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The Hierarchy of Fat Loss

The Hierarchy of Fat Loss

Matt Mann via Alwyn Cosgrove

The Hierarchy of Fat Loss

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1. Correct Nutrition

There’s pretty much nothing that can be done to out-train a crappy diet. You quite simply have to create a caloric deficit while eating enough protein and essential fats. There’s no way around this.

2. See #1

Yep. It really is that important. Several trainers have espoused that the only difference between training for muscle gain and training for fat loss is your diet. I think that’s a massive oversimplification, but it does reinforce how important and effective correct nutrition is toward your ultimate goal.

3. Activities that burn calories, maintain/promote muscle mass, and elevate metabolism

I think it’s fairly obvious that the bulk of calories burned are determined by our resting metabolic rate or RMR. The amount of calories burned outside of our resting metabolism (through exercise, thermic effect of feeding, etc.) is a smaller contributor to overall calories burned per day.

We can also accept that RMR is largely a function of how much muscle you have on your body — and how hard it works. Therefore, adding activities that promote or maintain muscle mass will make that muscle mass work harder and elevate the metabolic rate. This will become our number one training priority when developing fat loss programs.

4. Activities that burn calories and elevate metabolism

The next level of fat loss programming would be a similar activity. We’re still looking at activities that eat up calories and increase EPOC.

EPOC (Exercise Post Oxygen Consumption) is defined scientifically as the "recovery of metabolic rate back to pre-exercise levels" and "can require several minutes for light exercise and several hours for hard intervals."

Essentially, we’re looking for activities that keep us burning more calories after the exercise session.

5. Activities that burn calories but don’t necessarily maintain muscle or elevate metabolism

This is the "icing on the cake" — adding in activities that’ll burn up additional calories but don’t necessarily contribute to increasing metabolism. This is the least effective tool in your arsenal, as it doesn’t burn much outside of the primary exercise session.

Let’s put this fat loss continuum together in terms of our progressive training hierarchy.

Five Factors for Fat Loss Training

1. Metabolic Resistance Training

Basically we’re using resistance training as the cornerstone of our fat loss programming. Our goal is to work every muscle group hard, frequently, and with an intensity that creates a massive "metabolic disturbance" or "afterburn" that leaves the metabolism elevated for several hours post-workout.

2. High Intensity Anaerobic Interval Training

The second key "ingredient" in fat loss programming is high intensity interval training (HIIT). I think readers of T-Nation will be well aware of the benefits of interval work. It burns more calories than steady state and elevates metabolism significantly more than other forms of cardio. The downside is that it flat-out sucks to do it!

3. High Intensity Aerobic Interval Training

The next tool we’ll pull out is essentially a lower intensity interval method where we use aerobic intervals.

Talanian, Galloway et al

Two weeks of High-Intensity Aerobic Interval Training increases the capacity for fat oxidation during exercise in women. J Appl Physiol (December 14, 2006). doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.01098.2006 This study looked at high-intensity aerobic interval training and its influence on fat oxidation. In summary, seven sessions of HIIT over two weeks induced marked increases in whole body and skeletal muscle capacity for fatty acid oxidation during exercise in moderately active women. In layman’s terms, the interval work appeared to "upregulate" fat burning enzymes.

Basically this means we can burn more fat in other activities as a result of this inclusion. In other words, we get some more bang for our buck.

A quick disclaimer though: my colleague Alan Aragon once said, "Caring about how much fat is burned during exercise is equivalent to worrying about how much muscle is built during exercise." In other words, substrate utilization during exercise isn’t really an important variable in the big picture of fat loss — total calories burned overall is.

4. Steady State High Intensity Aerobic Training

Tool number four is just hard cardio work. This time we’re burning calories — we aren’t working hard enough to increase EPOC significantly or to do anything beyond the session itself. But calories do count. Burning another 300 or so calories per day will add up.

5. Steady State Low Intensity Aerobic Training

This is just activity, going for a walk in the park, etc. It won’t burn a lot of calories; it won’t increase muscle or EPOC. There isn’t very much research showing that low intensity aerobic training actually results in very much additional fat loss, but you’re going to have to really work to convince me that moving more is going to hurt you when you’re in fat attack mode.

Putting It All Together: Time Management

You’ll notice that this is perhaps the opposite recommendation from what you typically read in the mainstream media. Usually fat loss recommendation start with low intensity aerobics, progress to high intensity aerobics, then intervals. Finally, when you’re "in shape" they recommend resistance training.


Keep in mind that all I’ve said here is that harder training works better than easier training. It really is that simple.

To conclude, I agree with coach Dan John. Attack body fat with a passion and a single-minded goal. The best way to do this is with an all-out assault implementing the hierarchy I described above.

Summer is almost here. Shirts are coming off whether you’re ready or not. Attack your body fat with a massive action plan for the next eight weeks!

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