The Seven Most Effective Fat Loss Strategies

It’s that time of year… Cake, alcohol, chocolate and cheese have been liberated to become part of your regular diet and you have decided it has to stop. Welcome to January- this is where epic goals are set, intentions are at their greatest and fear of failure is outweighed by the desperate need to detox (your body doesn’t need to do this by the way- in fact it is always doing this) and to sweat out the sins of sloth and laziness that will on average leave most people 1kg heavier after the holiday period.

But fear not- what follows are (in my opinion) the seven most effective strategies for losing weight. This isn’t a sexy article- I am not selling any supplements, pushing a branded diet, I don’t have a book out and this advice definitely will not appear on the front of a news paper.

Why? The majority of people will understand that each of these points is true they stand up to scientific rigour. However, it doesn’t have a fancy name, doesn’t involve eating certain foods on certain days and comes with no celebrity DVD.

So away we go….

1. Work out how many calories you need and set a deficit of between 300-600 calories a day.

2. Create a meal plan- it doesn’t matter if you eat 1, 3 or 8 meals a day, eat to what your calorific goal suggests. It will help you avoid overconsumption.

3. Understand what is in your food- read the side of packets and weigh out a serving size. Educate yourself about what you are putting in to your body.

4. Eat a high protein diet- it will help with hunger levels, will maintain your muscle mass and help prevent muscle loss.

5. Be consistent with your carbohydrate and fat intake- it’s not really conclusive if low fat or low carb is “better” for fat loss. Some people respond well to different plans- initially just be consistent with how much you are eating.

6. Resistance train. Don’t go for a jog- if you resistance train while you are dieting you will maintain your lean muscle mass, it should be your priority in your training week.

7. Move. Getting stuck to your desk all day is a great way of limiting the amount of calories that you can burn. Get moving, walk up stairs, get a pedometer or use wearable technology like a fitbit or even a pedometer. Try and keep your residual levels of activity as high as possible.

That’s it your ready made guide to kick off the new year, it’s not recommended by a French doctor with an exotic name and it definitely doesn’t mention raspberry ketones, gluten free, prehistoric eating habits,  a new training style or have a desperate endorsement from someone on TV but these things work best… pure and simple.




Why Your Diet Doesn’t Work…

You have made that commitment…

You are willing to forgo all treats…

You have changed your Facebook profile picture to Linda Hamilton/ Arnold Schwarzenegger from Terminator 2: Judgement Day or someone equally bad ass….

Your life is about to become a Nike commercial…

But…. that was yesterday and now you are hungry.

It will pay off, won’t it? I mean a little bit of a short term sacrifice to get the body you always wanted?

You have dropped calories and eliminated as anything that isn’t green or your have to kill with a spear.

Six weeks later you are miserable- the initial weight loss has plateaued and you aren’t losing body fat any more.

You might have been taking advice from someone who has recommended chicken and broccoli at every meal, carbs and sugar are worse than the devil so you best avoid them as well, you may even have bought a super food smoothie to get all your nutrients in. The problem remains… you are still bored and hungry.

This is where we find a lot of our clients.

Fat loss nutrition has been sold to them as a short term approach

It will work in the short term but you are screwing yourself in the long term.

So try this instead…

If you are calling it a “diet” you are doing it wrong…

Be less strict and get to understand what sensible nutrition is…

Your nutrition plan needs to focus upon a number of things for success.

1. Your food preferences and overall goal.

In the context of this article we are looking at fat loss. Food preferences come down to like’s, dislikes and tolerances. I spoke to someone who cut gluten from each of his clients meal plans- I asked if all his clients where gluten intolerant, he said no. My point is that there needs to be flexibility in choice. In some cases some people may want to limit the consumptions of certain foods but I consider if you remove a food group you are actually cutting back on your food choice options. Personal preference comes in to this things as does personal health.

2. The flexibility to change up what you eat and when.

Some days are just a nightmare when you can’t find quinoa (I said never). I have used calorie counters with individuals in the past and often people become slaves to these obsessing over the minor details. The route cause of this is that we have lost touch with what actually a portion size is. Socially it can be awkward to make choices when on a strict plan and you don’t have a “healthy option” which leads to the next point…

3. A loose structure which is maintained even if you overeat.

At some point you may make what you consider a “bad” choice for fat loss. This is totally not the point.

The fundamental approach that runs through the core of losing weight is that calories need to be reduced to lose weight. To make a point that it can be hard to reduce calories if someone eats in an unstructured way e.g. very low calories during the week with massive binges at the weekend. The necessity to perhaps bring calories up in some cases in order to help people make the right choices rather than binging or defaulting to emotional eating can help to create better overall “structure” and help create a better framework for success. If you overeat or eat an undesirable food it won’t torpedo your overall results if you have a structured approach to balancing your nutrition.

What happens when you “diet”?

When people set up a diet two things happen. You become immediately focussed on the short term results and failure to maintain the diet is seen as absolute failure. In fact you often become heavily focussed upon short term achievement because your approach is so stringent with no flexibility. You may loose weight but ultimately you will plateau. Why? Your calorific intake know matches your expenditure- you are now a smaller person so you need less calories. What do you now?

I consider this the “friends” zone of dieting, I mean you are reaping the rewards of the diet from losing a bit of weight but you want to lose a bit more and aren’t happy- what do you do? Stay on the plan? Revert to what you did before? It’s generally pretty confusing at this point especially when you have to consider at a lower body weight you may need to drop your calories lower- however, that sounds horrendous at this point and is where most people fall of the wagon as they revert to their previous habitual eating pattern which is different to their stringent “diet.”

Setting up a”diet” for success!

Follow these pointers and you will be on the right path:

1. Create a structured way of eating that you can maintain without extreme behaviour or food avoidance.

A great example of this is that some people love breakfast, other people can take it or leave it. The strategy of forcing someone to eat breakfast is unnecessary- it’s a cultural norm from our society as it wraps the working day. You have to work with what’s comfortable before changing everything.

2. Educate yourself to understand what a protein, carbohydrate and fat is and what foods are rich in these.

Probably the most important point, if you have no idea what you are eating then you have no position to revert to. A great example of this is meal replacement supplements and why people put weight on when they go back to normal food- they don’t know what is in them so they can’t stratagize to replace the calories in them sensibly. Simply this generation have such an abundance of food that we don’t know what is in it or what enough is, hence the soaring obesity rate.

3. Understand your personal needs for protein, carbohydrates and fats.

This will vary on individual differences and activity levels. Simply though we are all pretty similar and total amounts are a factor when it comes to weight loss.

4. Set a long term “health” goal rather than a short term “avoidance” goal.

Regardless of how you eat if you can’t maintain some semblance of your target weight/ body fat over a period of time then you need to slightly reset your targets or your calorific intake.

In conclusion…

These words should remain with you “eat in a way you can maintain.”

If there is no or minimal transition to eating in a different way you are more likely to be successful. If this way of eating becomes the new “normal” then you level out the boom and bust approach to calorific consumption.

Remember you are in charge of your calorific consumption and you make the decisions. You can have your cake and possibly eat it- in this way of working it helps if you understand what is in the said cake and how it relates to your daily needs. In itself this decreases the necessity to beat yourself up about making bad decisions/ failing and should make you more determined to emphasise the healthy structured approach to how you mange your relationship with food over the long term.

From the Gym Floor…. Part 3: Beginners Press Ups, Fat Loss and Speed Deadlifts.

In this months thrilling installment we wrestle with the questions that count!

1. Learn to do full press ups. It’s not about being sexist but this applies to both men and women. On a full press up you are lifting approximately 75% of your body weight an impressive achievement either way. One mistake we find is that people spend too long performing chest press/ barbell/ dumbell variations without first mastering press ups. We also find that challenging yourself to full press ups even if it is only one or two done well ultimately becomes three or four over time. One good intermediate is to elevate a press up. Start with a 45 degree angle for the body and over time slowly lower it to the floor. Although perhaps good for beginners, press ups off the knees lack enough core involvement and full body strength to transfer to full press ups effectively.

2. Speed can be a priority in a workout only when technique is strong. With a lot of our clients and athletes we don’t prioritize speed until technique is perfect. A good example is the deadlift- quick singles at around 60-70% of your maximal lift are a great tool for improving and enhancing acceleration and bar speed. With a lot of our athletes in season we tend to do either heavy or quick work. We don’t do a lot of work in your traditional rep ranges of 8-10. The reason being is that we don’t beat up too much tissue, recover quicker and therefore don’t have many sessions where we include what we call “junk reps.” This is unnecessary training volume which doesn’t guarantee us a result.

3. Fat loss is not weight loss. A basketball of fat weighs the same as a baseball of muscle. Changing your body shape is a process of what we call a “recomposition.” It’s easy to cut weight- drop your carb intake and your weight will plummet.  This will be mainly water and stored carbohydrate from the body, it is not body fat. Calorie consumption and the amount of food you consume are still the best guide for getting long term results if appropriately applied. The number of people who are on unnecessarily harsh dietary regimes is staggering as is the incompetence of the people who prescribe them. There is no one size fits all strategy but I will give you a hint- if it’s called a diet then you are probably doing it wrong!






The Tabata Lie

Tabata training is an example of how science has been used to skew a training protocol in to a weight loss regime- even though they are not related.  Tabatas are based upon a study where the participants performed a programme of high intensity/ low volume training peaking out at 170% of their VO2 Max. The original abstract is here for the science geeks. In summary, performing high intensity work over a six week period resulted in an improvement in maximal aerobic power and indicated that  intermittent high intensity training may improve both anaerobic and aerobic energy supply systems. That would be okay if the study stayed in cycling highlighting that a short period of high intensity work can bring about improvements in your performance.

However this study has been bastardized in to main stream fitness and “rebranded” as a fat loss protocol. Fundamentally though if you are not working at 170% then you are not performing a tabata. You may be perfroming a set of hard exercise but it is not a tabata.

To explain this consider the original protocol. The Tabata protocol consisted of a 10 minute steady state warm up followed by 7-8 sets of 20 seconds at 170% VO2 Max with 10 seconds of rest between each set. They performed this 4 days a week and performed a slightly modifed version on the 5th day when they did 30 minutes of steady state work followed by 4 intervals.

The control group did 60 total minutes a day at 70% of VO2 Max 5 times a week.

The study was performed on a stationary bike and is an interesting, perhaps a landmark study, showing a clear improvement in performance with high intensity work over a short period of time (even though they did 70mins a week of steady state exercise).

The key for me though is to perform a tabata you have to be working at 170% of your VO2 Max. Simplified this is beyond the point that you can readily replace oxygen in your body. For trained athletes this is a vomit inducing intensity. Performing squats, lunges, burpees or any exercise under the pseudonym of a vaguely threatening animal will not illicit an effort similar to 170% of your VO2 Max. It will be hard, your last set may be tough, this is not 170% of your VO2 Max- instead it is a hard interval for 20 seconds. In essence it is like comparing a hill to Mount Everest- it’s not the same thing.

But welcome to world of fitness and nutrition where we can make things up and alter parameters.

Science doesn’t matter if it works right?

Tabata’s apparently burn more fat don’t they?

Well no.

Tabata’s were created as a performance enhancement tool. Will they enhance energy usage- well the study indicated enhancements in aerobic measures of power for the steady state group as well as improvements in aerobic and anaerobic measures of power in the Tabata group. What does this mean though? Well both groups improved performance. The Tabata group though enhanced their ability to work at a higher intensity. This study has no mention of fat or fuel utilization though inferences can be drawn from this. This indicates perhaps either (A) an increased in efficiency of energy utilization or (B) the ability to mobilize more energy to maintain a higher intensity. The assumption from the fat loss crowd would be option (B) and that is good enough for them- however (A) is just as likely.

Common sense dictates that if you work at a higher intensity for a longer time then you will consume more fuel (unless there is a saving in efficency) than someone working at a lower intensity. The key is this is related to performance and not body composition.

This leads to the re-entering of the Tabata protocol and different high intensity interval protocols last year popularized on the BBC by a Horizon documentary  This particular programme boasted a range of improvements in physical markers perhaps predominantly though an improvement in insulin sensitivity (if you are resistant to insulin you require larger amounts of insulin to metabolize carbohydrates which has been linked to a number of conditions such as elevated cholesterol and high blood pressure- also elevated insulin plays a role in fat storage importantly).

What was interesting though is that the general media took the message of Tabata and high intensity interval training on with headlines of “Fit In 3 minutes a Day.”

On the BBC Horizon programme, Timmons (part of the research team) told Mosley (the presenter) the problem with the current guidelines is they don’t take into account the variation in individual response to exercise, so there is no guarantee that following such a regime will actually give you the right results. The programme highlighted that the link between exercise and health is an individual thing.

But what does all the research highlight?

Very high intensity exercise elevates markers of performance. The question is a 6 week study is fine but in the long term do we see improvements. Well no- in fact other studies on high intensity work performance plateaus after 3 weeks.

It also enhances insulin sensitivity. It does not burn more body fat in preference to other methods of training but high intensity exercise can aid improvements in body composition by playing a role in managing fat storage or the body’s utilization of dietary carbohydrates.

This highlights that energy management is the key to fat loss as is fuel utilization (in essence what you put in to your body). A greater review is here remember though this encompasses all interval training and isn’t specifically Tabata style 20 second blasts. The role of interval training is well documented as a training aid but the key point is that Tabata’s are a specific type of interval.

If you are not working at 170% of your VO2 Max it isn’t a Tabata- if you have ever done it you will know.



Diet Review: Low Fat Diets

Low fat diets are as much part of the dieting landscape as bad behaviour is to premiership footballers. That is that there is a perception that fat is bad and consuming a diet low in fat is good. But is that true?

Low fat diets really are a product of the 1980’s- a bit like bad hair and electronic music, it doesn’t make it right. This came from the want to quantify nutritional intakes which in effect resulted in judgments being placed on consumption of everything from protein to vitamins and even salt. This was followed up by a number of other reports focusing upon saturated fat consumption and cardiovascular disease. Further to this recommendations where then given for the consumption of different types of fats from polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats through to trans fats.

As always the diet industry jumped on the band wagon with low fat diets with many products you will recognize from today including Rosemary Conley and the Pritkin diet. As weight loss requires the body to utilize body fat as an energy source then reducing fat is the quickest and easiest way to reduce total energy consumption. Also, the negative links with coronary heart disease and arterial blockages as well as links with cholesterol (a type of fat) explain why the general consensus is that fat is a negative and consumption of fat equals storage.

What do we need for adequate health- well we can reduce fat heavily and I will talk about the negative implications of this. As a general recomendation fat consumption is widely recommended to be between at least 20 to 30% of total daily calorific consumption. Most low fat diets result in this being reduced to 10% though research highlights moderately low-fat diet with varied fat consumption, where 20 to 30 percent of calories come from fat, is more likely to keep the weight off in the long term.

Most foods contain some form of fat and for good reason. We need it to survive. Our body needs fat to make cell walls as well as the production of hormones. Without which we cannot maintain our metabolism. Vitamins are also absorbed and stored in body fat meaning long term restriction of fat can severely damage your nutritional status. We also need certain fats for the upkeep of our body- omega 6 and omega 3 are probably recognizable to most people. It is not surprising that the health message has become confused as on one hand fat is bad for your health but science simply refutes that you need a consistent fat consumption for the maintenance of your body and health.

Even the negative argument about saturated fat consumption is being challenged- as I have stated before correlation does not denote cause. Finding arterial fat does not mean that saturated fat is solely responsible for heart disease. Indeed we can process it and we do not a certain amount for the maintenance of the body these studies also interestingly correlated increased obesity with increased fat consumption, discounting an increase in sugar and carbohydrate consumption which occurred as well during this time frame.

The one negative for fat consumption is trans fats which are made made through the hydrogenation of oils to improve shelf life- most processed foods will contain these fats. Our body cannot use these and they should be avoided.

But the 100 million dollar question…. They work…. don’t they? Well yes because a lot of the time you are reducing net food consumption so it can help with weight and fat loss. However the negative implications may be reductions in your hormonal health and therefore your long term ability to maintain your metabolic rate, immune system etc.

So what happens if I overeat fat? The same things as protein and carbohydrates. It will be stored as body fat. The key is to work out what you need and balance your intake so it is consistent  Metabolically it is easier to convert consumed fat in to body fat but as we need it for so many vital purposes it is important to maintain a sensible level of consumption as opposed to reducing it heavily.





4 Overated Exercises (And How To Make Them Better)!

What goes in an exercise programme is usually a mixture of opinion, fact and experience of the person writing that programme. Now that does not mean the more experienced you are the more relevant your exercise choices are. In turn qualifications mean nothing without practical experience. What follows are 4 exercises that you may commonly see on training programmes. In this post I will quantify why we programme them rarely or not at all and most importantly options to perform instead.


Tabata’s- Based on a protocol from a Japanese Sports Scientist, Tabata training seems now to include any form of short maximal intensity workload with short 10 second rest. When you look at the original paper that this type of training was coined from the workload has to be supramaximal (up to 170% of yourVO2 Max). It’s tough working that hard and a bit nasty- you can not last a long time working at these intensities. My issues are the fact that performing work for 20 seconds and resting for 10 seconds has all been coined “Tabata.” Simply you can not swing a kettlebell, perform bodyweight squats or burpee your way to this type of intensity. As well as this when being performed on the Treadmill, Rower or Bike you will see technical fatigue very quickly. If used at all the benefits of Tabata style training plateau after 3 weeks. The good side if used is that it can enhance VO2 Max and anaerobic capacity but should only be used as ashort term measure and most certainly is not the only form of cardiovasculkar training you should utilize.

Upright Rows- The old school body building classic to build up those shoulders. Now when you perform the upright row the shoulder joint internally rotates as well as flexes (turns inwards as the arm raises upwards). What happens here as you bring the arms up is that it closes the space in between your humerus and your acromium process (shoulder joint). In this area there is a large amount of musculature and connective tissue fitting in to the joint space. If this space is compromised and this tissue gets caught in that joint we may have an issue- shoulder impingement. It does have implications for those performing the Olympic Lifts though. Scapular position is vital and strong scapular retractors and depressors are vital for good performance. It also explains why they may be a step too far and too advanced for some individuals- especially if they are not using their lower body to generate enough force relying on the pull of the shoulders to elevate the bar. So what are the options for shoulder development and if necessary the Olympic Lifts? Well we are looking to work the shoulders so variations of dumbbell horizontal and vertical pressing (in those with stable shoulders) may be of use. With the Olympic Lifts if the shoulders need work postutrally then addressing mobility and stability with a suitable focussed programme may be the answer. This doent stop you looking at loaded jump based movements as an alternative as well as lower loading for squats and deadlifts and working on acceleration before returning to the O-lifts when structual balance is a lot more suitable around the shoulder.

Leg Extensions- Again, non-functional and unrelated to developing movement. The forces placed around the knee cap on a leg extension cause an increase in sheer force across the knee. As muscles develop in proportion to one another in a chain any form of dominance in one muscle group can cause postural imbalance and poor movement quality if performed over time. Single leg works multi-dimensional stability of the lower body- vital to move effectively and maintain good posture. Most people dodge it as it is tough- often we only do the things we are good at and leg extensions are an easy option for lower body training. Examples for other exercises include weighted lunges, step ups, single leg squats, heavy sled pushes/ pulls and single leg deadlift variations.

Ab Crunches- Ab crunches to end range flexion and extension are pretty much pointless for most individual’s that I work with. The reason being is that posturally most people do not need a shortened abdominal wall. If tight the rib cage is pulled down (towards the pelvis) it can affect breathing, round the upper back and in some cases be related to increased back pain as it will affect pelvic tilt. As an alternative we use a lot of side bridging drills, ab rollouts and sit to stand movements. This way we can challenge the dynamic nature of the abdominal musculature to resist against excessive force. As a point crunches do not give you a toned ab region. That is roughly about 80% diet related you won’t crunch your way to a six pack if your nutrition plan is not perfect. That also goes for any other “core” contraption.

Throw any others out there…. and feel free to disagree below!

Train to be Better- Not Just Tired…

 When exercising we all want to be pushed. Indeed fatigue is a good thing. Fatigue effectively shows that we are working at our physical limits for a given attribute. However, the issue I have with higher repetition work is that often form is compromised. When form is compromised the body places undue stress on its joint structures. For example, press ups- the lower back often drops under fatigue putting strain through the lumbar spine as well as flared elbows putting excessive strain on the AC joint at the shoulder.

It happens on lower body exercises as well- excessive flexion of the lumbar spine when performing exercises such as Burpees as well as more fundamental exercises such as squats and lunges for high repetition.

Now some people may say this is reflective of “fitness” (which in itself is a highly general term and can mean a lot of things). Ultimately though fatigue will mask function if too extreme- indeed fitness for a given parameter is the ability to resist fatigue compared to it being the factor that ultimately ends the given exercise.

Training emphasis should always be on correct form ahead of fatigue. Endless repetitions of poor fatigue can cause poor movement patterns and ultimately injury- don’t compromise what you do to just feel “the burn.” Training is about making yourself better be it strength or cardiovascular- endless repetition in an incorrect way does not emphasise good training. Remember you are looking for the best possible result with the least possible effort- once you have achieved what you need to in a session then excessive work will generally fatigue you unnecessarily.

Experiments in Fat Loss: Part 2- Cheating and Training…

Two weeks in to a low carb 28 day blitz and quite frankly I am suprised how easy I found it. Cheat day proved to be the highlight of the week and I found after two weeks of focussed eating that I didn’t really want to go overboard from generally eating bad stuff.

Every week there is one day where on this plan you get a clear day of eating, week one I pretty much absorbed anything edible but as I approached week 2’s cheat day I just thought going extreme was not necessary. There is a scientific reason behind these cheats or what are often called “refeeds.” The idea is that by increasing your consumption (primarily of carbohydrate) on these days you effectively restock your muscular carbohydrate stores.

Why is this important? Firstly, dropping the amount of energy in your diet can sometimes slow down your metabolism- this is partly a method to conserve energy. This is precisly why individuals who regularly cut calories effectively will yo-yo with their weight. Secondly, we need to preserve muscle mass- training on a refeed days gives me the best session of the week and I will refer more to this below in regard to training.

There was one day mid week where I was pushed energy wise- I added 50g of carbohydrates to one of my meals, again understanding that I had consumed circa 100g of carbohydrates for the day meant that this could be included, never the less though it was post training so this refeed was at least going to help recovery.

The day after my refeed (Sunday) was where I found I had most cravings- specifically for sugar. It didn’t help that when going out to watch the Rugby that there was a table full of Dorito’s, dips and doughnuts. Regardless of the rugby all I could do was watch people graze on food while I ate about 5 pieces of carrott. In all seriousness though I can see why social support is a positive thing when looking to reduce body fat! In my mind tough as it is- this is 28 days of focus to see what gives on this eating plan. Why take 6 months to do something when you can do it in 4 weeks?

What training plan am I following? The first question (or assumption) someone suggested to me was “You are mainly doing cardio right?”  Well no.

The gym based programme I am doing is mainly a strength/ hypertrophy crossover. The reason being is that I want to preserve as much muscle mass as possible during this period of time. Also, I am conscious of strength levels reducing- never good.  In to the mix with this goes one session of steady state CV (ususally a hill/ undulating run of around 30-40mins) and a full body low rep circuit style session (performed in week one not in week 2 due to time commitments). I am using an upper body session, a lower body session and a full body session- see below for the full breakdown:

Day 1

Upper Body.

A1 Pull Ups 5 x 5

B1 Bench Press 4 x 5

B2 Bench Rows/ Seated Rows 4 x 6

C1 Single Arm DB Shoulder Press 3 x 8

C2 Cable Face Pull 3 x 8

D1 Side Lying External Rotations 3 x 10

D2 Tricep Pushdowns 3 x 20

D3 Hammer Curls 3 x 10

Day 2

Lower Body

A1 Deadlift 5 x 3

B1 Bulgarian Split Squats 4 x 8

C1 Kettlebell Swings 4 x 20

D1 Ab Roll Outs 3 x 12

D2 Side Plank 3 x 12

D3 Hanging Ab Curls 3 x12

Day 3

Full Body

A1 Front Squat 5 x 5

B1 Speed Deadlifts 3 x 10 @ 60% Max

C1 Chest Press 4 x 6

D1 Weighted Press Ups 3 x 8

D2 Trx  or Inverted Rows 3 x 10

E1Walking Lunges 3 x 12

E2 Rear Delt Flys 3 x 12

F1 Cable Torque Press 3 x 30 secs.

All in all what did all this organization lead to. Well as discussed in the previous post there was quite a hefty first week of weight loss. After the refeed in week one my scale weight settled at 96kg (down 2.8kg). At the end of week 2 scale weight had dropped to 94.5kg. At the start of week 2 and at the half way point my weight had settled to 94.8kg (a total of 4kg loss in weight).

In Part 3  I will discuss supplements, workout nutrition, methods of body fat testing.