Most people reading this post will have heard of the Cosgrove Clinic, but if you haven’t, I’ll tell you a bit about it. The Cosgrove Clinic is a clinic that specialises in the treatment of a number of different eating disorders, along with a number of other health issues. It was founded by Dr Christopher Cosgrove, who is a qualified doctor and has been treating patients with eating disorders for over 40 years. The Cosgrove Clinic is a very important resource for people who suffer from eating disorders, as they provide a safe environment for patients to receive the treatment they need.

It’s no secret that dieting can be hard. I’ve struggled with weight for most of my life, and I’m only two years into my new lifestyle. My goal isn’t necessarily to lose weight, but to better manage my weight. In the past, I’ve struggled with eating too much or too little, and I found it difficult to lose weight due to my metabolism, which can be very slow. I also had a difficult time keeping the weight off. Although I’ve had success with this lifestyle change, I know that I can’t do it alone.

This is what everyone wants to know: What is the best weight loss and performance program? We attempted to answer this question by comparing the three programs in our informal experiment and the results were unexpected.

Last January, we approached people who wanted to participate in a particularly cool informal experience. And they were interested! In 24 hours we had more people than we knew what to do with and we had to limit the number of participants to 150. We believe that the eight-week training course developed by Olwyn Cosgrove, JB and Fraser Quelch was very engaging.

The experiment compared the effectiveness of three similar but different strength and conditioning programs for fat loss and overall fitness.

1.  One was a strength training program with regular cardiovascular exercises: Get on the treadmill at a set speed and exercise for 30-45 minutes.

2. One was a strength training program with interval training (also known as high intensity interval training or HIIT): Get on the treadmill and run really fast, take a short break and repeat a set number of laps.

3. Finally, the last group was the strength training program, which also used suspension training (also known as TRX training) as part of the training. Don’t know what suspension training is? Well, read on.

In this study, we asked three questions. Which of these three programs :

  1. Can productivity be improved in the most efficient way?
  2. Is it most effective in promoting weight loss?
  3. Will people find the option most attractive and therefore stick with it the longest?

Methods

Review

We compared the programs based on two measures: Body weight and performance.

Estimating body weight was easy: During the study, participants recorded their weight once a week. At the end of the study we had 9 body weight measurements for comparison between week 0 and week 8.

The showdown was a little more intense. Before the start of the study and afterwards, all participants took the following five performance tests:

1. Test for maximum thrust : You’ve probably already done it, and it’s very simple. After a 5-minute warm-up, use a 2″ sponge or yoga block as a depth marker and do as many consecutive push-ups as possible. Begin by fully extending the arms, lowering them to the depth mark and bringing them back up. This counts as a rehearsal. Do as much as you can without resting. When you’re done, write down your number.

2. The reverse row test : Standing with your feet on a Swiss Ball, box or bench, grasp the bar of the Smith machine with your hands and perform as many reverse pull-ups as possible. Starting with arms extended, pull up until your chest touches the bar, then lower back down. This counts as a rehearsal. Do as much as you can without resting. When you’re done, write down your number.

3. Standing long jump test : Choose an open area and jump as far forward as possible, counter-moving and bending your knees to cover the maximum distance. Start with two practice jumps and aim for about 80% of your maximum distance. Then, on the third jump, you give it your all. Ask someone to mark the spot where you landed and measure the distance from the beginning of your toes to where they landed.

4. V-max treadmill test : Do this exercise on a treadmill. Start with a speed of 7-9 mph (choose 7 if you are not a very good runner and 9 if you are a good runner) and a slope of 0%. Increase the altitude by 1% per minute. Keep going until you can’t walk anymore. I am reaching the point of complete exhaustion. (Flying off the back of the treadmill counts as total exhaustion). When you’re done, note the speed and altitude at which you stopped. These numbers indicate your V-max.

5. T-max treadmill walking test : On another day, after a 5-minute warm-up, set the treadmill to V-max (see above for speed and elevation). Run as long as you can. Reach the point of total exhaustion. When you’re done, write down how much time you spent in total. This is your T-Max.

Thus, at the end of the study, we had both pre- and post-study weight gain measurements and changes in pre- and post-study weight gain measurements to compare the groups over the 8-week study period.

The three groups and their training programmes

We divided our participants into 3 groups:

1. Cardio group with constant program

2. Interval sprint group

3. TRX conditioning unit

All three groups followed the same strength training program developed by Alvin Cosgrove, which consisted of two days of strength training per week.  The strength training changed every four weeks.

Then our groups split up. So everyone (all groups) did the same strength training, but the hardening training was different.

1. Standing cardio = 2 sessions of resistance training, 2 sessions of standing cardio per week.

2. Interval sprint = 2 weight training sessions, 2 interval sessions per week.

3. TRX conditioning = 2 strength training sessions, 2 TRX conditioning sessions per week.

The hardening exercises were changed every fortnight.

The fitness training consisted of either about half an hour of steady state aerobic training, interval training or suspension circuit training. And all three groups received progressively harder training each week.

OK, now we hear the outrage. You’re probably thinking that a leisurely half-hour workout won’t burn as many calories as interval training or suspension training. So how do we compare?

Yes, it is true that a steady diet does not burn many calories. But in real life, people are usually guided by the amount of time they have, not the number of calories they want to burn. When was the last time you went to the gym and said to yourself: I only have time for 200 calories? Therefore, we have equalized the workout based on time and not total calories burned.

Who participated in the study?

On average, participants in the three groups were in their 30s, but there were also participants younger than 70 (see table below).

  Male Socket Combination
Cardio at rest (N=17) 35 +/- 6 34 +/- 11 35 +/- 9
Interval cardio (N=23) 36.8 +/- 8. 31.0 +/- 6.8 35.0 +/- 8.1
TRX group (N=16) 33.2 +/- 7.3 36.4 +/- 8.1 34.6 +/- 7.6

A word of advice:
After participants were selected for the study, they were divided into groups based on gender, age, weight, and exercise experience. This means that the groups were very similar at the outset and any effect measured must be the result of a training intervention and not individual differences.

Our participants had an average of 9 years of experience in the sport. These people knew their way around a gym.

Some other things

We wanted to make sure that the results reflected the training program and not other factors. So we asked our participants to make some sacrifices in the name of science.

First of all: Although we had no dietary restrictions on participants, we asked anyone who was currently on a slimming diet (a diet to gain weight) to exclude themselves from the study or modify their diet.

Second, participants were not allowed to engage in any physical activity other than that required for daily living (e.g., shoveling snow in February or April, for those living in Alberta).

Finally, it is not recommended that people who have specific short-term goals to improve their performance or body composition (e.g., a 5K running event or body sculpting competition) participate in the program, as it is a general plan and not a goal-oriented plan. And we wanted to measure what our intervention alone could achieve.

Results of examination

What happened? Weight loss

It is interesting to note that participants in all three groups lost weight. In fact, the average weight loss after 8 weeks was about 3.2 pounds, with no statistical difference between genders or groups. In other words, although all groups lost weight, all apparent differences in Table 2 below are probably due to chance rather than actual differences.

Table 2 – Average weight loss (in pounds) over 8 weeks

  Male Socket Combination
Cardio at rest -3.4 +/- 4.4 -4.9 +/- 4 -4 +/- 4.1
Interval cardio -2.9 +/- 3.8 -0.6 +/- 2.2 -1.8 +/- 3.7
TRX Group +4.2 +/- 5.1 -1.1 +/- 3.2 -2.8 +/- 4.5

What happened? Power

In addition to weight loss, each group also improved their performance, often impressively. (But there were no statistical differences between the genders or groups; remember, they all did the same strength training.

Table 3 – Average change in push-ups after 8 weeks

  Male Socket Combination
Cardio at rest +9.8 +/- 7.2 +11.7 +/- 5.5 +10.7 +/- 6.3
Interval cardio +10.1 +/- 6.9 +2.7 +/- 6.7 +7.9 +/- 7.5
TRX Group +12.4 +/- 9.4 +6.2 +/- 3.5 +9.8 +/- 7.9

Table 4 – Average change in reverse rank after 8 weeks

  Male Socket Combination
Cardio at rest +4.8 +/- 2.0 +6.9 +/-6.5 +5.7 +/- 4.6
Interval cardio +5.1 +/- 3.8 +2.9 +/-1.2 +4.4 +/-3.3
TRX Group +6.8 +/- 4.5 +2.9 +/- 1.6 +5.1 +/-4.0

Table 5 – Average change in hock width (in cm) after 8 weeks

  Male Socket Combination
Cardio at rest +6.2 +/- 6.5 +5.0 +/- 3.7 +5.7 +/- 5.3
Interval cardio +4.1 +/- 9.4 +6.4 +/- 6.9 +4.7 +/- 8.7
TRX Group +4.8 +/- 3.0 2.6 +/-4.4 +3.8 +/- 3.8

Table 6 – Average change in V-max (% slope at constant speed) after 8 weeks

  Male Socket Combination
Cardio at rest +1.2 +/- 1.2 +1.7 +/- 1.1 +1.4 +/- 1.2
Interval cardio +1.4 +/- 0.9 +1.9 +/- 1.1 +1.5 +/- 1.0
TRX Group +1.4 +/- 0.6 +0.3 +/- 0.5 +0.9 +/- 0.8

Table 7 – Average change in T-max (in seconds) after 8 weeks

  Male Socket Combination
Cardio at rest +128.0 +/- 156.4 +193.4 +/- 145.3 +160.7 +/- 149.0
Interval cardio +80.7 +/- 123.6 +0 +/- 43 +53.9 +/- 112.3
TRX Group +78.7 +/- 118.9 +37.4 +/- 63.9 +60.75 +/- 98.1

Pleasantness factor

Although there was little difference between the groups in terms of weight loss and performance, there was a large difference in the percentage of participants who did not complete the study.  Continuous cardio training had a very high dropout rate, while participants in the TRX group were most likely to complete the study.

Table 8 – Dropout rates

  Dropout rate
Cardio at rest 80%
Interval cardio 55%
TRX Group 35%

There are no such failures in most research laboratories. Since subjects are paid to participate and are accountable to real people, they finish what they start. However, since our informal experiences are unpaid and remote, it is easy for participants to reject us.

Of course, some of them will let us know if something happened that prevented them from completing their work. However, many of them simply ignore our letters. Even if we were kind enough to send them a workout schedule – or even a TRX Suspension Trainer. Shame, shame. But it doesn’t matter. This explains the higher dropout rates observed in these studies.

However, we do not know the explanation for the higher dropout rate in the group with constant cardio. First, 5 individuals in the stable group quit on the day they received their program. We decided that’s because they think regular cardio sucks (which it doesn’t if you combine it with a good strength training program). Again: Shame, shame, shame.

Of course, injuries are another possibility. However, we have not received any further letters from stable state groups saying they have been affected. In most cases, the injuries were evenly distributed and unrelated to training (e.g., we were given a picture of a bruised toe to support a story about an accident on the stairs). We therefore doubt that this is the problem.

The last statement may simply be that cardio on a regular basis is rather boring. Not everyone likes the idea of running on a treadmill for 45 minutes. (Personal trainers everywhere, are you listening?)

Outputs

Power

All groups showed the same improvement in performance and weight loss. At least, statistically. For me, these improvements were excellent. Thus, after only 2 months, the participants had improved their performance by an average of 30% by following the prescribed programs.

This result is particularly surprising considering that these individuals had an average of more than nine years of experience in the sport. Why is this important? The vast majority of training studies use participants with no training experience (i.e., not trained). And anyone who has ever trained can tell you that most progress is made in the beginning.

And yet, in this study, people who had been training for over 9 years saw their performance in some cases (push-ups, rowing and T-max) improve by 30% in 8 weeks!

Why is there no difference between the groups?

You probably noticed that for press-ups, rowing, long jump and V-max, the group averages were pretty similar. This is not unexpected.

Although the literature shows that interval training and other types of training are more effective than regular cardiovascular training in terms of weight change and body fat change, there is in fact no evidence that a well-designed program of cross-training can make a difference to key performance variables.

The steady state group was found to have the best T-max values. Again, there was no statistical difference between the groups. However, if there was a slight upward trend in T-max, a surrogate marker of anaerobic threshold and aerobic fitness, we would expect the groups that spent the most time on the treadmill to perform better.

So what is there to say about this? Most of us do interval training and circuit training (similar to TRX work) because we find these types of training more challenging and much more interesting than regular endurance training.

Maybe this kind of training just awakens the masochist in us; we tend to change our condition:

  • I try to stick to a work interval without getting off the treadmill or caught up in our TRX.
  • to fear the end of the rest, to think that there’s something wrong with my watch?

But I think that’s what most people want from a workout: a challenge. And nice.

Thus, although the performance indicators did not differ significantly between the groups, the actual implementation of the training was of greater importance. Remember, 80% of the group left with a permanent condition. In the interval group 55% dropped out. And only 35% dropped out in the TRX group.

As Woody Allen said, 80% of success is just showing up.

Weight loss

Participants lost an average of 3 to 5 pounds without changing their diet. And if you think that’s not much, think again. Recent studies have shown that exercise alone without dietary changes is not very effective. In fact, many studies have shown that no change occurs when the meal plan is not followed. Read more in this article.

The mere fact that weight loss occurred in all three groups of experienced athletes is very encouraging.

Why is there no difference between the groups?

Although many people have condemned static cardio in recent years, static cardio combined with a solid strength training program can help people lose weight and improve performance.

That’s right: Regular cardio + strength training has been used by masters of physical development for decades – with great success. It works. The same goes for interval training and strength training. Like working with TRX + weight training.

So we were not at all surprised that there was no difference between the groups in terms of weight loss or performance. Finally, they did about the same total training time – 4 sessions per week; 2×45 minutes of strength training and 2×30-45 minutes of conditioning. So if the total training time is the same, why should we expect anything different?

Now we have no body composition data as described above. If we had collected this data, we could have seen more subtle changes in fat mass and lean mass.

But frankly, I doubt it. All three programs include a strength training program and the same amount of exercise. We have no reason to believe that any given intervention will result in more muscle gain and more fat loss.

Back line

This is how these results should be interpreted:

If you equalize the total training time, you are free to choose the program you prefer, as long as you follow an intensive and progressive strength and conditioning program.

If you prefer a fixed workstation, add it. If you prefer interval work, add it. And if you prefer TRX-style exercises, add them.  In fact, participants in this study seemed to prefer TRX training. They appreciated the diversity and intensity associated with the program. That’s why we’ve published the full 4-phase training session with a video demonstration below.

Phase 1 – Weeks 1 and 2

Phase 2 – Weeks 3 and 4

Phase 3 – Weeks 5 and 6

Phase 4 – Weeks 7 and 8

Of course you will need a TRX Suspension Trainer to perform these exercises.  This is how you can get it:

TRX suspension trainer

And once you have a TRX system, know that while you have a great strength training program, you are free to add cardio, TRX circuits and sprint intervals as you see fit.

References

Click here to see the sources of information referenced in this article.

1. Gibala MJ, Little JP, van Essen M, Wilkin GP, Burgomaster KA, Safdar A, Raha S, Tarnopolsky MA. Short interval sprint training and traditional endurance training: similar initial adaptations in human skeletal muscle and training performance. J Physiol. September 15, 2006;575(Pt 3):901-11. Epub 2006 Jul 6.

Read more

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