Guest Post: Fat Loss Basics – Michael Gray

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Today I have a guest post from personal trainer, Michael Gray.  Michael has been an avid supporter of this blog for quite some time, and he reached out to me several weeks ago asking if I’d be interested in letting him write up a little sumthin sumthin for the website.  I’m always getting emails from upcoming trainers in the industry asking me how they can go about getting their name out there more and how they can get their writing published.  And, more often than not, I always say the same thing:  write (a lot), and write for free.

This is something I’m going to touch on in a bit more detail in a future blog post, so stay tuned…..


Suffice it to say, this may come as a shock to some reading, but the likelihood of writing for publications such as Men’s Health or – at least right out of the gate – is somewhere between not a shot in hell and mud wrestling with Jamie Chung.

Note:  for those wondering who the heck Jamie Chung is.  Most recently, she was in the movie Sucker Punch.  You’re welcome.

All that said, Michael and I have been exchanging emails intermittently for about a year now, and in that time we’ve grown to have a professional repoire discussing everything from fat loss to functional anatomy.  And, of course, ripping on Tracy Anderson.

So when Michael contacted me to write a post, I gave him three stipulations:

1.  It has to be under 1000 words.

2.  It can’t suck.

3.  It has to include a reference to Saved by the Bell.

Okay, that last one wasn’t true, but he pulled it off nonetheless!  What’s more, he came up with a solid post that I think you’ll all enjoy.  So, I’ll shut up now and let Michael take over.

Fat Loss Basics

When Tony and I first talked about me writing up a guest post for his blog, we decided on a post that fell under the “fat loss” umbrella.  From there, the concept was totally up to me.

When you think about it, that’s a pretty broad umbrella.  There’s nutrition, programming, exercise pairings, recovery, off days, NEPA, as well as a few other topics that one could definitely write extensively on when discussing fat loss.

Being a regular visitor to Tony’s blog, I know that you all (his readers) are much more educated than the typical gym goer.  I wrestled with what exactly to cover, hoping that I wouldn’t post something that everyone simply nodded their heads in agreement with, but rather, cover a familiar topic in a way that brought about some new insight, or at least a fresh perspective.

I don’t consider myself a fat-loss expert, or an expert in anything really (except maybe Saved By The Bell trivia……Note from Tony:  ding ding ding.  He did it!!!!!), but if I’m honest, the majority of my clientele are looking to drop body fat.  And when you write program after program geared towards people getting their lean on, you start to notice trends.  Certain exercise modalities tend to get people leaner more quickly than others.  Others leave people so wiped out from their caloric deficit that they feel worse than a cheeseburger-eatin’ Hasselhoff.

Then of course there are modalities that are counter productive, (hello endless sets of high reps), as well as those that can just be flat out miserable. (Ever tried pulling heavy singles while in a caloric deficit?  Welcome to Suckville, USA.)

I’m of the belief that too often people try to accomplish too many things at once.  They try to drop 10 pounds of fat, put on 10 pounds of muscle, and add 50 pounds to their deadlift…all in the same month.  

While they can be lauded for their efforts, they’re most likely not going to have much to show for them.

So to be brief, if you’re trying to lose body fat, everything you do should be geared towards that goal while attempting to maintain other elements of your training (muscle mass, strength, mobility, etc.)

While some coaches will say that the only difference between a fat loss program and a mass building program is the amount of calories you take in, I think that’s a little over-simplistic.  I’ve had much greater success with fat loss when I tweak the elements and structure of my clients programs from what I would program for a typical strength client.

Below are a couple of examples of exercise pairings (or quadruplings) that are representative of one of the ways I program for fat loss.

Complete A1-A4, only resting long enough to move from one exercise to the next.

A1. Conventional Deadlift  4×3

A2. Med Ball Slams  4×12

A3. Spiderman Push Ups 4×6/side

A4. Jumping Jacks  4×50

Rest 60-90 seconds

Another grouping could look like this:

A1. Push Press  4×5

A2.  Kettlebell Swings  4×15

A3.  Reverse Lunge  4×8/side

A4.  Elbow Touches 4×12/side

Rest 60-90 seconds


A1. I always, always, place the most technical and compound lifts first.  For obvious reasons, these need to be performed in the freshest state possible.  Remember, the goal of this type of programming is to maintain mass and strength, not increase it.  

You’re not looking to set a new PR.  If you shooting for sets of 3, it’s OK to work with a weight that you could pull 4-5 reps with.  It is important to work with a weight that you can safely lift, especially as fatigue sets in during consecutive sets.

A2. I like to follow A1 with something that still has a bit of a technical compenent to it, but isn’t terribly demanding from a strength stand point and does a decent job of keeping the heart rate jacked up.  The above examples are MB slams and kettle bell swings, but you could use other things like sledge hammer swings, moderately weighted sled pushes, rack carries, etc.

A3. This goes back to a more traditional compound, strength exercise, but again, it’s technical demand is much lower than A1’s considering fatigue is starting to settle in a bit.  Things like lunges, push ups, chins, rows are great here.

A4.  Bodyweight exercises that are low on a technical standpoint are perfect for the end of your set.  Things like planks (and all their variations), jumping jacks, jump rope, and high knees finish off the sets nicely.


Transitioning back and forth between traditional strength based exercises and ones that are a little more explosive and cardiovascular based do something pretty cool.  They provide a constant elevation of your heart rate while giving you a chance to rest your muscular system from intense demand.  This allows you to get into your next strength exercise without letting you heart rate drop.  Or in other words, burn more calories.

I am not in any way opposed to the traditional way strength coaches design fat loss session, i.e. strength work kept separate from cardio/metabolic conditioning/energy systems work.  In fact, I often program for a lot of my fat loss clients that way.  But I have found it to be incredibly beneficial to them to have at least one day of their weekly training to be set up in a fashion similar to what is above.  

There are countless combinations that you could use, and there isn’t any reason that you have to pair four exercises together.  That’s just what I used for this example.  

Whether you choose to try these on yourself or on your fat loss clients (to be honest, you should always attempt something before you have your clients do it) I hope you find them to be another tool in your bag of tricks.  

I’d love to know how they work for you, so give them a shot and let me know what you think!

For more information on Michael, be sure to check out his website:, or check out his Facebook page HERE.

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

I don’t share email information. Ever. Because I’m not a jerk.

Comments for This Entry

  • BGP

    Good post, Michael. I have experienced success with very similar programming, and I really like the idea of incomporating traditional strength work with metabolic work one day a week. There's no doubt that it places a different demand on your energy systems, and also allows us to achieve that difficult goal of maintaining strength/muscle but losing fat.

    August 16, 2011 at 7:47 am | Reply to this comment

  • Michael Gray

    Thanks for letting me post Tony. I appreciate it!

    August 16, 2011 at 8:14 am | Reply to this comment

  • Michael Gray

    @BGP-Thanks man, I'm glad you enjoyed it!

    August 16, 2011 at 8:15 am | Reply to this comment

  • Chris A

    Tony Toni Tone! smh, Jamie Chung's last move was the Hangover Part 2. haha I thought we were pissing excellence everyday? Anyway, great post Michael. It's nice to see the rationale behind programs like this, because you know, most of the time it seems like trainers are throwing darts at a huge board with exercises on them to make their workouts.

    August 16, 2011 at 10:29 am | Reply to this comment

  • Hank Ebeling

    Mike, great post on fast loss! I agree with mixing both strength and metabolic/cardio exercises into one workout.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:44 am | Reply to this comment

  • matt

    interesting article. i will definitely put more effort into combining strength training with metabolic work. on a different note, not to be "that guy" but its professional rapport and the last subject line should be The Rationale

    August 16, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Amy Sanchez

    Great post. I have been struggling lately with developing some good fat loss programing for my clients. I will definitely give it a try and then try it on my clients!

    August 16, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Chris Martin

    Great Post, Mike!

    August 16, 2011 at 2:13 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Michael Gray

    @Chris-I completely agree. Sometimes it seems like trainers have absolutely no clue why they're doing what they're doing. It's just what they feel like having their clients do that day. Glad you enjoyed the post! @Hank-Thanks man! @Matt-Too're "that guy". Haha! Thanks for catching my speeling airrors. @Amy-Great! I'd love it if you let me know how they work out for you. @Chris-Thanks!

    August 16, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Reply to this comment

  • daniel

    I am suprised that you have overweight clients that can handle that kind of tempo. I work with alot of clients who will pass out/vomit/seize up and die if they dont get at least a minute worth off rest before and after either off your A2 exercises. Are alot of your ffat loss clients already in decent shape?

    August 16, 2011 at 6:23 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Michael Gray

    @Daniel-Sure, I have quite a few clients that are in relatively decent shape that are looking to lose fat. I think the world is full of individuals looking to lose that last 10-20 lbs. However, I also have a lot of seriously obese clients that, like you said, wouldn't be able to handle the volume above. Let alone correctly perform many of the exercises mentioned. It's certainly critical to not try to apply a generic template to everyone. As you obviously know, putting a seriously overweight client into a scenario like the one above could result in some undesirable effects. Bottom line, it's up to a trainer to determine what is and what is not appropriate for each individual client based on your knowledge of their fitness level. Great question!

    August 16, 2011 at 8:18 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Emily

    Great post Michael! Thank you Tony for getting you to write it! I am working with a client who is overweight and we are working strength and conditioning separate...although there is a lot of huffing and puffing with the strength work. I would love to incorporate one day of work centered around your suggestions. She moves very well and has gained a lot of strength and endurance in just 9 weeks. And thank you for adding that you should try out the combos yourself....I would never try to give something to my client that I could not do myself. Thanks for the post!

    August 18, 2011 at 12:16 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Elsa

    Mike great article. I will most definitely be trying out these workouts. I like the transitioning between the strength based exercises and the cardiovascular based because it keeps me motivated during my workout. Don't mind if I link this post on my blog. Thanks!!!

    August 19, 2011 at 10:01 am | Reply to this comment

  • Alicia

    Tony, thanks for hosting newer trainers who know a thing or two. Michael, enjoyed the explanation but not so much the unnerving picture of Hasselhoff. I train myself at home so there wasn't as much science-think behind it but I have trained in a similar pattern and found it to keep me less sore/stiff the next day. It may have just been because I wasn't lifting uber-heavy but I liked the results. Nice job.

    August 23, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Reply to this comment

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