Key Ingredients In A Fat-Loss Program

Hey folks, we are back with the world-famous trainer, Alwyn Cosgrove for another interview. But first, I would like to share with you a little more about Alwyn (pronounced Allan).

He is a superstar in the world of physique transformation for men and women and has trained champions in multiple sports and winners of multiple 12-week body transformation contests.

Alwyn also owns and operates a training facility in Santa Clarita, California, and he’s also written his own fat loss book called “Afterburn”.


CRAIG BALLANTYNE: What is the significance of adding circuits as you sometimes do? Are you always using total body sessions or do you sometimes use upper-lower splits?

ALWYN COSGROVE: I tend to use split routines from the get-go. However, I split the work based on movement patterns not on a muscle group. If the goal is fat loss I don’t use upper and lower body splits – although regardless of goal, I tend to favor the non-competing supersets system that we both use. As the client progresses, I feel that they start to increase their loads in their exercise and need more rest between sets of the same exercise.

So for example:

·    Squat: one minute of work (e.g. 10 reps) with one minute of rest
·    Push ups: one minute of work (e.g. 10 reps) with one minute of rest.

Than in-between the sets of squats,  I will have  3 minutes of rest (rest + push up time + rest). But if I’m doing 3 sets of each, I’m still getting all the work done in 12 minutes – one set every two minutes.

My ACTUAL rest time is short – but my practical rest time is 3 minutes, and my work density is one set every two minutes. Eventually, though we use heavier loads and need more rest

Here’s how we do it:

·    Squat: one minute of work (e.g. 10 reps) with 45s of rest
·    Push ups: one minute of work (e.g. 10 reps) with 45s of rest.
·    Seated Row: one minute of work (e.g. 10 reps) with 45s of rest

So now I have four minimum 15s of rest between squats (45s rest + push ups + 45s rest + row +45s of rest). I can definitely go heavier with my legs having that much longer of a rest.  If I do three sets of each it takes me 15 minutes and 45 seconds.

But I’m now getting NINE sets done in that time or one set in 1 minimum and 45 seconds. I’ve increased my practical rest time, but I’ve also increased my work density. So I can go heavier AND get more work done in the same time when compared to the original program. And just a reminder – we’re talking about fat loss training here – I’m not talking about optimal hypertrophy or strength routines.

CRAIG BALLANTYNE: You talk about the “Afterburn” being a massive metabolic disturbance (aka – what I call “turbulence”) being applied to the muscle. Can you explain why this metabolic disturbance matter and simply, what it is?

ALWYN COSGROVE: Quite simply if you work out every day for an hour – you’ll do seven hours of work. But there are 168 hours in a week. Seven hours (a significant commitment that few people have time for) is actually only 4% of your week. Do you really think that you’ll cause a change with fat loss based on a 4% investment? No way.

So we have to focus on the OTHER 23 hours of each day – the entire 168 hours in the week. The bulk of the calories your body burns comes from your resting metabolic rate (RMR). If we can turn that number up slightly – then we can make a big difference in total fat lost.

Now if we took that hour of exercise that we spend every day and could create a disturbance in RMR that would last (and as I mentioned earlier – studies have shown increased EPOC from a single workout 38 hour later) – then we are affecting the bigger picture.

Just by doing the math – forget about the workouts and the diet for now – if I could increase RMR only 25 calories per hour, every hour – that would end up being 600 additional calories per day – or 4200 calories burned per week. That should result in over a pound of fat loss per week before we even talk about the calories burned during the workout, the caloric deficit from the diet, the thermic effect of feeding, etc., etc.

For fat loss – what you do in the workout is irrelevant – we are looking solely at a stimulus to drive EPOC up. Interval training and resistance training do that very well.  Steady state aerobic work, particularly at low intensities doesn’t do that as well – so it’s not the first tool we turn to.

Look at this study…

“Fat loss following 15 weeks of high intensity, intermittent cycle ergometer training”

Authors: Trapp EG and Boutcher SH / University of New South Wales,  Sydney,  Australia

The study found 3 x 20 minutes of intervals for 15 weeks resulted in more fat loss than 3 x 30-40 minimum of aerobics at 60% V02 max.  The interval training group lost about three times as much fat.

CRAIG BALLANTYNE: Without spending too much time going over your thoughts on aerobic training for fat loss, is there a time you would ever use aerobic training?

ALWYN COSGROVE: Of course. I use it with deconditioned people – I’ve used it heavily myself since my transplant, and I use it with athletes needing to develop their aerobic system. Aerobic exercise is very beneficial  – please don’t misinterpret my thoughts on the matter – it’s just been overemphasized for fat loss.

Does it work? Of course. Is it the BEST program (which is what people pay me for)? No.

For fat loss – I don’t use it too much. It doesn’t burn very many calories when compared to interval training and does little to increase EPOC – which is the biggest key in fat loss programming.  I do use aerobic training as part of a “stubborn fat” protocol that Lyle McDonald introduced me too, but realistically that type of training only applies to a small percentage of people. I don’t believe most people have stubborn body fat as much as they need a longer period of fat loss training and dieting.

Additionally – very occasionally you can have a client eating well, doing metabolic resistance work 3-4 days per week and intervals 3-4 times per week, and because of time constraints (e.g. a show/photo shoot/ movie is coming up) – you need to burn some more calories. Under circumstances like that, it’s impractical to add another weight training session or another interval session – so we add 1-2 steady state aerobic sessions.

CRAIG BALLANTYNE: What’re your favorite interval method and duration – has anything stood out in your experience as being more effective than other methods? And do you have any uniquely effective interval methods?

ALWYN COSGROVE: I think the Tabata Protocol holds some merit (20s on 10s off for 8 rounds) to just crank metabolism – but it is better for conditioning and athletic performance than for fat loss. But as with most things – it’s a useful tool in your arsenal.

Last year I experimented with a bunch of different work to rest intervals. Basically, what I found is that the best fat loss results seem to come with 30 to 60s of work and 60-120s of rest. As much as I played around with it – I couldn’t really come up with anything that stood out as being superior.

As far as uniquely effective intervals – I think the future of fat loss training is going to move away from traditional cardiovascular based intervals and move towards, tabata stuff, bodyweight circuits, complexes, and strongman type medley’s with the same loading parameters.

CRAIG BALLANTYNE: What’s more important – exercise fat oxidation or 24-hour energy expenditure? Why?

ALWYN COSGROVE: 24 hour energy expenditure.  If I take a workout and burn 300 calories from fat (ie very low intensity work), that’s 300 calories burned.  If I take a 30 minimum workout and create enough metabolic disruption so that you burn even ½ a calorie extra per minute, (and studies are showing an elevated EPOC for 38 hours), – then I’m looking at another 720 calories for the next 24 hours PLUS the calories burned in the original workout.  Focusing on what is burned DURING the exercise session is massively short sighted. That type of thinking has its roots in the mythical fat burning zone. I hope we don’t have to go into that.

CRAIG BALLANTYNE: We don’t, no worries. Alwyn has a lot of great information on his website,

More powerful fat loss tips coming soon,

Craig Ballantyne, CSCS, MS
Creator, Turbulence Training