I was at lunch yesterday with my colleagues and overheard a discussion about HIIT vs. steady state cardio. The conversation went something like this:
Colleague 1: “I was working on some HIIT yesterday…check out this new App that syncs your intervals to music. It’s called a Tabata. Cool right?”
Colleague #2: “Oh yeah check out this trending hot Singaporean guy. He has like 100k followers. I watch his channel to exercise. He does HIIT too.”
Colleague #3: “You know…HIIT has what’s called an ‘After-burn effect’ that burns calories up to 24 hours after you workout. Amazing.”
At one point they turned to me and ask “Hey Jay…what sort of cardio do you do?”
Me: “I don’t. I just lift heavy.”
Silence. I had just killed the conversation. A look of confusion washed over the table but before I could explain myself the conversation quickly reverted back to the hot Singaporean dude doing burpees on YouTube.
It was sad really. No one really knew why I lifted heavy. And no one even bothered to ask why I didn’t do cardio. Instead they just droned on about was how many burpees they could get done in a minute. Don’t get me wrong, burpees are great for building cardio vascular endurance if that is what you are after. But to be honest, I know these guys and the only reason they work out is to “maintain” their physique.
A final colleague seated at the end of the table interjected and started telling us about his upcoming cycling trip in Morocco. It was a 100km in 24 hours or something ridiculous like that. At the end of the “oohs” and “ahhs” he shrugged and said “well, it’s the only way I can stay in shape…” while patting his stomach.
You see these colleagues are all still stuck in the rut that I was in for nearly 15 years. I thought of exercise as a necessary evil to OFFSET my rock star lifestyle. A means to an end. Sure I had experienced small micro patches of progress but it was usually always 2 steps forward and 3 steps back. Just maintaining. Trying to hold on. Doing what I could do in the gym so I could go out and enjoy that meal afterwards. It was a constant battle back and forth and it was exhausting. Only when I realized that fitness IS the lifestyle and I merged the two forces, was I able to have such freedom in my life as I do now.
I ate more than any of my colleagues that lunch. 2 large pieces of steak, a whole baked potato and even a bowl of escargot. I’m sure I fell into the “genetic freak” category in their minds. The truth was, I lifted heavy that morning. Really heavy. I put up a new max on my bench and micro loaded another 2.5 kgs on my incline bench. I made enough forward progress that morning to justify a large lunch to break my 16 hour fast. And I felt great after.
Lifting heavy has sort of bad rep attached to it. It was traditionally seen as something that body builders do in the gym when on their quest to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. These body builders were brutes who were loud and garish when they drop weights on the floor. And it most certainly is not for women because women don’t want to “bulk up”.
What many people fail to realize lifting heavy offers much more of an “After-burn effect” than a 30 min HIIT session with burpees does. In fact, my heart rate goes up just as high if not higher after a heavy set of squats or deads to the point where I feel like my heart is going to beat out of my chest.
EPOC stands for Excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. It is essentially the various things your body needs to do to recover after a workout. And it is what the layman calls an “After-burn Effect.” For some reason this phrase “After-burn Effect’ has usually been marketed and tagged to an intense cardio session. Perhaps the word “burn” is only associated with cardio and not with weight training. And since many people don’t lift intensively to the point of sweating, it is commonly thought that weight training doesn’t “burn” as much fat as cardio does. In reality, in the hierarchy of “after-burn” HIIT does in fact have a greater EPOC than steady state cardio. But heavy weight training has an even higher EPOC than HIIT. But no one talks about it.
The Minimum Effective Fitness Protocol (MEFP): A Paradigm Shift
When I was younger and first getting into fitness, I used to want to look like this:
I mean who wouldn’t? This is the epitome of human masculinity. The dream body that our modern day society idolizes as the most attractive male physique. But the reality is, I’m not a trainer or a competitive body builder, so why do I want to look like this?
As I get older (37 now) I am acutely aware of my age and I realize that I am fighting an uphill battle with my metabolism. “Your metabolism—the rate at which you burn calories—slows down much earlier than you might think. When you’re just 25, it starts its inevitable decline—as much as 2–4% each year” (Men’s Health Magazine)
Between my fulltime job, family of 4, and a number of other obligations I have in my personal life, I’m really only interested in finding what I call the Minimum Effective Fitness Protocol. (Tim Ferris calls this the “Minimum Effective Dose in The 4 Hour Body.) That is, the least amount of time/effort I need to spend on fitness for me to maintain the body that I want.
This is where compound lifts come in to play. If EPOC after Compound Lifts far exceeds EPOC after HIIT or steady state cardio, then the choice here is an obvious one. Want to streamline your fat loss? Ditch the cardio and focus on the three main compound lifts which are Squats, Deadlifts, and Presses. If you don’t know how to do these properly it is about time you learn because these lifts will be with you for the rest of your life.