Trimming the fat

In the past few weeks we’ve discussed weight training and several types of cardiovascular exercises. But questions may come up, such as, “How do you put them together to create a program that will help you meet your goals?”

Not all students are on a sports team or are devotees of one particular sport. Students may not even wish to compete, but they still want to reach their goals. What’s the fastest way to lose fat and gain muscle? The answer is finding the right combination of cardio, weight training and following a proper diet. The hardest part of the program is having the motivation to stick to it.

Weights Program

There are hundreds of combinations of exercises. No one workout is effective for everyone. Weight lifting will help build muscle, which burns fat. In his book, Body for Life, and on his Web site, , Bill Phillips advocates an intense weight lifting program performed three times per week. In this program, he recommends alternating between lower and upper body workouts that follow a “ladder” pattern — that is, 12-10-8-6-12 repetitions at the maximum amount of weight that can be lifted for the specified number of times.

That’s a good place to start, but students may need to tweak the program to meet their needs:

Overweight or out-of-shape students may need to start by lifting lighter weights for only one set. Many extremely overweight people have been successful using Bill Phillips’ more intense program but don’t want to run the risk of getting hurt or burned out.

Students already in decent shape that want to tone up more should try varying strength workouts week to week by changing the order in which they do each exercise. Changing the number of lifting repetitions or even adding unconventional workouts, such as sprints on the track followed by sets of lunges and squats are a good way to modify a routine.

Only 45 minutes of weight training three times per week will result in an improvement in your fitness, strength and appearance.


Cardiovascular exercise is not only good for the heart; it burns fat. Cardio is generally defined as anything that gets the heart pumping. It could be elliptical trainers and other indoor gym machines, walking or running outdoors, cycling, inline skating, swimming, cardio dance or kickboxing classes. While activities such as mowing the lawn, cleaning house, gardening and other domestic activities that students may dream up do count as cardio exercises, they vary in intensity and frequency and may not be the best to incorporate into a weight-loss program.

Beginners should try 20 minutes of cardio four or five times a week, increasing to 45 to 60 minutes when progressing and working at a conversational pace. This means students should be able to talk but not sing. On a scale of one to 10, with 10 as the highest possible intensity (like running half a mile all out) and one being the intensity of napping on the couch, try working at a six or seven.

Students in good shape should do two cardiovascular workouts per day. Then, try to build up to 60 minutes twice a day.

This is very time consuming, and students should take care not to overtrain. Students who choose to do this need to ascertain whether they are well-rested and have consumed enough calories. Doing double workouts is the most effective way to burn fat.

Another way advanced exercisers can tweak their cardio programs is by using an interval workout, which varies the intensity of doing the workout.

For example, on the track, run a lap then jog laps for two miles. On an elliptical trainer, ramp up the resistance to nine or 10 for a minute and then bring it back down to zero for a minute. Phillips recommends 20 minutes of interval training three times per week, but tweak this to suit your level of fitness.


If students want to lose fat and gain muscle, it’s important to eat right. Sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s amazing to see the number of people who train hard, stuff their faces with pizza and beer and then wonder why they don’t get results. But just the same, many of exercisers become frustrated when they don’t lose weight, even though they eat nothing but egg whites and tuna. Much like Phillips’ Eating for Life approach, The Abs Diet by David Zinczenko and Ted Spiker recommends eating six small meals per day and incorporating healthy foods such as nuts, berries, eggs, peanut butter, turkey and green veggies. Both books advocate including a “cheat” day or meal in which you can eat whatever you want. This keeps your body from thinking it is starving. It also keeps people motivated to continue eating a healthy diet. Again, using these recommendations, tailor a healthy eating program that fits your needs. Heavier students, or those who want to gain muscle mass, should eat six or seven meals a day.

In general, try to spread calories over four to six small meals instead of eating them all in one sitting.

To get in shape and maintain good health, most nutritionists recommend focusing on eating a balanced diet of wholesome, minimally processed foods such as vegetables, whole grains, fruits, fish, meats and low-fat dairy products. Some people choose to avoid sweets and starchy foods altogether, while others choose to incorporate small portions on a daily or weekly basis. There is no magic diet or pill. Students probably already know that it is better to eat apples rather than Twinkies, and it really is that simple.

Many people use food to deal with their feelings. Others eat socially or snack mindlessly, which makes getting in shape difficult.

If these are habits, make a conscious effort to change them. If eating for other non-hunger reasons, it may help to talk to a counselor. It’s not embarrassing or bad; it’s just a small step on the way to becoming as healthy as possible.

The Challenge

Phillips has a million-dollar Body-for-Life challenge, and prizes are awarded for the competitors who most improve themselves over 12 weeks. That’s a good way to get motivated, but why not have a USF Oracle challenge? For the next eight weeks of the fall term, challenge yourself to meet a goal of improving fitness, overhauling your eating habits or getting into a smaller holiday dress. At the end of the term, let me know how it went. Send in your pictures for your shot at USF fame.

Tereza Zambrano is a junior majoring in international studies and is a triathlete.

Ask her questions and join the USF Oracle Challenge at .