Monday, April 11, 2011

Fat Loss Theory: The Relative Intensity Trap

When it comes to exercise and fat loss theory, many people who don't get results fall into what I like to call the "relative intensity trap." What is the relative intensity trap? It's really quite simple.

The relative intensity trap is the false mindset that a workout was good for fat loss just because it was difficult for YOU.

Just because you're exhausted doesn't mean you'll lose fat.

"Wait a minute, Timothy Ward... Are you telling me that being tired and out of breath during a workout or being extremely sore the day after a workout doesn't mean a damn thing for fat loss?"

"That is exactly what I'm telling you."

How can this be?

Well, think of it this way. Which person burns more calories...

1) Someone who deadlifts 225 pounds 100 times in 10 minutes
2) Someone who deadlifts 135 pounds 100 times in 10 minutes

It's pretty obvious right? The first person burned more calories.

Now, can you answer this question? Which person burns more calories...

1) Someone who has an average heart rate of 100 for 10 minutes
2) Someone who has an average heart rate of 140 for 10 minutes

Are you thinking person two burned more calories? Well, person two MIGHT have burned more calories, but you can't tell by that number alone! What if both scenarios represented the same scenario? Person one just might be in fantastic shape making 100 deadlifts at 225 pounds seem easy, and person two might have struggled mightily to get all 100 reps at a lesser load! Get the idea?

Relative intensity is determined by how "in shape" you already are. The worse shape you are in, the harder your workouts will feel to you. Therefore, the worse shape you are in, the harder it is to actually cut fat! How about that for a double-edged sword?!?!?

This is why I'm extremely picky when it comes to recommending that people attend fitness bootcamps to burn fat. Most of them just make you tired. Very few fitness bootcamps make you better.

So, to sum this up... subjective factors for intensity such as heart rate, muscle soreness, local muscular fatigue ("feel the burn!"), respiratory rate, feeling like you are going to throw up, etc. just aren't necessarily going to do the trick (unless, of course, you are in phenomenal shape). Feeling like a workout kicked your butt just might mean you aren't in that great of shape! I'm not saying not to give it your all... I am saying that you need to redefine your training so that your all is OBJECTIVELY intense, not relatively intense. 

In other words, you need to increase your capacity for intensity with the goal of training at a great absolute intensity, not relative intensity.
If you would like to see how much you know about fat loss, absolute intensity, and relative intensity, I suggest taking this short 5 question quiz that I made a little while ago. If you don't score well, you might have some reading to do!


  1. I'm really quite afraid to meet the guy who can dl 225 100 times in 10 min.

  2. I feel like I've read this exact same thing somewhere it's nothing new. Oh yea, chapter 2 of "The Theory of Fat loss."


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