Sunday, April 17, 2011

Fat Loss Secrets: Neural Cardio Circuits

Fat loss secrets are hard to come by... at least the TRUE fat loss secrets. Why? There really is no "secret" (see links) other than it takes real work, consistency, and progression. However, that doesn't mean that when push comes to shove, you can't structure your workouts to make them effective for both the short term AND long term.

Enter the neural cardio circuit.

You may be wondering, "What in the world is a neural cardio circuit?" Well it's pretty simple. In the world of sports performance and weight training, workouts lie on the neural-metabolic continuum. When you train in the 1-5 rep zone with a 1-5 rep maximum load, your strength adaptations will be largely due to nervous system (neural) adaptations. Adding on bulk is not the end result when training in the neural zone (although you will get significantly stronger and might put on SOME muscle). On the other end of the continuum is the high rep zone with lighter loads. If you train in this zone, the adaptations your body makes are largely endurance related.

"Cardio" has been incorrectly associated largely with the metabolic side of the continuum for a long time mainly because pure strength training doesn't typically leave people gasping for air and dying on the floor. This is also why very few people perform strength training for fat loss. It's a shame (see relative intensity trap) because they are missing out on both the long term and the short term benefits of being strong.

But anyway, I'll get back to the main point of this article, neural cardio circuits. Here's how it works. Pick 3-6 big bang exercises. I'm talking about deadlifts, squats, multijoint single leg exercises, and upper body pulls and presses. At the very least you will want a squat or deadlift variation for your first exercise and an upper body push and pull (e.g. bench press and cable row or shoulder press and pullup). The stronger you are the fewer exercises you'll need to make this effective. The weaker you are, the more exercises you'll need. (This took me an entire book to explain, so just take my word for it).

Set up these exercises in a circuit with a 5 rep maximum load. You are going to want to perform 5-8 rounds of this circuit performing 3 reps at each station. Take no rest time between exercises in the circuit and then rest for 30s to 1 minute after you complete a round. (Again, if you are really strong, you'll NEED more rest time... if you aren't very strong, stick with 30s).

This works on two fronts. Because you are training heavy for multiple sets, you are going to get strength adaptations (and you should know how important strength is for fat loss), and because you are doing a circuit of distinctly different exercises, you will have enough rest time before returning to the same exercise so you have plenty of time to recover. On the other hand, your heart rate will be through the roof because you won't be getting very much rest time between exercises.

Be careful though, because this type of workout might just kick the crap out of you AND make you better at the same time.


  1. Hey Tim,
    What's a good combination you would recommend for someone who works out at a crowded gym?

  2. I probably wouldn't do this in a crowded gym... It really depends on the layout of the gym and how much space you can occupy without anyone getting in your way.

    If you can secure a power rack and two barbells... you could do squats/deads, shoulder press, and chinups, and maybe split squats (if your load for shoulder press is comparable to what you can do for a split squat)... you can always also do more reps if your loading is off (which would make it less neural, but it would be ridiculously more metabolic)


Commenting and asking questions about fat loss is the first step towards investing in your own health. You might also have comments that help other people or questions that other people are too shy to ask, so please leave a comment or ask a question.

Note that comments on posts older than 7 days are moderated to discourage spam.