12 Aug 5 Unique Ways to Shape Your Physique and Burn Fat
I’ve been around the block many times. And in this case, “the block” meaning the average commercial “Globo Gym” where bodybuilders screech, trainers promote isolation exercises, and monthly memberships boast a whopping……….$10 a month. There have been many times in my day I’ve had no choice but to work out at a commercial gym, due to convenience and a last resort while traveling. I’ll see friends coaching friends advanced movements such as the kettlebell swing, deadlift, snatch, and power clean. Working out alongside our peers can be rewarding and provide a sense of camaraderie, but please proceed with caution when asking a non trainer for fitness advice. Leaving the fate of your body in a non professional’s hands can be a precarious path at best.
This morning I saw such an impromptu training session taking place between a 20 year old girl and her friends. My initial reaction was to slap the girl on the wrist (or punch a wall), and then provide the group with a complementary training session so they could learn safe form for each movement. Hearing the girl scold her friends on how they couldn’t deadlift almost prompted me to just go ahead and step in as a professional, coaching the exercise not just the correct way, but with a more uplifting tone of voice.
Alas, I continued to observe the tantalizing theatrical performance on the gym room floor of a girl teaching her novice friend the kettlebell swing and hammering her with the usual sugar coated female fitness advice.
“Girls need more cardio than guys,” she declared.
Biting my tongue.
Then she continued…
“Girls have more fat than guys, so we definitely need more cardio. Like hours of it.”
I could refute your argument right now bitch.
“Let’s sign up for a Zumba class. That is probably best.”
OK…about to throw the kettlebell that lie in front of me at the freaking wall. Or…
It took every inch of my being to suppress my frustrations, so I continued to bite my tongue and do my metabolic conditioning circuit (*cough* cardio with weights *cough*) to lead the way, emulating the quintessence of a woman who does very little cardio to stay lean and explosively vibrant.
Cardio as a form of fat loss has been the conventional paradigm since the Richard Simmons days. All we have to do is go through the motions, perform half assed Brazilian dance moves, and balance on a railing like a ballerina to engage our cores for a flat tummy.
^ Why can’t I do super awesome plank progressions instead of paying $ to hold onto a bar???
There must be a better way!!!
But you were probably guessing this post was going to list things such as body pump, Zumba, Barre, and Insanity to aid you along in your fat loss journey. You already know (and have heard of) all these mainstream methods.
So, news flash: P90x, Insanity, and Body Pump are far from being anything revolutionary, not to mention, *scientifically proven* to build lean muscle and turn you into a fat burning machine. So what do we do instead to build a shapely physique and sizzle our metabolisms? You never will guess.
1.) Train more eccentrically.
We hear it all the time, but what does it actually mean from an exercise science standpoint? The eccentric motion of the exercise is the portion when the muscle lengthens, so think the lowering phase of a bench press, the downward phase of a pull up, or the descend of a squat. And guess what? We are stronger during the eccentric movement, which means we can challenge ourselves to lift more to promote muscle growth. According to Bret Contreras (CSCS), eccentric training allows us to optimize the three factors of muscle shaping: metabolic stress, time under tension (TUT), and muscle damage. There is also a neuromuscular component at work: the greater the force stretch placed on muscle fibers (via eccentric work) results in greater muscle damage, recruitment of fast-twitch fibers, and increased protein synthesis.
2.) Learn basic biomechanics.
Wait, is Erica serious about this one? Ask any exercise science major/trainer/strength coach and they’ll probably demonize biomechanics as the toughest aspect of the fitness field. While we can all hate on biomechanics and pout in a corner, there are some simple basics everyone should know, including non trainers.
Manipulating force vectors is always a good start. Executing proper load vector training specifically on the axial skeleton will yield the best results (squats, deadlifts, explosive lifts, vertical pulling, and vertical pressing). Then, once you understand the other vector angles, you can work in accessory lifts for added shaping, challenging the angle of the muscle fiber directions of each muscle group.
The best way to further understand force vector angles is to think of your training body as the works of a statue. Did any statue in Greek mythology get chiseled so intricately by chipping away from just ONE angle? NO. Multiple angles and varying levels of force allowed the artist to sculpt the statue’s every corner, curve, and edge.
Lastly, some thoughts on lever arms (I’m not finished with biomechanics yet)!! Us nerds know that these can get overly complicated, but it’s really not rocket science. We all know that the human body is a series of levers, and the further away the lever from the fulcrum, the more of a biomechanical disavantage there will be. Extending your arms out for a plank, performing straight arm lateral raises, or an elevated glute brige will all increase the work on the targeted muscle group. Flex the elbows more on a plank? The challenge goes away. A long lever plank has been shown to significantly increase more muscle activation than the traditional prone plank (Shoenfeld et al. 2014). I wrote an article discussing lever arms and various progressions for core work here.
3.) Execute perfect form.
Performing any exercise through its full range of motion (ROM) allows for the most number of motor units to be recruited, resulting in the optimal time under tension. Even with the easier movements (take the dumbbell row, for example), full ROM optimally fires the lattisimus dorsi, rhomboids, trapezius, and biceps. This is an exercise you use to sculpt your back, correct? Then, your back muscles should be under tension the most, which means the torso remains still. Pay close attention to the tiny details. And if you perform your row like this…
…you’re an idiot.
4.) Focus on strength gains.
Now a word on getting stronger. When you focus on how much weight you can lift instead of how much you weigh, amazing things happen. I promise if you challenge yourself with compound movements and track your progress, a durable, fat burning physique will prevail. And the more lean muscle mass you have, the more efficient your body becomes at burning calories while at rest.
So pretty much, lean muscle mass = toning. But don’t get it twisted: lean muscle mass doesn’t mean “lengthening” the muscles to have an elongated physique like a model. When we look at basic anatomy principles, muscle is attached to bone, so therefore, it is physiologically IMPOSSIBLE to lengthen your muscles (unless you want to go through an excrutiating surgical operation). Focus on becoming stronger and the lean muscle mass will appear.
5.) Work in deloading weeks.
I understand the urge to constantly go balls-to-the-wall, but slipping in a deloading week once in a while will go a long way. We need to allow ample time for muscle recovery and to keep things fresh, but the biggest strength gains will happen after recovery. But that doesn’t mean sit on the couch and watch House of Cards reruns and take the whole week off. Keep moving lightly, stretching daily, playing, jogging, or hiking. I guarantee your muscles won’t wither away.
So I hope these make you reconsider the traditional methods of fat burning and physique shaping. No cardio. No group exercise. No body pump with a tiny step up box that is easier to step on than your front doorstep.
Certainly there is a special time and place for cardio according to many experts, including Tony Gentilcore of Cressey Sports Performance. Read his article from T-nation here (and no, this piece isn’t totally about his abhorrence for cardio). If this doesn’t convince you, here is another article about fat loss by Bret Conteras. And here is one more from Jen Sinkler about lifting weights faster as a form of cardio. All of these peeps I highly respect in the industry so please check them out. They are legit.
Happy fat burning! 🙂