Just yesterday, I got an email from one of my online consulting clients who just completed his first week with my programming. As a little background, he’s tried on several occasions to fix a stubborn back issue that keeps getting reaggravated, so I’m helping him out with a sensible progression to get him back to lifting the way he wants to lift. With that in mind, a lot of the work we’re doing is corrective exercise: lots of mobility and activation work , plenty of single-leg movements, isometric holds, and the like. To keep training fresh, I’m also introducing him to a wider variety of upper body movements to help get his body out of its “comfort zone.” Here’s an excerpt fro his email:
“I tape measure and weigh every Monday. My caloric intake was set at 3100 this week. Get this: I lost half a pound of fat and gained half a pound of muscle; does it get any better than that? Wow. I didn't even think that was physically possible, if so extremely rare and mostly in beginners, not guys who have been at this a while like me. My chest circumference is the same but that is expected. My arms actually grew with no direct arm work. My thighs shot up a quarter inch; I'm not exaggerating! My waist measurement came down 1/8th inch. I'm raising my kcal intake by 250.
“I am SO sore, I am hobbling like an old man around campus!!! My upper back, serratus anterior, quads and glutes are THRASHED. The importance of the low-intensity GPP sessions you included is becoming more apparent to me now!”
For some (including this client), it seems incomprehensible that one could gain muscle and lose fat during what it considered a low-intensity period aimed at getting healthy. It doesn’t surprise me at all, though.
Like soreness, this is simply what happens when you introduce a body to a stimulus to which it isn’t accustomed. Alwyn Cosgrove calls it “metabolic disturbance.” Craig Ballantyne calls it “turbulence.” I’m less eloquent and simply call it “doing stuff that your body doesn’t want to do.”
When distance and speed are held constant, why do runners burn fewer calories after a few years of running? It’s because they become more efficient runners, so less muscle mass is required to accomplish a given task. Less muscle mass working equates to fewer calories burned.
Take someone off an elliptical machine and make them sprint, and you’ll see better fat loss.
Take someone who has been sprinting straight-ahead and substitute in some lateral movement training, and you’ll see better fat loss.
The list goes on and on. You can use cycling intervals, barbell complexes, sled dragging/pushing, Prowler work, rope skipping – you name it. Why wouldn’t doing a different form of lifting have the same effect?
In our Building the Efficient Athlete DVD set , we talk about how working toward efficiency should be the goal of any athlete. As is often the case with our body, though, counterintuitive thinking often times wins out.