Fat Burning and the Difference Between Boys and Girls

25 11 2013

Fat-burning aside, we all know that the primary difference between men and women is that…

With that bit of science covered, let’s discuss the difference between men and women when it comes to burning fat.  I came across a tidy little article the other day entitled Five Facts Women Must Know To Lose Fat, Build Muscle, and Increase Performance, another gem from the Poliquin Group.  I’ve already written a few pieces on women and weights, but this article really spelled out the major challenges that women face with losing fat. In summary, these 5 critical facts are:

1) At rest, women burn more glucose (carbs) than men and less fat

As we know, premenopausal women have greater fat-storing capability than men; gotta have some fat stores in the thighs and hips for baby-making time. This gluteofemoral fat typically has a high percentage of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, critical for the production of breast milk and for the development of a baby’s brain. The issue? The North American diet contains very high levels of inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids and very few omega-3 fatty acids. If dietary DHA needs are not met, this triggers the female brain to release hunger cues in an attempt to store more fat overall and raise DHA levels; this of course, leads to weight gain. The fix? As I’ve mentioned before, whether you are a man or woman, trying to have a baby or not, you should seriously consider supplementing with a high-quality fish oil supplement. Unless you are eating fatty fish several times a week, you are not getting adequate amounts of omega-3 in your diet. If your diet is high in omega-6 fatty acids (vegetable oils, margarine, meat, etc.) this will only compound the problem. Additionally, since women are better equipped to burn carbs than they are fats, you should make an attempt to alternate high-fat and high-carb days, forcing the body to selectively burn fat at certain times. High intensity training also encourages the body to burn of everything, so incorporating sprints and weight lifting is, as always, quite helpful. Try eating more carbs on workout days and less carbs on non-gym days; this kind of cycling can be very effective.

2) Women and men burn (and store) body fat differently

Carrying on from the last point: women rely on fat for fuel during exercise more than men. Additionally, women burn far less fat at rest than men. Women also typically lose weight in the upper body before the lower body follows suit- again, this is an evolutionary thing, with women having more receptors in their lower body fat equipped for hanging on for dear life. The fix? High intensity training. Sometimes I feel like a broken record, but the truth of the matter is that lifting heavy weights and performing high-intensity cardio is extremely beneficial and is almost always the best strategy for losing fat. Get after those squats and deadlifts and you’ll give yourself the best possible chance to fight those stubborn lower-body fat stores.


3) Stress affects women’s metabolism, inhibiting fat loss

Stress also affects men, but to a lesser degree. High stress leads to high cortisol secretion which increases blood sugar providing energy for the stressful situation. The stress response isn’t always negative, but when this process becomes chronic, the hormonal precursor for testosterone (important for muscle-building and fat loss) is used to alternatively create progesterone, which leads to storing more fat. Chronic stress in both men and women will halt the fat loss process, regardless of exercise and diet. The fix? Chill out! Find ways to decompress and relax: take up yoga, meditate, get more sleep. Stress makes life unpleasant and since we only get one go-around it’s important to find ways to limit your stress and to increase the moments that make you happy!

4) Intermittent fasting and calorie restriction tends to be detrimental for women but beneficial for men

I’ve already written about the detriments of caloric restriction and IF for women, but this is a good reminder. Intermittent Fasting and caloric restriction can work for men, but these strategies tend to lead to weight gain for women. Calorie restriction leads to hormonal dysregulation in women- when calories get low, the female body goes into emergency fat-storage mode to ensure survival and reproductive health for as long as possible. The fix? Eat! Many women feel guilty when eating and this is something that we need to change. The truth is that if you eat a balanced diet of fats, carbs and protein, your hormones will be happy, your stress will be low, and your body won’t be clinging to its fat stores. Don’t overthink things- eat real food, eat when you’re hungry, and the rest will fall into place.


5) Young women have the same ability to build muscle as men

Shocking right? Recent studies show that protein synthesis and gene signaling that leads to muscle gains are nearly equal between young men and women. Women are, however, smaller overall and have less total muscle mass, so gains are relatively smaller. The only time when a man has a greater ability to gain muscle is during puberty (hello testosterone!) with the exception of older women, who have a very hard time building muscle. The fix? Well, there isn’t really a fix here, but moreso it is good news for women- you DO have an equal ability to build muscle, and muscle is the fat-burning engine in the human body; the more muscle mass you have, the more fat you’ll burn at rest. Again, the key is to lift challenging weights at the gym and to mix up your workout routine every month or so, which will prevent your fat burning from reaching a plateau.

And there you have it- a bit of insight into the female challenge of losing fat. As always, there is no one-size fits all diet or workout plan that will work for everyone, so find what works for you and execute your plan for success. For any questions on fat burning and weight loss, don’t hesitate to drop me a line.

Happy Monday!



Failing with Failure

11 10 2013


A few weeks ago a buddy of mine asked me the following question:

“What is the importance (or unimportance) of going to failure on every set? Everything I have seen has mentioned how taxing going to failure can be on the CNS, and yet I see everyone in the gym going to failure on every set. Is going to failure bad assuming you can maintain the same form on the last rep you had on the first rep (admittedly that’s a big assumption)?”

Ah yes, going to failure. We’ve all seen those guys at the gym, curling up the bar as their friend struggles on the bench press: “One more buddy!” Truth be told, I’ve been that guy. When I started getting into strength training, it was all about pushing my body to the limits- I went to failure all the time. I literally probably went to failure at least once per workout, whether that entailed having a spotter help me with my last few reps, or simply doing isolation sets like biceps curls until I could no longer lift my arms. As a novice (and young) lifter, in hindsight I feel as though going to failure didn’t hurt me nearly as much as it would now, as an older more experienced lifter. However, I also used to get injured a lot more in my younger years when I was pushing my body to failure on a consistent basis, so take from that what you will; this is simply my anecdotal evidence, but correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation.

The issue, as I see it, is that inexperienced lifters- even some lifters who have been going to the gym on a fairly steady basis for several years- don’t have a very good feel for their actual 1-rep maxes, and haven’t been lifting long enough to find that balance between high, productive intensity, and going to absolute fatigue. The bottom line is this:

Going to failure is unproductive.

Pretty much everything I’ve read or learned over the years backs up this statement. There simply isn’t any evidence out there that training to failure is an effective way to train strength or grow muscle. Yes, there certainly are bodybuilders out there who have and still do swear by this method, but there are definitely other factors at play; I have no doubts that anyone employing the “going to failure routine” could train more effectively. When you lift weights, you are training your CNS (central nervous system) and you are attempting to initiate a growth stimulus in your muscles. You need not go to failure to achieve this stimulus- that final struggle is not the catalyst; progressively increasing intensity in an intelligent manner is. Of course, this does not mean that you shouldn’t train with a high intensity; as I’ve mentioned before, intensity is a major key to progress. To give you an example, the vast majority of my training sets fall in the 70-90% range. If I perform too much work in the 95-100% range, bad things will happen. I save my 1-rep max attempts for competitions and/or for testing my lifts 1-2 times per year. The key is learning to push yourself without taking it too far and employing progressive intensity for sustained success. Going to failure is the key to getting injured, retarding progress and looking like an ass at the gym. In other words, going to failure is failure itself. Not only that, but without a spotter, failure can be dangerous- please don’t be this guy…

On that note, novice lifters especially should absolutely train with a spotter as much as possible. I would never encourage going to failure, and every lifter should try to minimize this as much as possible, but a spotter can minimize the damage as you learn your limits. As I alluded to earlier, I don’t think going to failure is as detrimental to novice lifters, but the more experienced you are, the more critical it becomes to never miss a rep. If I miss a rep in my training, I’ve either programmed poorly, have under-recovered, or just straight up screwed up. In any case, I would almost surely take a few days off to let my body rest, and then start my program anew. If I fail and don’t press the reset button, I know I won’t be able to plow through and progress to my maximum potential; it’s that serious.

Just another reason to avoid going to failure...

Just another reason to avoid going to failure…

In conclusion, if you are looking to build muscle, get stronger, or achieve any sort of physical progress you should concentrate on the 3 Ps:

  1. Perfect your form
  2. Perform all reps with control
  3. Progress your weights slowly

It’s as simple as that. Going to failure might make you feel like you’ve pushed your body to its maximum potential, but things aren’t always as they seem- you’ll almost surely be on the path to injury, and you’ll look like a dick in the process.

For more information on weight training,, you know how to find me!


Squatting Deep, Squatting Safe

18 09 2013


Slowly, the world is regaining some sanity. New research from the Institute of Sports Sciences at Goethe-University in Frankfurt has emerged about the safety of squats. There has been a long-standing myth that squats are “bad for the knees”, but as I’ve pointed out in the past, this information is completely unfounded. The findings of this new research? Full, deep squats are an excellent exercise for building strength and actually protect against injury. Quarter- and half-squats on the other hand can be detrimental to the knees and spine.

Why, you ask?

  • In the full squat, ligaments and tendons will adapt to increased loads
  • Once you pass 90 degrees, the stress on the knee decreases; this “wrapping effect” results in greater load distribution and enhanced force transfer with decreased stress on the knee
  • Full squats do not have a negative effect on the stability of knee ligaments; our bodies are designed for this movement
  • Full squat training causes the spine to adapt with increased bone mineral density and strengthening of the back muscles
  • At the turning point of a half squat, there is more compressive stress on the knee and a smaller support surface for the quadriceps tendon (In the videos below, notice the knees breaking over the toes, demonstrating stress on the knees instead of proper muscular load distribution)
  • When half-squatting, a significantly greater load is necessary to create the same training stimulus (when compared to the full squat), which in turn puts even more compressive stress on both the back and knees

Moral of the story? Don’t be this guy:

Not only will you look stupid, but you’ll get hurt, you’ll get weak, and your friends will stop hanging out with you. Don’t be that guy.

Squatting is a compound movement that requires patience, practice and commitment. I’ve been squatting for years and I’m still working to improve my technique. Not sure if you’re on the right track? Check out my post on How to Squat. Still unsure? You know how to find me!

Again, please, please don’t be this guy:


Compound Movements vs. Isolation Exercises

9 07 2013

A big thanks to Jordan Foley for bringing to my attention the latest in a long line of informative articles by Mark Rippetoe. Today’s discovery: Rippetoe Goes Off.

As I consistently try to convey to my readers: It doesn’t matter if your goal is fat loss or strength gain, the most efficient way to train is to use compound, multi-joint barbell movements.  There are a million hypotheses as to why isolation exercises dominate commercial gyms; these exercises are easier to teach, learn and perform, bodybuilders like Arnold made these exercises popular back in the day, etc.; but there is simply no comparison between the results produced by these types of training. Don’t get me wrong- there is a time and place for isolation movements, depending on your goals- but compound movements should be the primary focus of almost any workout routine. Give the article a read, it’s full of goodies.

Additionally, I recently read The New Rules of Lifting for Life by Schuler/Cosgrove and highly recommend this book to everyone; there’s even a version specifically for women, and although I haven’t read it, I’m sure it’s absolutely on point. A great deal of the content in the book reflects a lot of what I provide here at Fit in a FAT World, so it’s no surprise that I think everyone should give it a read, but it also provides a thorough workout template that can be individually tailored and that can undoubtedly be used successfully over a long period of time.

That’s all for today! Happy reading

– DW

Complexes: Painful, Efficient & Badass

5 06 2013


I recently created a fat loss training program for a friend of mine and suggested that he finish his workouts with some interval work of his choice: either cardio intervals or weight training intervals, otherwise known as complexes. Although he is already proficient with bike intervals, earlier today he brought to my attention that I had failed to thoroughly explain how to perform complexes, which prompted me to find an article to explain this for him. The article I found was so solid that I decided I needed to share it with my readers. The article was published back in 2009, so this really isn’t breakthrough stuff, but if your goal is fat loss, you should pay close attention and read Screw Cardio! Four Complexes for a Shredded Physique. And yes, I’m a big fan of the title.

Complexes in a nutshell?

A complex is where you pick up a barbell (or a set of dumbbells, or a plate, or any kind of weight at all really), perform several reps of an exercise with it, then move right into another exercise, then another, and another, and maybe one or two more. Then you see black spots, get all ripped ‘n shit, and bang swimsuit models.

What are the benefits of complexes?

  • Increase training volume
  • Boost strength endurance
  • Increase caloric expenditure and melt body fat
  • Take advantage of the EPOC effect (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption)
  • Increase work capacity and overall conditioning
  • Not risk losing any muscle
  • Not be bored out of you skull like the giggling guinea pigs over in the cardio area

When do you use complexes?

  • As a replacement for boring-ass cardio during fat loss phases
  • As a conditioning tool for sports
  • As an off-day “bonus” workout if you just feel like going to the gym when you’re not scheduled to (OCD, anyone?)

    Actually, you should finish your set after you puke.

    Actually, you should finish your set after you puke.

  • As part of an unloading/deloading week.

What exercises can be used in complexes?

The idea is to stick to compound movements (ie, avoid isolation movements). The list includes (but isn’t limited to): Squat, front squat, overhead squat, deadlift, straight-leg deadlift, bentover row, power clean, hang clean, good morning, lunge, reverse lunge, push press, military press, floor press. So pick 5 to 8 of these, rock out 6ish reps of each consecutively, take 60-90 seconds rest, and do it another 3 times.

How much weight should you use for a complex?

For beginners, doing these without weight could be a challenge. Start slow- you should use a weight that you can handle- but the idea is to use a weight that makes it VERY difficult to perform 4 straight, painfully-gruelling sets- by the last set, you probably shouldn’t be able to walk.  It’s a game of trial and error, but be ambitious.

These sound awful, why would anyone do these?

Because some people actually want results.

For more detailed information, and for a structured outline of 4 different complexes accompanied by video, check out the article.

That’s all for today! Do some complexes, curse my name, and then thank me later.


The Dangers of Excessive Cardio

29 05 2013

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I’m sure many of you are already thinking it, so let’s get it out of the way: Here Dain goes again, ripping on cardio. Indeed, I’m not a cardio guy, but my bias has nothing to do with this post; even if I’m not a fan, a reasonable amount of cardio has nothing but positive health benefits. Let’s recap a few things:

  1. Almost any kind and any duration of exercise is better than no exercise at all
  2. Weight training is simply more efficient than cardio for burning fat, has very similar (if not equal) cardiovascular health benefits, additional functional strength gains, and more desirable body composition results
  3. Regardless of the activity, excessive habits can lead to problems

In general, I’m never going to advise anyone against good habits like exercising and drinking a lot of water, but even though these are examples of healthy activities, if done in excess they can lead to serious health issues.  A friend brought this Wall Street Journal article to my attention the other day, The Exercise Equivalent of a Cheeseburger?, and it inspired me to write this post. The Coles Notes:

  • Although cardio is healthy (improved blood pressure, cholesterol, longevity, etc.), endurance athletes (or anyone running more than 30 miles/48 kilometers a week) are at an increased risk of atrial fibrillation and developing coronary-artery plaque.
  • Anecdotal concerns about endurance athletics have been building for years and cardiac conditions that required surgery have forced into retirement two winners of the Ironman Triathlon World Championship.
  • Research shows an association between endurance athletics and enlarged aortic roots.Cardiotoxicity-Cycle-Chart
  • Heart disease comes from inflammation and excessive exercise causes inflammation. Why wouldn’t there be a link?
  • Doctors are afraid to say that any kind of exercise may have a negative effect, for fear of giving people an excuse to stay sedentary.
  • Long-term excessive endurance exercise may induce pathological structural remodeling of the heart and large arteries.
  • Parallels can be drawn to the dangers of over-hydration, which was once seen as impossible- the more water the better. Long after evidence emerged that over-hydrating could prove fatal to marathoners, experts continued encouraging runners to drink as much as possible, and the dangers were not fully believed until deaths had occurred.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m super guilty for living life in extremes- for example, I’ve got a strongman competition coming up in a few days, which is pretty much the definition of excessive. I completely understand the desire to push the human body as far as possible, but common sense should still reign supreme; Along with my penchant for lifting heavy things, I’m diligent with prehab and rehab exercises, I eat extremely well, I sleep plenty, and I supplement my lifting with lots of brisk walking and recreational sports. I schedule annual physical check-ups with my family physician to make sure my health is where it should be (my blood work couldn’t look better, in spite of my “extremely dangerous” dietary habits of eating half a dozen eggs daily and embracing saturated fats) and I’ve been living this lifestyle now for almost a decade, so I feel pretty strongly that my exercise habits, although sometimes excessive, aren’t harmful.

Research like this only serves to enhance my personal opinion that competitions like marathons are of the most detrimental activities to human health. We all have our own individual reasons to push our bodies, but I’ll never understand the desire to run excessive distances when the end result will surely be skeletal overuse injuries and damage to my cardiovascular system; not to mention the muscle-wasting that will reduce my strength and wilt my physique.

If you haven’t already seen it, there is also a pretty good TEDxTalk on this subject. Cardiologist Dr. James O’Keefe’s conclusion? Balance and moderation; shocking, I know. If you have 18 spare minutes, give it a watch:

If you are a marathoner, or someone who engages in any sort of excessive activity, I implore you to consult your physician to ensure that you don’t have any underlying cardiovascular health issues. The jury is still out on exactly how much cardio is detrimental to human health (we are still likely years away from truly understanding the line between beneficial and detrimental amounts of cardio)  but it is without argument that a pre-existing health condition can easily be life-threatening if undiagnosed prior to excessive exercise.

In the end we’re all going to do what makes us happy in this life, so I just want to make sure that we’re all aware of the pros and cons of excessive exercise, and that these activities are done in the most responsible way possible.


Cardio and Calorie Restriction: The Facts

13 05 2013

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about why I “hate” cardio and why I say that people need to lift weights in order to avoid being fat. Let me clarify some things:

  • Personally, yes, I do hate steady-state cardio. I get bored running long distances, and find bike seats uncomfortable. It’s just not my thing.
  • Scientifically, however, steady-state cardio is inefficient for fat-loss. Can it be an effective strategy for losing weight? Absolutely it can- I never said otherwise. But don’t confuse fat loss with weight loss.
  • There are many ways to avoid being fat. Physical activity (of any kind) and a healthy diet will prevent you from being fat. Unfortunately, most people fail to incorporate both (and oftentimes neither) into their lifestyle. As weights are the most efficient way burn fat, I recommend weights over cardio.
  • My bottom line is always health. In order to be healthy, you should be physically active and eat a full, well-balanced diet. Lifting weights enables you to eat more and therefore gives you the best opportunity to consume the most nutrients.


But I have this skinny friend who does nothing but cardio!

First of all, there are exceptions to every rule. We all know people who stay thin without paying much attention to their diet and/or activity level. These people are outliers. For the other 99% of us who are either overweight or who are striving for a lean body type, we have to weigh our dietary and exercise options.

As I mentioned above, cardio can be an effective tool for weight loss. However, cardio cannot be deployed alone in an effort to lose weight. In order to capitalize on this type of exercise, one must also employ a calorie-restricted diet. If you’re not going to be challenging your muscles or metabolism, you’re going to have to be very careful with your caloric intake. Remember, cardio has very little afterburn effect (EPOC), and therefore does not help you burn calories after the exercise is finished (your resting metabolic rate returns to normal very quickly after steady-state cardio). Therefore, in order to lose weight or maintain a lower body weight, you have to make sure you don’t eat too many calories. The body will soon adapt to a certain level of cardio as well, so eventually you will have to eat fewer calories or increase your activity level. If you skip a day of cardio, you’ll also have to decrease your calories accordingly. It’s a very tough balancing act and often leads to large weight fluctuations (ie, it’s easy to regain any lost weight).

Additionally, this strategy will not build muscle (as a matter of fact, it will likely cause a decrease in muscle mass over time) and eventually your body will start to hold on to fat cells in response to cardio; this is where you hear the term “skinny fat”- people who don’t appear overweight, but who have a much higher body fat percentage than normal because of their decreased muscle mass. To boot, these people are more susceptible to nutrient deficiencies and decreased immune function due to their decreased caloric intake.

With all of this in mind, exercise of any kind is always good thing, but cardio-driven/calorically-restricted diets are difficult to follow and hard to sustain.

Weight training, on the other hand, builds muscle, burns fat and allows you to eat more food. Who doesn’t want to be able to eat more food? Not only can you eat more food, but you can get away with “cheating” from time to time without immediately ballooning back up to a previous weight.


In conclusion, pros and cons of cardio/calorie restriction vs. weight training/eating real food:

Cardio/calorie restriction

Pros: You can do cardio anywhere without equipment. You can lose weight. Cardiovascular health will improve.

Cons: You have to limit calories in order to lose weight. You lose weight, but maintain fat, not muscle. You look “soft”. You are prone to large weight fluctuations. You cannot eat what you want, nor as much of what you want. Health many suffer due to lack of nutrients from a restricted diet. Long-term results are difficult to achieve.

Weight training/eating real food

Pros: You lose fat weight but maintain and gain muscle. You look “toned”. You can eat more. You don’t have to count calories. You can spend less time exercising. You get results quicker. Your results are sustainable. Your overall health will improve.

Cons: You have to have access to weights. You will spend more money because you are eating like a normal person.

In the end, I want to encourage everyone to engage in physical activity and eat a healthy diet. However, for more sustainable, efficient, and health-improving results, I will always first encourage people to lift weights, eat a balanced diet and do more general activity on a daily basis (walk more, take the stairs, etc.)

For more information on how to incorporate weight lifting into your life, you know how to find me!