Inefficient Exercise – One of the two keys to fat loss

In a previous blog I stated that their were basically two keys to body composition change (aka ‘fat loss’). Those two keys being ‘caloric restriction’ and ‘inefficient exercise’. I can’t take credit for these terms as I stole them from Master Coach Dan John (all hail Dan John! Hail!) And that said, I doubt that Dan invented these either.

So the question arose on the Book of Faces:

“What do you mean by inefficient exercise?”

And my reply:

Tends to be things with repeatable high peak power output or large workloads. Peak power examples are Hardstyle kettlebell swings (ridiculously inefficient), slam balls, well performed burpees, etc. High work load has to be balanced against fatigue/safety so you’re talking about the loaded carry family, which includes pushing/pulling sleds/cars, etc.

Quite succinct I felt, but maybe it needs fleshed out a bit.

In the fitness world we seem to like the idea that everything needs to be efficient, because efficient is good right? Well, in the case of fat loss and generating high power the term efficiency can become a bit blurry.

A hardstyle kettlebell swing or snatch are efficient at helping you remove unwanted wobbly bits, but they aren’t exactly power or force efficient techniques. In fact the purpose of them is to generate as much force/power as possible. If you want efficiency of movement in the kettlebell world then you are better to look at Girevoy Sport technique, as that is grounded in gettting as many repetitions as possible within a given time (therefore force/power efficiency is of paramount concern).

[In the video we see three different ways of performing the ‘swing’. Which is the most efficient and which is the most powerful? Here’s a clue, they ain’t the same. Which one do you think is the best as a tool for fat loss and as a power generation exercise to improve sports performance?]

Repeated Peak Power Output

Whilst some people will look at the weight of the ‘bell and the height that it travels and decide that because they learned in 3rd year Physics that:

Work = Force x Distance

That any two swings that travel the same arc must therefore generate the same Work, this is a false assumption because the Force applied can be different and must also take into account that in the Hardstyle swing the ‘bell is ‘halted’ and then forcibly thrown back to the ground (and the same applies to the snatch). The lats act as a break for the ‘bell as it travels upwards, the ‘bell wants to go higher but we don’t let it. Then we don’t just let it fall under gravity, but we give it a little ‘zip’, throwing it back down. This means that at the bottom of the swing the force we’re feeling isn’t just:

F=mg (because gravity is the acceleration in this case)

It’s actually:

F=m (g:a) (that’s the sum of gravity plus the acceleration you impart with your ‘extra zip’)

The point I’m trying to reach here is that the Hardstyle swing is ridiculously energy inefficient, which makes it a candidate for use as a fat loss exercise.

So… what the hell is a ‘repeatable high peak power output’?

In layman, just think about something heavy-ish that you can repeatedly throw hard into something, or away from something. The keys here are:

  • Heavy-ish
  • Repeatedly
  • Throw

Heavy-ish – This isn’t an aerobics class and your dinky little 4kg kettle-earing isn’t going to cut it. If an 8kg ‘bell is too heavy for swings, get strong first then come back and review this. There is no dishonour in taking a step back to make a massive leap forwards. (And getting strong will probably entail adding more muscle mass to your body, and as we’ve noted previously: Looking Hot = Muscle Mass + Low Bodyfat)

Throw – Ok, perhaps that should have been ‘ballistic’ rather than throw, but nobody knows what I mean when I say ballistic (“You want us to get noo-clear?”). The movement has to be some form of full body movement, so either a throw, a jump, a bound, a sprint.

Repeatable – You have to be able to do it more than once… or ten times. When the fatigue starts to set in (and it will), the movement has to be so ‘non-complex’ that you can still do it well and without increased risk of injury (there is always a risk of injury).

So candidates for ‘inefficient repeatable peak power’ exercises for use as fatloss tools would be:

  • Hardstyle kettlebell swings
  • Powerball slams
  • Battling Rope slams
  • Push Presses (Viking style)
  • Front squats (explosively out of the hole)
  • Wall Balls
  • Sprint intervals

Outliers, due to a risk of technical degradation once fatigue kicks in:

  • Hardstyle Kettlebell Snatch
  • Burpees
  • Double kettlebell Clean & Jerks (aka Long Cycle)

Another thing to bear in mind is that once you are competent with something like the Kettlebell Swing, you start to become too damn good at it and need something else to create a decent stimulus for you body to adapt. In this case a progression as a student progresses would be:

Swings → Snatch → Push Press → Clean & Jerk

With many variables in each step, such as load, volume, rest, single/double kettlebell and overspeed techniques. As a student improves technically we expect them to manage technique under fatigue.

Large Workloads

Now, any Physics or Engineer undergrad worth his or her salt would now tell me that the above exercises also fall under this category. I get that, but I think it’s good to separate out the ‘ballistics from the grinds’.

Now, even though we’ve accounted for the issue of technique under fatigue, sometimes we need to get low tech in our approach.

Pick up the heavy thing, go for a walk.

Pretty low tech, but why do we want to go low tech? There’s various reasons. Perhaps we haven’t yet developed the movement quality/technique for all the exercises in the ‘high power’ category. Perhaps we’re doing this towards the end of a workout and have already done several highly demanding movements, so we decide to go low tech to minimise injury risk whilst optimising the amount of work we can do.

So what are the ‘low tech carries’. These include pretty much any variation on picking up a heavy thing and carrying it, but I favour:

Farmer Carries – With farmer bars, kettlebells or the hex/trap bar.

Suitcase Carries – Kettlebells or farmer bars.

Racked Carries – Double or Single kettlebell and sandbags.

Sled Drag – With a harness on, drag the sled

Loaded Crawling – With either the sled or a battling rope.

There are also ‘more advanced’ carries like the waiter walks, bottoms up kettlebell carry, etc. But these start to introduce some issues that go beyond the goal of losing bodyfat.

Now a quick note. I prefer people to ‘go raw’ with their carries, as in no straps. But… if the goal is to increase the workload and there is no driving need to improve grip strength then we can use straps to get heavier loads or more distance.

The awesome thing about the simple carries is that they can be brutally demanding yet pretty safe. They encourage huge systemic change on the body, as they work just about every muscle. They make you stronger, the time under tension here can’t be matched and this leads to huge changes in muscle growth. The ‘trauma’ also induces the EPOC effect (Excessive Post-Excercise Oxygen Consumption) which means you ‘burn more fat’ for a day or so after the training.

A word on technique and load. Loaded walking lunges ain’t a simple movement and should be reserved for the big kids. If you’re early in your training career chances are you lack the movement competence, so don’t do it. And a pair of 12kg kettlebells in the hands of most people just aren’t heavy enough. After a break-in period of about 4 weeks, most of my ladies have 60kg on the trap bar, so for most of them that’s around bodyweight, if grip is an issue that’s what straps are for.

A lot of trainers are scared to prescribe carries to their clients because they aren’t sexy and can be a bit boring. But they will happily prescribe mindless (and pointless) miles on the treadmill… Put on some banging tunes, lift the heavy thing and set a goal (load for distance, distance for time, etc). The therapeutic effect and general feeling of awesomeness created by carries is a reward in and of itself. Then looking ‘Rockstar hot’ (all credit to Josh Hillis for that term) is simply a bonus. (Or for those men who want to become brutally strong… you may become a Trap-esaurus Rex!).

So there you have it. Swing hard and carry heavy. Eat like a grown up, drink lots of water and get plenty of rest.

Go forth and kick much ass!