How To Train For Fat Loss
I can’t stress how important your diet and nutrition is to fat loss. Exercise will accelerate the effects of your diet, but it can’t outwork a poor nutrition.
Fat loss is largely the result of what you do in the kitchen, not your training.
Your training boosts fat loss, ensures you don’t lose athletic performance, reduces injury risk, and hones the shape of your body underneath your fat layer.
For fat loss, exercise is favourable, but diet is critical.
Make Resistance Training A Priority
I’ve utilised weight training all of my life, with the objective of enhancing my athletic performance…
But along with a sensible diet, I believe this has also been my secret weapon in achieving a consistent body composition every year – for now over 47 years.
Hands down, resistance training sessions are the most important training for a fighter to lose body fat and keep it off. You need two, or maybe three of these each week.
The reason isn’t that these sessions will burn the most calories as you’re doing them, rather it will help preserve your lean muscle mass while you are undereating (especially if you’re hitting your protein targets too). Remember, losing muscle is to be avoided at all costs.
Your muscle mass is responsible for burning calories every second of the day, regardless if you’re awake or asleep. It’s crucial you keep this rate of burn up, and losing muscle kills this off – along with your strength, power, speed, and endurance.
As a worked example…
Comparing calorie expenditure of two fighters of the same weight
If we compare two 80kg (176lbs) fighters, one at 7% body fat, the other at 20% body fat.
They’ll both burn a significantly different amount of calories each day… Even if they both just stayed in bed all day!
The lean fighter (7% body fat) has far more muscle on his body, which burns calories at a rate of 1900kcals per day… even if he did absolutely nothing!
The overweight fighter (20% body fat) has much less muscle for the same overall body weight (the rest is body fat), and burns calories at the rate of 1600kcals per day at complete rest.
That’s a 19% difference in the amount these two fighters need to eat every day just to maintain their body weight.
And this difference in calories burned is true during physical activity too.
For the same levels of exertion and duration of training, the lean fighter will burn 19% more calories than the overweight fighter.
This of course makes it far easier to lose body fat, and crucially, to prevent putting fat back on again in the future.
Increased exercise also does more than just increase your “calorie burn.” It changes how your body uses calories… Sending more toward muscle growth and less to your fat cells.
And losing fat makes doing body weight exercise easier – without having to get any stronger or fitter.
Chin ups, press ups, burpees, and body weight squats become far easier if you’re carrying less dead-weight.
Try holding a 10kg (22lb) dumbbell between your knees while doing a chin up… See how carrying that much fat affects what you can do… Shedding this makes all the difference!
Resistance training is the most important part of your training for fat loss
How To Use Resistance Training
Resistance training can overload your muscle tissue to an extent that it results in hypertrophy – muscle gain – in a way Muay Thai can’t.
Training for muscle gain while undereating (with adequate protein intake) will at least maintain the muscle mass you have. Rather than losing muscle along with some of your body fat too.
And the type of hypertrophy we want as a fighter is functional… That is, it results in a proportional strength increase.
And this is best achieved using compound, multi-joint exercises such as squats, deadlifts, bench press, shoulder press, rows, and chin ups etc. typically for 3-5 sets of 6–8 reps.
As well as loading your muscles to prevent losing lean mass while undereating, and inadvertently snuffing out your metabolism…
Weight training is an opportunity to balance out areas of weakness supporting the joints, to prevent injury, and set the foundation for improved athletic capability and Muay Thai performance.
If you need a routine to get started properly, you can run through my “Functional Strength & Hypertrophy Routine for Muay Thai Fighters” here.
Cardio Training Is Optional
Cardio training is another layer you can place on top of your resistance training and Muay Thai training, if you have time available.
To be honest, your Muay Thai training already serves this purpose in terms of calorie expenditure, so don’t feel you have to add more.
It’s more important you create a sustainable training plan that you can stick with, rather than one you can do for a week, and then it all falls over.
For fat loss, cardio training is optional for a Muay Thai fighter
How To Use Cardio Training
When it comes to cardio purely for fat loss — rather than specifically for a fight camp — I recommend a “Cardiac Output” session…
Slow, steady jogging, cycling, rowing, or shadowboxing continuously for between 30-60 minutes, between 1 to 3 times a week.
The key is to train at a steady pace for about 30-60mins at around 60-75% of your maximum heart rate…
That’s typically between 120 to 150bpm, or 3-5 out of 10 on a rate of perceived effort scale (RPE).
Rather than sticking to one exercise type for the whole 30-60 min session, you can set up a circuit, spending 5 mins on each continuously without rest.
This sort of gentle cardio is more restorative in nature (remember you’re undereating, and your body will find it harder to keep up).
It’s also an opportunity to increase your calorie expenditure through physical activity if required.
And just because the sessions are “easy”, it doesn’t mean they’re aren’t highly valuable…
This specific “Cardiac Output” session enhances your foundation aerobic capacity in a way that Muay Thai, or high intensity intervals can’t.
Your Training Week
To recap, in addition to your regular Muay Thai sessions, you’re also looking to complete two or three resistance training sessions, and between one to three cardio sessions.
To get the best out of your training time, it’s important to arrange your week to make it as effective as possible.
The objective is to both manage recovery (so you can maintain constant progress without burning out) and to avoid conflicting physiological adaptations that stall athletic development.
You will amplify the effects of your training by considering these best practices when scheduling your week
Scheduling training best practice…
- Leave at least 48 hours between consecutive resistance training sessions.
- If possible, train cardio or Muay Thai at least 3-hours away from resistance training.
- If either a cardio or a Muay Thai session must be trained back to back with a resistance training session, train the most important one first
- Generally, don’t do more than two different sessions back to back
- Each session should target a specific purpose, and only do just enough to make your body better at it, and that’s it. Be progressive.
- Regardless of your training or fight experience, always have at least one rest day each week to allow your body to recover.
- Long-term progress far exceeds the capability of unsustainable short-term thrashing
Typical training session durations…
- Muay Thai sessions are usually 60-90 mins
- Resistance training sessions are usually about 60-mins
- Cardio sessions are usually about 30-mins
Sessions can of course be longer or shorter than these, but these are typical session durations for best training effect.
Generally, going longer means you’re doing more than you need to (exceeding minimal dose), practicing fatigued form, and spoiling your recovery so your next training session becomes less effective.
And if you’re obsessed about adopting the Thailand training model with 2-3 hour training sessions, please see them for what they are; multiple sessions joined together (with recovery periods in between)… Cardio Session + Muay Thai Session + Strength/Conditioning Session
For simplicity, when structuring your week, block out 30-minute or 60-minute time slots for each session type in your weekly schedule.
Structuring your week…
Now you know how many sessions you’re looking to fit into each week and how long they are likely to be, let’s look at where they can practically go.
Generally, fighters have more flexibility over the placement of weekly resistance training and cardio sessions, whereas Muay Thai sessions are largely timetabled group sessions.
Using the following Weekly Training Schedule Template…
- Begin by listing any sessions HAVE to be on certain days and times
- Now where can you practically place your strength sessions to best effect?
- Where can you place any remaining Muay Thai sessions (if any)?
- Where can you place any remaining cardio conditioning sessions?
- Which days are you taking as rest days?
- Check that you’ve considered the scheduling best practice
- Not enough time? Can you get up earlier and fit some in before work or studies?
This is now your draft schedule, but life happens – don’t be too rigid!
If it’s not possible to place things exactly where you want them one week, just try to complete as many of the target number of sessions as you can.
Doing something is FAR better than nothing.
If one week you can’t fit all the sessions, prioritise the most important sessions and get those done, dropping the others. Then try to return to the full schedule as soon as it’s practical.
For fat loss, the training sessions fall into this priority order…
- Resistance training
- Muay Thai training
- Cardio training
Weekly Training Schedule Template
Download PDF… Click here
Where To Place Fat Loss in Your Fight Camp
Because during fat loss, nutritional resources will be relatively low (due to undereating), athletic development is naturally hindered.
Therefore, the best place for fat loss in a boxer’s fight camp is furthest from the fight.
Aggressively cutting body fat close to a fight will make for sub par athletic performance — unless that is, being overweight is the primary limiting factor.
Also, the “fat loss” resistance training objectives of functional strength and hypertrophy (muscle gain) — to preserve muscle mass…
And the “fat loss” cardio conditioning objectives of gentler aerobic power and aerobic power training — to better facilitate physical recovery while undereating…
Optimal fight camp overview
Both align with the goals of a Functional Strength training block from my Optimal Fight Camp Blueprint too.
Although the preceding Mobility & Movement block, and subsequent Explosive Power, or Maximum Speed blocks can also be run with a calorie deficit…
Favourably, both the fat loss training objectives, and the ideal proximity from the fight are properly matched in a typical Functional Strength block.
This is the place to charge your most aggressive fat loss strategies.
Once your body fat levels are where you want them to be, you can stop undereating, and add those calories (and nutrients) back in again without gaining weight.
Scale up your portions by 500 to 1000 kcals (whatever you’ve been undereating by) so that your weight stabilises again.
At this point, with extra nutrients available, your performance will start to really take off.