I’ve traveled far and wide to acquire this information. I’ve eaten fish with a Kodiak bear, drank tea with a Tibetan monk and even exchanged iced-out watches with aliens on Pluto, all so that I could return to give you a powerful tool to add to your fat loss arsenal. Are you ready?!
Descent Into Madness
If I had a dollar for every time I read or heard someone say that you need to utilize high reps in order to loss fat or “cut up”, I’d be riding around town in a rocketship because that’s just how pervasive this myth has become. Take a look around your gym, or perhaps even your own routine, and I’m sure you’ll find several examples. A sample workout of someone subscribing to this kind of dogma probably consists of 5 different bicep curls, plus every bench press variation known to man, repeated forever and ever and ever until the end of time.
While the above is (mostly) in jest, there is a serious point to be made: the way most people train for the goal of fat loss is counterproductive, but you know what? I don’t blame them, as I too was a victim of it and did my fair share of spreading misinformation back in the day. With the rise of this new, hip thing called the internet, great information is easy to find, but so is the nonsense. When you look at weight training from a simplistic point of view, it almost sounds like it would make sense.
Strength training = calories burned
Strength training + a never ending amount of sets = even more calories burned
Even more calories burned = FAT ANNIHILATION!!!
When your goal is to lose enough fat to look good naked, or at the very least in some form fitting clothes, the last thing that you want to do is engage in a constantly in light weight, high rep training, and here is why.
1. It provides no inventive
If you’re cutting calories like you’re supposed to be doing, then proper strength training is one of your greatest allies in the battle against the chub, emphasis on the word proper. Unfortunately, doing nothing but the type of training described above doesn’t cut the cake as far as proper goes and may very well leave you looking like a smaller, weaker version of your current self.
In a caloric deficit, your body is like The Blob – it doesn’t care if the weight that you’re losing is composed of muscle or fat and it will gobble up whatever it needs to in order to provide itself with what you aren’t giving it. Sounds pretty lame, right? Luckily there is an easy solution. By training with heavy weights and compound movements, coupled with sufficient protein intake, you’re waving a fiery torch of doom at your body, keeping it away from your treasure trove (muscle) and steering it towards a less important resource (body fat).
Unlike lifting a light weight dozens of times and not stressing your system, training with heavy weights provides your body with a physiological incentive to hold on to the muscle that you have because you’re demonstrating that you actually need to keep it around. In the end this is what you want, because muscle + reduced bodyfat is responsible for giving your body the definition and “tone” that most men and women are looking for.
Yes, it is true that if you don’t use it, you lose it.
2. It compromises recovery
Imagine that your muscles are like a sandcastle, and every time you train and allow time to recover, your sandcastle comes back bigger and better than before. This is how things normally go, but things aren’t normal when you’re trying to lose fat.
Your recovery is already hampered because you’re eating less than you’d need to maintain your current state, plus you’re demanding more of it by adding more for it to recovery from in the form of higher reps. This would be the equivalent of me drop kicking your sandcastle right of the middle of you rebuilding it – one step forward, two steps back.
Now what kind of person would I be if all I did was tell you about a problem and just stand there in my b-boy stance without providing you with any kind of a solution? A person composed entirely of dubious and questionable morals, and that just won’t do!
Enter The Pyramid
The most effective training method that I’ve ever used to pack on size or maintain my strength and muscle mass while dieting is called Reverse Pyramid Training, which is a simple training philosophy that I first discovered through Martin Berkhan which side steps the pitfalls of the constant high rep/low weight training.
- Use this for only one or two (compound) lifts per session in order to avoid burnout.
- Choose a predefined rep range (anywhere from 1-10 reps depending on the exercise), only increasing weight when you get to the upper end of that range.
- After a proper warm up, your first work set will be your heaviest set. This is what you want to focus the majority of your efforts towards progressing on.
- Drop the weight by 10% or so each subsequent set in order to get +1-2 reps compared to your last set
Here is a page from my training log as an example plus a video of me training in a goofy looking hat.
Chin Ups: 2 x 3-4, 1 x as many as possible
Set #1: Bodyweight + 100lbs x 3 reps
Rest at least 3min. Drop that weight about 10% and terminate the set after you get +1-2 reps from your last set.
Set #2: Bodyweight+ 75lbs x 4 reps
Set #3: Bodyweight x 11 reps
Done. Rest 3-5min before beginning the next compound movement (if you have another one).
Front Squat: 2 x 3-5 reps
Set #1: 305 x 4 reps
Rest at least 3min. Drop that weight by about 10% and terminate the set after you get +1-2 reps from your last set.
Set #2: 275 x 5 reps
Rest at least 3min. Drop that weight by 10% and terminate the set after you get +1 rep from your last set.
Set #3: 225 x 5
On some days this may be my entire workout – brief, intense and effective. This is how most my sessions usually turn out, and I’ve managed to maintain my strength and muscle mass despite being in a severe caloric deficit at the time. You can add in a few assistance exercises as well, but I’d keep it limited to 2, 3 at the absolute most, and stay within the 6-10 rep range. Cut out the fufu exercises and keep your training centered around the big movements.
As a side note, if can’t perform movements such as chin ups, deadlifts, squats and the bench press for some reason, all is not lost. You still have the option of using the lat pulldown weight-assisted chin up machine, leg press and push up variations, just to name a few. The key is to simply use a heavy enough weight to maintain intensity, regardless of the actual exercise selection.
Photo Credit: MayWong