While a healthy, nutritious diet is probably the most important aspect of achieving permanent fat loss, there is no doubt that regular bouts of structured exercise are also necessary for achieving body composition goals.
However, for many people, the whole area of exercise and training can be very confusing. I’m often asked about how to train in the “fat-burning zone”, or for exercises that will magically remove excess fat from abs/thighs/bums.
You may have heard it said that you can’t “spot-reduce” fat. From an exercise point of view, this is largely true. It means that spending your time doing countless sit-ups does not guarantee that you’ll lose the spare tyre around your mid-section. You may end up with a very impressive six-pack, but unfortunately it will still be hidden under layers of blubber!
In much the same way that there is no single diet that will work for everybody in the world, there is also no “magic programme” that will achieve the perfect body for everyone. However, just like nutrition, there are some basic principles which can guide us to get the results we want.
In order for any exercise regime to achieve it’s goal, it must adhere to the F.I.T. T. Principle of training:
Frequency: You’ll need to decide how often you are going to train. There are various different guidelines on what the “minimum” requirements are for health and fitness. Each person should base their frequency around their individual limiting factors: family, work, study commitments and current level of fitness. I encourage my clients to train at least 4 times per week if possible. However, I believe that habit-forming and consistency are very important. Therefore, starting with 2 sessions per week and doing them on a long-term basis will gain more results than training every day for a month before retreating back to the couch!
Intensity: In my opinion, this is one of the main reasons that most people don’t get meaningful results from their exercise programmes: they simply don’t train hard enough! Remember that your body will need a reason to change shape. From an exercise point of view, this means making it a little bit uncomfortable while training. Once again, this will depend on training experience and current strength and fitness levels. But on a very basic level, training for weight loss or improved performance should cause an increase in heart rate, breathing rate and body temperature. Yes, you need to sweat – even in winter!
Type: These days we can choose from an abundance of different types of training. People will tend to stick with a method that they actually enjoy and it is something that I strongly encourage. Whether it’s indoors or outdoors, team or individual sport, or a whole range of gym or group-training classes, there is bound to be something that makes you feel good while you get active. Find out what works for you and get going at it!
Time: How long should you train during each session? Like a lot of things in life, it depends. If you’re a complete beginner, 10 to 20 minutes would be a good place to start. As you get fitter and stronger you can increase the time of your sessions to between 45 and 60 minutes. When improved body composition or strength gains are the goals, I usually limit my client’s sessions to 60 minutes. As a general rule the only people who need to train longer than this are endurance athletes like cyclists, triathletes and marathon runners. If your main goal is to lose body fat and your training sessions last longer than an hour, there’s a very good chance that you’re not training hard enough. Cut back on the time and increase the intensity and you might actually get to see that six-pack!
Next week we’ll examine some of the best training methods for improved health and fitness.