I had a consultation with a 40 something lady yesterday. She was interested in personal training because she has found that her weight loss is very slow since she joined the gym about three months ago in spite of her coming in and working out 4-5 times per week.
I took my normal approach with her – which is to assume she is missing one or two critical pieces of information that are preventing her from being successful – and didn’t try to sell her. This approach is effective for me because a lot of people don’t need or want training, they just need a little wisdom or a slight change in behaviour. This lady was no exception.
The first 45 minutes focused on nutrition. Hers is fairly good. The only real issue is that she is eating a considerable amount of carbs with the mistaken belief that just because they were organic they would help her improve her body composition. I let her know that the body doesn’t know or care where the food comes from – it’s going to treat organic carbs in basically the same way it will treat conventional carbs – as one or two steps away from being sugar.
The final 15 minutes focused on her exercise routine. She is making a number of mistakes here but two that are dramatically impacting her performance. The first is that she doesn’t record the weights she is using and as a consequence has only added about 10 lbs to any of the lifts she is performing. 10 lbs in 3 months is fine if you are dead lifting or squatting 400 lbs but when your numbers are 80 lbs on leg press and you have no injuries, 10 lbs in 3 months doesn’t cut it – particularly for a beginner. So I told her to keep a record of the weights she is using to make sure they are progressing upwards.
The other mistake she is making is a lack of intensity on the cardio movements. When she started, she would work until she was out of breath, sweating and tired. But early on, someone showed her how to use the machines “correctly” for weight loss and she started working in the fat burning zone (I’ve written about this bs before). This basically means you try to keep your heart rate around 60-65% of its max. So, for the last 2 months she has been avoiding working hard because of the mistaken notion that the fat burning zone is the way to go for fat loss. I corrected her on this notion and encouraged her to work as hard as she can or as hard as she did initially and to consider some high intensity intervals. She was pissed off that she had wasted the last few months just coasting along doing effectively nothing because she was more than willing to work hard – in fact, she was working hard until someone showed her the “right” way to do it.
Why this “fat burning zone” stuff continues in the fitness industry doesn’t make any sense. Anyone who spends a few minutes doing some research will quickly learn that what matters is the amount of energy you burn and not where that energy comes from. All things being equal, working harder is better for the fat loss and conditioning than working with a lower intensity. If you can work at 80% you should work at 80%. The fact that fewer of the calories will be coming from fat isn’t all that important as the body will use stored fat to help replace any deficit in energy that results from the high intensity movement.