This article is a short guide to burning fat with as little exercise as possible. Before I walk through some game-changing advice to amplify your fat loss, there are two caveats I need you to take in:
- More movement does not mean you will burn more fat. I’ll elaborate on this later.
- You can’t out-exercise a bad diet. Period. If you want to lose weight you do need to address your nutrition first.
I wish I’d have known this advice back when I struggled to maintain a lean and fit body. These principles I’m going to share really are game-changing. Print them out and pin to your fridge.
Now, before I get too patronising, let’s cover how you should work out in order to burn fat more effectively. There are two things to consider here: the intensity of your workout and training at the right time for the best results.
Choose the Correct Intensity
There are quite a few great books on enhancing fat burn, all of which highlight the importance of specific zone-based training. Some examples include:
But they don’t all talk about the same heart rate zones for training. While the first two talk about slow training and its benefits, the last book is about training hard, fast and for short amounts of time (also known as HIIT aka high intensity interval training).
The thing to take away from this isn’t just that both of these training methods (slow and HIIT) are beneficial. Yes, you should train both slow and fast to burn fat more effectively. But more noticeable is that training in the middle gets no credit, and for good reason. It produces mediocre results. You should choose workouts at either extreme (slow or fast) and ignore the stuff in the middle. Why?
When you do any activity, you burn fat and/or sugar depending on intensity. Generally speaking, here’s what you’d burn when:
- Training slow (for example, easy aerobic pace where you can still converse with your workout partner) will result in your body burning more stored fat than sugar. Here you can go virtually for hours without feeling exhausted. Your body releases fatty acids into the bloodstream to use them for fuel. This is training at a comfortable pace. The only-slightly elevated heart rate can get boring, but it’s key to burning fat.
- Training really fast, but in short burst intervals (e.g. speed intervals and HIIT) will result in glycolytic burn, where muscle glycogen gets depleted in order to power up the spurts. At this intensity, you’re primarily burning sugar. However, the resulting afterburn effect which spikes the metabolism can last for hours after the workout is done. For example, just 4 minutes of 20 second bursts followed by 10 seconds rest can result in hours of elevated fat burning for the rest of the day. Sounds awesome? It should.
- Lastly… Training at medium intensity: The gray area of medium exertion. This is where your body switches between burning sugar and fat all the time. But you end up with the shorter end of the stick. This doesn’t allow you to go long enough to burn a significant amount of fat; it burns sugar primarily, which can leave you feeling fatigued. It also won’t cause the afterburn effect spiking your metabolism. This is the zone most people train at, and often don’t see results. I wonder why…
The key to burning fat efficiently is to mix training at either extreme: do a few very slow longer, aerobic sessions and a few super fast but short bursts. Periodised into different training days.
Ideally your slow training should account for 80% of your weekly workouts, and 20% should be spent on fast, interval training (HIIT). No space for the grey zone in between – steer clear of it if you want results.
Choose the Right Time of Day
Choosing the time to work out is another key to burning fat effectively. This is because your body’s fat metabolism is related to the state of your hormones. Particularly worthy of mention here is one of the stress hormones – Cortisol.
There are a few things you should know about cortisol:
- You already know how lack of sleep can make you fat. The main hormone responsible for this is cortisol. When it’s high, it can lead you to snack and eat continuously, all in order to sustain your energy levels.
- High cortisol also means suppressed immune response. Meaning the higher physical or mental stress gets the more likely you are to get ill. Because your body then gets pushed to deal with the illnesses and inflammation, you’re not going to go far by trying to burn fat. In fact, it will be counterproductive and increase the cortisol even higher, which brings me to my last point…
- Ironically having high cortisol and working out will suppress fat burn even more. Thus for optimal fat metabolism you need to be well rested and know exactly when to workout.
- Biologically cortisol is the highest early in the morning. This means that, contrary to popular belief, you should indeed work out later in the day to get the best results. Of course, you also shouldn’t exercise too late in the night, because that is going to hinder the quality of your sleep.
Optimising Your Cortisol and Finding the Right Time for Workouts
Now that you know what to keep in mind when scheduling your workouts, it’s time to get to business.
There are a few tools I use to find the right timeslot so that my cortisol is in check for optimal performance and fat burning:
- Use HRV4Training app – an effective way to find out how stressed your body is. You press your finger to the camera lens for a couple of minutes and it gives you a reading. I do this first thing every morning and it’s a good indicator of when I should take a rest day or when I can do a harder workout. For more info on HRV and the benefits of tracking it, check out my interview with the app’s creator Marco Altini.
- Find the perfect hour of day that you can allocate to exercise most days. The idea being that your body aligns its internal clock to that of your activities. In this way it will chronologically regulate hormone balance and will overtime adapt to stress.
- Know your chronotype and adjust the time accordingly. Are you a night owl or an early bird? Or something in between? If you feel like you cannot change your habits drastically, you should form your workouts around these chronotypes. Early birds should train earlier in the day (not first thing though), night owls later, e.g. after lunch.
Ta Dah! – you got yourself a timeslot to burn fat effectively. Over time, this will add up to more effective weight loss.
Combine the 2 strategies
Now that you’ve got yourself a clear path to more effective weight loss it’s time to put it into practice.
One of my favourite quotes by Benjamin Franklin states that if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail! I can’t agree more. To make your plan bulletproof, you should do the following:
- Describe your long term goal in detail.
- Schedule workouts so that they suit your natural biorhythm.
- Spend at least 80% of your training time at the right training intensity.
- Find an accountability partner that you can catch up with and stay accountable to.
- Finally and most importantly – stay consistent and do the work.
If you have any questions or need an extra kick in the butt, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org – I read and respond to everyone.