By Craig Ballantyne, CSCS, MS
Author, Turbulence Training
If you depend on classic aerobic cardio for fat loss, you probably spend 30 minutes on a machine trying to burn a set number of calories.
But does that work?
Does burning 500 calories per day cause you to lose 1 pound of fat per week?
Well, according to science, it should. But if it did, you probably wouldn’t still be reading this article.
Back in the day, I used to write a column on fat loss myths for Men’s Fitness magazine. Here’s a classic weight loss topic I covered.
Myth: I need to burn 500 calories each workout to lose fat.
Truth: Possibly one of the worst inventions for fat loss was the calorie-counting monitor on treadmills, elliptical machines, and stairmasters.
Because of these, millions of men and women now obsess about the number of calories burned per session. You’ve probably even been one of those people, watching it creep up ever so slowly during a slow-cardio session. All the while knowing that you can wipe out a 30-minute, 300-calorie treadmill session with one fell swoop of the Krispy Kreme hand.
Too many people are brainwashed into thinking that if they don’t burn 300-500 calories per session, then they won’t lose fat. After all, that is what you’ve been told time and time again in those fluffy fitness/fashion magazines.
The problems with this approach to fat loss are numerous. First off, it’s difficult to say if the calorie counters are even accurate. A story on CBS news showed that cardio machines overestimate calorie burning by up to 20%.
Next, depending on slow cardio for advanced fat loss is relatively useless and at the very least, inefficient. It takes a long time for you to burn a lot of calories and one study showed that men who only used cardio training for weight loss ended up with a reduced resting metabolism. You are basically undoing the calorie burning by depending only on cardio. On the other hand, guys in the same study that used strength training didn’t suffer a reduced metabolic rate.
So what is the solution to burning fat in a faster, more efficient method? The answer is to use strength and interval training to burn fewer calories in less exercise time, but with a more intense form of exercise.
Your body will burn more calories after exercise (when you use intervals) than it does after you do slow cardio and your metabolism will stay high. Some experts refer to this as the afterburn effect. How do you do intervals? Well, you could sprint for 30 seconds and rest for 90 seconds and repeat that for 6 sets – using the bike preferably or treadmill if you are experienced with it.
Within that short time frame the intervals will cause your muscles to go crazy with activity (I call it a metabolic turbulence). This crazy metabolism boost causes lots of calorie burning after exercise to get your body back to normal. The result is you would end up burning more fat and more calories in the post-exercise period as your body tries to get things under control.
Now there is one time where you’d want to count calories, but that is when you are counting up and determining how many calories you eat per day. Again, you can wipe out an entire workout’s work in less than a minute simply by eating garbage. Without some structure and discipline to your nutrition, there is nothing that even my programs can do to help you lose fat.
So exercise nutrition control and interval training. These are the two anti-calorie counting methods that will help you lose fat and get lean.