The Turbulence Training Interview: Scientific Fat Loss
Training For Maximum Time Efficiency
By Craig Ballantyne, MS, CSCS
Tom Venuto: Hi Craig. First I just want to say thank you for your time, I really appreciate the interview and the chance to pick your brain because I think your programs have one of the best mixes of common sense, science and real world practicality that I've seen in a long time and I hope to learn some new stuff myself and also share your expertise our readers.
Craig Ballantyne: No problem, it is my pleasure to pass along what I have learned through years of training myself and others, from researching, both in the lab and the library, and just from watching thousands and thousands of men and women in the gym.
Tom Venuto: Before we start, I'd also like to say congrats on the success of your Turbulence Training program, because your workouts and training tips have been popular in the printed fitness magazines like menís fitness for a long time and now I've noticed that they're getting really popular online as well. I think with the amount of media youíve been getting lately, most of our readers are probably already familiar with you, but for anyone who doesn't know you yet, would you give us a real quick biography of yourself?
Craig Ballantyne: Sure Tom. Like most trainers, I grew up as an athletic kid and eventually found myself in the weight room training to improve my athletic ability. From there, most of the stuff I read was bodybuilding and that influenced my training, although in no way did I ever become a serious competitive bodybuilder like yourself.
That being said, my Turbulence Training workouts are highly influenced by both athletic training and bodybuilding, so Turbulence Training has become a relatively unique ďhybridĒ system - and even moreso now with the infusion of scientific-based ab training and a variety of challenging bodyweight exercises.
I refined the workouts over my years at McMaster University, a science-based University near Toronto, Canada. It was there during my graduate studies in Exercise Physiology that I performed the "first Turbulence Training workout."
At that time I was finishing my research on androstenedione (the infamous supplement reportedly used by Mark McGwire during his record-breaking home run chase), and I was spending up to 16 hours per day in the lab analyzing data and running assays.
So with only a 40-minute break to get to the gym and back, I put all of my experience in the gym together with the latest studies I had read about interval training, and I put together the first Turbulence Training program.
During my grad studies, I also began writing for Men's Health magazine and I was able to publish some of the principles in that magazine, as well as some actual Turbulence Training workouts in Men's Fitness magazine in 2004. (I now write for Men's Health again and will be doing some online Turbulence Training programs for them in the New Year).
And of course, I am busy writing my newsletters for www.TurbulenceTraining.com is a priority as I often cover new programs and new research in those emails.
Tom Venuto: Great, thanks for the background info. So your flagship program is called "Turbulence Training" or TT for short, and that's primarily what I'd like to talk to you about today. I know your program is based on time efficient resistance training with weights or body weight, combined with High Intensity Interval Training. Would you explain the overall structure and schedule of your TT system in a nutshell?
Craig Ballantyne: Over the years I observed people wasting an incredible amount of time in the gym. I was guilty as well. But necessity of course, is the mother of invention, and it was the necessity of getting an effective workout in a short amount of time that led me to put together the structure of the Turbulence Training workouts - and admittedly, they continue to evolve each week and with every new client to this day.
As it stands now, each workout starts with a 5-minute mini-circuit of bodyweight exercises relative to each individual's fitness level. For example, an advanced person would do a squat variation, a pushup variation, and a bodyweight pull variation. On the other hand, a sedentary beginner might do some lying hip extensions, modified pushups, and shoulder mobility exercises.
The bodyweight warm-up is far more applicable to strength training than a walk on the treadmill that so many people use. But in almost every scenario, the 5-minute treadmill warm-up to raise core temperature is nothing more than a waste of 5-minutes that you'll never, ever get back.
After the bodyweight warm-up, we move directly to strength training supersets where we use 4-6 multi-muscle exercises to get a big boost in metabolism. Unlike traditional fat loss programs, we don't use light weights and high reps. We use moderately heavy weights and most often 8 reps per set. And this has been shown in research to boost post-exercise metabolism more than lighter weights.
Then we finish with intervals. Again, these lead to greater results than traditional cardio, and in half the time. The total training time of the workout is 45 minutes. And only 3 workouts per week are necessary.
To many people, that seems like a ridiculously small amount of exercise for a fat loss program. But here's what I have discovered...nutrition is the key to fat loss. And training is for sculpting the body that is underneath the fat - so these high-volume marathon workouts aren't necessary for most people that just want to look great on the beach.
I'm not hesitant to admit that nutrition is more important than my workouts, even though workout routines are my bread and butter. Research and experience support this. And that's why I called in Dr. Chris Mohr, Ph.D., to design my nutrition program.
If a reader is struggling with a fat loss plateau, I guarantee that it is one of two things:
a) A lack of nutrition compliance (generally, most people think they are eating better than they really are)
b) A lack of training intensity (when people switch from low-intensity fat loss programs to the high-intensity Turbulence Training fat loss approach, they burst right through their plateaus - making me look like a genius, even though the principles and exercises are simple, no-fluff, basics).
Tom Venuto: It's funny that you mention those two reasons for plateaus because they may seem too simple and obvious, but so many people think there's some elaborate change or esoteric technique thatís necessary to break a plateau and most of the time, they just arenít sticking to the program well enough or not training hard enough. And like you said, when your nutrition is on point and you train hard, you donít have to train long or frequently, so more isn't necessarily better, but thats usually the first thing you people think of when they get stuck.
Would your weight training recommendations change substantially based on whether your client's primary goal is body composition, strength or hypertrophy?
Craig Ballantyne: The principles remain the same (basic multi-muscle exercises, greater intensity than normal) but the details will differ.
With muscle gain as the main goal, we will do more volume - whether that means 4 sets per exercise, up to 12-15 reps on "finishing" exercises, or even more exercises per workout, those things will change in the workout. We will likely even go to 4 days per week, but rarely use the 5-day splits favored by pro bodybuilders.
For strength, the workouts will be more like the muscle-building workouts than the fat loss workouts, although there will be even more rest between sets with strength as the main goal. I will use either a 3-day per week approach or a 4-day routine for strength.
Tom Venuto: It might sound like just a flashy trademarked name, but I understand there is a specific reason you call it Turbulence Training. Would you explain that from a scientific perspective?
Craig Ballantyne: The name came to me during a flight where I put together a comparison between an airplane in turbulence with a muscle that has just trained with high-intensity. And I was just lucky that it sounds good and catchy.
When an airplane goes through turbulence, it has to expend extra energy to "right itself". And that's similar to what a muscle has to do after it has been trained with high-intensity. You see, after high-intensity training, glycogen stores have been depleted and muscle damage has been inflicted.
So in the hours (and perhaps even as much as 2 days) after a training session where "turbulence" has been put on the muscle, the muscle and the body are in an increased metabolic state. Energy is being used up to replace your muscle energy stores and to repair the muscle damage. So you have an increased metabolism and more energy burned - and therefore more calories and fat used up.
Compared to a low-intensity training session, there is much more energy used in the post-exercise period following a high-intensity workout.
Unfortunately, everyone that wants to lose weight has been "pre-conditioned" to believe that only the calories burned DURING the workout are important for fat loss.
But I now believe that we need to think like bodybuilders in at least one respect. You see, bodybuilders understand that the gains are made outside of the gym during the recovery period. And now we must also understand that if we boost our metabolism with the right kind of training, that our fat loss gains will also come from time spent OUTSIDE of the gym.
We need to quit worrying about "heart rate zones" and "fat burning zones" and concentrate more on just doing as much intense exercise as possible in the short amount of time in which the average person is able to train.
It might take a little while before people catch on, but there really is a movement starting towards shorter, more intense training sessions for fat loss and developing the "cover-model"/"athletic" look.
I'm not going to argue that these workouts will put on you on stage at Mr. Olympia, but they will help the majority of people who train in a gym or at home, and who lack the time to workout more than 2 hours per week.
Fortunately, they will be pleasantly surprised with the results they can achieve in a short amount of time with workouts focused on boosting metabolism through intense exercise. Just as long as they understand the importance of compliance to a fat loss nutrition regimen, of course...
Tom Venuto: I think a lot more people are already starting to catch on to upping the intensity of their cardio, including interval training, because this concept is getting so much press lately, but I still donít think people realize just how much intense weight training elevates metabolism after each workout, so Iím glad you pointed that out.
How about body weight training? Body weight and callisthenic type workouts are very much in vogue lately. What are the pros and cons of bodyweight resistance and what do you think of the programs that recommend only body weight and no weight training at all?
Craig Ballantyne:I've noticed a resurgence in bodyweight training as well and to be honest I started looking for as many bodyweight exercises as I could several years ago. And I use them a lot because I deal almost exclusively with people that need workouts in a hurry and with men and women who might not have access to a lot of equipment.
There are plenty of intense and more importantly FUN bodyweight exercises out there. I've collected over 200 bodyweight exercises, including beginner and advanced variations.
So the pro's are that you can develop an athletic looking body with bodyweight only exercises and that you can do 90% of these bodyweight workouts without any special equipment at all - so you can do them in a park, a hotel room, or even the airport.
The obvious "con" that comes to mind for guys like you and I that were "raised on weight training" is that you won't be able to build as much muscle with only bodyweight exercises. In most cases, thatís a valid point. Although there remain some guys that will still respond incredibly well to bodyweight exercises and still be able to gain size.
But this "lack of bulk" development from bodyweight exercises is a good thing for women who might have the mindset that weights will make them bulk up. Don't get me wrong, I don't completely agree with that statement, because its very hard for women to ďbulk upĒ, but it is a mindset that every trainer will run up against. The bodyweight exercises become a great compromise between mindset and results when you are able to use an intense bodyweight exercise variation with women. She's not worried about bulking up, but I'm not worried about not getting results.
So for my fat loss workouts, the benefits of bodyweight exercises far outweigh any negatives.
Tom Venuto:I believe itís important, and Iím sure you'll agree, to write workout programs that are most appropriate for an individual's goals, lifestyle, and current fitness level... and that no single workout program is ideal for everyone, so what demographics or target audiences in particular would benefit the most from your TT program?
Craig Ballantyne: Without question, my target client is the "average" reader of Men's Health magazine. That's who I have dealt with most in both real-life training and in terms of program design for magazines.
That being said, I have so many women and men of all ages using the programs that my target audience could really be best described as any man or woman that wants to lose fat and sculpt their body while only being able to workout 2 hours per week (3x45 minutes).
All of the workouts are designed for basic home gym setups (a bench, a ball, dumbbells, and a pullup bar if appropriate for your strength level - if not, there are substitute exercises).
Iíve heard success stories from men in their mid-seventies and women in their mid-sixties who have used TT and loved it. It is easily adapted to almost any fitness level.
And I can't leave this out...people who like Turbulence Training the most are the type of people that are looking for a fun, fast, and challenging routine - they don't want to be told to go to a gym and use the machine circuits and spend 30 minutes on a piece of cardio equipment. TT users have a zest for life and for a stimulating workout.
The TT workouts require you to work hard, but because of the variety and novel exercises, you are going to have fun doing so...so the workouts will seem even shorter than they actually are, and preferable to traditional long and boring routines.
Tom Venuto: I come from a bodybuilding background and in bodybuilding at the competitive level, we generally use body part training, split routines and a higher volume. There's been some sentiment in the strength and conditioning field that bodybuilding split routines are inherently flawed. Do you believe that's that case, or would you say it's closer to the truth to say that it might be inappropriate to use a bodybuilding split routine if you're not a bodybuilder... or does it not matter either way and your workout routine is a matter of personal preference and time available?
Craig Ballantyne: I come from a similar background Tom, so I know that if you want to step on stage, you have to incorporate some of the traditional bodybuilding approaches. But you and I both know that even champion bodybuilding routines have changed over the years thanks to new info on ab training, fat loss cardio, and nutrition. It has been very interesting to say the least to watch bodybuilders change their program over the years.
Now the 2 biggest concerns I have with traditional bodybuilding training are...
a) Shoulder joint overuse - If you follow a 5-day split, there is no way around it...you are training your shoulder joint 5-days per week. And that will catch up to you in almost every single case, especially when combined with the sitting posture that most people are subject to all day long.
b) Redundant Exercises - For most people on a bodybuilding program, especially those new to bodybuilding, I'm skeptical of the need for all of the exercises and sets that are in traditional 5-day splits. I mean, do you really, really need 3-4 biceps exercises on Friday if you've already devoted your entire Tuesday workout to pulling exercises?
I have no proof that you'll get the same results from fewer exercises, but I think that a lot of the volume in a bodybuilder's program is redundant. Now I'm not going Mike Mentzer on you and saying you should only do 1 set per exercise and train only once every 5 days, but if a bodybuilder is on a 5-day split and training 6+ hours per week, try cutting back a bit and see if they don't continue with their gains. I'm betting they will.
Tom Venuto:Well, Iíll generally do only 2 or at most 3 exercises for a small muscle group like biceps, and thatís for me personally as an advanced competitive bodybuilder. I'd have to agree that you can get excellent muscle gains with a surprisingly low volume if the intensity is high enough and non bodybuilders need much less than bodybuilders, so you definitely have to adjust volume based on goals, experience level and time available.
What about muscle gain and fat loss at the same time? That seems to be the ďHoly grailĒ of fitness goals. time. If someone tells you that concurrent muscle growth and fat loss is their #1 goal what advice would you give them and how would you design their program?
Craig Ballantyne:The key here is something you touched on earlier...and that's knowing some key information about the client - including their age, gender, training history, current program, and what has worked best for them in the past. Like every other trainer I take an extensive physical and even psychological history of each client before designing a program. So it is going to depend on the situation of each individual.
But let's say for example, that our client in question is a beginner male that has no idea about training or nutrition. First thing we'll do is to go over nutrition because that is where the greatest impact will come from in most cases. So we'll try to get him eating at a 90% compliance rate and this will do wonders for his body composition.
A proper nutrition education will pave the way for the training to do its job of sculpting the body underneath the fat. Once we have his nutrition in place, we'll use a no-frills approach of basic, multi-muscle exercises that are applicable to his fitness and motor skills level. I won't ask him to do lunges if he can't even do a bodyweight squat properly - but we'll aim to use those types of exercises, and to quickly get up to speed in order to work in the 8 repetition zone.
Along with this relatively intense strength training, we'll also use interval training that is relatively intense to him. I must say, I don't like the term "high-intensity interval training", first of all because many of the intervals I use don't really fit that definition (i.e. with beginners I often use 2-minute aerobic intervals), and second, it scares a lot of people away from using intervals.
An interval does not have to be super, maximum, puke-inducing intensity. It is simply an interval period of exercise that can be more or less intense than normal (obviously more intense is the work interval, and the less intense is the recovery interval).
Intervals can be used in all sorts of ways and at different levels of intensities and therefore can be used with all levels of fitness (I have even read studies where interval training is used in cardiac rehabilitation programs).
So that's the basic plan I'd use with a beginner. For an advanced client that wants to gain muscle and lose fat, we'll have to analyze nutrition as well and perhaps increase his compliance up to 97.5% (that's 41 correct meals out of 42 per week).
In addition, we'll use a wider variety of repetition ranges (from 5-15 reps used by different exercises in the workout), and we'll judge whether or not interval training is best for him (perhaps his body will respond to a decrease or increase in interval cardio volume).
And finally, one of the advanced tricks I've been using in the past year is to add bodyweight circuits to the program for extra work in advanced body composition cases. We'll do the bodyweight circuits on the same day as a regular workout, but separated by the main workout by 8-12 hours.
Tom Venuto:Thatís interesting about body weight circuits for body composition purposes. I think people who donít like to spend a lot of time on cardio machines will be glad to hear that as an alternative. You mentioned interval training and one of the benefits of high intensity interval training over long duration steady state cardio is that you clearly get more results in less time. I can think of a couple of studies in particular which made this point well, when they showed that subjects got the same fat loss results in 25 minutes of high intensity cardio as a group of subjects who did 50 minutes at a lower intensity. This showed that results were not dependent on time, but on calories expended, which is a function of intensity. The low intensity cardio got the job done, but the high intensity cardio burned far more calories and accomplished the same thing in literally half the time. Studies like these brought a lot of attention to interval training. The problem is when you say "interval training" or "high intensity cardio," that covers a lot of ground and leaves a lot of room for interpretation. How does someone choose the right total duration, interval duration, type of exercise and frequency when so many trainers recommend so many different things?
Craig Ballantyne:The initial study that showed the benefits of interval training used 30 and 60 second work intervals. Another study I just read recently used only 8 second intervals alternated with 12 seconds of recovery. And then there is the "Tabata" protocol that uses 20 seconds of work separated by 10 seconds of rest. So given all of this info, we know that intervals work but we are far from being able to pick out the best interval program.
My philosophy is that for fat loss, the interval training session doesn't need to be more than 20 minutes long. That should allow you to do 6 intervals and include a warm-up and cool-down. From experience, this time length gets great results and fits into the average client's schedule.
Will going longer give more results or will it lead to overuse injury? Could we get the same results by cutting back 25% or 50%? I don't know yet. What about doing interval workouts on days between regular Turbulence Training workouts? Could that speed results? Again, we just aren't sure yet.
What's important to consider when recommending interval training programs is the physical history of the individual. I have worked with more than one client that has come to me with an injury sustained from an interval program they designed themselves or read elsewhere.
Listen, you just can't go from sedentary to hill sprints overnight. If you do, you will hurt yourself. And that's why I've struck "high intensity interval training" from my programming language, and simply stress the concept of working harder than normal cardio at a pace which is correct for each level of fitness. I've built that into my programs based on my experience with clients.
Bottom line: Start conservatively. Your body will thank you, and quite frankly, if you are just getting into interval training, your cardiovascular and muscular system are going to get a whooping the first time around, so don't go overboard. Even though TT is intense training, its still structured and smart training.
Tom Venuto: Before we wrap up, would you tell our readers how they can find you online and where they get more information about the Turbulence Training program?
Craig Ballantyne: Sure Tom, readers can sign-up for my newsletter at www.TurbulenceTraining.com - that's where they can also read my report called "The Dark Side of Cardio" and take advantage of a special 3-day promotion including a list of 4 exclusive bonuses that have never been offered together before. Its a great list of bonuses, and I appreciate the bonus you contributed, by the way.
If any of your readers have any questions, they should feel free to contact me through www.TurbulenceTraining.com
Tom Venuto: Thank you Craig, always a pleasure.
Craig Ballantyne, CSCS, M.Sc., is one of the top Strength & Conditioning coaches in North America. He trains athletes and executives in Toronto and is a member of the Training Advisory Boards for Men's Fitness and Maximum Fitness magazines. Craig also works extensively with athletes and is currently a consultant to Rugby Canada helping the National Team prepare for the 2007 World Cup. Craig's fat loss and workout tips are featured every month in Men's Fitness and Maximum Fitness, and in numerous on-line newsletters. Craig’s trademarked Turbulence Training workouts and comprehensive workout manuals are featured on his website www.TurbulenceTraining.com.
As seen in Men's Fitness magazine, Craig Ballantyneís Turbulence Training workouts allow you to burn fat without long, slow cardio sessions, without fancy equipment and provides an exciting new alternative to the time consuming traditional weight training workouts you see in the bodybuilding magazines. You will enjoy challenging, sweat-pouring workouts that burn the most fat possible in the shortest period of time. Becuase Turbulence Training workouts are so time-efficient, they are ideal for busy executives, students or parents with young children. In just 50 minutes or less, three days per week, you can get leaner, stronger, fitter and more muscular with a total strength and cardio workout, and you can even do it in the privacy of your own home because so many of the exercise can be with nothing but dumbbells or even just your own body weight. To learn more, click the link below: