Exercise and weight loss has been in the news a lot lately. There was a study cited a few weeks ago the media picked up which basically said that exercise does not have a significant effect on weight loss. This created a lot of controversy within the exercise community, and once again, a lot of confusion with the general public. Exercise DOES have "some" benefits for weight loss but more for weight "maintenance." Allow me to summarize.
- Over the years, I have worked with many of you on weight loss. I have always emphasized "eating behaviors" over exercise in terms of weight loss. If you have read my Top 10 list for permanent weight loss, you know that exercise is way down on the list. Why? Because if you are not eating properly, your workouts will never be enough to lose significant weight. For the record, dietary experts say that THE most important thing we can do to lose weight as a nation is to just EAT LESS. They don't even emphasize what we are eating as much as that we are just eating too much of it. Start here if you need to lose weight--eat less of whatever it is you're currently eating. Sure--eating better and exercising will help, but the MOST important step is to eat less.
- Can exercise help you lose weight? Yes. But only if you use the right programming, intensity, etc. However, please note the above on how your eating relates. Studies show that an adult working "hard" for 60 minutes of exercise will burn around 600 calories per hour. But guess what? Most adults in America are not in good enough shape to exercise hard for 60 minutes straight! Many cannot even exercise easy for 60 minutes in a row--some not even five! In reality, the amount of metabolic work many adults can produce per hour will be far under 600 calories of burn. Have you looked at the calorie content of a couple of cookies, fancy cup of coffee, bag of chips, or sodas lately? What about a restaurant meal that can be in excess of 5,000 calories? If you're only burning 250 calories (an hour of slow walking) and eating too much or poor choices like the junk food like above, you're still going to gain weight! Again, eat LESS as a primary strategy, then better, then have "quality" exercise on a daily basis.
- On exercise quality vs. weight loss, there has been a trend developing for a couple of years downplaying the role of cardio exercise and cardio equipment. I've been watching it and evaluating, and now I am also coaching people away from endless cardio that is not very productive. Most of the people I have known over the past decade that use cardio machines day in and day out don't change from year to year. They don't lose weight, and they don't increase much fitness--nor do they fix injuries or joint dysfunctions hacking away on cardio machines. Think about the "quality" of your cardio. Will it have enough metabolic effect to enable you to actually LOSE weight if this is your goal? Will the cardio activity enhance your health and safety in terms of joint function and whole-body balance? Probably not. Here are a couple of related points. If you do cardio machines, pick a protocol that will actually produce weight loss and metabolic enhancement. If you have joint issues or need to balance your body better, get off the cardio equipment for a while and into something that can correct these imbalances so that when you go back to your cardio, you will have great quality with improved safety--which basically means you'll be able to lose more weight faster. If you just want to do cardio at a slow to moderate pace, this is fine, but be realistic--it's not going to help you lose weight or even get you that much more fit.
- Cardio Weight Loss Protocols? There are many different plans or protocols out there. The only one that I have seen actually work with dozens of my own clients are the Sprint-8 Intervals (by Phil Campbell-Ready, Set, GO!). I also use other intervals, but the Sprint-8s are the easiest to adapt to multiple populations and body types. We have a few tricks to using the Sprint-8. We have used speed to accelerate the heart rate and preferred the elliptical trainer with NO resistance because we can transition quickly in and out of the intervals. Stair steppers, treadmills, and some other cardio equipment types will not allow the quick transitions required for this workout. My suggestion is that if you move well enough to move FAST with an interval, that you look at the Sprint-8. Some of my colleagues make fun of the elliptical trainers, but I have seen them help more people than hurt, so I'll stick with them when used properly.
- If you don't move well enough to move fast, then fix what is broken or dysfunctional. My optimal tools for doing this are merely using body weight or the Russian Kettlebell. If you can't move your body well, you don't have any business using equipment to further load a bad movement pattern or joint that is not working properly. Kettlebells are very corrective when used with the RKC "Hard Style" protocols--they truly fix people better than any other fitness tool I have ever seen (but don't use them unless you know what you are doing). There are other methods of course--sometimes clinical help is required with surgery, physical therapy, or at times medications; however, most of the problems I see with people and their movements can be fixed on site with no or minimal equipment. Tip of the day by physical therapist and sport rehab expert Gray Cook, "Don't layer fitness on top of dysfunction!" What does Cook mean? You can get more fit if you go hard enough, but it won't necessarily make you move better. Eventually, you'll just get fit enough to hurt yourself--not good!
- Summary! If you need to lose weight--first and foremost EAT LESS. If you want exercise to help you lose weight--do something metabolically efficient. If you do not move well enough to do the "faster" movements required with intervals or ballistic kettlebell exercises, etc., then emphasize correcting your imbalances and improving your joint function so that you can do the metabolically efficient workouts that will torch the most amount of fat off your frame in the least amount of time.
I love fitness and exercise! Daily exercise is awesome with dozens of great health benefits--just not the "best method" to take off significant weight when compared to how much you are eating.
http://www.ronjones.org/Weblinks/EPOC&Intervals.html (Intervals & Sprint-8 Protocol)
http://www.acsm.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=ACSM_News_Releases&CONTENTID=13178&TEMPLATE=/CM/ContentDisplay.cfm (American College of Sports Medicine response to exercise and weight loss myths)