Article from Advanced Instructor Metabolic Programming Module

This is the time of year when many of us want to theme our group classes in the studio for weight loss. This may be as a programme of classes up to the annual festivities or in the New Year as a recovery from the over indulgence. When ever you programme this physiological outcome into your classes it is important that the exercises and choreography you include meet the physiological outcomes of fat loss for your participants. Read this article to understand more about fat and how you can encourage the body to use it as energy for your class members.

Fat Loss

Body fat is often seen as a negative factor in body image terms.  Everyone appears to be interested in the subject of fat loss or gaining body weight through fat gain, and everyone certainly has an opinion or strategy for either of the preceding factors.  What this article seeks to achieve, therefore is to consider:

  • The role of fat in the human body.
  • To emphasise the relevance of this role for the class teacher

Fat Myths

There are many myths about fat.

Hypo-caloric Diets – One common myth is that very low calorie diets are the most effective way to lose body fat.  Whilst accepting that the energy requirements of the body will be taken largely from fat stores, thereby reducing body fat, when on a restricted calorie intake, an important point to bear in mind is that in this state of nutritional deficiency, protein will also be broken down to provide energy. However, a calorie deficit achieved through exercise and adequate calorie intake will result in only losses from fat stores.

In addition, because carbohydrate stores are in a state of depletion when on a hypo-caloric diet, much of the fat that is mobilised from the fat stores is taken to the liver where it is broken down to ketones that provide energy for the brain in times of nutritional emergency.

This enables the human body to survive for many months in a state of starvation but it is not a particularly healthy state and can be potentially dangerous for an individual who is attempting to exercise in this state of ketosis.  As ketones accumulate in the blood, they lower the pH balance and create a more acid environment.  Thermoregulation is interfered with and nausea and vomiting are not uncommon

The third reason why hypo-caloric diets are not to be recommended is that, when energy intake is low, the body resorts to its survival strategy of conserving energy by lowering its metabolic rate (the rate of burning calories) and conserving its fuel stores.  Fuel conservation is assisted by the action of the enzyme lipoprotein lipase (LPL).  LPL, produced in the capillary endothelium, especially around the fat cell helps promote the storage of fat.  Thus, contrary to popular belief, rather than releasing fat from fat stores liberally, the body’s reaction is to restrict the mobilisation of fat, the exact opposite effect to what is required if an individual is on a fat loss regime.

Also, because individuals find it so difficult to keep to a very low-calorie diet, the so-called Yo-Yo syndrome is very common.  That is a week of starvation and a week of bingeing.  Research has shown that during the bingeing phase, the body takes advantage of the opportunity of storing extra calories in preparation for the fast to follow.  The net result is a failure of the diet and more fat gained than lost.  This type of regime is very severe and does not educate the body towards a healthy lifestyle.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that a calorie reduction should not fall below 1,200 calories per day, and that one role of exercise is to increase caloric expenditure by approximately 300 – 500 calories per day.  If 300 more calories per day are expended over and above intake through food and drink, then approximately one pound of fat will be lost in 10-12 days.  (one pound of fat equals 3,500 calories).  This is much more sensible, involving an attainable calorie reduction, on the one hand, and a modest increase in expenditure, on the other.  The individual also achieves the health benefits associated with an increase in physical activity.

It is worth making the point strongly at this stage, that all calories, whether consumed as fat, carbohydrate or protein will be stored as fat if they amount to more calories than the body requires on a daily basis.  Similarly, extra calories expended, over and above intake from food will be taken from fat stores.  The following figures are a useful approximation of an individual’s caloric requirement but will be heavily influenced by individual factors so should only be used as a rough guide.


LIGHTLY ACTIVE 2,520 2,160
VERY ACTIVE 3,240 2,820

For body weight of 60 kilogramme

Lightly active refers to professional people like teachers or doctors; moderately active includes light industry workers; very active indicates dancers, athletes or unskilled labourers; and exceptionally active, would include lumberjacks or construction workers.

Spot Reduction – The second popular myth is that fat can be removed from a particular area by performing isolation exercises, or by other means such as massage or brushing.  None of these techniques has any scientific support behind them and should, consequently be considered ineffective.  Even the surgical procedure liposuction has had problems with its success rate and is very expensive.

Muscle to Fat – Fat cells are round and muscle cells are elongated.  Their composition is essentially very different and it is impossible to convert fat into muscle or muscle into fat.  However, this is a common illusion because as body fat is lost as an effect of increasing caloric expenditure above intake through exercise and as muscle definition is gained through strength work, it appears that the fat has turned into muscle.  In fact, these are two separate processes going on at the same time.

Ideal Body Fat Levels and Bodyweight  – Care should be taken when considering average amounts of fat or ideal bodyweight.  People who exercise and have good muscle tone may well be relatively heavy when they stand on the weighing scales.  This does not automatically imply that they are over fat.  Muscle being denser than fat may result in a muscular person with very low body fat being termed overweight when the weighing scales are the sole criteria for assessment.  The relative percentage of fat to muscle, therefore, is more important.E and K are the fat-soluble vitamins and it

Similarly, average percentage body fat figures must be related to age and gender.  Females need more body fat than males to maintain their normal bodily functions.  Average body fat percentages for men are often given as 12-18 percent and for women at 20-25 percent, however, these figures often become acceptable or normal in people’s perceptions.  This automatically places a value judgement on what is ideal for an individual in society, which can lead to problems for some people.  Perhaps what should be more important is the individual making their own decisions about their own bodies without pressure from society.  Being content with your own body is a very important factor in self-image perception.

Fat Storage

Fat exits the GI tract as clusters of fat called chylomicrons.  Chylomicrons consist of phospholipids, cholesterol, triglycerides and fat-soluble vitamins.  Because of the relatively large size of these clusters, they are unable to pass into the capillaries and hence into the bloodstream.  The capillaries have a basement membrane, which prevents this.  Instead, the chylomicrons pass through the lacteal wall of the lymph to enter the lymph glands.  Transport can now take place, via the lymph glands, to the larger veins that can accept the size of the Chylomicrons.  From here the blood can transport the fat to the fat cells, with the aid of the heart acting as the pump.

It is the action of the enzyme lipoprotein lipase that releases the fatty acids from the chylomicrons so that they can travel freely in the blood to the fat cells where they are united with glycerol to form triglycerides again.  It is in this form that they are stored.  After a meal, and after a high fat meal, in particular, there is a dramatic rise in blood fats.  This has been referred to as postprandial lipemia and has long been associated with increased risk of coronary heart problems.  It makes sense, therefore, to recommend to clients that they reduce the amount of fat in the diet (especially saturated fat), on the one hand, and eat more small meals in preference to a few large ones.  It appears that the body can cope better with clearing fat from the blood when blood fats are lower after smaller meals.

The simple, but very important message, from all this very technical information, is that when fat is consumed, it is stored as fat.  It is now not difficult to see why people who eat high fat diets put on weight very quickly.  However, there is some good news for those who exercise.  The free fatty acids (FFAs) circulating in the blood can be utilised as a source of energy by muscles that have been active.  This means that, before the fat can arrive at the storage depot, it can be used.  Endurance athletes appear to develop the capacity to utilise the FFAs in this way and also increase the intra-muscular stores of triglycerides to be used when required.  In this regard, the action of lipoprotein lipase in muscle is important.  Previously, we have been discussing the action of lipoprotein lipase in the fat cell, but LPL in muscle acts as a scavenger and pulls circulating FFAs into the mitochondria of the muscle cell where they can be utilised, as we shall see later. Training appears to increase the sensitivity of LPL to act on the FFAs and thus enables the trained individual to use fat earlier in a workout, and because of their superior aerobic capacity, use fat at higher exercise intensities.

We should now have a clearer picture of this section of the fat journey and realise how fat arrives at the storage depot.  The storage depot is a fat cell, which is analogous to a balloon.  The more air in a balloon, the larger the balloon appears.  Similarly, the more fat stored in the fat cell, the bigger the fat cell.  Fat cells are developed in early childhood when fat cell growth (hyperplasia) is most rapid.  However, the number of fat cells is thought to be under a heavy genetic influence, as is body type.  Some youngsters, especially females appear to experience secondary fat cell hyperplasia prior to puberty, which is highly likely to be related to hormonal changes.  Oestrogens seem to be particularly reliant on body fat if normal levels are to be maintained.

Fat Transport

Triglycerides, stored in the fat cells, need to be mobilised and transported to the various tissues of the body to provide energy.  The particular tissues the fitness professional is interested in are, of course, muscles.  The release of fat from fat cells is under the direct influence of the endocrine system, the source of hormones in the human body.  Epinephrine (adrenaline), growth hormone, glucogen and cortisol are some of the principle hormones that stimulate metabolism and hence stimulate the release of stored fuel from storage depots.  In contrast, the hormone insulin is responsible for the net uptake of fat in fat cells and glucose by the liver.  These counter-regulatory hormones control and fine-tune the body’s need for homoeostasis (balance).

Epinephrine (Adrenalin), produced by the adrenal medulla and the sympathetic nerve endings around the fat cells, stimulates the release of fat from its storage cell.  It does this by stimulating the action of the lipase enzymes, which act on the triglycerides in the fat cell.  Triglycerides are composed of one glycerol molecule and 3 fatty acids.  They are acted upon by the enzyme to cause the splitting of glycerol from the FFAs so that the FFAs are free to enter the bloodstream and the glycerol to enter the liver (via the bloodstream) to form glucose, by the process of gluconeogenesis, that is, the new formation-neo -of glucose.

FFAs, therefore, are now freely circulating in the blood but do not have automatic entry into the muscle cell.  Entry occurs when LPL in muscle grabs the circulating FFAs as described earlier.  FFAs are pulled into the mitochondria where they can be burned in the presence of oxygen and it is to this utilisation that we now turn.

Fat Utilisation

The utilisation of fat by the muscle appears to be a most significant factor and according to a number of eminent authors, the most important limiting factor.  What appears clear, however, is that endurance training improves the muscle’s ability to use fat.  2 golden rules apply in this regard.  The first is that fat can only be metabolised (burned) inside the mitochondria of the muscle cell.  And secondly, fat can only be burned in the presence of oxygen.

Training improves the delivery of oxygen to the muscle cell when the training demands a high output from the cardio-vascular system and aerobic energy production.  It also improves the muscle’s ability to use oxygen by increasing the number and size of mitochondria in the muscle, by increasing capillary density, and by increasing a number of aerobic enzymes.  In addition, a better utilisation of fat results in a glycogen sparing effect.  Given that glycogen stores are very limited, and that glycogen is an essential fuel source, there are obvious advantages in glycogen sparing.  It follows, therefore, that the more work that can be performed aerobically, the greater the potential for the muscle to use fat.

In addition, when aerobic metabolism can take place in the muscle to meet the demands of the work being performed, the bi-product of the anaerobic breakdown of glycogen-lactate does not accumulate to degrees significant enough to produce premature fatigue.  This is sometimes referred to as work below an individual’s anaerobic threshold or below the point of OBLA (onset of blood lactate accumulation).  However, physiologists disagree about terminology.

The significance of keeping lactate to tolerable levels is that accumulated lactate interferes with aerobic enzymes inside the mitochondria, which causes fat oxidation to stagnate, and also it appears to block the action of epinephrine which stimulates the release of fat, as we have seen

This information is very important for justifying exercise as an effective contributor to fat loss programmes in preference to short-term gimmicks, fads, or hypo-caloric diets alone.  It makes sense, therefore to consider now the notion of programme prescription so that we may put into practice the theoretical knowledge previously described.

Programming Your Class

The fat burning workout craze of the 1980s tended to deflect the fitness professional from the real issues to do with fat loss and focussed on the fact that to burn calories from fat utilisation, low intensity, long duration workouts were the optimum method.  This is based on the correct assumption that to ensure that oxidative metabolism is dominant in the muscle cell, the intensity must be kept relatively low.

What advocates of this form of training failed to realise was that by increasing aerobic capacity by interspersing more demanding cardio-vascular training, a greater fat burning potential would emerge as the individual became aerobically fitter.

Also, the calories from fat argument needs to be placed in the context of total calories used in an exercise session because, as we have seen, exercise increases an individual’s metabolic rate, which means that more calories are burned than in a resting state.  Any calorie expenditure, which exceeds calorie intake, will result in the extra calories coming from fat stores.  Ironically, the post-exercise increase in metabolic rate is higher after a high-intensity session than a low-intensity one, which means that it is possible to create a greater demand from fat stores with higher intensity work when total calories are considered.

The key to programme prescription, therefore, is to recognise that all exercise burns calories by increasing the metabolic rate.  What an individual needs to do in class is as much work as they feel they can in the time available. They need to work high capacity to burn as many calories as possible in a workout, improve muscle fibres that burn fat as a fuel as well as become aerobically fit. A big ask.

Specific Prescription For Fat Loss

Dieting is not a long-term solution to maintaining appropriate levels of body fat.  However, a slight total calorie reduction and a more prudent use of calories combined with regular exercise is.  By reducing fat to less than 25-30 percent of the food intake and decrease carbohydrates to 40-50% (avoid refined carbohydrates), an increase in protein content to 20-30%, a more effective calorie intake will be achieved. In addition, the exercise will increase the demand for calories by speeding up the metabolism.  a pound of fat is equal to 3,500 calories. By creating an energy deficit of 350 calories a day, a pound of fat will be lost in 10 days or a deficit of 500kcasl per day, a pound of fat will be lost in 7 days.

Role of Exercise

As previously discussed, any form of exercise will burn calories and help in a fat reduction programme.  However, total calories expended will be the product of intensity and time.  A person who can exercise at a high intensity for a long period of time will expend more calories than someone who cannot.  The key to success, therefore, is to choose a form of exercise that can be sustained for 30 – 60 minutes on a regular basis (minimum of 3 times per week). This is why aerobic exercise is so effective and so popular. However, it is a mistake to think that the only way to burn calories and, therefore, to burn fat, is to perform aerobic exercise. Strength training can play a significant role in weight management and fat loss. 

Studies show that the case for combining strength and aerobic endurance exercise in fat loss programmes, s a strong one.  Indeed, a view strongly held, is that combining different forms of exercise (cross training) is an excellent way of creating adherence in an exercise programme, and for that reason, a more sustained ‘ calorie burning lifestyle’ pattern may emerge.

Class Programming Formulae – Buzz Workout

A buzz workout is our word for a high-intensity workout with lots of energy. These can be completed as cardiovascular workout or cardiovascular workouts with a mixture of large muscle group conditioning work. Either way the concept is to generate quick buzzy workouts with lots of energy and lots of calories out. “max calories out workout’

Try to apply these formulaes to your class choreography.

Cardio Buzz Class Forumulaes

Burning as many calories as possible is an important aspect of fat loss orientated programmes.  Below is a way to increase the calorie burning potential of a class. Apply the formulae to any CV component, step, spin, aerobics, aqua etc. Try running a 6 week programme and mixing them.

What to do:

Warm up for 6 minutes at an easy pace (2 – 3 on perceived exertion scale of  1 – 10, or 60 – 65 percent of maximum heart 

The Training Session:

Main Work Set – Choose one of the sessions below and try to complete it either walking or running.

Choice of Session:

Session 1:         6 x 2 minutes @ perceived exertion 10 or 85-95 percent of maximum heart rate (1 minutes recovery)

Session 2:         4 x 3 minutes @ perceived exertion 10 or 85-95 percent of maximum heart rate(1 minute 30 seconds recovery)

Session 3:         6 x 2 minutes @ perceived exertion 10 or 85-95 percent of maximum heart rate (1 minute recovery)

Session 4:         4 x 3 minutes @ perceived exertion 10 or 85-95 percent of maximum heart rate (1 minute 30 seconds recovery)

Session 5:         6 x 3 minutes @ perceived exertion 10 or 85-95 percent of maximum heart rate (1 minute 30 seconds recovery)

Remember these are formulaes to apply to your chorography. i.e. for the work interval choose  big power based moves such as power lunges, squats, burpees, jumps, runs etc and work them to the beat and phrase then choose a lower intensity holding pattern step for the rest interval. You can download an app called ‘interval timer pro’ to help with timings.

An example of moves to use in the work intervals:

Work Interval 1 minute of each of the below exercises to the music, use two or 3 of them,  depending on total minutes of the work interval

  1. Front lunge – option gun drill
  2. Power step squat – option low squat
  3. 360s – option turn step

Rest Interval Holding Step

Step touch 

Buzz Workout Including Cardio and Resistance

Warm up and stretch (your own choice).

Main Buzz Workout

8 minutes or 2 tracks of steady state aerobics choreography.

 Select a pump barbell weight you can just lift 16 times.

 16 lunges L

16 Squats

16 lunges R

16 Squats

2 times 4 minutes (or 2 tracks) at perceived exertion 10 or 85-95 percent of maximum heart rate – 1 minute recovery steady state

 16 Dead  Row

16 Clean & Press

16 Dead Row

16 Clean & Press

3 times 3 minutes (or 3 tracks) at perceived exertion 10 or 85-95 percent of maximum heart rate – 1 minute recovery steady state

 16 Sit ups with barbell press

16 Burpees

16 Sit ups with barbell press

16 Burpees

6 minutes (or 2 tracks) at steady state aerobic choreography

Warm down and stretch

Easy for 2- 5 minutes, then stretch the working muscle groups.