Monthly Archives: April 2015

Harnessing the power of EPOC for faster fat loss

As we all know, fatloss requires a calorie deficit to be created, burn more calories than you consume and you lose weight. Maintain adequate protein and fat intakes to ensure muscle mass isn’t lost and you regulate the hormonal activity optimally, and drop the carbs to necessary levels (since its usually an excess of carbs that has added the body fat you’re trying to get rid of…just don’t go too crazy with the cut!)

So if diet is the overriding factor when it comes to fat loss, how can you speed the process along?

By tapping in to an effect known as EPOC – Exercise Post-Oxygen Consumption, sometimes referred to as afterburn.

This effect is what happens to your body after higher intensity exercise, the higher the intensity, the longer the effects of afterburn last.

Depending on the type of exercise done and the intensity of that exercise, the level of the oxygen debt to be paid back will vary. Low level cardio such as walking, jogging, cycling (at a leisurely pace), group exercise classes create a relatively low level of oxygen demand and little in the way of muscular demands. Therefore, shortly after the exercise finishes, breathing returns to normal (assuming your fitness level is in any way reasonable…) and your body returns to burning the same number of calories as before.

At the start of exercise, regardless of intensity, there is a moment of higher energy production than your standard amount, as exercise continues, you require more oxygen to help with energy demands and your breathing rate climbs to provide it.

Your exercise intensity will fall over time as your endurance energy systems are slower and can’t maintain higher energy outputs, but there is still the initial oxygen deficit to “pay back.”

o2 debt

With higher intensity exercise such as lifting heavy things off the floor and putting them down again, sprinting, high intensity body weight circuits etc create a much bigger oxygen debt, as well as muscular damage

When you do intense exercise, you overload your muscles, helping stimulate protein turnover, protein building, and an increase (or at least maintenance) of muscle mass.

In the post exercise period, oxygen consumption (and therefore calorie burn) is elevated.

After an intense workout, it’s necessary for the body to metabolise additional fuel, replenish energy stores, and reload the depleted oxygen stores. Further, oxygen consumption (and remember from above that oxygen consumption is related to energy use) is boosted due to:

– Higher body temperature

– Increased activity of the cardiovascular system

– Higher levels of hormones that increase metabolic activity

– Energy pathways and the conversion of things like lactate into glucose (for energy replenishment)  or amino acids (for protein       synthesis)

– Recovery of muscle damage

So, with intense exercise, more oxygen is being consumed (and energy being used) during the exercise, after the exercise, and pretty much all day long. In fact, depending on the intensity of the exercise, the afterburn effect has been shown to last up to 36 hour after exercise! And interestingly, there is a higher level of fat burn post exercise too.

During high intensity exercise, the rate of fat breakdown is high. However, fatty acid entry into the bloodstream is limited, but on finishing your exercise, this limitation subsides and the fats enter circulation for transport to be used as fuel during recovery.

So, how can you start using this effect in your training?

1. Use full body exercises such as deadlift, squat, bench press variations done for sets of 5 to 12 reps with loads suitable for the rep ranges chosen.

2. Keep your rest times appropriate. sets of 4-6 get 90 – 120s, 8-12 reps get about 1 minute. For fat loss your next set should be started with slightly higher heart rate and your breathing should still be slightly elevated.

3. Higher intensity circuits as your conditioning of choice, or as shorter standalone workouts.

Here is a great way to build a conditioning circuit to help switch on the afterburn effect:

Pick an exercise from each of the lists, put them together with the time options below and voila! great conditioning, increased work capacity (fitness) and boosted fat burn for hours after the workout ends!

Exercise A Exercise B Exercise C Cardio
 Pushup  KB swing  Roll outs  Sprint (treadmill or outdoors)
 Hindu pushup  Goblet squat  Leg lowers  Bike
 Reverse hindu  Frog squat  Reverse crunch  Rower
 DB press  Bodyweight squat  TRX pike  Skipping
 DB shoulder press  Reverse lunge  Plank

So for example, 20 seconds of hindu pushup, 10 sec transition to KB swings for 20 sec, 10 sec transition to reverse crunches for 20 sec and a final 110 sec transition to 60 sec treadmill run. Rest 60-90 seconds, then repeat for a total of 3 rounds, lie on the floor and try not to die…

If you find the 20/10 work to rest split to challenging to begin with, this can be dropped to 15/15 or even 10/20 before you start to build up again. Equally the cardio component can be as low as 30 secs and built up over time to a max of around 90 seconds.

Total time for 30 sec cardio rounds would be around 10 mins (with 90s recovery between rounds) and up to 12 mins for 90 sec cardio segments and 60s rest time.

Have fun, stay strong


8 minutes to a better workout

Warmups are boring. Warmups are a waste of time. Warmups are going to get you ready to train and might just save you from avoidable injuries.

One of these statements is true… (If you picked option 1 or 2, then we need to have words…)

A good warmup should get you ready to move the way you are about to train, as Dan John said, “The warmup is the workout.”

Got an hour on the cross trainer scheduled? Great, warm up on the cross trainer. Then go consider handing back your gym membership and get outside for a walk instead.

Your warmup should address any flexibility and mobility issues, fire up your muscles that have shut off after sitting on your rear all day at work, get your heart rate up and get you in the zone to train well.

Here is a simple guide to getting yourself going in the gym.


The general rule for stretching is stretch what is tight, but if it stays tight after a couple of weeks of consistent flexibility work, then it’s more likely to be a stability/ mobility issue. The main areas I see that need to be stretched are:

Hip flexors:

Sitting all day wreaks havoc on your hips, your hip flexors shorten to adapt to the position they find themselves in most often (sitting on the commute to work, at work, home from work, in front of the tv). They need to be opened up.


Keep your abs tight and squeze the glute on the trailing leg side.


Glutes: Sitting in one position all day tends to leave you more than a little tight through your glutes, given the multitude of joint angles and hip socket depth variations, you need to find where you get the best result from the stretch position.

Glute stretch


Hip: Hip mobility or lack thereof, is a big issue for a lot of people, feeling all tight and jammed up through your hips isn’t going to help you move well and perform well in your training session. 2 great drills for this problem are:

TRX Cossack squat

Deep squat hip opener


Keep your back straight, use your elbows to push your knees wide.


Tspine: Your thoracic spine is basically the area of your spine from the top to the bottom of your ribs, this is where most of your spinal movement comes from (rotation, extension/ flexion), unfortunately due to the hunched over position most of us get into, we can end up losing a lot of that movement, this simple drill can help you get the range of movement back –


IYT: Your shoulder blades should have the ability to slide around your upper back, allowing your arms to work through a full range of movement, however due to curvature of the upper back and weakness in the mid/lower traps this becomes difficult and range of movement is lost. This 3 part drill helps you get it back. Focus on feeling the shoulder blades move around the ribs as you reach out, and squeeze them down and back as you pull in.

Bird dog: All the movement here should come from your glutes and not your low back, before you begin you need to brace your abs with a big belly breath, then breathe out with each movement, working to maintain a neutral spine throughout. To begin with, I usually have clients start with the leg only portion of the movement, only adding in the opposite arm component once they can maintain good position and have the leg drive come from the glutes.


pushup variation:

These options on the pushup/ hindu pushup give you a great full body movement, building shoulder stability, upper back mobility, hip mobility, and a little stretch through your lats, hamstrings and calves.

Option 1: Straight arms throught, this helps you learn the movement and begin to build the strength needed to progress to option 2.

Option 2:


A good quality bodyweight squat focussing on keeping the heels down and chest up position. Aim for parallel at the bottom.

Glute bridge  – focussing on squeezing your glutes hard at the top. Imagine levering up from the bottom position and squeeze your glutes hard at the top. If you feel your quads or hamstrings doing all the work, adjust your foot position and lift your toes off the floor to find a better position to get your glutes working.

Glute bridge

Left: Single leg option, Right: double leg option.


While there are other good warmup options available to you, you want to keep your warmup short and effective, and I feel that these options get the job done really well.

Full warmup

Hip flexor stretch – 15-20s per side

Glute stretch – 15-20s per side

T-spine rotation – 4-6 per side

Deep squat hip opener – 3 or 4 15s holds at the bottom

IYT – 5 per movement

Bird dog – 5 per side

Hindu pushup variation – 4-8

Glute bridge – 8-10

Squat – 8-10

TRX cossack squat – 4-6 per side

Try this out before you train and you’ll feel, move and perform better.

Stay healthy


Cake versus icing

When it comes to training and nutrition, people have a tendency to get caught up in the minutiae, the little details that they are convinced are going to make a massive difference. When in fact, these are the little dot of icing on top of the cherry, on top the banana slice on top of the icing on top of the cake.

In short, most people are missing their cake.

For most of us, being consistent with 90% of the important stuff will give us the results we want. The last 10% is what gets you in stupidly good shape but usually isn’t maintainable in the long term.

Let’s look at the order of importance in training and eating when it comes to achieving the body you want:



Compound movements. The cornerstone of your training, these build strength and add muscle. Deadlifts, squats, pullups etc work multiple muscle groups, burn more calories and generally increase your awesomeness more than any other exercise.

Accessory exercises. These are the exercises that help improve your performance in the main exercises you do, Rdls, single leg  variations such as lunges and step ups, dumbbell presses, pull downs etc are usually multi joint exercises to help improve stability and strength. Generally these are going to be performed with  higher reps than the big lifts.

High intensity conditioning. Short, brutal, effective. While this type of cardio burns calories at a reasonable rate, predominantly using glucose as fuel, when it’s over, the oxygen debt created help the body burn fat for several hours after the exercise finishes through the wonder of EPOC (Exercise Post Oxygen Consumption, also known as afterburn).


Low intensity cardio. This is the long walk, half hour+ on the treadmill or bike, walking to work etc that burn calories while you do it but doesn’t create the afterburn effect. There is no oxygen debt to be paid off so calorie burn returns to baseline levels very quickly after exercise.


Isolation exercises. These are the cherries on the cake. Everyone likes a few sets of biceps curls now and again, triceps extensions, lat raises, leg extensions and the rest give you a pump and in some cases can help out with the bigger stuff if programmed in correctly (bicep curls to help with a pullup for example).

Unfortunately in training, especially for fat loss, (low level) cardio and crunches are still seen by many as the route to a beach ready body, but inevitably this doesn’t work.

Focus on getting stronger and I’ve yet to see many folks who can deadlift and squat 1.5x bodyweight and crank out a few good pullups who aren’t in really good shape.



Total calories. This is the foundation of of your weight change. At its most simple, calories in v calories out still counts as the major factor in fat loss or muscle gain. It is of course a little more complicated but if you dont get this right, the rest doesn’t matter.

Macros. The ratio of protein, fats and carbs that make up your diet is important too. For me, Protein is the most important of the 3, since it’s responsible for so many  processes in the body and most people are barely getting enough in their diets to hit their minimum necessary intake. Fats and carbs make up the rest but this takes a little experimentation as some folks handle slightly more carbs better and some prefer a little more fat. Track, assess and adjust as needed.

Hydration. You are made up of a lot of water, you need to drink lots to maintain adequate levels. You probably don’t drink enough. Drink more water, tea, coffee.


Meal timing. As you get closer to low body fat levels, meal timings begin to count a little more but the difference this makes is less than people think. If you are on low carbs, book ending them around training makes sense, getting 20-30g of protein in every 3-4 hours has a good effect on protein synthesis, but beyond that most of us don’t need to worry about meal timings if the previous 3 points are being met.


Supplements. They are called supplements for a reason, they supplement your diet, making up for any short falls you have nutritionally. A good protein powder, a multivitamin and a good fish oil will help. If you are dairy free, then maybe a calcium supplement will help. 99% of the rest are a waste of time.

For most of us who are training to move better, get stronger and look better naked, points 1-3  on both lists are going to give you 80% of your results, if you have time for the rest and you are consistently getting the rest done, then go for it but don’t rely on these to get the changes you want!

Stay healthy



Lessons from my attempt to get leaner

About 4 or 5 months ago, not exactly sure when, I decided that come January this year I’d see how I’d get on getting lean. I’m not talking 5% body fat, ready to step on stage lean, but 8 or 9% whilst maintaining as much mass as I could. Why? Well, for 2 reasons:

1. A colleague was going to start prepping for his first fitness competition of the year and I thought it would be fun to see what I could do, and more importantly,

2. 90% of my clients are trying to not only get stronger, but also trying to lose weight and drop body fat.

The second of these reasons is the big one for me, my own strength and fitness goals are ongoing and I have no issue with motivating and challenging myself to chase them down. But I have never really had to think about my own diet and nutritional strategies. My typical thought process on food goes something along the lines of:

  • want food,
  • find food,
  • eat food,
  • repeat as necessary.

A fortunate combination of genetics, lifestyle and having an active job means I get away with a lot more food freedom than a lot of people. Yeah, I know, sucks to be me…

Over the course of the last few months I’ve learned a few things, I want to share those with you guys and give you my 5 factors I’ve found to be most important in getting leaner.

Generally, I sit around 12% bodyfat most of the time. my weight stays relatively steady at around 100kg. ( I wasn’t always like this, imagine if you will, a 6’4″ guy carrying about 65-70kg…)

My goal was 8 or 9% maintaining as much weight as I could, this is way more challenging than I thought!

1. It takes time, consistency and a few failures to figure out calorie numbers.

I can comfortably eat 3500cals a day and maintain body weight and bf%. cutting those cals down takes time and consistently hitting macro targets and adjusting to what’s happening. That means you can’t just starve yourself for a few days then go back to eating “normally” and expect to see results, unless the results you are happy with are muscle loss and still having a crappy bf%.

2. Hitting your protein and fat targets each day is vital.

Carbs, make up the rest, but you have to be within your cals for the day. If you want to maintain, and indeed build, muscle, protein is a must. If that means topping up with a protein shake or 2, so be it, but you need to get it done. Since your carbs will be lower, getting adequate fat in your diet is necessary, not only for nutritional and health purposes, but to keep you from going nuts. On lower carb days, if I didn’t hit my fat target, I wanted to throw the nearest person to me through a wall. I got grumpy, not many people realised this, since I look generally grumpy anyway. Always smiling on the inside though! When I hit the fat target, everything was golden, and, more importantly, everyone around me was safe!

3. With a calorie and macro target, I had to think about my food choices more.

I’d rather eat my calories than drink them in a shake, so I needed to think more and prepare accordingly. When I didn’t, my numbers were way off. Once in a while, thats fine, long term is a disaster. Making sure I had enough good protein sources such as chicken, beef, eggs, greek yoghurt and salmon, as well as plenty of fresh veggies, available was huge.

Half an hour shopping each week is all that takes.

4. A cheat day, once a week, keeps me sane.

I plan it for whatever day we are going out, or maybe getting a takeaway meal in. Thats right, you can lose bodyfat and still indulge every now and again. I am happy to spend a whole day eating whatever I want, often doubling my normal 3500cal intake for the day. And I enjoy every minute of it. For some people, a single, indulgent meal can be all thats required, some find an increase in carbs for the day whilst still hitting protein and fat intake is good. Whatever it is, trial and error is necessary and not going completely nuts is important.

If a whole day makes it tough getting back on track the day after, try a single meal. If thats not quite enough, increase carbs throughout the day.

Be honest, and adjust as needed.

5. Exercise is important.

You’ll notice at this point, that it’s all been diet related. That’s because your diet is the key to body comp success. Exercise does come into play though, building or maintaining muscle mass helps drive your metabolism and obviously burns calories. Simple advice for this is train hard, work up a sweat and beat last weeks total on something. In a slight calorie deficit, you aren’t going to set any powerlifting records, but you can maintain your muscle mass and most of your strength.

Squat, deadlift, bench and pull ups, some accessory work to address the weaknesses, and some short, high intensity conditioning at the end of each session is on the cards.

Work hard, rest adequately, repeat consistently.

Stay strong