Russian Olympic weight lifter David Rigert spent his career breaking Olympic records, 68 of them in total. His competing weight was between 200-220 lbs, with 4% body fat. This may seem like a particularly low body fat percentage for this sport, and it is, but not much lower than the average for the soviet national team. Its not that low body fat percentage was a goal for these guys, it was simply a training effect from strength and power lifting. We can learn from this
The benefits of strength and ballistic training go beyond their simple definition within the physical fitness realm. Ballistic movements require flexibility, speed, power and high cardiovascular function, yet many weightlifters do very little of the kinds of workouts or exercises that we all link with these abilities. So whats going on here?
Strength and Ballistic training specifically targets what are called, fast twitch muscle fibers. Fast twitch muscle fibers are those which we have identified as rapid firing – they excel at giving powerful bursts of speed but tend to fatigue quicker. A Japanese study by Izumiya et al. (2008) showed that a moderate increase in this kind of tissue can have a “…profound systemic effect on whole body metabolism and adipose tissue (fat).” This is great news for the average Jill or Joe who is looking to maximize the benefits of exercise without looking like Duane Johnson. Moderate increases will require some heavy lifting but “heavy” is a relative term and trust me, the amount of training and food that it takes to bulk up is beyond anything you are going to do. Side note – You should follow Duane Johnson on twitter just to see photos of him training and of the enormous amount of food he eats. Its hilarious and terrifying.
Nutrition researcher, coach and educator, Dr. John Berardi uses a concept called energy flux and it pretty much describes what is happening within most competitive weight lifting circles. Weight lifters lift more weight and they eat more food, but unlike body builders, size is not their focus, it’s strength and so while they eat a lot, their energy expenditure is often higher than their intake. The increase in strength and ballistic training triggers a training effect – a boost in metabolism and muscle gain as well as a loss in fat. At the same time, the high levels of nutrition bolster this training effect. Berardi argues that eating more high quality calories can be beneficial to your health and in your attempt to lose weight as long as you are training properly to trigger metabolic changes.
Here is his example – if you take someone who is consuming 2000 calories per day and expending 2000 calories per day you find an energy balance. Weight loss is unlikely in this scenario. But if you boost both the intake and expenditure to 3000 calories per day, the training effect will trigger metabolic changes and body re-composition. Body re-composition is not weight loss, it is a combination of fat loss and muscle gain. In the words of Berardi – “eat more, exercise more, build a better body.” Here is a great interview Berardi did explaining his concept of G-Flu.
Now, if you want to gain some muscle (remember, moderate gains not The Rock type gains), lose some fat and lose weight over all, you need to adapt your energy flux so that your expenditures are slightly higher than your intake. This is not dieting. You are still eating more than before, you are simply taking advantage of the training effect that your workouts afford you. The added muscle is a key component to this scenario. eliminate the training and you eliminate the potential for body re-composition and your weight loss fails. Can you lose weight simply through changing your nutrition? Absolutely. But wouldn’t it be better to have a body that is finely tuned to maintain a healthy body weight, increase your longevity, give you the strength to fight illness and move around without pain and fatigue?
The words weight loss come with a whole lot of preconceptions, misinformation, and for some of us, a firm attachment to feelings of guilt, anxiety and depression. Lets step away from what we think we know about weight loss and how we feel about ourselves when we speak those words. Lets forget about the previous attempts at losing weight, forget about your “ideal weight” and forget all the mumbo jumbo you’ve seen on Dr. Oz. The truth is that their are no wonder foods or magical supplements that will give you a quick fix to something you have viewed as a problem. Its not a problem, its just part of your flux. David Rigert had a name for his competitive body composition, he called it his ‘dry fighting weight’. It had nothing to do with fighting, it just reflected his training process. This was high level competition and if you wanted to break records, you had to fight for it.
Not only can we learn from the training effect of weight lifting, but we can also learn from the mentality Rigert had about his body and what Berardi talks about with is concept of energy flux. Maybe its time to get off the treadmill and get to work on those fast twitch fibers. Focus on your performance, you don’t need to enter any competitions, but you can still compete with yourself. Forget the weight loss and just enjoy it when it happens as a simple training effect of your new, ever evolving routines.
In Part 2 I will talk a bit more about how to apply the concept of finding your fighting weight, how focus on performance and how to ramp up your calorie intake without over doing it. I’ll give you an example of some of the personal training programs I use with my clients that involve strength, ballistic and sprint exercises. Stay tuned and thanks for reading,