How to maximize your training for fat loss

Every day, I see the same folks on the treadmills and ellipticals. Every month, they put in grueling minute after minute in the endless pursuit of a self-imagined lean, shapely physique. Unfortunately, every year, I notice these same sad souls are still grinding, still sweating and still overweight. What gives?

Despite what Dr. Oz may tell you, three 30-minute sessions of à la carte cardio per week is not even close to the optimal way to lose fat and, for 99 percent of you, it will not work. I’m here to clue you in on what does work and how you can take your physique from mediocre to lean and mean.

The real key to lasting, permanent physique change is two-fold: diet and exercise.

Diet is the absolute key to losing weight and “toning” those areas you’re not quite ecstatic about. Without a complete overhaul of your diet, you cannot shape up. In my experience, it’s been about 80-percent diet and 20-percent exercise, so all those countless workouts and personal-training sessions mean nothing if you’re still chowing down on pizza and Gatorade. I always recommend to my clients to eat a “real-food” diet, or to eat actual food — not, as Michael Pollan says, “edible food-like substances.” Real food includes things like fish, eggs, poultry, beef, fruit, vegetables and healthy fats like olives and avocados. Basically, if it has an expiration date, it’s good to go. If your grandparents wouldn’t recognize it, or it has any ingredients that you can’t pronounce, you need to avoid it like the plague. Combining this with a smart approach to meal timing (I actually practice intermittent fasting and recommend my friend Jason Ferruggia’s book, “The Renegade Diet,” if you’d like to know more about the subject), and the occasional cheat meal, has had stunning effects on some of my clients, including weight loss of more than 100 pounds that has lasted.

Beyond that, you need to exercise with your mind on two things: smart, compound weight training and intelligent and not overdone cardio conditioning. A great trainer can give you a plan for both, but suffice it to say, your focus should always be on building a lean, muscular physique. It’s essential to realize that your muscles may weigh more than fat, but they are also significantly smaller in mass, so a muscular figure will actually be leaner and more toned than a skinny figure with minimal muscle.

A great and simple plan for fat loss is as follows. Spend 15-20 minutes on a movement-based warmup that preps your joints for loading, spend 15-20 minutes on weight training using free weights with minimal rests (as much as you need to complete the task, but as little as possible), and 15-20 minutes of core and accessory training. This will be your “weight-training” workout, done three-five times a week, depending on your level of experience and training.

In addition to that, you can supplement your training with your choice of cardio or conditioning, done preferably for shorter, more intense periods, to optimize your hormonal output and minimize muscular catabolism, or loss, due to excess stress. This can be done two-three times a week. The combination of the two is unbeatable for fat loss, far better than unfocused circuits or endless hours of long and slow cardio.

Always remember: Fat loss is a journey, and it won’t happen overnight. With a solid nutritional plan in place, a great combination of strength training and conditioning and the dedication to sticking to the goals you set, you can build the physique you’ve always dreamed of in 2013.

Jay Pepito is a certified personal trainer at 12th Street Gym currently teaching weight-lifting at the University of Pennsylvania and pursuing a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology from Temple University. He owns a personal training/strength and conditioning business called Supreme Strength and Conditioning. For more information about Jay, visit www.12streetgym.com, or you can follow him on Instagram and Twitter as @jaypepito. Or you can check out his website, www.trainsupreme.com, for fitness articles and other random musings.