One of the great things about the Internet age is that some of the world’s best minds and training information are a click away. One of the worst things about the Internet age is that it’s given the training cults a platform to shout their narrow-minded views.
When it comes to all things fitness, there is almost never one right answer. Are sprints, intervals or standard cardio methods in addition to strength training the best for fat loss? Which is a better method to develop explosive speed and power, kettlebells or Olympic lifts? How many days per week should I train? What rep range is the best for gaining strength and size? What’s the best way to squat?
The answer to all these questions is the same: IT DEPENDS! It depends on your specific structure, mobility, genetics, adaptability, life and training experience, stress levels, among many other factors. So let’s take a look at those questions from above a little more in depth…
Q. Are sprints, intervals, or standard cardio methods in addition to strength training the best for fat loss?
A. The answer depends on a number of factors, each method attacks a different energy system and a different adaptation. Sprinting with full recovery will use primarily our fastest twitch muscles (we have more than one type, and sprinting uses the most badass of the fast twitch fibres) which can help fat loss through a mechanism that is completely different than energy in energy out – sounds pretty cool right? It is, and sprinting should be part of an effective fat loss program for many people. But what if you’re 250lbs, move like a conference table, and haven’t done any intense physical exercise in a long time? Full flat out sprints on flat flat ground can have you landing with up to 6x your own bodyweight per limb per stride, probably not the best idea right now, a better idea would be to use the other methods until you satisfy the mobility requirements and you’re in slightly better shape. It’s not a don’t do it, it’s a don’t do it yet.
Classic interval training where you work as hard as possible for a set amount of time, and then rest for a set amount of time that doesn’t allow complete recovery predominantly works the glycolytic energy system, which is the least efficient energy system we have – least efficient is a good thing when we’re trying to waste a lot of extra fuel (fat), meaning it burns a ton of energy without a huge investment of time. So with classical interval training you have another solid method of reducing body fat, but glycolytic training comes with a cost, it’s hard to recover from and you can’t do it everyday without running yourself into the ground, and worse yet, if you overdo it, the effects are compounding. So interval training is another weapon in the arsenal, but you shouldn’t do it everyday.
Finally there’s classic cardio training, where you do something at a moderate speed for a set period of time with little change throughout the workout. I myself have targeted this as generally useless method on it’s own for losing fat, however, does that mean that it doesn’t have it’s place in a fat loss program? Absolutely not. Cardio (or aerobic system) training improves the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to worked muscles, meaning that cardio training can actually help you recover from other forms of exercise, which would allow you to do them more often. This is often called work capacity, and aerobic work raises it. If you can strength train more often and spend some more time in the glycolytic energy system without suffering the ill effects, then you can use more energy more often and therefore lose more fat. So cardio training may do little to directly affect fat loss, it certainly plays a huge supporting role. If you are deconditioned you should actually start with aerobic training for the first 4-6 weeks before starting any glycolytic or sprint training.
So which method is the best for fat loss? All of them. All the aforementioned methods fit into a fat loss program and anyone who tries to sell you on one over the other is trying to do exactly that – sell you something.
Up next: Kettlebells vs Olympic Lifts – Which is better for strength and power?
Have a question or know of a classic fitness debate that needs some clarification? Let me know in the comments and I’ll try to get in the series