Fat loss is a cruel bastard.
I’ve talked to hundreds of men and women who want to maintain their athleticism while getting shredded, but they continue to train the same way they always have.
Most of the time, they end up building muscle and getting good at major movements.
But here’s the thing:
We’re not after pretty good; we’re here to piss excellence.
There’s a reason the tagline for Roman Fitness Systems is where mediocrity goes to die.
Mediocrity is a cop out. We’re after otherworldly results.
To hold onto lean mass while preserving athleticism, you need to start with heavy and explosive training, and then hammer training density for accelerated fat loss.
Heavy and Explosive Training in the Fat Loss Puzzle
Few people associate heavy and explosive training with fat loss programs.
We associate the incredible burn of high-rep sets and screaming lungs with fat loss. Heavy and explosive training plays a different role, including an increased nervous system activation for better muscle recruitment and retention.
Every muscle in your body is composed of bundles of muscle fibers with motor neurons attached to them. Think of motor neurons as an electrode hooked up to each muscle. When the electrode receives a signal (from your brain), it activates those muscles to contract.
Small muscles, like the ones in your thumb that allow you to swipe right on Tinder, have smaller motor units.
Big muscles like your triceps have big ol’ motor units so they can generate a lot of force and contract harder.
Stimulating a greater number of muscle fibers is vital for two reasons:
First, by stimulating a greater number of muscle fibers you can trigger a bigger anabolic response to counteract the catabolism of muscle tissue. When you’re in the midst of getting awesomely shredded, your body is in a catabolic state and breaking down stored tissues for energy.
Secondly, activating a greater number of muscle fibers helps you preserve your foundation of strength. Without a foundation of strength, all the strength circuits won’t be effective for cutting bodyfat.
Greater muscle fiber recruitment keeps your muscles turned on and ready to roll to improve performance, even when you’re dieting down.
By activating more muscle fibers you’ll preserve lean muscle, hold onto strength, and preserve your performance while looked awesome naked.
This means two things: lifting heavier weights, or lifting lighter weights with maximum explosive intent.
Both strategies work and have unique benefits. Lifting heavy weights sounds great; most people enjoy hosting a new PR and getting stronger. But lifting a lot of heavy weight is stressful and doing too much when on a diet can be brutal.
Going too hard with heavy loads and high stress can lead to serious fatigue, plateauing aspirations of a chiseled six-pack and a hard-body.
The second method is lifting lighter weights faster. That means weights that are 40-60% of your max or even lighter. Explosive bodyweight movement exercises won’t do a ton for max strength, but they will charge your nervous system and activate motor units. This is a good thing.
The big benefit is increased neural drive to your muscles. This helps you activate dormant muscle fibers and maximize the efficiency of your central nervous system without as much total body stress as heavy weights.
I’ve found it best to use heavy lifts once or twice per week when on a diet.
I’d focus on one lower body lift and one upper body lift, working with 3-5 sets when on a diet. Weight should be 85-95% of your max, or a weight you can use for 1-6 reps, avoiding any failed reps.
Upper Body Lift: Overhead press, chin-up, bent-over row, bench press
Lower Body Lift: Clean, squat, deadlift
Then, once or twice per week include explosive, lighter exercises. Think exercises like speed squats or cleans with 40-60% of your 1-rm, or explosive exercises like squat jumps or clap push-ups.
Adding in Density
Just training heavy and explosive movements isn’t the answer. Neither is endless isolation work. Or plodding along the hamster wheel of endless cardio.
The real answer is density. Density is the product of work over time; to increase it, you can cut down rest periods or set up giant sets to do more exercises in less time.
Increasing training density helps you obliterate fat in two ways:
1. Working at a high intensity dramatically increases the caloric expenditure and metabolic demand of your workout. Burning more calories during a workout is beneficial to getting you shredded.
Additionally, the metabolic stress created from the lack of oxygen to muscles can also trigger muscle damage. Greater muscle damage tells your body to direct more fuel (calories) towards repairing muscle tissue and refueling energy stores.
As long as you’re not going to absolute failure and crushing your body into oblivion, the intensity will help boost your caloric deficit.
2. When you’re crushing these circuits you’re often working above your anaerobic threshold. Basically, that means when you’re huffing and puffing and out of breath, your body starts to build up lactic acid, which your body can’t rid of fast enough.
So, acidity builds up and you get that crazy burning sensation in your muscle. Working with a greater training density we can create extra surges of natural growth hormone to accelerate fat loss.
Density circuits combine compound movement patterns with short rest periods for high intensity, challenge based workouts. To stimulate the greatest metabolic and hormonal response, it’s best to use movements like horizontal/vertical pushing and pulling, squats, and deadlifts.
Add the occasional isolation exercise or core lift for a little variety, and you get:
1A. [Vertical Pull] Chin Up 4×5 Rest =0
1B. [Vertical Push] Kettlebell One Arm Press 4×6 Rest =0
1C. [Single leg] DB Goblet Lunge 4×6/leg Rest =60-90
2A. [Horizontal Pull] Dumbbell Split Row 3×6/arm Rest =30
2B.[Horizontal Push] Chain Push-Up 3×8 Rest =30
2C. [Hip Dominant Lower] DB RDL 3×12 Rest =30
2D. [Core] Stability Ball Plank 3×45 seconds Rest =30
Making progress in the gym requires a focus on a diet that is practical for your goals and improves your body’s performance.
For most of us, that means getting out of our comfort zone and improving our physiological capabilities, then adding in specialized workouts that attack our goals, such as density training for fat loss.
Take a minute and ask yourself:
Are you really getting the results you deserve with training?
Are you getting stronger, more athletic, or looking better naked?
For 99% of people, the answer is no.
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Your performance is still important to looking your best, even on a fat loss diet. Even if you’re main goal isn’t to play a specific sport, your athleticism is still vital.
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