The majority of clients with whom trainers work with have a transformation goal of some type. While not all clients indicate that they want to lose weight or drop a few inches from their midsection, you can bet they want to look better. And looking better usually means getting leaner or at least appearing leaner.
With that in mind, it’s critical that fitness professionals are equipped with the best possible solutions for helping their clients drop body fat and improve their body composition.
- Determine the proper frequency of training and methods of training the average clients.
- Understand how to adjust variables in a training program for improved fat loss results.
- Learn how to design effective and efficient fat loss training programs.
For a beginner client, getting results can be easy. All you need is a well thought out training program, consistency, and improvements in their nutrition. However, as clients progress, or if you start working with a client who has some experience in the gym but can’t seem to get the results they want on their own, you’re going to have to be a bit more creative.
When training for fat loss, your goal as the trainer should be to create the largest metabolic demand possible during the workout. Metabolic demand is a term that I have used to define the impact on the metabolism of the client during and after workout; which includes caloric expenditure, excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, and any impact on metabolic rate due to changes in lean body mass (metabolically active tissue) over the course of time. It doesn’t need to be a complicated definition, though! You can simply think of it as the impact the workout or series of workouts (i.e., the training program) has on fat loss results.
The goal of fat loss, transformation, or body composition improvement workouts should be to remove fat and optimize lean muscle mass. Before the debate begins about whether you can lose fat and add muscle at the same time, let me clarify that I used the term "optimize," which for some clients may mean managing muscle mass loss and for others it means maintaining muscle mass.
Enhancing the metabolic demand of a workout can be done simply by changing the stimulus or creating inefficiencies in the training program. By prescribing the client an exercise that they aren’t accustomed to, it will create a greater stress, and they will have to work harder to perform the exercise. However, it’s not recommended to change up the exercises or the program for the client each time they work out. There needs to be some level of proficiency developed so the client can see their progress and have the feeling of success.
So, what other ways are there to ramp up metabolic demand?
The density of a given workout is the total amount of work done over the length of the workout. To increase the density of a workout, more work should be done in the same amount of time. Increasing the density of a client’s workouts is a great way to increase their work capacity and gradually ramp up the volume of their training program.
Most training programs have some level of density progression built into them, especially when used in a training session where the client has a set time to complete the workout. Two ways a client can do more total work are by increasing volume or increasing the intensity of the workload.
For example, if a client is performing a deadlift, and in the first week it takes them 10 minutes to complete 3 sets of 5 reps with 200 lbs. on the bar for each set, they have lifted 3000 lbs. during that time period (5 reps x 200 lbs. = 1000 lbs. x 3 sets =3000 lbs.). By increasing the load by just 10lbs in the following week, assuming the client performs the lifts in the same 10-minute time period, he or she will have lifted 3150 lbs, a 5% improvement.
There are better ways to add density, though: If the client would simply get in 1 more rep for each set, completing 3 sets of 6 reps, they would now have 3600 lbs. of volume in their workout, a 20% improvement that would lead to a greater metabolic demand. Alternatively, by adding a set, you can create a larger workload and thus a greater metabolic demand. A client completing 4 sets of 5 reps with 200 lbs. in 10 minutes would have 4000 lbs. of total volume in the same amount of time, which is a 33% increase. To increase sets in this last scenario, you would need to shorten the rest periods, which could be too great of a challenge for the client. However, simply adding a rep to each set still allowed for a 600 lbs. total increase in workload and would result in much smaller decreases in the rest period between sets.
A progressive increase in work and volume over the course of a 4-6-week training program would lead to a great metabolic demand over time (Kraemer & Ratamess, 2004). This method allows the trainer to control the intensity and quality of movements better than using an AMRAP or “as many rounds as possible” prescription that is commonly used.
AMRAP workouts can be a great choice for more experienced lifters who can keep intensity high while maintaining movement quality. However, from experience, most beginner to intermediate lifters turn AMRAP workouts into a moderate intensity workout where both form and quality degrade over time.
A better way to prescribe ARMAP workouts to create more density in a workout is to use an “every minute on the minute” or EMOM set up. When prescribing EMOM, you will use a time and prescribe a set number of reps for the exercise or grouping of exercises.
It may look like this:
- 5 minutes of EMOM DB Bench Press
- Start the timer for 60s
- Complete 12 reps of DB Bench Press
- Rest the remainder of the 60s
- Repeat for 5 minutes
You can also use this with a superset or circuit-style setup by alternating or rotating through the exercises every minute.
Regardless of the method you choose to increase density, it will greatly impact your clients’ results.
Bump Up Frequency
It would be amazing if you could convince all your clients to train 4 days per week with you. But let’s face it: That’s simply not possible.
Rather than looking at the number of days per week you are able to have a client train, determine if you can train a muscle group or movement pattern more frequently throughout the training week. Total-body workouts will ramp up metabolic demand when compared to body part splits (Schoenfeld, Ratamess, Peterson, Contreras & Tiryaki-Sonmez, 2015). They allow the client to train their entire body more frequently, which has a greater impact on lean body mass and elevates metabolism.
This approach is particularly valid for the 2-3-day-per-week client who has limited time to train. They need to be pushing the intensity of each workout and training their entire body to obtain the maximal benefits of training.
Pretty simple, right? Get your clients to train total body versus body part splits to increase the frequency that they train each muscle. That will in turn allow them to train harder at each session, which will increase metabolic demand over the course of the training week.
Bonus Tips for Ramping Up Metabolic Demand
The following quick tips are simple adjustments you can make to your program design that will immediately increase the metabolic demand for your clients and help them reach their goals faster.
Most clients will have a limited amount of time with you, and you will be working with a time constraint for each sessions. To get more work in during the session, use alternating supersets to ramp up metabolic demand (Kelleher, Hackney, Fairchild, Keslacy, & Ploutz-Snyder, 2010).
Alternate between two non-competing movements with short rest periods, which will challenge your clients.
- Exercise 1: Kettlebell Goblet Squat x 12 reps
- Rest 15s
- Exercise 2: Push Up x 15 reps
- Rest 30s
- Repeat for 3 total sets
Use Short Rest Periods
When creating metabolic demand is a high priority, choose self-limiting exercises that allow for short rest periods between sets. The goal should be to keep rest periods between 30-60s.
This can be a challenge if you are using high-skill lifts such as a power clean or even a barbell squat with clients. Instead, choose goblet squats, sandbag cleans, or other exercises that limit the risk while producing the same results.
Hit the Big Ones
Hitting large muscle groups is a surefire way to increase metabolic demand. These include your glutes, back, and shoulders. Find ways to train them more often in your programs (Bird, Tarpenning, & Marino, 2005).
Complexes are a series of exercises done in succession using the same piece of equipment or implement and done without setting the implement down.
To structure a complex, pick 3-8 movements or exercises that your client can perform with a selected implement. Place the client’s weakest movement first in the complex and make every effort to allow for a smooth transition from one exercise to the next in the series.
If you can’t put the client’s weakest movement first, make sure when selecting the weight you use the weakest movement as the gauge for the weight to be used in the entire complex.
Most of your clients want to look better, and ramping up the metabolic demand of your training programs will help them reach that goal faster. You can make small changes to your programs to get better results by using the methods in this article to ramp up metabolic demand.
Kraemer, W., & Ratamess, N. (2004). Fundamentals of Resistance Training: Progression and Exercise Prescription. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 674-688.
Schoenfeld, B., Ratamess, N., Peterson, M., Contreras, B., & Tiryaki-Sonmez, G. (2015). Influence of Resistance Training Frequency on Muscular Adaptations in Well-Trained Men. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 1821-1829.
Kelleher, A., Hackney, K., Fairchild, T., Keslacy, S., & Ploutz-Snyder, L. (2010). The Metabolic Costs of Reciprocal Supersets vs. Traditional Resistance Exercise in Young Recreationally Active Adults. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 1043-1051.
Bird, S., Tarpenning, K., & Marino, F. (2005). Designing Resistance Training Programmes to Enhance Muscular Fitness. Sports Medicine, 841-851.