My Fat Loss Philosophy, Part 2

20 07 2010

If you missed the first part of this, check it out here.

In this installment, I’m going to focus on exercise.

Weight training

I firmly believe that weight training should be a part of your exercise program no matter what your fitness goals are, and that it is the most important thing you can do for fat loss. Let me explain why.

First of all, obviously, weight training burns calories. But not only does it burn them while you’re working out, intense weight training will temporarily boost your metabolism so that you keep burning calories at an elevated level long after you’re done.

Second of all, your body requires more calories to maintain muscle tissue than it does fat tissue. What this means is that the more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns even when you’re not doing anything! The actual additional amount of calories burned is disputed, and this article provides an excellent analysis, but it’s clear that additional muscle helps in the long-term battle against fat.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, weight training is important to help keep the muscle that you already have. Because muscle is metabolically expensive, when you’re in a caloric deficit, your body is going to want to break it down and use it for energy, so you’ll end up losing both fat and muscle. Because of the second point above, you definitely don’t want this to happen because it’ll make maintaining your fat loss that much more difficult. By weight training, especially with heavy weights, you’re sending the message to your body that it needs its muscle. Doing this, combined with a protein-rich diet, will help minimize muscle loss.

There are other benefits of weight training, but hopefully these are enough to convince you.

As for how to weight train, that’s a topic for multiple posts itself, but here’s a few important points:

  • Focus on big, multi-joint movements, like squats, deadlifts, military presses, dips, chinups, rows, etc.
  • Do full body workouts, or upper/lower splits
  • For fat-loss purposes, keep your workouts short (30-60 minutes) and intense (short rest intervals between sets)

A common objection people have to weight training – especially women – is that they don’t want to get bulky like the people on the cover of muscle magazines. Something you need to understand is that those people are genetically gifted, eat and train at insane levels, and (importantly) take boatloads of steroids. Trust me, you’re not going to get that big and bulky by accident, and it’s not going to happen overnight.


The quotes are there because I’m using this to refer to everything besides weight training. As mentioned above, I believe weight training to be of utmost importance, and it should always take priority, but if you have time to do additional exercise, it’ll help you burn additional calories, as well as conveying other benefits.

I prefer to do things that are intense for short periods, rather than low- to moderate-intensity endurance types of exercise, since I find the former much more effective (and way less boring) over the long haul. For me this typically means:

  • HIIT, including Tabata
  • Sprints
  • Jumping rope
  • Barbell complexes

Once a week, I’ll go for a run or a bike ride. In general, I think that endurance-oriented activities like running suck for long-term fat-loss (that’s a post for another day), but doing it occasionally is fine.

Staying healthy

I’m 38, and over the years, I’ve been stupid about the way I exercise, so I’ve had my share of injuries. To help avoid this, every day I try to spend some time doing mobility and soft tissue work.

Mobility work consists of dynamic stretching and various exercises to improve the range of motion of my joints and muscles. I try to do this as often as I can, because I’ve managed to become rather inflexible over the years.

Soft tissue work consists of using a foam roller and tennis ball to essentially give myself deep tissue massages. This helps break down and clear scar tissue, and although it hurts initially, it has made a huge difference in keeping me pain and injury free.

Moving more

In addition to the formal exercise listed above, I’ve made an effort to simply move more. This includes getting up from my desk periodically to just walk around the office, walking rather than driving to nearby stores, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and so on.

Starting out

If you’re in a position where you’re just starting to try to lose fat, all of this may seem a little overwhelming. My advise would be to just start doing something. It really doesn’t matter what it is, and if you’re going from a relatively sedentary life now, you’ll most likely see huge improvements almost immediately. It’s best to try to do something you enjoy, because let’s face it, motivation is a huge factor for most people.

Weight: 212.5
BF%: 28

Jan 1st starting weight: 232.5
Starting BF%: 31

My Fat Loss Philosophy, Part 1

14 07 2010

I’ve been actively trying to either lose fat or gain muscle most of my life. While I’m no expert, I feel like I have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t. Especially over the past 5 years, when I haven’t gotten the results I’ve wanted, it hasn’t been because I didn’t know what to do, but simply because I didn’t do it. My knowledge is based on reading hundreds if not thousands of articles by some of the world’s leading experts in strength and conditioning and fatloss, who in turn base their work on research and extensive personal experience.

Of course, all of that knowledge would be useless if I hadn’t applied it to myself to see what works for me. At my best, I’ve lost more than 70 pounds of fat and made significant gains in the weightroom. After having gone through this process several times, I’ve developed a certain philosophy to fat loss and training. I don’t think there’s anything particularly unique about my approach, but I thought I’d share it for those who are interested. At the moment, I’m going to focus on fat loss since that’s what I’m working on right now. After working on this post for a bit, I realized that it’s much more likely to get finished if I break it up into parts. In this first part, I’ll cover some general principles. In part two, I’ll cover exercise, and I’ll wrap up with part three on diet and nutrition. Throughout, if anyone wants me to expand on anything, let me know.

For the record, in the past, I’ve been rather dogmatic about my approach to these things, but recently I’ve become much more flexible. What I’m about to say works for me, but there are many ways to skin a cat.


Ultimately, losing fat is simply a matter of creating a caloric deficit (i.e. eating fewer calories than your body uses in a given day). Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is probably trying to sell you something. However, there is some disagreement over how to go about creating a caloric deficit.

Some people recommend calculating your caloric needs, and then logging everything you eat to ensure that you’re eating less than what your body requires. Other people recommend just eating healthy foods, and just trying to eat a little less if you’re not losing weight. Personally, I tend toward the latter, but part of the reason I’m able to do that is because I’ve done the former so I have a pretty good idea of the nutritional content of most of the foods I eat. For someone just starting out, I’d probably recommend just trying to eat clean (I’ll talk more about what I mean when I get to diet), but to try the log if you get stuck.

You CAN lose weight just by dieting, but I wouldn’t recommend it. When doing so, you tend to lose muscle as well as fat, which in the long run will decrease your metabolism and make it harder to maintain your fat loss. In addition to helping to create a caloric deficit, there are also many other healthful benefits of exercise, so I consider it essential to any fat loss program.

A Calorie is not Exactly a Calorie

Let’s say you’re taking a more structured approach to creating a caloric deficit, and you budget around 400 calories a meal. There are many ways you could fill those calories. For example, you could eat 1 or 2 donuts depending on the type, or you could eat 50 cups of raw spinach. Either way, you meet your deficit requirements. But the spinach would definitely leave you full (you wouldn’t even come close to being able to finish it!) and is packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. The donuts, not so much. So clearly, how you get your calories matters. I’ll save specific recommendations for the diet post.

Fat Loss vs. Weight Loss

Note that I’m making a distinction between losing fat and losing weight. Just losing weight can also involve losing muscle (which you want to avoid) and losing water (which is mostly temporary and is largely to blame for sudden swings). Measuring fat loss is more involved than just tracking weight loss, but if you follow my recommendations and ignore fluctuations due to water, then generally if your scale weight is going down over a span of weeks and months, then you’re losing fat.

Settling in for the Long Haul

A common mistake in fat loss is not taking a long term view. If you’re severely overweight, you can lose a ton of weight initially, but eventually – and probably long before you reach your ideal weight – you’ll reach the point where a pound or two a week is the most you can safely and realistically lose. You’ll also have periods where your fat loss will stall, and you’ll want to take a short break to refeed. You need to be patient, and you need to look at your diet and exercise changes not as temporary modifications to lose fat, but as permanent lifestyle changes. For this reason, you need to do your best to find ways to eat and exercise that you enjoy, and be sure that you really want to do this for you.

Weight: 214.0
BF%: 28

Jan 1st starting weight: 232.5
Starting BF%: 31

Fitness log, 7/7/10

7 07 2010

Well, it’s been a month. I’m actually pretty happy with where my weight is at, considering there was a week+ vacation (with Amy and her kids, which was awesome!) where I didn’t exercise or eat all that well.

Ragnar went really well, and I survived better than I expected, although by my third leg my knee was so sore I could barely move it. A few days, some ice, and a little Vicodin later, it was doing better. I’ve only done one run since then (a quick, easy 3 miles), and going forward, I’m not going to be running very often.

Instead, I’ve moved back to what I enjoy: regular weight training, with intervals, sprints, and similar high-intensity activities for cardio.

I’m starting to get tired of being in fat loss mode. I want to focus on building muscle, but I’m still carrying around too much fat to do so effectively. So I’m setting a goal to weigh 200 pounds by the end of August. That should put me a lot closer to where I want to be. Then I’ll assess where I want to go from there.

Weight: 217.5
BF%: 28

Jan 1st starting weight: 232.5
Starting BF%: 31

Fitness log, 6/7/10

7 06 2010

Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these. Sadly, the Game Developers Conference got me badly off track, and I’m just now getting back into the thick of it.

Rather than recapping the last several months, I’ll just cover the last week. For Memorial Day weekend, Amy and I met in Las Vegas to see Flight of the Conchords and spend several fantastic days together. Before we left, we challenged each other to lose at least 5 pounds by the next time we see each other, which will be June 16th, right before Ragnar. I wasn’t exactly sure how much I weighed at the time, but I thought I could probably do better than 5 pounds.

I got home, and the next day, which was last Tuesday, I climbed on the scale and read 228. Ouch. But I was determined to eat right and exercise daily. All week long, with very few exceptions, I’ve limited myself to eating meat, vegetables, fruit, and nuts. With Ragnar being only two weeks out, my focus is on running/endurance, so I only got one light weight training session in, but I did do quite a bit of soft tissue work/mobility drills throughout the week. On top of that, I had runs of 5, 2.5, and 6 miles. My legs were a little sore from running, so I decided to mix it up a bit yesterday and did a 15 mile bike ride. The results? Well, you can see below. I know that’s a lot of weight to lose in a week, and that’s partially attributable to water and from starting a little high. But regardless, I’m very happy that I’ve already hit my goal. I’ve now modified it and I’m going to attempt to get down to 215 by Ragnar, which is how much I weighed when I started dating Amy nearly 9 months ago.

One final note. I’ve been through this weight loss cycle numerous times over the years. A lot of the time, I’m just maintaining my weight. Sometimes, I’m not even making an effort, and the weight piles on. And occasionally, I get in a mode where the weight just slides off, and I lose dozens of pounds over the course of several months. Looking back, these times of serious losses all have one thing in common: I was obsessed. Serious, hardcore weight loss does not have to take a long time, but you have to be absolutely focused, eating right (almost) all the time, not skipping your exercise, and having a positive attitude about it.  I feel like I’m there again. The awesome thing is that I’m starting off at least 30 pounds lighter than any time this has happened in the past. Hopefully I will not have anything throw me off track again, and I’ll finally be able to dip down below 200 and stay there.

Weight: 219
BF%: 28

Jan 1st starting weight: 232.5
Starting BF%: 31

Fitness log, 3/1/10

1 03 2010

As you may have gathered if you’re friends with me on Facebook, for all of last week, I had all 5 kids, their friend Emily, and (for at least part of the week) Lissa living in my 2 bedroom apartment with me. I don’t think I need to say how disruptive something like that can be to your schedule, and my eating and exercise habits definitely took a hit this week. I did still manage to get in 2 of my weight training sessions, and ran once for 4 miles, averaging 9:30 per mile, which is not bad at all considering.

I’m therefore shocked that I managed to drop 4 pounds this week, getting me back on track to where I was before last week’s spike up. I’m mostly discounting the supposed 2% drop in bodyfat. Awesome if it’s true, but the Tanita scale I’m using is wildly inconsistent; the numbers are mainly going to be useful over a long stretch of time.

On Friday, I leave for San Francisco for a owner’s retreat (where Amy will be joining me!), and then I’ll be at the Game Developers Conference all next week. I’m going to do my best to at least get 2-3 runs in every week (I’m running out of time until Ragnar), hopefully do at least some weight training, and make responsible choices while eating out. Wish me luck!

Weight: 223.5
BF%: 28

Jan 1st starting weight: 232.5
Starting BF%: 31

Fitness log, 2/22/10

22 02 2010

With the craziness of the move and a trip to Utah to see Amy, I managed to miss last week, but here I am back.

For the same factors, I haven’t been fully consistent with either my diet or workout for the better part of two weeks. I did manage to get in two runs a week, and I’m now able to consistently average less than 10 minute miles,  so I’m on track there again.

After returning from another awesome visit to Amy, my weight had crept back up to 228. When I got on the scale on Thursday, I was at 222.5, and then, after two full days of busting my ass moving, and eating whatever was handy, on Sunday I hit 230. Even though I know that most of that fluctuation is due to water (nothing else makes sense), it’s still pretty frustrating.

Hopefully I can get fully back on track this week.

Weight: 227.5
BF%: 30

Jan 1st starting weight: 232.5
Starting BF%: 31

Fitness log, 2/9/10

9 02 2010

I seem to be stalling a little bit, although I guess most people would consider losing a pound pretty good. I’m slightly disappointed, though, because last week I was pretty rock solid with my diet, I got all 4 weight training sessions in, and I ran 3 times, including two runs of 4 miles, one of which I did in slightly under 40 minutes. We’ll see what happens this week. I’m spending the weekend with Amy (yay!) so we’ll see how consistent I can be!

I noticed that my hits on this blog spiked yesterday, despite not having an update. I guess that means people are expecting a Monday update? I’d better strive to not be late again!

Weight: 223.5
BF%: 29

Jan 1st starting weight: 232.5
Starting BF%: 31

Fitness log, 2/1/10

1 02 2010

I suspected that last week’s losses were at least partially water, and the fact that this week was a lot less seems to confirm that. I was consistent, though, hitting all 4 of my weight training workouts, running twice (for about 3 miles each time) and cycling once. I’ve also been pretty consistent with my diet, though I succumbed to my weakness for chocolate almonds this weekend.

Last week, someone asked for me to start including where I started from in each update so that it’s more clear how much progress I’m making. Picking a starting point isn’t easy, because I’ve been at this on and off for years. I started back again in earnest last April, when I’d hit nearly 260 pounds. By September, I’d dropped to 215. But then after moving out I got off track and my weight crept back up over 230, which is where I was at the start of the year. Since that’s when I actively started logging, that’s what I’ll use. I don’t remember if I’ve done an extensive post detailing my fitness activities over the past several years, but I should probably do that.

I saw a sports medicine specialist today for my shoulder and lower back/hip. He didn’t think either represented a serious problem, and gave me some stretches and exercises to do. I’m very relieved that he saw no need for surgery of any kind.

Weight: 224.5
BF%: 30

Jan 1st starting weight: 232.5
Starting BF%: 31

Fitness log, 1/25/10

25 01 2010

Awesome progress this week, which is a pretty good reward for being pretty consistent with my workouts. I weight trained 4 days and ran twice, both as scheduled. I was also pretty good with not eating garbage. Initially, I’d set a goal of hitting 220 by the end of January. I didn’t think that was realistic, based on my past experience, but decided to go for it anyway. I still think I was correct in that assessment, but if I have another week like last one, I’ll get pretty close!

The program I’m on has you record your max in several exercises at the beginning and end of the program (which takes 16 weeks), so I did that this weekend, and this is where I’m at:

Box squat: 315 lbs
Benchpress: n/a
Deadlift: 385 lbs
Chinups: 4 @ bodyweight
Broadjump: 66″

I’ve never done box squats before this program, and I quite like them. I’m not able to benchpress for 2 reasons: 1) my shoulder is still injured, making it rather dangerous and painful, and 2) I’m not going to max on benching without a reliable partner. I’m disappointed with the deadlift a bit because I pulled 405 back in the fall, but I haven’t been very consistent since then, so I guess that’s understandable. I tried pulling 395, but wasn’t able to get it past my knees. The program actually calls to do 3 chinups with as much weight as possible on a weight belt or vest, but since I don’t have either of those things, I’m just going to do as many as I can at my bodyweight.

Weight: 225.5
BF%: 31

Fitness log, 1/19/10

19 01 2010

Thanks largely to my trip to Finland, last week was a disaster. I was in meetings all day, and jetlagged, so the last thing I wanted to do when I got to the hotel was go to the gym. On top of that, it takes more willpower than I have to make strictly healthy choices when eating out every meal on someone else’s dime.

When I got back, I immediately got back on the wagon, though, and managed to make some progress. I’ve been on several more runs, though I’m having difficulty pushing it past 2 miles. Based on my previous experience, that should change in a couple of weeks if I stick with it.

I also officially started training using the program in Eric Cressey’s Maximum Strength. I’m going to have to modify it slightly due to the fact that my shoulder really doesn’t like the bench press these days, but overall I like the program. It includes soft tissue work using foam rollers and a tennis ball. I’ve never done any of that before, and I’m still waiting for my foam roller to arrive, but if the tennis ball work is any indication, this is going to be PAINFUL. But a necessary pain, at least.

Weight: 229.5
BF%: 31