The Skinny on Getting Lean – Exercise


In my last installment, I stressed the importance of diet to losing body fat.  Just to reiterate, it’s nearly impossible to out-work a bad diet.  So, if you’re really eager to trim down for the summer, make sure you have your diet under control.

Okay, exercise is less important than diet, but don’t interpret that to mean it’s not important!  The real trick is knowing which type is best for maximum fat loss and metabolic stimulation.

The two most effective methods are…

Full Body Circuited Weight Training – performing large strength training exercises in series to increase calorie burn.  Large strength training exercises = Squats, Rows, Pushups, Deadlifts, etc.  Work with moderately heavy weight that allows between 8-12 repetitions in good form and do 2-3 sets per circuit.  For example:

Squats – 1 set of 8 repetitions = 1 x 8

Two Arm Pulley Row  – 1 x 8

Stability Ball Bridge – 1 x 10-15

Pushups – 1 x 8

Rest for 60-90 seconds and repeat – you will very likely need a towel and a drink of water 🙂

Training like this has all kinds of advantages.  First, it’s really efficient.  You’ll get a lot more work done in the same amount of time compared to traditional single exercise training.  The method lends itself to incorporating large, calorie burning exercises like squats rows and pushups with core exercises, which is much more metabolically challenging (translation = more calories burned).  And…resistance exercise preserves muscle while body fat melts away.

High Intensity Interval (or Intermittent) Training – short bursts of intense exercise (work intervals) with longer periods of recover (rest intervals).  Work intervals can be as short as 10 seconds or as long as 1-2 minutes.  Shorter work intervals should be more intense (5-9 on the Rate of Perceived Exertion scale below), while longer work intervals allow less intensity, around 5 RPE.  In general, short, high intensity work intervals require longer recovery whereas longer ones require less recovery.  For example:

3 minutes warm-up at 3 RPE

1 minute work interval at 6 RPE

2 minutes recovery at 2 RPE

Repeat 3-4 more times

3-5 minutes cool down at 2 RPE

Interval training can be done on just about any type of cardiovascular training equipment (bike, stair climber, rowing machine, etc.) or outside on a grass field or running track.  It’s best to incorporate it gradually into your exercise program, starting with once per week and adding one or two other sessions as you become more fit.  Always do 3-5 minutes or warm-up and cool down, both at about 2-3 RPE, and shoot for a total duration of 20-30 minutes.  If you work hard, you won’t want to do more!  Again, it’s a good idea to have water and a towel handy.

The RPE scale – A scale from 0-10 used to self-rate your effort while exercising.  As points of reference, think of 0 as no physical exertion and 10 as too intense to sustain.  These ratings can be applied to how your working muscles feel (i.e. legs), your heart and lungs (breathing and heart rate) or an overall feeling of effort throughout your body.

Work up to 2-3 days of circuit strength training and 1-2 days of interval training and, along with your diet, that will give you the most fat burn return for your exercise investment!

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Michael Bento is an Advanced Trainer at the Clubs at Charles River Park. He holds a Masters degree in Human Movement and is certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine as a Corrective Exercise Specialist and Performance Enhancement Specialist.

3 Responses to “The Skinny on Getting Lean – Exercise”

  1. Dave says:

    For the Two Arm Pulley Rows, is there a way to do these without machines?  A quick google search brings up images of bending over at the waist and pulling weights up to the hips, but I didn’t know if that’s the desired effect.

    • Michael Bento MS, CES, PES, CSCS says:

      Absolutely – the bent over row is a great free weight exercise if you don’t have access to pulley machines. I’d suggest these form points: keep your knees bent and back flat to keep from putting undue stress on your low back, and don’t allow your head to jut forward as you pull the weights up. Pushing your chest out and squeezing your shoulder blades together will add to the overall effect.