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How To Eliminate Stubborn Body Fat- Part Three

This is the final post in my three part series on how to eliminate stubborn body fat. In the first two articles we’ve discussed what makes stubborn fat different from other fat along with diet and nutrition considerations.

Today, in part three we’ll be going in-depth on exercise strategies that are most effective with targeting stubborn fat.

This is the area where I typically see the majority of mistakes being made, albeit trying to drastically restrict calories is a close second. In reality it’s the combination of severe low-calorie dieting and excessive cardio that keeps people stuck.

In my opinion this simply comes from faulty belief systems and not fully understanding the physiology and science of fat loss.

In short, when a person gets down to that last few pounds they’re looking to lose or that last layer of fat surrounding a particular area, the initial response is to do “more” with their exercise or caloric restriction.

More often than not this fails miserably and they end up making matters worse.

More after the jump…

Let’s be honest, this inclination to want to ramp up more cardio and/or cut back further on calories seems to make logical sense on the surface. After all it was likely these two factors that helped the individual get down to a pretty lean state to begin with.

I’ll remind you that with most anything you’ll have what we refer to as the “point of diminishing returns.” This is in essence the point where the additional amount does not correlate with additional benefits.

See the figure below:

Specifically what we’re dealing with here from an exercise standpoint is increased levels of physiological stress that go hand in hand with longer durations of exercise.

Stress as you know increases the secretion of the adrenal hormone cortisol. While cortisol in itself is not “bad” per say (it plays a beneficial role in fat loss and energy production), it’s the EXCESS cortisol production that is a problem.

The human body naturally goes through two distinct metabolic phases. They are referred to as “catabolic” and “anabolic” phases. The key is balancing out these two phases.

Without getting into extensive detail, just know that catabolic functions typically occur during the day and with exercise, while anabolic functions occur at times of rest, sleep, feeding, and recovery.

In simple terms, catabolic functions refer to “breaking down” while anabolic functions refer to “building back up.”

Hormones in the body serve to assist these functions and several are grouped into catabolic or anabolic categories.

Examples of catabolic hormones include cortisol, adrenaline, and nor-adrenaline.

Examples of anabolic hormones include testosterone and growth hormone.

Remember, balance is everything. Spend too much time in a catabolic state and bad things happen. While all these hormones play an essential role, excess production from the catabolic adrenal hormones leads to lean muscle breakdown, decreased insulin sensitivity, and propensity to fat storage.

When you further increase duration of physical activity, especially in caloric deprivation, the body becomes increasingly more catabolic. Cortisol shoots through the roof and lean muscle is often sacrificed to support energy demands. This is not the combination you’re looking for.

Repeated bouts of excessive long-duration cardio does NOT send the right signals to release that last bit of fat, it does the exact opposite by promoting an increased catabolic state in the body.

This is one of the reasons why you’ll often see relatively lean distance runners, who burn tons of calories, walking around with a pooch belly. Their body is being triggered to hold onto that last bit of fat as part of the built in self-preservation mechanism we’re always talking about.

By further cutting back on calories and continuing to increase the amount of calories expended with exercise, you’ll ALWAYS eventually hit this point of diminishing returns.

Consuming more calories and ensuring adequate rest and recovery periods could work around this problem, but there’s a much easier way than spending hours each day exercising or starving yourself.

Further explanation on the failure of traditional “cardio” to eliminate stubborn fat

When I speak of “traditional cardio,” I’m referring to low-moderate intensity aerobic exercise completed on the treadmill, elliptical, stair-climber, stationary bike, etc. When fat loss is the primary goal, it’s not uncommon to see individuals doing 60 minutes plus of these kind of activities several times a week, sometimes even a couple sessions each day.

The longer the duration with this type of exercise the higher the corresponding curve for cortisol production and an increased catabolic state. Once again this is amplified when insufficient calories are consumed.

Metabolic rate quickly drops as thyroid production decreases in part of a natural adaptation mechanism. In short, you get good at storing fat when possible instead of burning it.

In addition, it’s important to understand that low-moderate intensity aerboic exercise, while it does burn calories, does NOT produce the desired hormonal response to target stubborn body fat.

Refer back to part one of this series where we talked about the fat cell receptors and how it’s the hormone nor-adrenaline that lights them up. I told you this would all be important later.

Remember adrenaline can’t do the job as there’s not sufficient blood flow. This wouldn’t matter much as aerobic exercise does little to produce a hormonal response from the adrenal glands with adrenaline or nor-adrenaline.

In short, the aerobic exercise isn’t using the right pathway to target stubborn fat stores through stimulation from n0r-adrenaline via the nerve endings. It won’t work, and the more you do in a caloric deprived state, the more cortisol is increased.

It’s not that SOME low-moderate intensity aerobic exercise won’t help, more on that in a minute, but the reality is you need to incorporate exercise that creates a hormonal response from the adrenals mimicking a “fight or flight” response.

The solution- time efficient and targeted exercise for fat loss

Let me put it to you this way…

Some people could get 90% of the way there towards a lean body and low-body fat percentage with dieting and doing lots of exercise. Let’s face it, this works for a lot of folks.

However, the older you get the harder this becomes due to hormonal shifts. In my experience, middle age adults find they simply can’t diet or cardio their way towards leanness like perhaps they could when they were younger.

The reality is they do NOT have to spend hours with exercise, although it could work to a point, as there is a smarter way to train for fat loss.

The thing is although some could diet down and go “cardio crazy” to get close to their optimal lean body weight set-point, the closer they get to it the more their body will fight against them.

It all goes back to the physiological reasons we’ve talked about with the body being in an increasingly catabolic state.

One of the toughest tasks I have as a coach is to take someone who used the “cut calories and cardio” approach to get relatively lean and convince them that this strategy will no longer work.  Habits are hard to break, especially when something worked so well to get you “almost there.”

The truth and cold hard reality is that unless they quit breaking themselves down, they won’t get “all the way there” and lose that last bit of remaining stubborn body fat.

So what is the solution to training smarter and cutting that last bit of fat?

It’s the same solution that could have been used from the beginning and saved a lot of hours from being logged on the treadmill.

The answer is targeting the times to ramp up catabolic adrenal hormones with short-duration, high intensity workouts, while simultaneously working on extending the anabolic phases of repair and rebuilding.

Yes, this will come from changes in the diet, specifically with nutrient timing and sufficient energy to meet demands, but it will also entail adjusting workout duration, frequency, and recovery periods.

From a training (exercise) standpoint, more is not better, certainly not now. Workouts should be focused on creating a metabolic disturbance in short windows of time. This is where the concept of burst training comes in.

By working with short durations of high intensity effort with incomplete rest periods, you’ll be able to optimize the secretion of powerful catabolic fat burning hormones like adrenaline and nor-adrenaline, but you’ll be doing so in a targeted manner as not to surpass the point of diminishing returns and send cortisol skyrocketing.

Burst training is focused on short bouts (20-30 minutes) of all-out effort that triggers a “fight or flight” response from the adrenals. There are several ways to do burst training and a lot of this goes back to your main objectives and other exercise choices.

Burst training could consist of weight training with compound movements, it could be body weight training with fast paced circuits, the variations are numerous. It could be heavier weights, it could be lighter weights and more reps…

The SINGLE common denominator is short bursts of high intensity effort followed by brief, incomplete rest periods to create metabolic disturbances.

This would include interval training which is the cardio version of burst training. The same principals apply. The idea is that it’s HARD and requires vigorous effort.

What you’re doing here is shortening the window you’re in a catabolic state and using these fat burning hormones to your advantage. The body simply isn’t designed to stay in prolonged periods of stress (aka. high catabolic states).

Most of us have enough stress in our lives as it is. Remember working out is a form of stress, albeit a good form of stress, but the idea is to get into that short bout of stress and then get OUT of it.

Read that again and let it really sink in.

The longer you go in periods of stress, the more your body will want to hold onto precious fat reserves.

The key in tapping into that last bit of stubborn fat is to send signals to your body that it’s ok to release it. Get out of prolonged periods of stress and being in a catabolic state.

If you provide sufficient fuel to meet energy demands those powerful fat burning hormones secreted during intense physical activity will be able to do their job.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…

Fat loss is 100% a matter of hormonal balances

Now let me make sure I clarify something.

While burst and interval training routines are without question the most efficient ways to exercise for eliminating stubborn body fat because of the HORMONAL RESPONSE, more is not necessarily better here either.

Remember this is all a matter of BALANCE.

If you tried doing high intensity workouts every day, recovery would be insufficient and you’d wind up in the same extended catabolic state with high cortisol levels you’d find yourself in by doing long bouts of cardio.

In essence you’d be breaking yourself down, compromising lean muscle, and triggering fat storage.

Ideally, burst and/or interval training should be performed 2-3 times per week and any other physical activity would be low-moderate levels of intensity.

It’s not that some low-moderate intensity aerobic exercise isn’t beneficial on “off” days as it still allows for adequate recovery. You’re just not employing your burst principals every day.

Doing things like yoga, cycling, walking, aerobic classes, swimming, and the like is all complimenting your burst training and adding variety to your exercise routines.

The more you work the different energy systems in your body the better, the key is just not getting stuck doing the same routine over and over.

Personally I like to do burst/interval training 2-3 times per week and then I incorporate a wide variety of other activities. Sometimes it’s 20-30 minutes of cardio, stretching, functional exercise, or whatever.

There again it all goes back to your goals and what things you enjoy or could benefit most from doing.

I simply can’t reiterate enough that if you want to target that last bit of body fat, since that’s what we’re talking about, you’ll want to incorporate burst/interval training a few days per week and then just make sure your nutrition and recovery supports the other activities you’ll be doing.

Nutrient timing to support your workouts…

As a wrap up to this series I want to talk for a minute about nutrient timing. Without going into a ton of detail, we’ll save that for another post, we should briefly discuss the best ways to eat so you’ll be supporting the anabolic phases of rebuilding and recovery.

When targeting that last bit of body fat you’ll want to ensure you’re protecting against prolonged lean muscle breakdown at all costs. In general you’ll want to make sure you’re consuming sufficient protein in your diet.

Since we’re talking about individuals who are already lean, there’s just that last bit of fat to go, I recommend consuming a small amount of whey protein prior to your workout.

You can sip on a thermogenic energy drink like Advocare Spark during your workout which provides a small amount of carbs and caffeine to support fat loss. I’m a big fan of this and use this product myself.

Post-workout you’ll want to consume 20-25 grams of whey protein and a small amount of simple carbohydrate. A brown spotted banana works great here since the fructose in the banana has been converted to glucose (bonus tip).

A solid meal will ideally come an hour or so after that with slow releasing nutrients to support the recovery process.

The timing of the majority of your carbohydrate intake should come with the meal or two following your workout. Ideally we want this to support the recovery and anabolic processes.

Remember since you’re not doing bouts of long duration exercise like endurance training, there’s simply no need to be “carbohydrate loading” prior to exercise. The majority of your carbs can and should come post-workout.

Ok, I think that’s a wrap. I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed this series and have been able to pick up some valuable information.

As always if I can ever be of assistance please don’t hesitate to let me know. Myself and coaches at Shaping Concepts specialize in fat loss and body transformation strategies, primarily for middle age adults.

Each individual will be different and therefore it’s impossible for me to make specific recommendations for everyone in articles like this. However, hopefully you’re able to learn more from these posts and when individual coaching is desired, we’ll be here to help.

Here are the links to the preceding articles in this series.

Part One

Part Two

Shane Doll is a certified personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Fitness Training Studios. If you’re looking for a personal trainer in Charleston, you can receive a no-obligations personal training trial and consultation without risking a dime. Over 1000 Charleston area residents have transformed their bodies following our unique burst training workouts and simplified nutrition programs. Experience the Shaping Concepts difference today.

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Category: Fat Loss.