One of my absolute favourite exercises is the kettlebell swing. It’s an easy movement to learn and can be used to burn fat, increase cardiovascular fitness and improve strength levels. You need minimal space and equipment to perform the swing and although it is unquestionably challenging, it is a fun exercise to incorporate into your training.
Th swing can be performed with a kettlebell or dumbbell, or if you want to get really creative a rucksack filled with books could do the trick.
A great way to start is to do 5 sets of 20-50 swings with a light kettlebell or dumbbell with 1 minute rest between sets. Try to progress this by using a heavier kettlebell or adding additional sets or reps.
Here is a guide on how to perform the swing.
It is no great secret that the majority of people that go to the gym do so because they want to lose weight. Obesity is becoming a significant health problem across the globe, and although not a major problem in Switzerland (11.2% of the population in 2010 compared to 27.7% in the USA according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) there are still plenty of people who feel like they have a couple of kilos to lose.
Losing fat is really a rather simple process. You do some exercise, eat well, consume less calories than you burn and it works. Every time. However, just because it is simple does not mean it is easy.
Here are a few of the classic mistakes people make that hinders fat loss and how to avoid them.
Too much focus on calories
While calories count when it comes to fat loss, they are not the only metric that will result in a successful plan. The quality of those calories is paramount.
If two people decided to go on a fat loss protocol consisting of 2,000 calories per day and one ate 2,000 calories of chocolate and the other 2,0000 calories of meat and vegetables, the results would clearly not be the same, despite the fact that they would eat the same number of calories.
This is why the quality of the calories you take in is important and those calories should consist of nothing but real food. If your food comes in a package with more than one ingredient, contains anything you either cannot pronounce or identify (think things like cyclamat, aspartame or anything begining with an E like E338), the chances are it is not real food. The food you eat should have at some point run free, swam in the sea or a river or been grown in the ground or on a tree – not hatched in a laboratory.
Focus on eating real foods like meat, fish, fruit and vegetables and the calories tend to take care of themselves.
Too little protein
Expanding on the above point, a big mistake people make is reducing calories too much, particularly protein. Protein is key for a couple of reasons, primarily because it is the most satiating of the macronutrients. There is no need to starve yourself if you want to lose fat and protein keeps you feeling fuller for longer than fat or carbohydrates.
Secondly, protein helps to preserve muscle mass whilst losing fat. This is absolutely vital in terms of body composition. As obvious as it may sound, fat loss is about losing fat, not total bodyweight. However, many people seem to lose sight of this point.
If we take our comparison again of 2 people on a diet and one loses 10kgs of weight (i.e. muscle, fat, bone) and the other 10kgs of fat, they will end up looking very different. The person that loses fat will look leaner and more “toned” (a word I hate, but that is a story for another time) than the person that lost weight, who will probably just look smaller but without any muscle definition.
A good guideline is to shoot for 2 grams of protein per kilo of bodyweight to ensure that you maintain your muscle mass while losing fat.
No resistance exercise
This is a classic mistake that people make when wanting to lose fat. Many people seem to think that cardio is the only way to get lean and end up doing hours and hours on the treadmill. As with the above point, body recomposition should be about retaining (or even gaining) muscle and losing fat. Cardio may be good for burning calories, but resistance exercise will build/preserve muscle and burn calories at the same time.
Resistance training can be bodyweight exercise (push ups, pull ups, squats, lunges etc) or using external loads like free weights or machines. Just make sure to include it in your training if you want to both retain muscle and lose fat.
Too many hidden or empty calories
If you are on a fat loss diet it is imperative to make sure that you are not taking in any extra calories that you might not be aware of. Drinks are a major culprit here. Obviously any soft drinks are out as they are packed with sugar. Fruit juices are also a bad idea as they usually have a high sugar content and are clearly not satiating in any way.
The other two killers I often see are nuts and dried fruit. Both are great in certain situations, but fat loss is not one of them. Nuts are packed with fat which make them calorifically very dense. It is easy to eat several handfuls of almonds or any type of nut and take in a large number of calories. The same goes for dried fruit, which due to the dehydrating process, ends up being far more calorific than fresh fruit. Again, eating handfuls of raisins is easy, but you wouldn’t eat 3 or 4 bunches of grapes.
That’s all for part one. Part two will look at too little calories, focusing on the wrong measurements and staying on the bandwagon.
I’m quite lucky in that there is nothing I love more than being in the gym and training. For many people, training is a chore. Something that has to be done out of a self-imposed obligation to try stay fit and healthy, but which brings plenty of pain and no pleasure. As we all know, trying to stick to something which is no fun, whether learning a new language or getting in shape is very difficult indeed, and more often than not doomed to failure.
I like to think that I can make training a bit more fun and interesting for the majority of people. It is undoubtedly easier to motivate yourself to do something if you have someone to push you or are in a group than alone. However, I appreciate the fact that exercise is just not everyone’s cup of tea.
One area I feel that a lot of people make things harder for themselves is by utilising exercise routines that are long and complicated. You don’t need to run for an hour, or get on an eliptical machine for 45 minutes to lose fat or improve fitness levels. In fact, you can get much better results in 10-15 minutes if you use movements that challenge not only the cardiovascular, but the muscular system. Not only is this more efficient, it is far less boring and dare I say it, fun.
Calisthenics (push-ups, pull-ups, squats, lunges etc) are perfect for this type of training. Simple to perform, no equipment necessary and you can be done in 10-15 minutes.
Here are a couple of videos I made a while back demonstrating some simple movements that can be used for this type of training.
Each video shows the basic exercise along with progressions to make them easier or harder.
If you want to lose fat and improve basic strength levels, there are a myriad of ways you can pair these movements together to get a great workout.
Some examples could be:
Perform 15 squats, 10 push-ups and 5 pull-ups. Repeat 3 times and see how long it takes.
Set a timer for 6 minutes. How many times can you complete a circuit of 10 lunges and 10 sit-ups in that time?
If you are feeling really ambitious, add in some sprints. A circuit of a 200-300 metre run plus 15 push-ups repeated 5 times will test your cardiovascular and muscular system to a level you might nit have thought possible. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
The point of these routines are that they are high in intensity. The higher the intensity, the shorter amount if time you can sustain that type of workload. That is why 5-15 minutes is more than enough. Once your body adapts to the stress of a workout, that stress needs to be increased in order to force the body to adapt. In order to keep challenging yourself, try to repeat workouts and finish them in less time, or add repetitions. That, in a nutshell is smart training – continued progress driven by increased stimulus.
This type of training really switches the focus and mindset of the session. Once again, be warned that high intensity sessions can be brutally hard, but in terms of bang for your buck, they are the only way to go.