So many people get into training because they want to lose weight. That’s great, but it’s also the reason that people go on crash diets and take potentially harmful pills. The question is, does training for weight loss really work? Is it a good strategy? This isn’t as simple a question as you may think. As mentioned in my article on “the look of health”, chasing aesthetics isn’t always the healthiest motivator in the world. Also, when talking about nutrition, I spoke about factoring in calorie intake and expenditure into your overall goals. So what does this all mean?
Okay, so the reality is that when you exercise, you burn calories (a calories is just a unit of energy). What we can’t say is whether exercise is enough to create a real difference. To this stead, people have done research into different training methods and come up with some interesting results.
LISS Cardio: Long Intensity Steady State Cardio has long been touted as the greatest way to lose weight. People just run for a long time. The problem is that unless you are running long-distance (mid-distance runs don’t really count), you aren’t burning as many calories as you think. In an effort to maintain its internal environment, your body finds ways to process energy more efficiently once it “finds its rhythm” in a run. You therefore don’t burn a consistent number of calories during a run. Also, research has shown that once you cool down, you basically stop burning calories at an increased rate, so even if you burn 500 calories in a run, that’s it! (BTW, the “fat-burning” zone is misused and misunderstood phrase).
Weight Training: When people think about lifting weights, they usually think about building muscle. The reality is that your training method will determine your results. Low volume, high intensity training develops strength. High volume, low intensity develops muscular endurance. Hypertrophy (building muscle mass) is determined by how your body responds to each training method. The good news is that it has been shown that, even though you may burn fewer calories with weight training during a session, the repair phase (1-5 days after) requires so much energy that you continue to burn calories at a higher rate for 24-72 hours after. This means that your weight training workout can result in, overall, more calories burned than an LISS Cardio workout.
Calisthenics: Simply, these are body weight exercises. The goal is muscular development, similar to weight training. Though limited by your own bodyweight, you can still increase strength and stamina using this method. As a result, a good calisthenic workout (that leaves the muscles fatigued) can show an increased metabolic rate for long after the workout also. This may, depending on your approach, also yield a higher quantity of calories burned than LISS Cardio.
Interval Training: Using the catch-phrase High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), this is the best of all worlds. It involves phases of high intensity and low intensity (NB, HIIT is not always the best description because one may not be able to truly train at a high intensity, but one can still use intervals). This can be as simple as sprints and rests or fast jog and slow jog or it can involve a cardio period with calisthenic/weight training intervals in between. This seems to yield the best results for fat burning because of its lasting increase in metabolism (24-72 hours has been quoted).
Nutritional Habit: Now here’s where I throw everything I just said out the window. No matter how hard you train using any of the above methods, you cannot out-train a bad diet! If you burn 300 calories in a workout and over the recovery period burn a further 500 (800 total), but eat 3000 calories, then what have you accomplished? Therefore, the whole concept of training for weight-loss is a bit moot. That’s not to say that if you want to lose weight you shouldn’t exercise. Exercise may provide that extra calorie-burn that you need to achieve your goals. Maybe you’re eating 3000 calories a day and need to burn 3500 – exercise can get you there. Also, as they say, dieting makes you look good in clothes, but exercise makes you look good naked. With muscle-development as your goal, you can sculpt your body to a look that you want while losing the weight. If all you do is restrict your caloric intake, you may lose the weight, but will never achieve that toned look. Those bulging pecs and biceps, that well-defined booty), those toned legs — they will never come in if you don’t exercise.
So, there you have it. This explains how exercise can play into your weight-loss/body goals. Just understand that you don’t exercise for weight-loss, but rather to support healthy and sustainable weight-loss. Happy training 🙂