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Programming for Optimal Results in the Gym


Learning and understanding how to program your own workouts to meet and exceed your own personal goals is arguably the most important aspect to determining the magnitude of your training effect in the gym. Whether you are going for an intense macrocycle or a short mesocycle, the same rules will still apply. It makes no difference if you are trying to be a world class athlete, bodybuilder, looking to increase your overall strength or just trying to look good naked. Learning how to design your own program is the key that will ultimately decide your results. This will not be a step by step write up on how to pick your exercise sequences or the proper ratio of volume to frequency, this is simply a way to give you the basic information needed to understand all the aspects and give you an idea on how to build your own template for your individual goals.

Let’s start at the top and go over the three major guidelines that you must adhere to and understand how all three work together sequentially when trying to set up a workout program. The general adaptation rules are easy to remember and the base for any successful program which consists of three major points that need to work hand in hand to reach maximal results.


  • Stress
  • Recovery
  • Adaptation

The ultimate goal for any program is to create maximal adaptation to the stress or stressors created in the gym. Creating an adaptation is a measurable way to determine results. Looking at the general adaptation syndrome steps above; the stress would represent your workout, the recovery would represent the time it takes your body to recover from the workout and the adaptation is your body’s response to building more strength or hypertrophy. We can all easily identify with how the sun works to give our bodies a tan, so let’s use this example to further explain this general adaptation.

Sun = Stressor

Burn = Stress

Skin Repair = Recovery

Tan = Adaptation

Sitting in direct sunlight will cause the body’s skin to burn. You’re body then has to begin its recovery and repair the damaged and burned layers of skin. The body’s response to the burn is to create an adaptation to the burn in the form of a tan which is the body’s way to help prevent the skin from burning in the future. This is the same response our bodies must go through while we workout. Create the damage to the muscles in the form of microscopic muscle fiber tears which in turn, through proper recovery, will cause our bodies to adapt by rebuilding stronger and denser muscle fibers.

Now that we’ve covered the basic template for creating a successful plan of attack, we need to cover the next major hurdle many forget about, which is specificity. Specificity is simply programming and designing your workouts for your own specific goals. If you are a marathon runner you need to run. If you are a power lifter you need to squat, bench and deadlift at a high level of intensity. If you are an elite level athlete you need to program exercises that mimic your specific sport movement patterns all while building maximal strength and explosiveness. I see it far too often, guys who plan to compete at their first local powerlifting meet and fail to train at an intensity level high enough to their near maximal weights, which fails to elicit enough of an adaptation to be able to lift heavy weights come the time of the meet. This is where our next step comes into play, which is creating an overload to optimize the stress needed on the body to create a change.

Overload is simply defined as providing the body with a high enough external stress to elicit an adaptation response. The entire point of the general adaptation syndrome is to make and teach your body to adapt to an outside stressor so that the same or similar stressor will not have the same impact on the body in the future.

Going to the gym and doing the same weights, sets and reps for a given exercise over and over will not produce a high enough stress on the muscles after the first recovery and adaptation cycle to elicit any muscular or strength gains. The more advanced you become as a lifter, the greater the stress or overload needs to be to continue making progress. You need to continually be pushing the body to higher extremes in order to continue progress. Far too many end up in what they like to call a “plateau.” To me this is just a word that means that you didn’t properly program your workouts. One or more of the three major rules of the general adaptation syndrome is not being met. Either the overload of stress was not sufficient to force an adaptation response, the stress has already been adapted to and is no longer enough of an overload to create that adaptation response or your recovery time is not adequate.

Recovery Management is the most understated step in making an effective workout program. The larger the overload of stress relative to an athlete’s recovery capacity, the longer it will take that athlete to recover. Learning how to time your next dose of stress relative to your recovery periods and at the peak of your adaptation response is the key to making consistent progress. Timing your volume and intensity of stress to work synergistically with your recovery is how you will produce maximal results. If the frequency of your workout is introduced too soon after your last overload workout, the body will not have had sufficient time to reach its full recovery which in turn will not allow the body to adapt to the stressor properly. Recovery is an important part of the chain that allows an adaptation. If that chain is broken, then the body has no way to reach its maximal potential. Many forget that real progress is made out of the gym during the recovery, not actually IN the gym.

Now that we’ve covered the major points, let’s dig a little deeper and find out the keys to making each step of the adaptation process possible. The Intensity of one’s workout is defined as the amount of energy that must be expended to complete a specific exercise workload. You need to look at intensity as a relative percentage of maximal effort for a given individual. Don’t be confused between someone whose training style is high intensity for someone who is describing their workouts as “intense.” You know, that guy who screams at the top of every rep…he just had too much caffeine and sugar before his workout, that’s not the intensity we are referring to.

Rep ranges are an easy guideline to follow in terms of how high the relative intensity of the workout is. Lower reps, as long as they are maximal effort, will be defined as higher intensity, while higher reps will generally be done with less weight and thus be considered lower intensity.

1-3 Rep Range (100-88% of 1RM) – Strength

4-12 Rep Range (85-60% of 1RM) – Hypertrophy

15+ Rep Range – Muscular Endurance

One can easily dictate and determine workload and reps based off ones intensity level. Each percentage is represented as a lifters percent of maximal weight, or in other words, the highest possible weight at which the lifter could complete one single rep.

100% – 1 rep

95% – 1-2 reps

90% – 2 reps

85% – 3-5 reps

80% – 5-6 reps

75% – 6-8 reps

70% – 8-10 reps

65% – 10-12 reps

60% – 12-15 reps

These rep ranges and intensity levels are not set in stone. Each lifter will vary slightly in terms of the amount of reps they can hit for a specific percent of their own one rep max, but this is a good starting point to help determine the correct weights and reps to use.

Training in the different rep ranges produces different results. For example lifting in the 1-3 rep range has you training at a high intensity level of 95-88% of your one rep max; this will make the workout mainly neuromuscular and strength based by nature. It requires your body to recruit maximal muscle fibers to complete the given complex movement pattern. While you may still experience some level of hypertrophy in the lower rep ranges, this is not the primary goal or outcome. Limiting factors in the higher intensity levels will be neuromuscular force production, while limiting factors in the higher rep ranges tend to be muscular fatigue. If your main goal is muscular hypertrophy, you will want to focus mainly on the “mid-range intensity” between the 65-80% (5-12 rep range). If your main goal is explosive power and strength you will want to train mainly in the “higher range intensity levels (85-95%). Again, these are not set in stone, but they will help you to determine the rep ranges you want to build your program around depending on your personal goals. This is where training for specificity is important for learning how to design your own programming.

The next major point of emphasis would be volume. Volume is the main focus of determining your sets and reps to use for a given intensity level. The volume of your workout is simply the amount of exposure to stress you place on your muscles during a given workout. Volume is determined by the relative intensity and number of sets/reps for each workout.

Reps x sets x weight = volume

So for an example, if we were using the deadlift as a way to determine volume and our lifter did 5 sets of 5 reps at 500 pounds, his tonnage for that exercise was 12,500 pounds. While this overall tonnage number doesn’t play a huge role in determining your programming, it does help you to identify what volume consists of.

Let’s go back quickly to the example we used earlier with the sun as the stressor and a burn caused from the sun as the stress. Volume would be represented by the amount of time you sat out in the direct sunlight. To optimize the perfect tan (adaptation) you would need the correct amount of time exposed to direct sunlight (volume). Too little time spent in the sun and your body would not have enough exposure to create any change. Too much time spent in direct sunlight and your body would simply burn badly, which wouldn’t allow you to return to the sunlight for a few days while you recovered. Spend the optimal amount of time in direct sunlight and your body would have been exposed to enough sunlight to create a slight burn (stress) and still allow your body to recover fast enough to adapt (tan) and allow you to return out into the sunlight the next day.

The higher the volume is, ultimately will dictate the magnitude of the training effect. While this may sound like a win/win for the highest volume possible for the greatest training effect, you must go back and remember the most important factor to creating an adaptation is recovery. While training magnitude is a direct correlation of the amount of volume used, the higher the volume of stress on the body, the longer the recovery time will be needed to create an adaptation to the stressor. Exposing a novice lifter to huge amounts of high volume will only create a much harder to progress intermediate/advanced lifter. If a novice lifter will make steady progress at a baseline volume, overdoing that volume to try and create faster progress will only make it harder down the road to keep the overload high enough to elicit a change. Along with that, if insufficient recovery time is given and the lifter returns to the gym too soon, he will be creating a snowball effect of insufficient recovery time which ultimately can lead to a loss of strength and that dreaded “plateau.”

This is where the last part to the puzzle comes into play, and that is frequency. Frequency is simply the number of days a week a certain exercise is programmed. Frequency will rely heavily on volume and volume will in turn, rely on frequency. Generally speaking, the higher the volume, the lower the frequency and vice versa. The relationship between the two will ultimately decide your recovery time needed and your results. Wait too long between training sessions and you risk under training. Program in the same lift too soon and you interrupt your recovery. Remember, for optimal frequency you want to time your next dose of stress at the peak of the adaptation to your last training session. Once you have determined the correct amount of volume for yourself, then you can decide the proper amount of frequency.

Once you understand each part of the equation, you then have to throw it all together. You should never use the same overload you’ve used in a previous workout. In other words, don’t program the same exercise with the same reps, sets or resistance that you have already used before without changing at least one aspect. It might be something as simple as creating more speed through the concentric portion of the lift, shorter rest periods, increasing the resistance for the same amount of reps, or using the same resistance for higher volume by adding in more sets. Something needs to change and or increase in order to keep the body under enough of an overload to continue making progress.

I don’t want to dive into the pros and cons of all the different forms of programming in this article. Trying to distinguish between the benefits of Block Periodization vs Complex Parallel Periodization vs simple Linear Progression Periodization would take this article way over the simplistic views and ideas that I wanted to focus on and will be saved for the next article. The most important aspect to take away from this article is understanding how the body responds to stress and how to optimally program each part of the puzzle to work synergistically together to create an effective program.

Good Luck!

Aaron Fondry, B.S. Exercise Science, CPT, CSCS
Atlas Training Systems
Strength and Conditioning Specialist

HOW TO: Creating a Meal Plan


I could go on for hours about building a nutrition outline. Each person’s goals are slightly different from the next person I talk with or create a meal plan for. This is not an article to help you figure out exact foods to eat or what macronutrient percentages work for you and your specific goals, but rather to help you understand how to outline your own nutritional plan. With that said, let’s get this started.

First and foremost the most important part of creating any nutritional plan is figuring out overall daily caloric intake. In order to properly plan a nutrition outline you need to first know your own Basil Metabolic Rate (BMR), which is not to be confused with the idiot scale called a BMI that is used by your doctor. Your BMR is the minimum caloric requirement needed to sustain life in a resting body. In other words, this is the amount of calories your body would burn if you were motionless in a coma all day through breathing, regulation of systematic bodily functions, temperature control and other homeostasis bodily controls. This is an important number to know and will vary between gender, age, body fat percentage etc. This number can be found through various formulas, some require you to know your body fat, others base it off a simple formula using measurable requirements.

The Harris-Benidict formula is used worldwide and has been around a long time. While it does have its draw backs, I prefer this one over most:

Men: BMR = 66 + (6.23 x weight in pounds) + (12.7 x height in Inches) – (6.76 x age)

Women: BMR = 655 + (4.35 x weight[lbs]) + (4.7 x height [in]) – (4.7 x age)

Once you have calculated your BMR you will then need to figure out your daily maintenance caloric intake. This is determined and varies by the amount of physical activity you do. Your maintenance level is the amount of calories you would need to eat everyday to maintain the exact weight, shape, and composition of your body without any change in diet or exercise.

Take your BMR and multiply it by one of the following numbers that most correlates to you. I tend to err on the lower side of the numbers, so if you question whether you are between 2 sets of numbers, I suggest you pick the lower one.

1.2 – Little to no exercise, desk job all day long

1.35 –Light exercise/sports 1-3 days a week

1.5 – Moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days a week

1.7 – Hard Exercise 6-7 days a week

1.87 – Intense exercise everyday or 2x a day with intense exercise

For an example, Jane Smith has a BMR of 1500 calories found through using the Harris Benedict formula above and she works out at ATS 5 days a week.  She would take her BMR and multiply it by 1.5 (Moderate exercise 3-5 days/week) to discover her daily maintenance calories.

1500 x 1.5 = 2250 (maintenance)

We now know from our calculations that if Jane does not increase her exercise from her normal routine and eats 2250 calories a day she (in theory) should maintain her weight exactly as it is. Everything now is based off this new maintenance number. If Jane wants to gain lean mass she needs to eat an excess amount of calories over 2250. If Jane wants to lose fat she needs to eat at a caloric deficit under 2250 calories.

Now choosing the deficit/surplus of calories is something I’m not going to cover in detail in this article.  Just know that if you cut too many calories it will slow down your metabolism and will have the opposite effect. If you add too many calories while trying to build muscle you will gain fat. It takes 3500 calories to make up 1 pound of fat, so in a perfect world, if you cut 500 calories a day off your maintenance calories you would lose exactly one pound of fat every week (500 calories x 7 days = 3500). This doesn’t always work perfectly, everyone is built differently, some will need a larger deficit while others will need less of a deficit but it is a good place to start. You can, and more than likely will, adjust your levels later on to find the perfect balance.

Now let’s move on to designing this nutrition outline. We know Jane has a maintenance level of 2250 calories a day. Jane is slightly overweight and her goal is to lose body fat while still maintaining as much lean mass as possible. So for our example we will cut exactly 500 calories off her daily caloric intake. Jane’s new daily intake will be set at 1750 calories (2250 – 500 = 1750). There are many styles of nutrition plans and many styles of attacking ones goals, I will cover only a couple very basic ones just so you have an understanding of how to break down macronutrients from your daily calorie intake. When I say macronutrients I’m simply talking about Protein, Carbs, and Fats. Macronutrients make up everything you eat.

Let’s start with protein first. I tend to stick to higher protein levels than some, that is what I have found works for my clients and myself. I’ve created a lot of plans over the years with various styles and designs. This is not an article to debate what the correct percentages of macronutrients are or are not. This, again is to teach you and give a better understanding of how this all works. For this example we are going to stick to a very basic 40/40/20 percentage style. You can also figure out macronutrient needs by basing the numbers off of your lean or overall body weight instead of percentages. The example I’m giving you is a much simpler solution for getting started designing your own plan.

So we know our overall daily caloric intake that Jane wants to fulfill for her goal of losing body fat is 1750 calories. If we stick to our 40/40/20 percentages we know that 40% of those calories will be from Protein, 40% from carbohydrates, and 20% from fats. We also know that each macronutrient carries different calories per gram.

Protein = 4 calories per gram

Carbs = 4 calories per gram

Fats = 9 calories per gram

We will start with Protein first. 40% of 1750 is 700. We then take that number and divide it by 4 (the number of calories per gram in protein) and come up with 175g of protein a day. We then move on to Carbohydrate requirements, which are again at 40% of 1750. Since carbohydrates are the same calories per gram as protein, we know that they too are 175g a day. All we have left is fat, which at 20% of 1750 we come up with 350 calories a day from fat, we divide that by 9 (calories per gram for fat) and come up with 39g of fat per day.

Protein = 175g (40%)

Carbs = 175g (40%)

Fats = 39g (20%)

Now if I personally were designing her plan, I would not have her carbohydrates set as high as 175g a day for the goals I have outlined. If someone is trying to lose weight with a moderate plan I tend to stick below 100g of carbohydrates a day, but I will go as low as 25g a day of carbohydrates for more extreme nutrition plans. You would follow the same format as above just in a slightly different order.

Since I know that 100g of carbs is only 400 calories, I know I now need to add more fats and/or protein to her daily plan to meet our caloric requirements of 1750. I need to make up an extra 300 calories that I lost from lowering her carbs to 100g/day. So her plan might look like this:

Protein = 200g (800 kcals) (46%)

Carbs = 100g (400 kcals) (23%)

Fats =61g (550 kcals) (31%)

800 + 400 + 550 = 1750 calories/day.

The daily intake goal of 1750 calories a day does not change due to different macronutrient  percentages. Instead you make the macronutrients meet that calorie requirement while falling into the percentages you choose for yourself. Choosing which percentages will get you to your specific goals is saved for a whole other, more in depth article. The percentages vary drastically dependent on different goals.

You now have a basic understanding of how to design your own meal plan. Keep in mind that your daily caloric intake is the MOST important number. If your daily routine is thrown off by sick kids, too many meetings at work or just unusual stress and your macronutrients are thrown off from your designed plan, just make sure you still meet your overall daily calorie requirement.

Now you may be asking yourself what foods you need to eat to reach these percentages. Again, this is a basic outline so you will need to play around with your food amounts and what food choices you decide upon. Here is a simple list to build your design around. Adjust the serving sizes or amounts for each to fall into your caloric requirements.


Now you need to pick a reliable calorie tracking website or phone app. I prefer because I have used it for years to track calories, macronutrients, and it is easy to use. Other popular ones are myfitnesspal, myplate, etc. I’m sure you can find many more through a simple google search. The program you use makes no difference, just find one that works for you. Don’t bother trying to follow their predetermined calorie needs, you already have your own figured out from the above formulas. Use them as a calorie tracker only.

Now start tracking your foods. I don’t care if you think you already know how many calories you eat, if you refuse to track your foods, I will refuse to help you with your nutrition. You NEED to track your calories in order to know what your exact daily caloric intake is. By tracking your calorie intake you are much more aware of what you are eating and therefore able to adjust your calories as needed. Not tracking your caloric intake is the most common reason for failing to reach goals and the most common reason for giving up on a nutrition plan. I also suggest not trying to build your nutrition plan throughout the day, plan it and write it all down ahead of time. It is called a nutrition PLAN for a reason.

Now start throwing these basic foods into your calorie tracker and build your very own personalized daily meal plan. Shoot for 4-6 meals a day and adjust the serving sizes to meet your calorie and macronutrient needs to help you reach your goals.

Good Luck!!

Aaron Fondry, B.S. Exercise Science, CPT, CSCS
Atlas Training Systems
Strength and Conditioning Specialist

HCG Diets….Effective or Dangerous?


As of recent I’ve been overwhelmed with questions about how effective the HCG diets actually are. I try to convince my clients to steer clear of these diets at all costs for their extreme measures and potentially life threatening consequences.  I’m going to try my best to explain my reasoning as to why they should be avoided without too much technical jargon.

The HCG diet, also known as the OMNI diet, is nothing more than a chronic starvation diet. It requires you to restrict your daily caloric intake to the point in which your body sinks into a starvation mode, you then inject yourself with HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin – a hormone found in the urine of a pregnant female) or supplement yourself with HCG drops and you lose weight. Simple right? Well I didn’t specify what type of weight you are losing. Just because the numbers on the scale are going down and you are losing inches doesn’t mean you are getting where you want to be. Does this sound crazy? Well take a second to think outside the box.

 The healthy way to lose weight is simply to expend more energy than you are consuming while still meeting daily caloric intake values to maintain your lean mass. You want to do all that while dropping as much weight in the form of body fat as possible. Think of your lean muscle mass as your body’s form of a definable metabolism. The higher your lean mass ratio is in comparison to your body fat percentage, the more calories you will burn throughout the day. Your metabolism can be thought of as your body’s own personal furnace. The bigger your furnace is the more able you are to burn calories throughout the day, thus allowing you to keep off unwanted body fat.

Let’s take a quick second to define a ‘calorie.’ A calorie is defined as the energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius. A calorie is nothing more than a unit of measurement, the same way an inch is an inch and a pound is a pound. No matter how you look at it, it’s simply a unit of measurement. It takes 3500 calories to make up 1 pound of body fat. It takes 600 calories to make up one pound of muscle. Technically speaking, it takes 2000 to 2500 calories to GAIN a pound of muscle, but after the body catabolizes some of the muscle for synthesis, partitioning, micro-trauma, etc, you are left with roughly 600 calories. There are many other factors that will decide this but for now, let’s just focus on the 600 calories that are left over which made up that 1 pound of lean muscle.  

Let’s use a quick example. Jane’s basil metabolic rate (energy burned at REST throughout the day through various functions such as homeostasis, breathing, temperature control, etc) was calculated at 1300 calories a day and her total daily energy expenditure came out to a maintenance level of 2000 calories a day. Basically this means if Jane exercises the way she does normally and eats 2000 calories, she will neither lose weight nor gain weight.  A healthy suggestion for her to lose weight in the form of fat and retain as much lean mass as possible, one might suggest she cuts her calories down by 500 a day and consume a diet consisting of high protein to help preserve lean mass. 500 calories multiplied by 7 days a week equals a 3500 calorie deficit or enough to theoretically lose 1 pound of fat a week. This is ideal for preserving as much lean mass as possible while burning unwanted body fat. While you cannot choose what your body loses in terms of lean mass or fat, you can help to create a favorable environment to preserve muscle mass and burn unwanted fat at the same time.

Now let’s take Jane and throw her into the HCG diet. She would be limited to a diet of 500 calories a day. That’s right, she would only be able to eat 500 calories throughout the entire day. We already established above that her BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) is 1300 calories a day. Don’t forget this is what her body would burn in a day if she was in a coma and couldn’t move.  This extremely low caloric intake puts her body into ‘starvation mode’ which causes the body to panic.  Of course, being 1500 calories under her maintenance level of 2000 calories will cause her to lose weight but she will be losing more LEAN mass than FAT. We already established above that her lean mass is in fact her metabolism, so she is essentially shutting down her own metabolism.

Let’s say for example she loses 10 pounds in a week. If we add up her maintenance calories for the week we get 14,000 calories a week (2000 calories multiplied by 7 days). If we add up her HCG diet calories for the week we get 3,500 calories a week (500 calories multiplied by 7 days). That’s a 10,500 calorie a week deficit in comparison to her maintenance level. If we divide that by what we know a pound of fat consists of (3500 calories) we get 3. That’s a maximum of 3 pounds she could lose in the form of fat but we already established she lost 10 pounds in that first week. So where did the rest of the ‘weight loss’ come from? The answer is unfortunately lean muscle. This is not good nor is it healthy. Keep in mind this is a very over simplified version of this. There are a ton of other factors that will determine how people lose weight but this is just a minor illustration to show how your body works.

Now this is where the HCG drops come in. The HCG diet requires intramuscular injections of HCG or serum drops placed under the tongue. These are supposed to help you preserve your lean muscle mass while dropping unwanted body fat on such an extreme low calorie diet. Search any major clinical research site, you will find that no proof of this has ever been shown in clinical studies. In fact it is quite the opposite.  In 1995, the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology published an analysis of research showing no benefit of HCG in promoting weight loss. Another study done in a December 2009 position paper of the American Society of Bariatric Physicians concluded they did not recommend HCG as a weight loss aid because it was not shown to promote any form of fat loss.  The FDA has now gotten involved and has started cracking down on companies that sell, produce and distribute HCG supplements as they are not regulated or controlled by any governing body. HCG in liquid form can last up to 60 days in sodium chloride, but only when refrigerated. If reconstituted in bacteriostatic water it can hold longer but all of this is irrelevant because the molecules will destabilize over a short duration (less than 60 days). So by the time your drops have reached your doorstep, they are more than likely dead or destabilized and you are drinking or injecting nothing more than a solvent.

So let’s say Jane decided to go against my warning and completed the HCG diet. Often times it promises 30 pounds in 30 days. So our example, Jane, has now lost 30 pounds in which most was in the form of lean muscle mass. Her body now has a much higher ratio of fat to lean mass, which will cause her metabolism to be much slower than it was before she started the HCG diet. Now when Jane decides to return to normal caloric intake levels, her body, now fresh out of starvation mode, will start to accumulate fat in a much higher rate than it did before. I haven’t even touched on the fact that it is virtually impossible to meet your nutritional needs for carbohydrates, protein, fats, and fiber with less than 500 calories per day and will most likely result in vitamin and mineral deficiencies as well. Putting your body into a starvation mode will almost always cause extreme fatigue. This by itself is not a big deal; often times we all deal with fatigue. Another concern is gallstones, which often are easily cured but in severe cases can require surgery where the gall bladder must be removed. When starvation mode occurs, cholesterol raises in the gallbladder and your body loses the ability to excrete bile properly which can cause the gallbladder to create gallstones. The biggest concern with starvation diets however is the risk of cardiovascular conditions. According to the U.S. National Mental Health Information Center, “Starvation can and will damage the heart as well as the brain, resulting in heart attack, heart failure or stroke.” These are all very serious life threatening conditions that can cause death or permanent heart issues. Starvation diets can also lead to an irregular heartbeat known as sinus bradycardia (a low heart rate defined as a resting heart rate of less than 50 beats per minute) where exercising should be avoided at all costs to prevent permanent muscle tissue damage of the heart.

My only hope in writing this blog post is to educate and open the eyes of everyone who doesn’t fully understand how this diet works. Preserving lean mass while losing weight is the key to successful and permanent weight loss and cannot be met while on an extreme low calorie starvation diet. I tried not to jumble too much information into this blog post but felt the need for some explanation on certain areas to help the readers understand terminology and how our body’s work.


Aaron Fondry cPT, CSCS


Proportion vs Volume of Fat Burned

There are a lot of misconceptions in the world of exercising for fat loss. There are thousands of studies that will all prove the next one in line wrong with facts and hypotheses based on solid case studies. This week alone I’ve been approached with the same topic on a couple different occasions, so I figured I’d shed some light on one of these misconceptions.

“Ive heard that low intensity training is the most efficient means for fat loss, so why are we constantly training at a high intensity to burn unwanted fat at ATS?”

In order to answer this question fully, we first need to delve into where this theory came from, and why it doesn’t work like it claims to.

There are many fat loss programs out there that were designed by trainers and fitness professionals around the world that base their fat loss programs around the theory that a greater amount of fat is most efficiently burned through low intensity aerobic exercise. However there is one glaring problem with this theory; PROPORTION of fat burned is much different then VOLUME of fat burned.

First, one must understand that carbohydrates are the leading resource burned for useable energy in our bodies. Glucose (the most simple form of a carbohydrate) is the main energy source for the creation of ATP which, in short is the fuel that runs our muscles during exercise. Fat falls in second place as the body’s next resource for useable energy. Keeping this article on topic; when you are sitting down relaxing, your body is deriving the majority of its energy requirements from fat in your body. Unfortunately, we all know that sitting and relaxing doesn’t do much in the way of eliminating unwanted body fat. Why? While sitting there, the proportion of fat being burned is very high in terms of where your body is deriving its energy sources from(fats vs carbs vs protein), but the total volume of fat being burned in terms of calories expended is very low.

When exercise intensity increases, the proportion of energy burned from fat is decreased and the proportion of energy burned from carbohydrates is increased. The higher the intensity, the higher the proportion of carbohydrates will be burned. What I just said, seems to support the theory of low intensity training being the more effective form of fat loss, right? Wrong. This is where we look at the difference between proportion and volume.

The greater the energy expenditure, the greater amount of total calories burned. In other words, during high intensity training the total number of calories burned per unit of time will be much higher than that of the total number of calories burned during low intensity training. This means that the volume, or the total number of calories burned from fat, will be much higher during high intensity training, despite the lower proportion of fat being burned during the high intensity training.

This is all rather confusing, so lets try to put this into a simple scenario:

You run on the treadmill at a low intensity pace (<70% of VO2 max) for 30 min and burn 200 calories. 75% (170 calories) of which were burned from fat.

You complete a much higher intensity workout (FITCAMP class) for the same 30 minutes and burn 400 calories. 60% (240 calories) of which was burned from fat.

Now you can see during the low intensity workout the proportion of fat burned (75%) is greater then the proportion of fat burned during the high intensity workout (60%). That doesn’t mean much because the total calories burned were greater during the high intensity workout (170 vs 240) so the volume (or total calories burned) of fat burned is much greater during the high intensity workout. You would have burned 200 more total calories during the high intensity workout than you would have during the low intensity workout in the same time frame and you would have also burned 70 more calories from fat during the high intensity workout, versus the low intensity workout during the same time frame.

I hope this helped shed some light and show you why we, at ATS are constantly harping on you about high intensity training.