By Bill Hartman, P.T., C.S.C.S.,
Ever hear the adage, “Train like an athlete to look like an athlete?” It’s a popular mantra among strength coaches today, since it encourages folks to focus on total-body strength and all-around fitness—instead of just lying on the floor doing crunches.
But there’s been one downside: Plenty of guys have asked me what how to do “two-a-days”—as in two workouts per day. This is usually because they read that this is what some sculpted world-class athlete does.
My answer: If your goal is to lose fat and build muscle, you don’t need two-a-days. In fact, two-a-days would actually be too much training for the average person. (Even in the unlikely scenario that you had the time.) The truth is, even the best athletes don’t thrive on two-a-day workouts.
To understand why, I’ll need to give you a bit of history lesson. But by the time I finish, I will have revealed the training secrets that have built some of the best athletes in the world. And these same secrets will turn your body into a fat-burning machine.
Here in the United States, we’re a melting pot of different cultures. This gives us a diverse gene pool that produces amazing genetic freaks—who can run faster, jump higher, and throw harder than almost anyone in the world.
Now those of us in the fitness industry would like to attribute these athletes’ performances to our superior training methods. But that’s rarely the case. In America, strength coaches frequently overtrain many of our best young athletes, pushing them to exhaustion with hours and hours of intense training. So in the end, the athletes who break records are most often the ones who are so physically gifted that they can thrive at their sports in spite of these extreme training methods. Not because of them.
Of course, if longer and more frequent workouts aren’t the answer, what is? Well, you’ve heard the phrase work smarter, not harder, right? That’s the solution. And turns out, some fitness experts have known exactly what to do for a very long time.
Let me explain: Before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russians lacked genetic diversity because they were a closed society. So what did Russian sports scientists do? They carefully studied and analyzed fitness performance until they discovered the best way to train athletes. The result: Some of the greatest athletic performances on the planet.
Don’t believe me? I have proof.
Back in 1984, the Russians and other Eastern-bloc countries decided to boycott the summer Olympics. So their athletes participated in an “alternative Olympics,” called the Friendship Games. And when the two competitions were over, it was clear that the Russian sports scientists really knew how to develop great athletes.
To give you perspective, 140 countries participated in the Olympics, while approximately 50 nations competed at the Friendship Games. Nevertheless, the Friendship Games athletes outperformed the Olympic Games sportsmen in 20 of 41 track and field events. In fact, a bunch of Olympic gold medalists wouldn’t have even placed in many of the events since more than 60 Friendship Game results were good enough to secure medals at the Olympics. The Russians broke numerous world records and would have been some of the top Olympians in weightlifting and wrestling. In other words, the Russian athletes were better prepared and better trained. Period.
Now, the secrets that I’m about to give you are based on a small piece of this Russian sports science. They’re not really secrets anymore, but principles. And I use them with many athletes at my private training facility, IFAST
, in Indianapolis. The results have been beyond impressive. Not only have our athletes’ performances improved tremendously, but these clients have become even leaner—without trying. What could be better than that?
A quick biology lesson: Your muscles are composed of fast-twitch fibers and slow-twitch fibers. Heavy strength training targets the fast-twitch fibers and, of course, helps to build muscle. But it doesn’t do a lot for your slow-twitch fibers.
Endurance-based training, on the other hand, targets your slow-twitch fibers and ignites fat loss. But as just about any longtime runner can tell you, it doesn’t help you pack on muscle.
Which prompts a seemingly obvious solution: Why not combine training methods and achieve the best of the both modes?
Enter what I call The Russian Fat Loss Secret
: a strength-aerobic workout that targets both your fast-twitch and your slow-twitch muscle fibers. This is the same strategy used by Russian sports scientists decades ago. So you build muscle and strength, burn fat, and improve your total-body fitness fast.
The best part: It couldn’t be simpler. For example, each workout contains heavy-lifting and explosive exercises. These movements are designed to hit your fast-twitch muscles, which have the greatest potential for size and strength gains. They’ve also been shown to require more energy to contract than slow-twitch fibers, providing an additional benefit.
To train your slow-twitch fibers, I prescribe “tempo” exercises within each workout. The idea is to perform an exercise
at a slow but steady tempo from start to finish. I’ll use the “barbell tempo squat” as an example. This is simply a barbell squat in which you take two seconds to lower the weight, and 2 seconds to lift the weight—all without pausing at the top or the bottom of the exercise. One important point: You’ll have to lower the load—a lot—for these tempo moves. Too much weight and you’ll still be focused on your fast-twitch fibers, which won’t give you all the benefits of this combo approach.
But here’s why tempo exercises work. When doing the barbell tempo squat, for example, your legs are under constant, low-level tension. This reduces the blood flow to your working muscles, depriving them of oxygen for an extended period of time. With less oxygen, your muscles react by creating more mitochondria. Mitochondria are tiny powerhouses in your muscle cells that produce energy.
So the more mitochondria you have, the more energy you can produce. And the more energy you can produce, the harder and the longer you can exercise before you run out of gas.
Now, can you guess what mitochondria like to use to produce this energy? Body fat. That’s right: The more mitochondria you have; the more fat you can burn.
There’s one last key piece to this puzzle. To end each workout, I include an intense “metabolic accelerator,” such as the kettlebell jump or kettlebell swing. These are power exercises that you do quickly for about 10 seconds, interspersed with about 50 seconds of rest. So it’s sort of like doing eight to ten 100-yard sprint intervals, but without the need for a track. That means they’re great for burning calories and boosting your post-workout metabolism, which results in even greater fat loss.
The upshot: By following the strength-aerobic principles of The Russian Fat Loss Secret, you’ll get the muscle-sculpting benefits of heavy lifting and the fat-loss benefits of endurance-based training. What’s more, you can achieve fantastic results in just three workouts a week. Now doesn’t that sound a lot better than two-a-days?