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Do less more often! Three useful fitness hacks (that aren't hacks at all)

Personal trainer Dean Merton shares his thoughts in his latest column.

IF YOU’VE BEEN a follower of my articles on The42 at all over the past while, you’ll probably have already figured out that my ethos when it comes to training revolves around the idea that there are no real ‘hacks’ or shortcuts to health and fitness goals.

I am a firm believer that the results you achieve in training are earned and not given.

shutterstock_484783264 Source: Shutterstock/Denis Kornilov

However, human beings are weird creatures and no matter how many times you can tell someone that there is no substitute for hard work, or how many memes they see that agree with you, there will always be a part of the human psyche that wants to find that “one weird trick” that no one has tried which will give them all they’ve ever wanted from the gym and more.

With that being said, here’s three ways to hack your training and nutrition to help you lose fat (that aren’t really hacks at all).

Cardio Fillers

One of the easiest ways to get leaner is to do a little more cardio. We all know that, but do we know how this works? In the most simple terms; cardio (whether in steady state format or interval based) is a great way to burn off excess calories which we consume in our diet, if you can create a slight daily caloric deficit your body will be forced to use extra body fat as a means to sustain your energy demands.

The problem with this? Some people (myself included) find it difficult to do steady state cardio, either due to it being a boring affair or having a wandering mind that makes it laborious to keep effort levels at the point where they’re needed to stay in a fat burning heart rate zone. On the flip side, HIIT can be a much more focused and intense affair; however doing a HIIT session for more than 20 minutes can lead to a massive drop off in output levels.

None of these issues make cardio impossible; they simply make it a little more of a chore. To get around this, one ‘hack’ I employ is to use cardio as a ‘filler exercise’ in between bigger exercises. This accomplishes a few things — firstly, it keeps the intensity of cardio high which makes it a lot more focused and interesting, it also enables you to do more of it over the course of a week which will allow you to burn more calories. That’s like four wins in one.

As an example, I may structure a tri-set of exercises like this:

dean table

When programming a tri-set like this, I would generally try steer clear of exercises that will compete with one another for the same muscular demands, so typically avoid doing a lot of running cardio after squatting or rowing cardio after chin ups or barbell rows.

One could also typically use lighter multi-joint exercises that can be done over a period of high intensity lasting 30-45 seconds.

Examples here could be kettlebell swings, overhead thrusters, med ball slams, battle rope work, burpees or even sled push/pulls.

The options are endless so don’t be afraid to experiment, and I promise after a couple of weeks of ending every set with a bout of high intensity cardiovascular fitness, you will see the difference in your physique.

Swap Beige for Green

So let me preface this paragraph by saying the following: carbs don’t make people fat, calories do. Whether you eat a shedload of carbs or a shedload of fat or a shedload of protein over your daily requirements, you will gain weight. The common factor with all of those things is the shedload, not the macronutrient, and that point is lost on a lot of people who want to vilify one macronutrient or want to believe that there is just one simple rule they need to follow in order to have the body of their dreams.

Does this mean that cutting down on your carbohydrate intake doesn’t work as a means to losing weight? Of course it doesn’t, that line of thinking is an attempt to swing the pendulum far too far back in the other direction, and isn’t rooted in reality at all.

shutterstock_631739033 Source: Shutterstock/Foxys Forest Manufacture

The fact of the matter is that cutting carbohydrate intake is a great way to lose weight, NOT because carbohydrates are an inferior macronutrient, or because they are evil beings sent up from hell in the form of potatoes to stop the human race from getting too sexy. Cutting carbs works because carbs are absolutely delicious and it’s very easy to binge on them, and thus consume the aforementioned shedloads over your daily caloric needs. I mean when is the last time you heard of someone pigging out on grilled chicken fillets? Probably not at all, lean proteins are pretty hard to eat in extremely large amounts, but you could probably eat your way through over 1000 calories of carbs in one go (a tub of Ben & Jerrys anyone?).

Therefore my second hack — which is not a hack at all — is to swap beige things for green things. Meaning if you have a quarter of your plate to fill, you can consume less calories by filling that quarter of a plate with leafy greens or other vegetables (which are part fibre, part water) instead of filling that quarter of a plate with something more carb-y and beige in nature (potato, rice, pasta, etc).

Not only are you less likely to binge on crunchy green things, but a belly full of green things carries far less of a caloric punch than a belly full of beige things.

Now, am I saying that rice or potato is ‘bad for you’? No! What I am saying however is that for those who find counting calories to be difficult, this simple rule of thumb can help to keep you in a caloric deficit which can keep you on track to your fat loss goals.

(Hit me up in the comments section to tell me I’m a gobshite and brag about how you eat 77 bananas a day and protein is Satan’s weapon. I don’t read the internet purgatory that is comment sections.)

Do less of it more often.

We all know that person who loves, absolutely LOVES murdering themselves in the gym… for about three or four days, then lapses out of the habit for a couple of weeks (or months). Or conversely, I’ll bet you know a person who has one hefty gym session every seven to ten days.

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What these two people usually have in common is they’re still trying to ditch that pesky last few pounds of fat or are struggling to get past a plateau they’ve been stuck on for a while.

Why? It’s terribly difficult to create a training effect in one to three sessions that will sustain itself for multiples of that amount of time. Simply put — for every day you spend recovering you are losing a day of training, and while the body heals, repairs, and adapts during that recovery period it is also a missed chance to further create a training effect which will push you closer to your goals.

shutterstock_222191515 (1) Source: Shutterstock/lzf

The ‘hack’ here is to divorce yourself from the notion that every training session needs to be an epic event where you sweat, spit, bleed, and cry. Instead get comfortable with the notion that a much smaller workouts on a daily basis will enable you to inch your way closer to your goals on an ongoing basis… in fact, remove the word ‘workout’ from your mind here as even a bout of daily activity which you finish feeling refreshed will suffice. Examples could be a 10k walk, a cycle, a yoga class, anything. One workout at about 85% effort and two 10k walks over three days is much better for the body and the mind than one 101% effort workout and two days of cursing yourself while bed ridden with awful DOMS.

Employing this strategy also allows you to sample many different kinds of training philosophies, modalities, and practices instead of pigeon-holing yourself into just one, a greater level of movement variability all but guarantees that you cant possibly get bored on your way to your goals, the only limit is your imagination.

Wrapping Up

I’ll stand firm by my belief that most ‘fitness hacks’ are not hacks at all, there are no shortcuts and the human bodies physiology cannot be tricked by the six pack secrets video you just watched on Youtube, you however are easily tricked and that’s exactly what the three tips above intend to do. Trick you into doing more work, trick you into eating less calories, trick you into training more often. Ultimately however, there is just you and the efforts you put in, so don’t cheat yourself and make it the most honest efforts possible.

If you have any other fitness hacks (that aren’t hacks at all) please don’t hesitate to drop a comment below or fire me a mail over to info@livebetter.ie.

Dean Merton is a Dublin-based strength coach and personal trainer. For more information you can follow him on Facebook and Instagram, or you can send him a direct message here.

You can also see some of his previous articles here. 

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