I noticed early on in life that language and the words we use shape the way we think about the world. Often disagreements and miscommunication result from people using the exact same words but defining them in different ways. I’ll never forget the time a college girlfriend’s family invited me to dinner, but instead I showed up several hours late to supper. You see, in my family “Dinner” and “Supper” were used interchangeably while in her family, these words meant two precisely different things. The same kind of confusion happens in every area including fitness. On the surface it can seem the words “workout”, “training” and “program” mean the same thing, but after more than a decade of coaching experience it has become quite clear to me that these words mean different things entirely.
In a nut-shell, there are several problems with fat-loss workouts indicated by the very words people use to describe them: “Fat-Loss” and “Workout”. Whenever I hear the word phrase “Fat-Loss Workout” it usually tells me the following things about the “workout” or the mindset of the person using it.
- FAT-LOSS WORKOUTS FOCUS ON A CURE INSTEAD OF PREVENTION
We’ve all heard the expression “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. Nowhere is this more true than in the world of fat-loss. It’s soooooooo much easier to prevent getting fat in the first place than it is to lose fat, and this is something that’s lost on most people entirely. All too often people think that they can continue a super-sized fast-food lifestyle and lose fat just by working out and all manner of gyms, fitness products and personal trainers feed on this common misconception. For this reason most if not all “Fat-Loss Workouts” are marketed around burning calories… while the habits, choices, foods, lifestyle and mechanisms that actually cause someone to become fat in the first place are ignored. The truth is trying to out-exercise a bad diet without fixing your nutrition is like endlessly bailing water out of a sinking ship without fixing the source of the leak. So, when it comes to “Fat-Loss” exercise is indeed part of the solution, but it is not a solution by itself. Instead of focusing exclusively on fixing the symptom with “fat-loss”, you must also discover and eliminate the source of what causes fat to be gained and stored.
- WORKOUTS ARE INFERIOR TO PROGRAMS
The use of the word “Workout” instead of “Program” tells me that the “workout” is either a one-time event or it’s something that doesn’t change and is repeated the same way indefinitely. In my experience this guarantees failure because fat-loss is an adaptation that occurs over time… it cannot be achieved by a single workout, or by repeating the same workout in the same way. While a well structured fat-loss program could very well feature a workout that is repeated, that workout will not be repeated the same way indefinitely. To guarantee progress a workout must be modified regularly over time to increase the demand put on the body and force a positive adaptation. When you plan many workouts to progressively increase the demand on the body over time and assist with your fat-loss goals that’s called a Fat-Loss “Program”.
- THE WORKOUT MINDSET IS FLAWED
In my experience, the use of word “workout” often indicates the kind of mindset that can lead to failure or stall progress. If you think about it the word “workout” consists of two parts implying that the individual is going to “work” to the point of being “out” of energy. In other words, “workout” means to exercise to the point of exhaustion, physical failure, pain, nausea or any combination of the aforementioned . It’s the whole “leave it all on the mat”, and the “Go Hard or Go Home” mindset where people are always trying to max out how much weight they can lift each workout. Unfortunately exhaustion, pain, training to failure, and or nausea have little-to-no correlation with achieving fat-loss.
Contrary to popular belief a proper approach to getting leaner (and stronger) involves consistently and regularly training well within your limitations, not constantly trying to break through them. This does several things: It allows your body to recover sooner, stay safer and accomplish more work over time.
- FAT-LOSS WORKOUTS ARE OFTEN JUST RANDOM ACTS OF VARIETY
Sadly, most Fat-Loss workouts are little better than a random collection of exercises, random rep schemes and/or intervals that could have just as well been created by drawing exercises, rep schemes and intervals from a hat. Although these kind of fat-loss workouts can be challenging enough to make most people sweaty, exhausted and/or sore, that isn’t the goal…the goal is fat-loss and fat loss is a process that takes time, it cannot be achieved in a single workout. To make things worse people think you can lose fat by simply repeating one of these random workouts in the same way, or by simply stringing together random workouts and “giving 100%” until you’ve lost enough fat. Instead of using randomness to create the illusion of progress, a better approach is to actually progress while creating the illusion of randomness.
- AMBIGUITY: RANDOM WORKOUTS ARE HARD TO MEASURE OBJECTIVELY
Most “workouts” are judged subjectively by how difficult they feel or look. The popularity of random workouts and garbage science like “muscle confusion” are partly to blame, after all how can you compare one workout or set of exercises to a completely different workout with different exercises? To prove my point all you need to do is look on social media for photos of sweat angels posted by proud coaches. How difficult something seems and how big a puddle of sweat someone produces is not the same as showing someone in numbers that their Deadlift has increased by X number of pounds, they went from zero chin-ups to multiple consecutive unassisted chin-ups or they went from performing 50 swings with a 24kilo bell to 100 swings with a 48 kilo bell.
Now that you’ve taken the time to read my little rant and have allowed me to point out some of common reasons for fat-loss failure, the solutions should be staring you in the face:
- Focus on Prevention as Well as the Cure
Fight Fat by attacking and flanking the enemy from two directions at once: fat-loss and fat-prevention . This means following a well thought out training program as well as learning about principles of healthy nutrition and eating.
- Prioritize Programs over Workouts
Instead of randomly selecting workouts and exercises out of a hat you need to find a well-designed program that gradually increases the demands put on your body over time.
- Expand Your Limitations by Working Within Them
Start with exercises, rep ranges, weights and rest intervals that are well within your limitations and gradually try to achieve more work with them. This will help you to stay safe, keep you training longer, recovering sooner and accomplishing more amounts of work in the long run compared to those who train to failure.
- Choose Consistency and Steady Progression over Random Acts of Variety
To look the part you must become the part and that means treating your workouts more like a practice session with the goal of developing a skill. Consistent mindful “practice” develops high skill, which lowers risk, which improves safety, which facilitates recovery, which allows you to accomplish more work over time, which leads to increased performance, which leads to a positive physical adaptation and an improved physique. After all, form follows function.
- Measure Performance Objectively
Realize that when it comes to achieving a goal, that your feelings don’t matter. You need to stop measuring the success by how an individual workout makes you feel, instead track objective measurable and indisputable criteria. When you do so, your confidence and sense of accomplishment will sky-rocket as old numbers give way to new numbers.
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