Regardless of your health and fitness goals, I can bet that you wouldn’t mind looking a little leaner. I would estimate that 80-90% of people that are currently engaging in a fitness program, or are looking to get into a fitness program, want to lose body fat. Unfortunately many are improperly informed on how to do this.
For the non-educated fitness enthusiasts, the “more is better” approach seems to be the first thought. They also think that doing endless amounts of cardiovascular exercises (walking, jogging, running, cycling, swimming) will lead them to their weight loss goals. Then you have the folks that think lifting weights will only build muscle and make them look bulky so they use the tiny dumbbells in the corner to just “tone up”. Oh, how they have been misinformed!
Then you have the Yoga, Pure Barre and Pilates folks that say their method will tone and tighten while reducing body fat. Personally, I have never read any science behind these methods stating that they reduce body fat or increase muscle tissue significantly when compared to strength training and metabolic training. They are simply good techniques that elicit better mobility, breathing, and relaxation of the mind. That’s as far as they go.
I am not knocking any of these forms of exercise at all. I really am not. I think all forms of exercise have their benefits. You just need to understand what your goal is and how that form of exercise can get you to your goal. The methods of exercise that I mentioned above simply don’t have enough science to demonstrate that they burn body fat significantly or build muscle tissue.
There is just so much information and misinformation out there…how can anyone know what to do in order to lose body fat!? That is why trainer geeks like me are here to save the day! I have spent nearly half of my life researching and reading about the best methods for losing body fat. It really just comes down to science.
What We DO Know About Fat Loss
What we DO know is that in order to reduce body fat, you have to get your diet in order. This is something that we all can agree on. I have found that the best way to do this is to reduce nutritional deficiencies, balance your macronutrients for your body type, pay attention to workout nutrition, increase food quality and don’t worry about meal frequency.
So: eat high quality animal protein, lots of cruciferous vegetables, and lots of healthy fats (avocados, extra virgin coconut oil, nuts) whenever your body needs them. Drink a ton of water, chug a post workout shake or Branched Chain Amino Acids before and after your workout, minimize high caloric beverages, and don’t eat when you’re not hungry.
Oh yeah, don’t marry yourself to one method of eating (Paleo, low-carb, vegan, etc.) either. It will only limit your ability to choose foods and piss you off. Instead, just combine them since they all work when used properly.
Now that we are clear on how to eat, let’s see what we need to do on the exercise part to produce some fat loss.
You need to burn fatty acids by doing workouts that have a high metabolic cost and the best way to do that is to add finishers to your workouts 3-4 days per week. Hormone Sensitive Lipase is crucial for inducing this process because it mobilizes free fatty acids from adipose tissue, releasing nasty fat into the blood stream. Then, carnitine transports the free fatty acids into the mitochondria where they can be burned for energy.
This is the main thing that people are confused about when it comes to exercise and fat loss. You need to produce a tough metabolic cost in order for this process to happen. Jogging, Yoga, and even sports like tennis and volleyball just don’t do this.
What does produce a high metabolic cost is intense exercise, or more specifically, intense exercises or combinations of intense exercises that stimulate all the major muscle groups. This induces the highest metabolic costs possible.
Behold The Finisher
The first time that I ever heard the phrase finisher in reference to exercise was in 2004. I was an intern for the Strength and Conditioning staff at Michigan State University. A brilliant strength coach named Tim Wakeham, would have us take athletes through finishers at the end of their strength training session.
Coach Wakeham is one of the best mental toughness coaches I have ever met. Naturally, he would implement finishers at the end of workouts to push athletes from the mental toughness aspect. He also knew that this would produce some great results in the conditioning and body composition department.
Since then, I have implemented finishers at the end of my clients’ workouts for all of those reasons.
Putting a combination of exercises that last about 5-10 minutes at the end of a sound strength training workout is perfect since your energy stores are low. A good finisher will help produce great fat loss and it nails the demand for energy at this point in the workout. Remember Hormone Sensitive Lipase? This will be called upon in the adipocytes in order to provide energy.
The mental toughness that will increase due to a finisher is a fantastic bonus in the long run. If done correctly, you will have nothing left in the tank at the end. This is crucial if you want to produce results. If you feel a little bit of nausea and exhaustion, you can be sure you turned on your fat burning engine. No, you don’t have to puke and fall to the floor and look like sizzling bacon. You just need to feel that uncomfortable feeling that, “yeah it’s time to stop now.”
A good finisher is not haphazardly thrown together either. They need to be challenging and realistic. It makes no sense to injure yourself or perform poor quality movements. You will notice that I opt for exercise that doesn’t take a ton of skill level. I like to save exercises such as barbell deadlifts and Olympic Lifts for the beginning of the workout where we are fresh and can load the bar. This doesn’t mean that I won’t ever use them as finishers. They are just not my staples for most clients.
5 Fat Loss Finishers
Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that the best finishers for fat loss are simple on paper but awesome for fat loss. Here is my Fab 5:
1. Big Bull Sled Push/Pull
If I had to pick one piece of equipment that produces the best results for fat loss, it would be the sled. There is a weird love/hate relationship with this beast. It is easy for anyone to do in regards to technique and it has a way of creeping up on you, putting you down on the ground if you are not careful.
How To: The other neat thing about this finisher is that it can be scaled for a variety of fitness levels. In the end, you need to be honest with yourself and load it with as much weight as possible where pushing it and pulling it for 20 meters each becomes very difficult.
You simply push the sled as fast as possible for 20 meters then pull it back by dragging it walking backwards with good posture. Repeat as many times as you can for 5 minutes. Add one minute each week of training until you reach 10 minutes. At that time, add more weight and repeat the cycle.
2. Squat, Swing, Carry Combo
In the past year, I have used this as my “go-to” for finishers. It gets 3 of the most crucial movement patterns in (squat, hinge, loaded carry) while making every part of your body become disgruntled with the workout.
How To: This workout can basically be done anywhere with just one kettlebell. I recommend that most women start with a 10-12 kilo kettlebell and men start with a 20-24 kilo kettlebell. If you have to start lower, please do. If you are using lower than this weight in two-months, you need to lift more weights.
Grab a kettlebell and perform a goblet squat for 5 reps then immediately perform a kettlebell swing for 15 reps. Return the bell back to the goblet position and carry it for 40-meters. Repeat this sequence for 5 total rounds WITHOUT putting the kettlebell down. Each time you put the kettlebell down; you have 5 burpees at the end of the workout.
3. Calorie Row/Burpee Countdown
This is one of the only finishers that I use that does not involve any weight besides your body. The best finishers usually involve some kind of weighted object. In this case, the resistance from the rower and the large movement from the burpees provide plenty of full-body stimuli. Most people seem to hate this one the most.
How To: You will perform a superset of calories on the Concept 2 Rower and burpees. 20-15-10 and 5 calories/reps will be the standard. The time cap is 8 minutes. You will start on the Concept 2 Rower and set the units to calories. Get up to 20 calories and then jump off the rower. Perform 20 burpees and repeat this sequence for 15, 10, and 5 calories/reps.
4. The SOF Dumbbell Complex
This complex is my go-to workout for people when on the road. You can be confident that just about every gym will have some dumbbells so it’s a natural selection. The SOF Dumbbell Complex also makes a great finisher, as well, since it hits the entire body. The uni-lateral work also adds another dimension of fatigue since you are relying mostly on one side of the body.
How To: Picking the correct weight for this complex can be tricky. The snatch and the bent over row will usually be the deciding factors when it comes to picking the weight. I recommend picking a weight that allows you to perform 2-dumbbell snatches for 8 reps or a bent over row for 8 reps.
Make sure you perform all 5 exercises for the prescribed number of reps without putting the weights down. After you complete the each round, rest no more than 2-minutes. Repeat for 3 rounds total.
- 2-Dumbbell Hang Snatch – 8 reps
- Dumbbell Bent Over Row – 8 reps
- Front Rack Reverse Lunges – 8 reps each
- Dumbbell Curl and Press – 8 reps
- 1-Leg RDL’s – 8 reps each
On paper, this workout may not look like much but trust me, it’s not fun.
Perform an AMRAP in 8 minutes of the following 3 exercises:
- Pull-ups or chin-ups: 5 reps
- Push-ups: 10
- HEAVY Ball Slams: 15
With the ball slams, you are really performing a deadlift scoop type movement, a small clean to the shoulders, a press, and then drop the ball on the ground. Just find the heaviest ball that you can pick up above your head (fast) and do it that way. Try and beat your total number of reps each session.
About the author:
Justin Grinnell is a strength coach, personal trainer, nutrition enthusiast and owner of State of Fitness in East Lansing, Michigan. You can follow him on Facebook, on Twitter@JustinGrinnell4 or check out his website grinnelltraining.com