If you’re like many active women, your range of body-fat levels likely hovers between 14 and 24 percent. So what is the difference between Jane and Joanne Doe, wherein Jane has 15 percent body fat and Joanne has 22? The assumption naturally is dietary differences: Maybe Jane eats super clean 24/7, while Joanne enjoys a glass of wine and dessert several times per week. But really, nutrition is only part of the equation; anyone can diet down to a low body fat with a little determination (and a lot of willpower). But maintaining a lean physique over the long term can be achieved with something you’re probably already doing: strength training.
It’s Your Choice!
You know having more muscle mass boosts metabolism, since you need to burn calories in order to maintain and support those cells. But instead of thinking inside the usual gym box, look at strength training from a different angle, one in which body composition is determined by the kind of strength work you do. Because in fact, tailoring your program to focus on performance, power and synergistic compound strength could be the key to shedding those last few percentage points.
Bodypart training is effective if you’re trying to bring up stubborn parts or balance certain muscle groups, but it’s not very metabolically taxing to work one muscle group at a time. These four training edicts could be the key to unlocking your own potential to sculpt a strong, capable body.
1. Believe In Bodyweight
Capably being able to move your own bodyweight not only makes you a better athlete but also makes you leaner. Bodyweight moves incorporate multiple muscle groups while also training your balance, agility and reaction time. The more muscles you work, the more calories you burn. The faster you get, the more calories you burn. The more agile and quick you are, the more calories you burn. (See the pattern here?) Bodyweight exercises are also unique in that they can be done for very low or very high numbers of reps and can create a strength, hypertrophy or metabolic fat-loss effect, depending on the rep range.
Take action: Put bodyweight moves at the beginning of a strength workout to warm up muscles and train movement patterns. Add them at the end of a strength workout as a burnout, doing high reps for volume to encourage hypertrophy.
2. Power Up
Compound and powerlifting moves are some of the most effective around when it comes to building strength. Why is strength important for fat loss? According to research in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, the stronger you are, the greater your exercise intensity and the higher your energy consumption both in the gym and out. And the more mass you have, the more calories you burn and the more fat you’ll lose as a result; powerlifting and compound moves by their very nature build muscle.
Take action: If you’re not familiar with big lifting movements, get a certified professional to show you the ropes. There are definite and specific techniques that should be applied to keep your body safe and make the gains and progress that you’re angling for. Once you’re familiar with the lifts, blend them into your program so they land in the first couple of slots in your workout when you’re freshest and have the most energy. Build in weight slowly over the course of several months to keep your joints and connective tissues safe.
3. Jump To It
Incorporating explosive athletic movements such as jumps, throws and Olympic lifts (snatch, clean-and-jerk) into your program targets fast-twitch muscle fibers. These are the largest and strongest muscle fibers in the body, metabolizing the most energy and improving insulin sensitivity and your ability to burn stored body fat, according to research in the ACSM Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews.
“Explosive training also causes a release of adrenaline, which hormonally triggers thermogenesis,” says Jennifer Petrosino, CSCS, and a professional powerlifter. “The result is a triple whammy of increased muscle and strength, with a decrease in body fat.”
Take action: Dedicate one to two workouts per week to explosive training such as plyometrics or Olympic lifting. Because it is so taxing, leave at least two days in between these kinds of workouts to allow for full recovery. Again, if you’re unfamiliar with this kind of lifting, have a professional show you proper technique to stay safe.
4. Seek Out Speed
Have you ever seen a chunky sprinter? Didn’t think so. Recent research demonstrated that sprint training performed three times weekly can reduce body fat by as much as 8 percent, as well as decreasing waist circumference and increasing muscle mass, according to a report in the Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology. Athletes who train for speed work at such a high intensity are constantly in a state of EPOC — excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. Their bodies are constantly mobilizing body fat and carbs for fuel, boosting thermogenesis for many hours post-training.
Take action: You don’t need to be Lolo Jones in order to benefit from a sprinting protocol. Find a local track and try this progressive workout, designed by Martin Rooney, DPT, CSCS, which increases in distance over the course of eight weeks. After a thorough warm-up that includes jogging, running and five to 10 minutes of dynamic stretching and mobility work, do this workout up to twice a week, leaving at least two days of rest between workouts. For each sprint, push yourself hard, then take enough time so you fully recover. Then it’s time for the next sprint.