Volumetrics: Part 5 by Fred Dimenna, CSCS

As a nutritional strategy, Volumetrics makes perfect sense. Foods are dramatically different when you consider the energy contained per unit of their volume. So, since ingesting less energy than you expend is the key when you want to force your body to tap into stored fat, an understanding of these principles allows you to maintain an imbalance without having to starve yourself.

If you are currently at energy equilibrium or operating "in the black," establishing a negative energy balance can be accomplished either by reducing what you're ingesting or increasing your outlay. Most fat loss aspirants spend an inordinate amount of effort tending to the former objective and much less on the latter. Now, don't get me wrong: Everyone knows it's important to exercise when you're trying to drop fat. But just like the moral of the Volumetrics story, when it comes to foods, it's also essential to realize that all exercise was not treated equal when energy expenditure is considered.

Exercise facilitates energy use in a number of ways. One factor that dictates basal metabolic rate (the energy we use to maintain our existence) is the amount of muscle we carry on our body, and it's natural to lose muscle as we age. Resistance training helps attenuate this loss, so it's critical, especially when operating at the energy deficit required to pare fat (muscle is even more apt to take a hit under these conditions). But setting up a significant energy deficit by lifting weights to add muscle to the body is usually not a realistic objective.

The energy used during exercise (as opposed to that expended as a function of resultant changes that occur) is the critical thing to consider when attempting to maximize expenditure. Adopting a Volumetrics strategy in this regard would require making sure you're using the most you can for every minute you spend working out. Many very popular (and useful) exercise options do not satisfy this criterion.
Resistance training is critical for maintaining lean mass and keeping your metabolism from going downhill as the years pass. But the amount of actual energy you expend during a resistance training session is minimal. After all, every bout of actual exertion (set) is accompanied by a rest period of similar length. And in many cases, spot-specific training necessitates a relatively limited quantity of muscle being active when you are exerting yourself. The more muscle groups that work as you're exercising, the more energy you use.

Aerobic exercise allows for the use of many of the body's large muscles for an extended period of time and is the best option for maximizing energy expenditure per unit exercise time. Once again, it's important to recognize that not all aerobic work is the same. Some movements touted as superior may not be the best option if your goal is to apply Volumetrics in the gym.

Our aerobic energy system is always active, transferring energy from the foods we eat into usable form with no physiological perturbation. The extent to which this system can satisfy demand is a function of conditioning: If your system operates at a high level, lofty exercise challenges can be sustained without disproportionate use of anaerobic pathways that are not so user-friendly. Once increased anaerobic reliance is necessitated, exercise pace cannot be maintained. Consequently, as energy use is proportionate to how hard and how long you work, it stands to reason that working at the highest sustainable rate would be the goal for anyone trying to employ a Volumetrics approach with regard to energy outlay.

Finding your highest sustainable intensity (dubbed the critical velocity in running) requires pushing the limit to ensure that any additional increment will render you incapable of keeping pace. Many exercisers miss this point and simply choose a pace with no apparent rationale. This approach is fine if you're just looking to exercise, but if your goal is to get the biggest bang for your exercise buck, it fails.

It's essential to push the intensity if you want to use as much energy as you can in as short a period of time when doing aerobic work. That means jogging if possible. Unfortunately, even though walking is a joint-friendly activity that can be very enjoyable, calorie burn is limited because you can only walk so fast. Once your aerobic capacity allows a more demanding energy transfer, you have to up the ante. Going faster when your condition allows is important, but simply increasing the pace doesn't always suffice. Case in point: Treadmill users who hold onto the machine as they exercise. Holding on in this manner is like jogging outside while being pulled by a moving car. Needless to say, just because the machine tells you you're using a specific amount of calories sustaining a pace in this manner, you are not!

Make your aerobic exercise choices wisely, pay particular attention to technique and try to work at an intensity that provides the loftiest sustainable challenge. If you cover all these bases, you'll be ensured the maximal energy-use payback for the time you invest in the gym.

Fred Dimenna, a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and lifestyle and Weight Management Consultant is a two-time Natural Mr. United States and a WNBF drug-free professional bodybuilder. Visit him at www.freddimenna.com or email him: mrnatural@yahoo.com