nearly 100% of their exercise time (or sometimes, a full 100% of it) on cardio-based activity.

It is extremely important for long-term results that you incorporate weight-training into your program—and I would even argue that the MAJORITY of your program should consist of weight training.

Ironically, my 6 Week Challengers, who lose lots of body fat during their programs, don’t do any cardio to speak of outside of a couple of runs that last less than 10 minutes a piece to finish off their workouts.

Most people equate cardio with weight loss, but the truth is cardio is simply a way to increase the “calories out” side of the equation. If you’re already controlling your diet and eating at a deficit, then there is no real reason to feel the need to add cardio in.

Cardio is a good addition if you are already hungry at the current calorie level and you hit a plateau. In that case, lowering the calories further would be a bad idea because you will be more likely to be too hungry and tempted to cheat on your program—which goes back to issues 1 and 2 (not being in a deficit and calorie sneaking).

On the other hand, if you’re already getting in enough calories to satisfy yourself and you have room to lower them without issue, I would opt to reduce calories first and save yourself the time and effort of having to add time-consuming (and usually, boring) cardio to your routine.

Do you see the difference in this approach vs. the typical “cardio-centric” approach most people take?

Here’s the other issue: cardio doesn’t build or retain muscle effectively. Sorry girls, regardless of what you read in the latest Cosmo magazine, the Stairmaster is not an efficient way to build or keep a round, tight butt.

Weight training—progressive weight training specifically (each time you work out, working harder than the last time)—is primarily responsible for muscle retention (when combined with a diet adequate in protein).

Thus, in order to have a successful weight-loss program that involves FAT loss instead of MUSCLE loss (who the hell wants to go from fat to skinny-fat?), it is important to focus mainly on weight training exercises that you perform with progressively higher levels of effort each time you train.

Increasing effort can be accomplished a number of different ways—and rather than delve into the specifics which could take an entire 6 part series in and of itself, let me just briefly mention some of the main variables that can be improved over time:

  • amount of weight lifted per repetition (this is what “intensity” means)
  • number of repetitions performed per set/amount of time per set
  • number of sets performed per workout (which along with number of repetitions, makes up the “volume” of your workout)
  • length of the rest periods
  • quality of contraction and time under tension

If your program is not improving on one or more of the above variables, chances are that it is not adequate for optimal results and you should switch programs.

For the record, this is the main issue I have with at-home workout DVDs like Insanity and most chain-gym group exercise classes like BodyPump and Turbo Kickboxing—there is no emphasis on workout progression, so you’re just doing the same workout over and over again. Why would your body change if you’re just doing the same shit over and over?

When it does come to cardio, I greatly prefer high intensity intervals over slow-and-steady type cardio. Firstly, it takes less time to burn the same amount of calories, and secondly, it’s way less boring to perform. It’s true that the metabolism is also increased after interval training, but the exact significance of this increase is up for debate so I don’t really focus on that so much.

At the end of the day, we’re all busy and would like to spend as little time as necessary in the gym, so shorter, more enjoyable workouts that accomplish as much, if not more, than longer, more drawn-out ones, would seem to be the right choice.

Next time we will talk about the fifth possible obstacle to weight loss—a chronically-depressed metabolism caused by a long history of significant overtraining and underfeeding.

Click here for part 5

Comments on Troubleshooting Weight Loss, Pt. 4 »

  1. Renea

    I am learning a lot from your articles.