You work hard during your training days. But you could be sabotaging your fat-loss goals with what you’re doing on the days in between. Hitting things too hard doesn't allow your body to fully recover. And not going hard enough slows down your progress.
Most workout programs geared toward fat loss center around three high-intensity strength training days. These sessions focus on challenging your central nervous system and musculoskeletal system to force your body to adapt. You'll have a rest day (or two), but it's important to plan some other, lighter days. Here’s what to do to maximize fat loss on those off days.
Your Off-Day Fat-Loss Plan
When it comes to fat loss, the most critical component is to create a caloric deficit. So if you’re looking to lose fat, you need to attack off-day training with intensity.
A higher intensity will result in a higher metabolic rate after training is complete. This is known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC. A greater EPOC means more calories utilized for recovery, which is great when you’re trying to lose fat!
With more intense off days, full recovery becomes a bit more difficult. Without full recovery, it’s likely that your main training days may be of a slightly lower intensity. And that’s OK, because the added stimulus of higher-intensity off days will encourage greater adaptations.
The trick is to make sure you’re not compromising your main training days to the point that intensity drops off significantly. You should be able to tell the difference from your main days and off days. For this reason, lower-load high-intensity training is best for off days. With a lower load, the body will be able to recover to a greater degree.
These off-day sessions can be one of the following:
1. High-Intensity Interval Work
When many people think about interval training, they envision being on the bike, treadmill or other piece of conditioning equipment. But you don’t have to be on a cardio machine to do intervals. Exercises like sled pushes or pulls, battle ropes, kettlebell swings, farmer carries and medicine-ball slams can be incorporated into an interval workout.
The goal is to work at a high intensity for a set period of time, rest and repeat. For example, this could be 20 seconds of maximum-effort work with 20 to 40 seconds of rest repeated for 10 to 20 sets.
As with any form of training, progression is key. And with interval work you can increase the load or speed (such as heavier sled pushes or faster bike sprints) or manipulate your work-to-rest ratios (increasing your work period, decreasing your rest period or both, if you’re truly looking to take it up a notch).
Because this is an off day and you don’t want the work to interfere too much with you next training session, be conservative to start. Begin with fewer rounds, shorter work periods and longer rest periods. Over the weeks, increase the intensity and/or overall work load of the sessions as your body adapts.
Additionally, try to use exercises that don’t resemble the exercises of the session to come. If you have squats and chin-ups coming up the next day, do more lower-body pulling exercises and upper-body pushing exercises, such as kettlebell swings and medicine-ball chest passes during your off-day intervals. This way you’ll still be able to recover enough to put in a quality effort with the next training session.
Sprints are technically high-intensity interval work, but because they’re a classic athletic staple, they deserve a category of their own. Sprints create a sufficient metabolic disturbance and utilize a fair amount of calories during and after training — both ideal for fat loss. Go for hill sprints if possible, as the incline helps reduce impact.
Start off conservatively if you haven’t been sprinting. Try doing eight to 10 sprints of 40 to 60 yards at 70 to 90 percent of your max effort to begin. As weeks progress, you can work up to 80 to 100 percent of max effort and increase the distance to between 100 and 150 yards. Each sprint session should last no more than 20 minutes.
You can also implement some core work, such as planks, side planks or mountain climbers, in between sprints to target the midsection while catching your breath.
One last option for off-day training with a fat-loss focus is metabolic resistance training sessions. Metcon (short for metabolic conditioning) workouts can be performed similarly to high-intensity intervals, or they can be performed in an “escalating density training” (EDT) format (keep reading for more on that).
While it’s an extremely effective way to enhance fat loss, it should be used sparingly because it’s easy to overdo and can greatly compromise your recovery.
Select three to six exercises. The best exercises to use are compound movements with lighter resistances, such as squats, lunges, pull-ups, presses and push-ups. Then choose either an interval set or a period of time for the session.
For intervals, you can choose something like 20 seconds on and 40 seconds off or 30 seconds on and 30 seconds off. Your workout could look something like this:
- Goblet squats for 30 seconds
- Rest for 30 seconds
- TRX rows for 30 seconds
- Rest for 30 seconds
- Alternating reverse lunges for 30 seconds
- Rest for 30 seconds
- Push-ups for 30 seconds
- Rest for 30 seconds
- Repeat for five to 10 total rounds.
For the EDT, you can choose 15, 20 or 25 minutes and try to complete as many rounds of the exercises as possible, resting only when needed. That could look something like this:
- Goblet squat x8
- TRX row x10
- Alternating reverse lunge x8 per side
- Push-up x10
Rest when needed, and complete as many rounds as possible in the predetermined time.
The goal is to create a metabolic disturbance without leaving yourself so exhausted that you can’t recover adequately for the next training session. As with the intervals, try to select exercises that are different than the day to come.
Whichever option you choose, be conservative to start. As you build a higher threshold, you can increase the overall intensity and workload.
And make sure to listen to your body. If you feel as though you’re not recovering enough for the next main training day, simply reduce the volume (sets, reps, overall time, etc.) of the off-day sessions until you find the sweet spot that allows for continuous high-intensity efforts.