From Charles Poliquin
Lose fat and build muscle by doing weight lifting workouts that increase growth hormone and raise blood lactate concentrations. Such metabolically taxing workouts create a potent fat burning environment and can improve your athletic performance in the latter stages of a competition when you are fatigued.
We know that the more lactate buildup you experience during training, the more growth hormone will be released, leading to significant fat loss, and possibly an increase in muscle mass. Intense aerobic conditioning is often done for fat loss and to improve athletes’ lactate tolerance and ability to perform in a fatigued state. However, this is faulty programming because research shows that although it can increase lactate tolerance and clearance, it decreases power, increases body fat, and leads to muscle loss.
For example, a season-long study showed that female soccer players who did aerobic training to increase lactate clearance ended up increasing body fat percentage from 16.24 percent to 18.78 percent, while losing muscle and decreasing maximal power ability. This poor outcome led researchers to test whether lactate tolerance might be better trained with a program that maximized power output and central nervous activation.
They had athletes perform a low-, medium-, and high-volume power clean workout and tested the lactate response. Results showed that the low-volume workout ( 3 sets of 3 at 90 percent of the 1RM) produced the least lactate ( 4.03 mmol/L), followed by the medium-volume workout (3 sets of 6 at 85 percent of the 1RM produced 5.27 mmol/L), and the high-volume program (3 sets of 9 at 75 percent of the 1RM) that produced the most by a significant degree (7.43 mmol/L).
This indicates that, in general, for fat loss and muscle building, volume is more important than intensity. That said, being weak and lean is not ideal, so training with heavy loads should still be included in any fat loss program, even if just once a week.
Of course, all is not lost if you favor volume over intensity but use lifts that require high power output. Power cleans and similar explosive total body lifts require significant contribution from type II muscle fibers and the higher threshold motor units, both of which will help you build strength and explosive ability.
The study authors suggest that athletes will benefit from conditioning with a high volume of explosive lifts because it will enhance their ability to recruit type II muscle fibers and produce power in the presence of lactate. A possible drawback to using the Olympic lifts for conditioning is that it is difficult to maintain correct technique during sets of greater than 6 reps, which may increase the risk of injury. The study authors refute this, stating there is no research to support this belief. They suggest that if athletes have good technical skill, they should be able to maintain form despite fatigue if they are coached properly.
It’s an interesting argument since compared to other studies testing lactate response from high volume, short rest protocols in the squat and leg press, research shows that Olympic lifts lead to a much greater lactate concentration. Despite this, it’s good to have training alternatives that don’t require the most technical of lifts.
For instance a 2012 study showed that doing squats for 12 sets of 3 reps with 27 seconds rest between sets led to a very high power output with a comparable lactate buildup as seen in the power clean study. A longer rest interval of 60 seconds between the 12 sets elicited an even higher power output with a significant lactate response.
Date, A., et al. Lactate Response to Different Volume Patterns of Power Clean. Journal of Strength and conditioning Research. 2013. 27(3), 604-610.
Paulo, C., Roschel, H., et al. Influence of Different Resistance Exercise Loading Schemes on Mechanical Power Output in work to rest Ratio—Equated and Nonequated Conditions. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2012. 26(5), 1308-1312.