Let’s get straight to the point on this one. I know you want to know what the best form of exercise is for fat loss, and also how you can achieve that with the minimum time commitment. After all, even if you love working out, who has the time to ‘have to’ spend hours in the gym to get results? And even if you do choose to do that and don’t mind doing so, I’m betting you don’t want to live in fear of fattening up the instant you go on holidays or life gets busy.

Am I right?

So let’s get real, and let’s be very clear about this, because I know your time is precious, and I want to make sure you maximise it.

the rules on exercise

If you want to get results that are life-changing, I believe you need 4 workouts a week, most weeks of the year. 3 will get you a slow change, and 2 is maintenance. Anything less is pointless, at least it is if you’re not eating exactly right at least 90% of the time and taking a bucketload of supplements. In that case you may well get away with less workout time. I’ve learned this the hard way in my business and now refuse to work with anyone who is seeking massive change but won’t commit to these standards. Notice I said ‘life-changing’. If you’re simply looking to increase your fitness a little, and benefit from improved health, then 2 workouts a week may well be adequate.

When I say workouts, please understand that I’m talking about weight lifting NOT cardio, group exercise, or outdoor workouts including bootcamps or even strongman training. Nothing wrong with any of that if done correctly, but I’d consider it a bonus – recreation even, not exercise.

want long, lean, sculpted muscles and lower body fat?

If achieving a lean and toned body is your goal then weight training – either alone, with a trainer, or in a small group with a personal trainer, simply must be the foundation of your workout time. And you have to lift heavy. I’m not talking about pink or lime green dumbells with some swissball and cable stuff thrown in! If you want to do circus tricks you can do a pole dancing, some advanced yoga, or take a gymnastics class for recreation.

You will not bulk up. You will, however, become stronger. Your muscles will be more dense, making them firmer and more toned. Your metabolism will increase and you will burn more calories even while you sleep. Remember that the goal is to improve body composition by increasing lean mass and reducing body fat. Using the scales to measure progress is an outdated way of thinking.

(Side note: don’t you just love that pic? It’s the logo for my Living Lean female fat loss seminars. My designer is brilliant; he did the banner for this blog as well, and also the e-book cover. Thanks Martin!)

structure is crucial

If you’re serious about transforming your body and being able to track your progress then you need to follow a program, such as the one included each month in your Woman Incredible membership. Variety is important in exercise but training without a plan is pointless, and changing the workout every time you enter the gym might be fun but will realistically get you nowhere. Fast. Depending on your level of conditioning and experience your program should change every 3-6 weeks, varying between phases of higher volume and higher intensity.

When it comes to female fat loss, it’s not quite as simple as eat right and exercise well. The trith is that the key to truly changing your body composition is hormone balance – and occasionally hormone manipulation. Hormones such as growth hormone and IGG hormone, for example, when released by your body, will result in lean muscle development and also activate your fat burning genes. You’ll generate more of these recovery hormones through stress reduction and sleep, but they are also powerfully released when you lift heavy weights with a controlled tempo. This is just one reason why so-called weight lifting classes like Body Pump will not work for fat loss. If you don’t believe me, just visit a class and compare the bodies of regular attendees to the bodies of women who regularly train with weights in the weights room.

happy hormones and ‘magic’ fat loss

There are a couple of other smart tricks and techniques you need to be aware of when it comes to manipulating your hormones for faster fat loss.

  1. Work with your natural body clock by training earlier in the day where possible. Training first thing in the morning is not only great hormonally, as cortisol is supposed to be elevated then anyway (exercise increases cortisol) but also ensures that you don’t get busy and run out of time to workout.
  2. Bikram Yoga is thought to cause a boost in growth hormone, and the flexibility benefits will help you to work harder in the gym. I’d suggest attending 1-2 classes each week regularly – personally I find Bikram a wonderful way to relax mentally as well as physically.
  3. You need to unload; take time off from training – nobody in the world can continue to benefit and improve from training week in and week out with no off weeks. Athletes are trained in this way and there’s no reason why you or I should be any different. A good idea is to have every 13th week out of the gym, focusing instead on recreational activities.
  4. Avoid working out for longer than 40-50 minutes after warming up. This is because cortisol will continue to rise without ongoing hormonal benefits in other areas.
  5. For God’s sake, quit the cardio!

the cardio myth

To be honest I’d be quite happy to not even mention cardio, but I know you’d probably assume I left out half the text by accident. So here’s the thing. You absolutely do NOT need to do any cardio in order to create a sensational body. That’s ever. You will become fitter and improve cardiovascular health by working out properly with weights, and you’ll find it makes even the toughest cardio workout seem like a cruisy stroll when you follow a true fat loss lifting program. Personally I do cardio once every couple of weeks, purely to mix things up a bit. My preferred approach is either kickboxing, or 45-second sprints on the rower – I’m not a fan of electrical cardio equipment.

I do some incidental outdoor cardio like stair climbing, but that’s just for fun (recreation remember, not exercise – same as most sports and outdoor activities!) and it’s fairly infrequent.

so why no cardio? what gives?

The truth is that cardio exercise can cause your body to hold and even to gain fat. This happens in a number of ways. If you’re doing long regular bouts of endurance cardio or even typical interval training you could be sparking an accumulation of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone and will cause your body to store fat more effectively when released continuously. Not good, right?

It gets worse.

If you’re regularly doing a lot of lower body cardio like spin classes you could actually be training your body to increase lower body fat stores in order to have easy energy reserves for future workouts. Don’t believe me? Just check out the butts of regular spin class attendees.

The third way that cardio can make you fat is dirty electricity. Research has proven that exercising on cardio equipment that is electronic will damage your pancreas and can increase your risk of diabetes and insulin resistance by 46%! It’s actually very common to be at least somewhat insulin resistant these days (remember that common does not mean normal) – if you store a lot of fat around your belly; particularly the sides, then this may be an issue for you. Perpetuating it with cardio exercise will only make it tougher to burn fat and easier to gain it. This is not voodoo science – you can check out the references below.

but i love cardio! can i do ANY?!

If you simply refuse to quit doing repetitive cardio, then here are the rules.

  • Avoid electronic cardio equipment due to its effect on insulin and body fat
  • Choose interval based cardio training only – and a maximum of twice a week. When done properly, interval training should have you ready to puke your guts up. The shorter the ‘work’ period of an interval workout, the more effective it is for fat loss. Remember that these sessions are not instead of your 4 weights sessions. They’re an extra, and not even required for most people.
  • You can do your interval session after a weights session, but you’d need to reduce the weight session duration a little bit. Personally, I’d prefer you keep cardio and weights separate and do the cardio later in the day. This way you’ll be able to really put your all into both styles of training and get more out of it.
  • Good choices for interval cardio include non-electronic bikes, non-electronic rowers, outdoor sprints/running/fast walking (depending on your level of fitness), and skipping.
  • Kickboxing, boxing, other martial arts, or strongman training are all excellent cardio subsititues, but must be done in addition to your 4 weight sessions, not instead of. The best time to do these is 4-6 hours after lifting weights. It’s better to do them  in the evening of the same day as lifting, so that you can still have a proper day off. Plus, doing it this way will increase fat burnt.
  • Bikram yoga can be done on an off day, as it’s recovery based.

a note on time and commitment

If you don’t currently dedicate regular time to exercise, then everything we just discussed probably sounds like a lot. Don’t let that be a reason to avoid adding an exercise regime to your weekly schedule – remember that you don’t have to do it all, and the key to fat loss as well as health is the weight training.

But if you still think that 4 approximately one hour sessions a week of investing time into yourself is unreasonable or impossible, then you do need to rreconsider your expectations of success. I don’t mean that it’s ‘4 or nothing’, just that for a truly remarkable transformation you want to shoot for 4. I think it’s only fair that I be honest with you about what it takes to truly transform your body, and I think you also need to be honest with yourself on this, but also on what’s truly important to you but if slower progress coupled with exercise-induced health benefits is enough for you, then certainly 3, 2, or even 1 weight session a week is better than nothing.

At the end of the day, this is time for yourself that is one of the best possible investments you can make. Not just an investment in the way you can look and feel in the present, but also on how you will look and feel for the rest of yoru life, and even on how long that life will last. At some point we all have to be truthful about what really matters to us. If you can’t or won’t take 4 hours a week for yourself in this area, fair enough. But acknowledge that it’s not because you can’t, but rather because you love something else more. That’s all it comes back to.

And remember –

Life is Now. Press Play.