I really appreciate reader and customer emails because it gives me feedback on what you’re struggles are and then helps me provide you with the solution.
Here’s an email I got yesterday from Todd. I’ve posted it in its entirety so you can see the context.
And the reason I’m doing it is because this question is a Gold Mine that will answer so many people’s questions – specifically, why you start a program/workout with one intention, say, to lose weight, and you never reach your goals.
That last part is really important – SO many people embark on a journey and never reach the destination.
And it doesn’t have to be that way. You just need to put a few keys in place and remove a few obstacles. Then it’s pretty much smooth sailing.
Finally, before we dig any deeper, it’s important that we acknowledge how the mind affects the body – especially the subconscious mind – the part that really makes the decisions.
If your rational mind – the part you think is in control doesn’t match the subconscious mind, and therefore your actions don’t match the necessary steps to achieve your goals, this will lead to internal friction, which is probably one of the worst forms of stress we experience.
So identifying potential and hidden roadblocks will help reconcile the rational and subconscious minds by increasing awareness, addressing hidden questions, and answering those questions in the context of our goals.
(If I lost you there – don’t worry – just keep reading. It’ll all make sense as we go through this together.)
So here we go –
I have been folloowing your e-mails for over a year now and enjoy them – I have learned a lot. I am 49 yo and have worked out all my life. I have been using kb’s for about 3 years now. I started using them wanting to lose some weight and fat – but have had the opposite happen. I have gotten very strong, but have gained weight. Was up to 240lbs. Started doing the eat-stop-eat diet about 2 months ago (I really like it). I got a respiratory infection about 6 weeks ago and could not work out for a couple weeks and then decided to take a break from the kb’s and just did some interval training on the eliptical. So not doing any kb’s for about a month and I have lost 15 lbs. down to 225 (wtf!). I enjoy the kb’s and want to get back doing them but I don’t want to put the weight back on. I was doing different workouts w/ 50 and 60lb. kb’s. What do you think was going on and what type of kb workout should I be doing in the future to continue losing weight and fat?
Todd – thanks for writing in.
Let’s break this down into pieces to get a clearer understanding.
1. You started using kettlebells “to lose weight and fat but… had the opposite happen.”
First, I can only infer from this statement that from using kettlebells you gained weight and gained fat.
So, the “weight” could’ve been muscle, especially since you said you’ve gotten really strong.
It could also be fluid build up, which is a result of chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation is a result of too much stress. So, incredibly taxing workouts, like many kettlebell workouts, will just place more stress on your body, preventing a system that’s already overworked from recovering. And therefore not getting the weight / fat loss you expected.
The second thing is that some people’s appetites increase from intense exercise. And unless your faithfully monitoring all the calories that go in your mouth, there’s a good chance you were just eating more without being aware of it. I’ve seen that happen quite often when people start using kettlebells.
The third and related thing is psychological – you start working out harder or more or both and subconsciously you give yourself permission to eat more. It’s a simple rationalization that many of us don’t mean to do.
“I’m working out more, so I can eat _______.”
And unfortunately “_______” isn’t usually more salad. It’s more of the calorically dense stuff that puts weight on in the first place.
I’ve seen that happen way too often to people who start using KBs.
2. “Started doing the eat-stop-eat diet about 2 months ago (I really like it).”
I’m not sure if this had anything to do with your weight loss because you don’t say. But since you mention it, let’s both assume that it did.
There are two things going on here –
Thing 1 – You’re eating less calories per week. Over time you’ll see your weight drop. It’s just simple math.
Thing 2 – You actually “really like” the program so you’re more apt to stick with it, thus ensuring your results. And because you’re getting results, you’re liking it even more, helping you stick with it. And then you get more results. It’s a nice little positive feedback loop. And that’s the way it should be.
And because both those “things” are helping you achieve your original goal – weight loss and fat loss, from a hormonal perspective, you’re setting yourself up for success.
You’re getting into a caloric deficit.
That caloric deficit is switching on your fat burning hormones.
And because you’re enjoying the process and possibly seeing results, your reducing the production of your stress hormones, which is decreasing the effects of stress on your body, and restoring the hormonal balance between all of your hormones – bringing you closer back to the baseline we’re meant to live and function in – lean, strong, and healthy.
3. “I got a respiratory infection about 6 weeks ago and could not work out for a couple weeks and then decided to take a break from the kb’s and just did some interval training on the eliptical. So not doing any kb’s for about a month and I have lost 15 lbs. down to 225 (wtf!).”
Ok, here’s the “meat n potatoes” of this post – so you’ll want to pay close attention here.
Respiratory infections are pretty massive bugs. In order to catch something of that magnitude, your immune system has to be working less than optimally.
And the quickest way to suppress your immune system is to be over-stressed.
What’s this got to do with kettlebell workouts?
Hang tight, amigo, we’re getting there. It’s just really, really important you see how this process is so interconnected.
One of the things about getting sick – especially like this – is that if forces you to rest. And rest, is a great antidote to stress. In fact, rest, sleep, whatever you want to call it, is probably the best form of stress-relief there is. (Probably why God created sleep…)
So, you start resting, and you start de-stressing. Not to mention the fact that your body is in “code red” fighting off those nasty little intruders – that infection. This means your metabolism is going to increase. (Running a temperature is a manifestation of this.)
And not only that, most of us, when we’re sick, don’t feel like eating that much. So there’s a natural caloric reduction here too.
So what you have is rest + metabolism increase + less external stress imposed from not working out + eating less food than normal = weight loss.
(This in fact happened to me when I got the shingles. I literally lost 10lbs in one day. Woke up Saturday morning at 205. Got up Sunday at 195.)
Not only that, but Todd, when you started recovering, you felt well enough to do some interval training on the elliptical.
Interval training, especially intense (relative term, I know – different for different people at different times) interval training, has been shown to blunt your appetite.
And not only that, the body does appreciate “novel stimuli” – variety – as a stimulus for change.
So, you got –
An elevated metabolism from fighting an infection +
less external stress imposed on your body from doing hard KB workouts +
change in workouts (novel stimulus) +
blunted appetite from interval training =
Is this making sense so far?
There are a lot of “mechanisms” for weight loss all going on at the same time here – I want to make sure we unpack them all so you can see how this will apply to you…
So back to THE Dilemma –
4. “I enjoy the kb’s and want to get back doing them but I don’t want to put the weight back on. I was doing different workouts w/ 50 and 60lb. kb’s. What do you think was going on and what type of kb workout should I be doing in the future to continue losing weight and fat?”
Todd – you didn’t say what kind of weight it was that you lost. Was it muscle? Was it fat? Was it a combination of the two? Unfortunately, unless you measured you won’t know for sure. But, based on experience, my best guess is that it was a combination of both.
One way to tell if it was fat was simply to see how your pants fit. If they’re looser in the waist, you lost some fat.
And that’s good.
But I’m with you – and at this point I’m going to address everybody in the global sense of the word “you” – I think it’s really important that you continue to use kettlebells for the plain and simple reason that you enjoy them.
Please don’t overlook that.
Enjoying something is HUGELY important in achieving any goal.
(As long as it’s consistent in achieving that goal.)
It means you’re more likely to remain committed to your goal and consistent in doing the things necessary to achieve it.
And because you enjoy what you’re doing, you will in fact, decrease your stress levels.
And again, please don’t overlook that point – because all stress produces adaptation but not always the adaptation that we want.
In this case, you want to lose weight and fat. (I’d just worry about the fat – stay as muscular as possible and lose the dough on top of it, but hey – that’s just me…)
So we need to apply enough stress to the body to get that to happen without over-stressing and accidentally encouraging the opposite to happen – which is probably the reason you gained weight in the first place.
So how do we apply “just enough stress” to the body without getting it to do the opposite?
Here are the steps.
1. Think about your recovery first.
I’m a big believer that regardless of how you “feel” – the average person (that’s you and me) doesn’t need to work out every day. Even for stress relief. Sure, there are ways to do that (more on that in a minute) but it’s like walking a tightrope – not much margin for error.
So, make sure you’re getting enough sleep first and foremost. Don’t even think about doing any sort of hard kettlebell workouts if you’re only getting 5 hours of sleep a night.
Seriously. I’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Nothing lives there except injuries. And getting injured increases stress. BIG TIME.
So, get your sleep first.
Skip your workouts if you have to, but help your body rest and recover by sleeping 7 to 8 hours per night. No excuses.
2. Be an Underachiever.
Set aside a period of time you know you can commit to for your workouts.
I used to be infamous (in my own mind) for writing these fantastic periodized workouts for myself that were 6 days a week because that’s what all the champs did for their training.
I never completed any of them. My life got in the way.
The simplest and best (most productive as measured by actual results) weightlifting workouts were the ones written for me by my coach (surprise – how bout that). And they drove me crazy because the were “too easy” – 3 exercises per day, 3 days per week. Maybe 2.5 hours a week of workouts. That’s it. Massive results. But they worked so well I started doing other stuff. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid…
But I digress – we’re talking about you…
So if you know you can “only” fit in 2 hours a week for your workouts, then you know what?
Become an Underachiever.
We’re a society of Overachievers.
This just adds to our stress levels. So do the opposite with your workouts.
You can only commit to 3 hours per week to working out?
(From experience, I bet you’re wrong – I bet you’re overestimating.)
Cut it in half and commit to 1.5 hours per week.
Why so little?
So you can actually do it. Consistently. Routinely. Effortlessly. Without mental anxiety, angst, or aggravation.
By doing so you’ll build the recovery necessary into your workouts so you can actually see the results you say you want.
And because it’s “so easy” to get the workouts into your busy schedule, you’ll actually do them all the time.
And then you’ll be building that positive feedback loop that leads you down the Road to Success –
Easy workouts + very little time commitment + consistency + enjoyment = Results!
And that’s it – just 2 steps.
Why only two?
Simple. So you remember them. And more importantly, don’t have to stress out about remembering them or whether or not you can remember them.
Some Sidenotes On Stress Relief…
Many of us, myself included, like to work out for stress relief. So my training is sometimes some sort of weird combination of training to reach strength goals and alleviating stress.
So I get the fact that workouts are stress relievers. But what I’ve found is that if I program in alternate easy activities for stress relief, I can focus on just training to achieve my strength goals. This works so much better.
(I actually achieve my strength goals sooner – which is a stress reliever itself.)
The simplest activity for me is just long walks on the weekends. A couple of one hour walks make a huge difference in my ability to handle stress. I’ll also toss in a couple of short 20 minute walks with the dog just to clear my head during the week when I need to.
Works like a charm.
Plus the extra activity helps burn extra calories and that helps keep me lean.
You should do the same.
Funny movies are great too.
When was the last time you laughed so hard you either cried or almost pee’d your pants? I’ll bet it’s been awhile.
There’s a story about Norman Cousins, a famous journalist from my grandparents’ generation, of how he cured a pretty debilitating illness by laughter.
So laughter is a great stress-reliever. Laugh. A lot.
Back to the kettlebell workouts…
What Kind Of Workouts?
Ok, so I realize I didn’t specifically answer your question about what kind of kettlebell workout you should be doing to lose fat moving ahead.
This is a simple one.
They should be –
1. Short enough to give you time to recover.
2. Fun – with variety to keep your mind stimulated and your heart engaged.
3. Frequent enough to keep your body stimulated and programmed for progress.
4. Properly designed using principles of Progressive Overload so you can track and see progress.
So that’s how I would design them if I were you.
Except, if I were you, I wouldn’t waste my time trying to design my workouts. That would only add one more thing to the “To Do” list and increase your stress levels.
Instead, I think you should pick up a copy of “Kettlebell Express!” which is my new “book” chock full of kettlebell programs – 49 different ones to be exact.
And the reasons are very simple –
1. They are short and to the point – you’ll workout for no more than 60-90 minutes per week, depending on the program you choose. This gives you time to recover.
And remember – Recovery = Results.
2. There’s a lot of variety in the programs. This means they’re enjoyable. Unless you’re a monk, most of us cannot do the same old kettlebell routine.
For many of us –
Variety = Motivation.
And Motivation = Consistency.
And Consistency = Success.
3. The thinking and programming has been done for you.
Dan John is very fond of the quote – “The client who represents himself in court has a fool for an attorney.” His point is that all of us not only need coaching but will ultimately fail if we don’t for the simple reason that we bring our own biases and blindness to the table.
Which means unless you’re an expert in workout program design, your best efforts are “hit or miss.”
4. And all that means less stress for you.
Remember, Stress Management = Success.
So when you’re looking for a variety of fun, short, time-efficient stress-relieving kettlebell programs (49 of them), click here and grab yourself a copy of Kettlebell Express!. You’ll be very glad you did.
So Todd, I think that pretty well answers your question.
I appreciate you sending it in because you brought up so many good points that I know so many people have struggled with, but weren’t aware of all the underlying mechanisms and implications and how each of these things tied together.
And if you (global you – not just Todd) have any comments or questions, leave them below.
Oh yeah, almost forgot – the special promo for Kettlebell Express! ends at Midnight Wednesday night. When you want to stop stressing about which workouts to do to reach your goals, click here.