Contributed by Yongdan Tang, PhD
The title of this blog may be misleading. In fact, it’s probably what many believe: that there are distinctions between exercises ‘that are for fat loss’ and exercises ‘that build muscles’. In my opinion, there really aren’t many fundamental differences for exercise selection between the cut and the bulk phase. Just lift the weights!
Don’t use cardio when it’s not time yet; lift the weights!
When it comes to fat loss, many automatically think about running on the treadmill for hours. This is probably the most counter-productive and inefficient method to achieve fat loss. Firstly, as long as our caloric intake is lower than our consumption, our body will lose weight in the form of water, muscle or fat. Secondly, we can achieve weight loss by dialing back on caloric intake while maintaining high TDEE. Muscles are pretty energy demanding while fat tissues almost do not consume much. Hence, striving for progressive overload in the gym, or trying to maintain the strength and training volume, will help to send the correct adaptive stimuli to the body to retain muscles.
Cardio has its place in a cut, usually when you hit a plateau and especially when caloric intake reduction becomes unfavorable that it hampers lifting performance. That’s when 20-30 minutes of slow-paced cardio 2 – 3 times a week will help the shred to continue.
Excessive cardio confuses the body by sending adaptive signals to improve cardio performance when muscle mass can be perceived as a ‘burden’ since the priority shifts to endurance rather than strength. It also loads the body with additional stress for recovery in an energy deficit which can catabolize muscle to fuel the activities.
Maintain strength, use good form and manage training volume, fatigue, and stress
Strength is a pretty good indicator of muscle retention. Or at least try to minimize strength loss in a cut. The last thing we want during a cut is to lose all the hard gains. Muscle loss will further slow down fat loss progress as the ‘engine’ gets smaller.
Exercise selection for a cut should factor in fatigue and stress management. Overall training volume must be in check as recovery capacity is limited in a deficit. Listen to your body’s feedback. Try not to fall sick. Vary the combination of volume, intensity and frequency based on how you feel on that specific day. This helps to stay on track instead of stretching the band too tight.
The Wernbom 40 – 70 reps per body part recommendation is a good guide to start with in terms of volume control. Perceived exertion is another great tool to apply to keep fatigue and recovery checked. Also manage stress in and out of gym. Be patient. And let time brew the magic.
Other than these, I don’t really feel there is a ‘best’ choice for exercise selection. In general, compound exercises are better ‘bang for the buck’ as they hit multiple muscle groups at once. Also, less overall variation helps to perfect the skill and technique faster to ensure good form and efficacy.
The reduced complexity also helps to shorten the training duration hence minimize stress. Feel free to add variations when a need arises, say there is a nagging pain somewhere and a variation is ‘safer’ to avoid injury.
So the choice of exercise for fat loss and body composition improvement – weight lifting!
Contributed by Yongdan Tang.
Yongdan holds a PhD in Biomedical Engineering, and built a career in the healthcare and medical industries. He began weight lifting 15 years ago, and has successfully set up diets and training plans.