Thursday, February 28, 2013

From 16% to 8% Body Fat in 10 Weeks: Crossfit Workout Gets The Leanest Shredded - But Only the Fittest Survive

Crossfit doesn't fit well with everyone. In  fact you have to be pretty fit already if you intend to benefit - specifically if you don't have someone who tailors the workouts to your specific needs. If you don't or are still miles apart from being fit, don't be bamboozled by the results of people who have been training for years.
This certainly sounds a little sadistic, but I hope you've been missing the Science Round-Up last Thursday. If that's the case, you will be happy to hear that Carl and I are back on track, and ready to talk about topics ranging from magnesium supplementation over the potentially fatal combination of NSAIDs and exercise and what's that got to do with gut health / integrity, how light therapy won't make you lighter, but help you cut body fat, how intense workouts compromise your sleep, and how intense sweeteners make you fat - at least if you add them on top of a Western diet. If we will have time, we will also take a look at how much protein it actually takes to preserve lean mass on a diet and how protein supplementation is not necessary and in a recently published study not even conducive to building muscle. And while these were only 50% of the news I've on my list of potential topics, I won't give away more... just tune in live at 1PM EST on the Super Human Radio Network.

For the time that remains and for those of you who are just arriving here after having listened to the live-stream, I still have a special goodie... have you ever pondered over the following question:

How much can you achieve within 10 weeks of training?

Even if you have already decided on a certain type of training, for example HIIT, you will have to adjust your routine to "Make HIIT a HIT" read Part I and Part II of the eponymous series and learn how to turn a HIIT workout into your HIIT workout to avoid overtraining and maximize its efficacy (learn more)
There is obviously no definite answer to this question. I mean, it goes without saying that we would first have to define, whether we are talking about muscle growth, overall conditioning, fat loss, etc. - what people often overlook, however it also depends on where you are coming from. Sometimes I feel like I am the only one who dares telling someone who's been "running" - in most cases this is rather sitting and driving - around at 2x his/her normal weight for years, is past his early 20s and has a life beyond working out and dieting is very unlikely to ever achieve a cover model physique. On the other hand, we've got the average trainee, who's been training for years has a high degree of leanness and is just about to see his sixpack shine through, who will necessarily make much smaller improvements within a given time-frame than his obese colleague who's just about to start working out for the first time of his/her life.

The previous paragraph should have made it quite clear, compared to the (overweight) beginner, an advanced trainee must invest much more thought into his/her diet and exercise regimen. That real intermittent fasting would probably be a better alternative for him/her than the "buffered every other day fat" has already been mentioned in yesterday's SuppVersity Article, but what about the exercise regimen?

Working out for fat loss and conditioning - Crossfit rules!

Fast paced high intensity workouts are gathering more and more momentum even outside of Crossfit gyms. Some of them may look somewhat "Jane Fonda", but as a previous review of the workout DVDs Insanity vs. TurboFire revealed, even hopping around in front of your TV set is more productive than the fat burning zone on the treadmill in next to your sofa (learn more)
Let's say he or she is working out primarily to increase his/her conditioning and drop a (if by any means possible) a significant amount of body fat? What would be the best way to train, then?

According to the results of a soon-to-be-published study from the  Ohio State University Health & Exercise Science in Columbus, Ohio (Smith. 2013), there is no question that this would be a Crossfit-esque workout - or, as the scientists refer to it, a crossfit-based high intensity power training (HIPT) program, they describe as follows:
"[...] a crossfit-based HIPT program using basic gymnastic skills (hand- stands, ring, and bar exercises) and traditional multiple-joint, functional, resistance exercises (squat, press, deadlift, Olympic lifts) performed as quickly as possible at a high intensity (low repetition, high percentage of 1-RM)." (Smith. 2013; my italics)
The 10-week program was varied so that some exercises were performed for a best time, and others were performed in the “as many rounds as possible” style (AMRAP; for a little more versatility check out Adelfo's EDT-CrossOver training) within anything from 10 to 20 minutes.

While there were no prescribe recovery times during the strength/skill portion of the exercise session, the WOD portion of the session did not allow for any real "rest" between the sets, as all the exercises were to be performed as quickly as possible.

Wow, who survived that? - Good question, indeed!

Only the fittest survive: Please do me a favor - If you are the aformentioned overweight person who's still carrying around another guy/gal's weight as body fat, don't even think of crossfitting, if you don't want to end up like 9 of the 11 dropouts (the study started with 54 participants), who retired willingly due to overuse or injuries, ok?
I guess you won't be surprised to hear that the 23 men and 20 women who survived and of whom the scientists state that they were "spanning all levels of aerobic fitness and body composition" were actually the typical already reaonably fit Crossfit clientele of whom Smith et al. somwhat awkwardly point out that they "had already been following a 'Paleolithic' type diet prior to and following completion of the training protocol." In other words the "levels of aerobic fitness" the participants spanned ranged from the untrained yet 100% healthy male with a VO2max of ~35 ml/kg/min to the hardcore crossfitter with a starting VOMax of >50ml/kg/min - the aforementioned heavily overweight and thus by now average (see "Obese is Going About to Become the New Normal") Westerner was yet not part of the study population.

Still, the presence of subject spanning the divide between "just healthy" and ripped and well-conditioned is in fact what attracts me as the author of a webpage that's dedicated to anyone ranging from those who just want to be / get / remain healthy and look not all-too shabby in front of the mirror to those who are looking to max out on their own physical performance and appearance. Long story short: The data you see in figure 1 is relevant for all of you. Even if you are still a couple of inches away from matching at least the initially criteria, you will sooner or later arrive at a point, where you'll find a representative counterpart of yours among the subjects of the study at hand.
Figure 1: Body fat percentage (left) and VO2Max (right) before and after the intervention (Smith. 2013)
I guess the data in figure 1 do actually speak for themselves: There is actually pretty much you can achieve within just 10-weeks of serious training: A significant (P<0.05) improvement of VO2max of 2.64% if you are a man and 11.78% if you are a women and (probably much sexier in the eyes of most of you) a 4% respectively 3% decreaes in body fat!
"To our knowledge no research on the aerobic benefits of HIPT has been conducted. HIPT focuses on high intensity resistance training usingmultiple joint exercises, with little to no focus on traditional aerobic activities. In spite of this, our results show that this type of training also provides aerobic and body composition benefits. Theincreased aerobic capacity of the subjects in our HIPT study were similar to those found in past research (Tremblay. 1994; Burgomaster. 2005). Based on the results presented here, individuals of all fitness levels and either gender can realize body composition and aerobic benefits from HIPT. Given that our subjects were following a Paleolithic diet, we cannot relate all of the observed weight loss to HIPT training. However, HIPT and Paleolithic diet in combination could be used to promote positive changes in body composition."
Now, all the scientists write is unquestionably true (also the part on the "paleo diet", as long as it is not very low carb paleo, cf. "Carbohydrate Shortage in Paleoland") and still, for me there are two things Smith et al. don't mention in the paragraph cited about and these are (A) the sex differences in terms of the VO2Max gains (maybe a result of the fact that women are not the ones who would otherwise do HIIT-esque workouts (=aerobic training at high intensities), so that the new stimulus will yield a greater results and (B) the fact that Crossfit is a workout regimen, from which even those benefit who are already fit and lean (keep in mind that the 16% in the lean group are for men and women, so that is lean!).

Bottom line: Crossfit appears to be the high intensity workout regimen which can help experienced trainees to make the transition from lean to ripped!

Want to do some more aerobics but also stick your classic weight lifting routine and just add cardio in? Now you are asking yourself, when this would make sense? Before, after or in between? Is that's you, go back in the SuppVersity archives and learn more.
As exciting as this may seem, a brief glance at the data in figure 1 will yet also tell you that those who are not up to the intensity and athletic demands of crossfitting don't just risk getting injured (please read the red box further up in the article, as well), they are also wasting their time with a workout that's not designed for their fitness level an will thus yield suboptimal results. This may not necessarily be the case in absolute terms - after all -4% body fat reduction certainly is not bad, but that's -4% from a pretty chubby baseline of 33% and actually could be achieved with basically any well-planned nutrition + exercise regimen. The latter obviously cannot be said of the -50% relative reduction in body fat percentage in the lean subjects on the other side of the "body fat divide". These men and women are most likely people who have been working out for all their lives in one way or another.

The "gifted ones" are in fact rather the ones who are often literally accused of being "genetically gifted" by accusers who simply don't take into consideration that it is above all the epigenetic priming of years of high school, college and other sports that renders them ostensibly resistant to the "obesity virus".

If you are still infected with the obsisty virus and have just found your way to physical culture you hardly qualify as one of those individuals by whom the original Crossfit workouts were created and are therefore certainly not among those people for whom these metabolically and technically demanding workouts were and still are designed. 

If you do "qualify", however (and that is nothing you have to be born wirth, I myself once believed that I just did not have the genes to see my abs), cross fitting could fit in particularly well in your "beach-ready" plan, of which I'd hope you are already thinking about... I mean, spring is less than 3 weeks away (click here to learn more about setting up a workout routine)!

Addendum: Since I got several people asking for the lean mass changes, I thought I'd mention that there was a +1kg increase in lean mass in men and women. Unfortunately the scientists don't provide differential information for lean and heavier subjects, but if your body fat percentage decreases you do at least have  to lose much more fat than lean mass and since there was no dieting involved, I bet the lean guys and girls did not lose any muscle..

  • Burgomaster KA, Hughes SC, Heigenhauser GJ, Bradwell SN, Gibala MJ. Six sessions of sprint interval training increases muscle oxidative potential and cycle endurance capacity in humans. J Appl Physiol. 2005 Jun;98(6):1985-90.
  • Smith MM, Sommer AJ, Starkoff BE, Devor ST. Crossfit-based high intensity power training improves maximal aerobic fitness and body composition. J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Feb 22. 
  • Tremblay A, Simoneau JA, Bouchard C. Impact of exercise intensity on body fatness and skeletal muscle metabolism. Metabolism. 1994 Jul;43(7):814-8.


  1. well... 8% BF reduction in 10 weeks sounds a bit crazy... maybe it's possible, but with big muscle loss...

  2. As a 52-year old in (what I thought was) pretty good shape, my short experience with Crossfit parallels what you say here. I could see a noticeable difference in leanness in just a few weeks. Wife noticed, too. But after a month I had an injured knee (missed box jump), an injured shoulder (f**king kipping pull-ups), and finally an injured lower back (from doing 75 heavy kettlebell swings, but it's an oft recurring injury, to be fair). Thought it wise to discontinue at that point.

    Still, oddly enough, I miss it. I rather enjoyed the workouts even though they were brutal. It was good to know I could push myself so much harder than I thought, and that has had a lasting benefit. Crossfit, as they grow their membership, they really need to "ramp up" people more slowly, especially us geezers. But the group class setting makes that harder.

  3. Rhetorical question. You have a bodybuilding client who has bulked to 16% body fat but now wants to use a regiment that will help him get to 8% body fat while preserving as much muscle as possible. Are you going to recommend CrossFit? Of course not. Why? Because hypertrophy programs that use heavy loads with moderate caloric deficits from dieting and cardio are knows to preserve lean tissue and provide the best results versus functional training regiments that use rep ranges and loads that are incomparable with maintaining muscle mass while in a caloric deficit.

    My experiences with CrossFit are in stark contrast to this article. If you have acquired a decent amount of muscle through traditional hypertrophy training, unless you are a mesomorph, you will likely hemorrhage muscle on CrossFit. If aesthetics are your main concern and you need to slash body fat in TRAINED, LEAN, individuals, I would never advise any training regiments that primarily utilize functional training. We have all this data about optimal sets and reps and TUT and concentric/eccentric loading, etc, etc, etc that clearly indicates that the main variables associated with hypertrophy and the maintenance of muscle mass while in a caloric deficit are MUCH better utilized with hypertrophy training. I can't even tell you how many times I've seen people transition from a hypertrophy program to CF and complain about muscle loss. This is why bodybuilders do not do those programs to get lean when preservation of lean tissue is important. Bodybuilders on steroids can get away with CrossFit style workouts when cutting, as well as doing high rep programs to "etch in the cuts and burn the fat bro" because androgens are anticatabolic. However, in the real world "anecdotal I know" using higher intensity (80% 1RM or more) loads seem to always provide better results, meaning they retain muscle mass better.

    1. I don't disagree, that simply keeping to lift weight is probably better for a bodybuilder, but that requires a bodybuilder diet ... the workout we are dealing here induced reductions in body fat without dietary change. And by the way the average change in lean body mass was +1kg in both men and women (unfortunately, they did not distinguish between lean and normal, here)

    2. I should have prefaced my first post by saying what a huge fan I am. I can't tell you how illuminating your posts have been to me. thank you so much for all of your hard work and time.

      Anyway, there is no doubt that these CrossFit workouts generate large energy expenditures and probably modestly increase fatty acid oxidation via glycogen depletion (as you know the amount of carbohydrate in the diet determines whether glyogen depletion induced increases in FFA oxidation do anything for body fat loss or not, so that is not a de facto benefit per sey). I'm also haven't written off EPOC as a potential player in EE for these workouts YET (I'm skeptical, since the Knab AM et. al. cycling study showed a HUGE EPOC, but the LaForgia review using anaerobic workouts showed a MUCH more modest epoc). And no doubt general fitness enthusiasts, people looking to "get in shape" and females, will probably get aesthetically pleasing results from CrossFit, in addition to the other befits those training systems have over any hypertrophy program. So if you are eating ad libitum, and are not concerned with having substantial mass, doing CrossFit will generate enough of a caloric expenditure to create a net deficit and promote fat loss and the anaerobic exercises will probably be sufficient to maintain the level of muscle mass you desire. Again, bodybuilders or people with some size.... I wouldn't take issue with it if they didn't market it as a superior hypertrophy and cutting plan.

      A 2.2 pound increase in muscle over 10 weeks while in a caloric deficit? I'd like to hear your theories about how this happens in untrained, and more interestingly, trained people. Lyle McDonald has some theories but he's not spilling the beans yet. It seems like a thermodynamic miracle.

    3. You are right - there is a "cheating effect" in the study, the scientists try to disguise. It's the "Paleo diet" the participants are supposed to have been following before they started the study... I am however not convinced how "true" that is, because in the FT the researchers repeatedly mention that they cannot say how much of the fat loss was due to the diet.

      Another thing is that you may question the accuracy of the Bodpod (method used to measure the body composition), but since it works nicely in wrestlers / despite dehydration / I don't think that we have reason to doubt the relative levels.

      As for the rookies, gaining muscle and dropping tons of fat on paleo + crossfit does by the way not surprise me. What is really "extraordinary" - and I am with you on that - is what happened to the lean folks. I mean, theoretically, they could have lost lean mass as well without the data it's hard to tell. It's certainly a problem that they did the inter-group analysis for the body fat only...

  4. I get injured just watching crossfit.

    I am 48 and reasonably fit/lean for my age. BMI around 21, and I can do 10 decent form bodyweight pullups.

    I tried P90x at home. After 2 weeks or so I stopped. I had injured knee, shoulder and elbow. That knee and should have been a little problematic for years but the elbow was new. It was like tennis elbow from all the chins/pulls from various angles. It took over a month of no pullups to heal.

    I think all of these ultra fit routines are fine if you are twenty something, high responder with perfect joints. Then the cream of that crop emerge to do infomercials.

    These days I am most interested in what works for typical/low responder trainees. The more studies I see on resistance training, the more I notice that while nearly every protocol works, there are significant non responders in every protocol.

    Does it make sense to follow the programs of the genetically gifted? I am most interested in the non responders and what can be done for them.

    These days I do more abbreviated resistance training routine, and only palm facing away pullups. Mix in some HIIT indoor cycling in winter, and real riding in summer. I am not muscular/shredded, but I am also not injured.

    1. that's the spirit of Physical culture Peter *thumbs up* - you are in to stay fit and healthy and (what way too many people forget) to have fun / enjoy yourself.

      I don't crossfit, for example, because I like classic lifting - allegedly in a much faster pace than "classic" way better and no study will ever have me change that.

  5. I did crossfit while studying abroad in China, eating several times a day not tracking anything, and I ended up going from 140 to 128lbs. That was muscle by the way. My body-fat dropped to super low but I lost a crap ton of muscle as well. You can't maintain muscle mass without weight on the bar. I agree with Christopher Davis.

    1. Hold on, who said there was no weight on the bar on the O-Lifts?

    2. True, I guess my experience was coming from a body-building routine beforehand. Although it was fun and great conditioning, I couldn't use, for instance, my normal weight on the squats so my body got rid of the extra muscle. My vertical jump on the other hand... lol that went high.

    3. I would say vert jump higher due to more explosive move which in turn comes from more muscle power which mean more muscle!!

  6. I tried crossfit for a while but with an aging back and knee issues, and a dicky shoulder I simply have to ignore most powerlifting moves or I get into a world of injury. Its possible to do intense training without many of these moves and still preserve your joints. I can do chins, even weighted, no probs, run/sprint but for me control is the key especially with anything involving a squatting type movement. Shoulder constraints and a bit of a sway back mean heavy overhead lifts are very unwise. My priority is getting to 80 or more and still being active and functioning. I don't want to be in the queue for joint replacement if I can help it!

    1. wise choice; health should always come first. I mean what's the chance of making faster progress word, if you end up in a situation where you cannot train at all?. And like I said, there are dozens of ways to "skin the cat"

  7. Dr. Andro, do you have any hints for women who struggle to lose stubborn fat in thighs and hips ? It seems that losing fat in the lower body is extremely difficult for women. What would be the optimal diet and training program for women trying to get lean ( endurance training or HIIT or both, low-carb or high-carb or cyclical diet etc.) ?

    1. honestly, I don't really think that there is another way to get rid of stubborn fat but simply being more stubborn, yourself. What's important is that you don't diet for more than 6 weeks and risk getting stuck. In other words you will have to work your way down in 6/4 or 6/3 cycles.

      As far as the training goes something like a fast paced (short rest times) strength workout in the 8-10 rep range some steady state cardio afterwards (like 30min strength + 20min steady state). 3x per week, 1 day HIIT, but with relative long active rest, like 30s all out 3min "steady state", 10 of those and you got another 40 min workout in.
      If you can do that cardio in the morning (yet on empty) can also help if you do that, you can however cut the post strength LISS to 10min and take it as a "regenerative" means.

      dietwise, low carb or low fat does in my mind not make too much of difference, as long as you don't eat tons of carbs before the workout. The stupid thing about stubborn fat is that you really have to force your body to tab into those stores, therefore the early morning cardio could be helpful as well. And yes, I know that science says it does not make a difference; my personal experience does yet speak a very different language.

      there are also a couple of (in parts) dubious studies on topically applied yohimbine helping to get rid of the tigh fat, here is one you should be able to access without subscription =>

    2. May want to also look into Lyle's stuff on this at

    3. I’ve followed your advice on training given in your earlier article (weights 3 times a week + HIIT 1-2 times a week) and in the age of 45 I am in the best shape of my life. I changed my diet though and and left out grains and dairy due to gastrointestinal reasons and that made a BIG difference. I also did my HIIT in a fasted state. For the first time of my life I can see my abs !

      You suggest doing cardio on an empty stomach. Should I eat immediately after morning cardio or postpone my first meal with a couple of hours ? Some trainers recommend this. In some studies the participants having done endurance training in a fasted state did not eat for a 3-4 hours after the training and by this method they lost more fat than those who had a meal before training or right after it. In the long run it probably won’t matter but what would be the optimal way to keep the muscles and burn fat when one is doing morning cardio ?

    4. Actually, this does depend on the length of the workout. If you work out for 30-40min, you better have a meal afterwards. You can certainly argue that you are "in fat burning mode" already, but a) you are also in a slightly catabolic state and b) most people will not function well on a cognitive level if they don't eat after the workout

  8. Having been a traditional bodybuilder for 20 years, my personal experience with CrossFit did not result in muscle loss. Rather for me, I gained much more functional strength than I have under any other training program. Don't get me wrong, I believe that under past traditional strength programs I had solid strength gains but the range of motion and the sheer number muscle fibers engaged were less. Basically, CrossFit shored up many of my weaknesses (muscular imbalances).

    Due to the competitive environment fostered in CrossFit, far too many people push too hard too fast - they lose form and become injured. Many also overtrain which is highly unproductive. It takes some personal discipline to get the most out of CrossFit. I typically limited my CrossFit to 3 days week - but always listened to my body and took off more time if I needed. My nutritional program matched my training program - more CrossFIt (net increase in expenditure) meant slightly more overall net intake (taking thermogenesis into account).

    It worked for me and it will for many others because of the training environment - it keeps many people motivated that would otherwise not reach their potential. Could they have success with other programs, perhaps, but for some it is what they need.

    I recently came across this article from Bob Harper on his experience with CrossFit - fairly similar experience to mine.

    1. Thanks for the feedback. It's funny how people are often afraid of simply giving new things a try, comments like yours can be very helpful in this regard.

  9. Although I really like the concept or style of work of "crossfit" (marked because I only consider it as a marketing concept) and understand why people love it, lots of people have been doing circles like this for a long time BUT
    almost no one ever did fatigued high-rep sets in the olympic lifts. Even advanced weighlifters, doing this sport their whole life would not try to do this stupidity. And here come un- or mildly trained individuals, assuming or being so ego-driven to think they can do these olympic lifts this way without getting hurt.
    The biggest factor for me to do my own hit-weight-circles / complexes that are way better suited with the same energy demands. (Other reasons against crossfit are the statement by greg glasman about no scientific foundation of any successful program, using monumentum on any lift saying it is more work and mixing together all energy systems without any big progression or plan most of the time)
    But interesting study, assuming it works with every kind of training this way (intense/dense/heavy).

    1. Especially for advanced trainees it is certainly better to progra your workouts yourself; and as far as the rookies are concerned the "official" crossfit programming is often hilariously overtaxing for someone with little training experience.

      My intention with this article was rather to draw some attention that there are effective alternatives you can add to your "tool box" - just like you obviously did

  10. Research the studies on metabolic resistance training and you will find its much safer and produces justvas goodbnumbers if not better than crossfit

  11. Im 30 years old 6'4", 215 lbs 4.3 percent body fat (at cincinnati reds facility) and have done metabolic resistance training forbthe last 14 years. Never have I had joint pain. Although I am a fucking machine who would crush any of those little 5'9" 170 crossfitters lololol

    1. How did you get 4.3% checked? Because I would bet money that is incorrect.

    2. if that is you in your profile pic, dough you are nicely lean, but 4.3% for total body fat - no way. You'd either have to have no bones and water in your body or you'd look as nasty as Mr. Olympia by now (which you luckily don't)

  12. Hello, Can you find the actual training program that they used in this study anywhere..?


  13. To Know More About Some Full Fat Loss Journeys Click On The Link

    To Know More About What Role Does Trainer Perform In Your Fat Loss Journey Click On The Link

    To Know More About The Best Fart Loss Story Ever Mrs. Emmie Jaoi Click On The Link

    To Know More About Welma Decor's Fat Loss Hourney Click On The Link

  14. Hi There, I just spent a little time reading through your posts, which I found entirely by mistake whilst researching one of my projects. To get new information visit here
    Personal Training

  15. i have a relative website ,How to build muscle fast without fat. Get ripped, Get shredded and break through any muscle building plateau.
    more information check get ripped

  16. Thanks for sharing this with us! Some really amazing features.Good contest , it’s really helpful for new bloggers. All the best guys Thank you for your post. This is excellent information. To get new information visit here

  17. I found your blog when I was looking for a different sort of information but I was very happy and glad to read through your blog. The information available here is great. . I know something information, to know you can click here
    Personal Training

  18. Thanks to a brilliant effort in publishing your article. One can be more informative as this. There are many things I can know only after reading your wonderful article.

    Costa Mesa Weight loss

  19. Switch On Better is featuring more and more in the ideals of the young and upwardly mobile. Often it is seen as both a help and a hindrance to so call 'babies', many of whom blame the influence of television. In the light of this I will break down the issues in order to give each of them the thought that they fully deserve

  20. Your blogs are easily accessible and quite enlightening so keep doing the amazing work guys.Garcinia Cambogia Extract

  21. Nobody can reject the info you have given in the blogs, this is actually a great work.
    Garcinia Cambogia

  22. Eating more vegetables and fruits can be a nutritious, healthy means to drop weight.
    I like the way you written the post on Weight loss. You have raised such great points to think about. You have provided the most informative and helpful ways about Weight loss.
    Thanks For sharing such a nice post on weight loss plan...