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When it comes to losing weight often enough you’ll hear of exercises touted as the next best thing in fat burning, but unfortunately, I’m here to tell you that no such thing exists. The simple reason is that exercising isn’t the number one method to lose fat, it’s dieting. Fitness is great; it’s healthy, it’s beneficial, and it improves your quality of life, but no amount of exercising will ever replace the requirement of being in a caloric deficit to lose weight. This needs to be understood.
Once this is understood, next is understanding your own relationship with food; do you overeat or under-eat? Are you an emotional eater? Do you eat when stressed or completely forget about food until the source of stress is alleviated? Are whole foods part of your diet or you function on junk food and processed stuff? Things like these creep into your lifestyle and you unconsciously operate off of them. When it comes to eating, being healthy, and losing weight, you need to have a conscious and intentional relationship with food.
The last thing to note is that if you’re trying to lose weight, you most likely didn’t gain that weight overnight; it took some time to get there, and if you want to reverse this, you have to accept it’ll also take time to undo it. There are programs out there (diets and exercises) that claim to lose pounds of fats in short amounts of time, but anything that touts a quick fix or sounds too good to be true is typically a red flag and should be avoided. Losing weight steadily over time is more sustainable, healthier, easier to maintain/manage, and becomes a habit with that time.
The Importance of Nutrition
Nutrition makes or breaks your fitness goals. Whether you want to lose weight, gain it, or build muscles, it all circles back to how you’re eating and nourishing your body.
Let me throw you some numbers. One 330ml/12oz can of coke has 139 calories, a 58g/2oz Mars Bar contains 228 calories, and a McDonald’s Happy Meal has 475 calories. According to a Harvard health report, a 30-minute weightlifting session will burn 90-120 calories while a 30-minute activity burns, on average, 300 calories (keeping in mind that weight, age, intensity & other factors may vary results). Put simply, doing an activity (which requires effort and motivation) doesn’t burn nearly as many calories as you’d think or want it to.
This is all to say that eating and how you go about it will always be your number one concern. No matter what tactic you employ or mix together, if you’re not in a caloric deficit you’ll never lose weight, it’s as simple as that. Everything else that comes with losing weight is done to complement that act of being in a deficit – look at it this way; at the end of the day exercising is a choice, but eating is required to live, therefore you will always be taking on calories so why not regulate it?
Factors Contributing to Weight Loss
After hammering home the importance of diet, it’s good to know there are factors outside of just eating that can help with your weight loss goals. There are numerous small things that you can manipulate to give you the best possible outcome such as maximizing sleep, drinking more liquids, or having a food diary, but the following offer the best bang for your bucks.
1. Do cardio
After committing to a diet that complements your weight loss goals, the next best thing is to exert yourself. Other than being the best and easiest way to burn through calories, cardio exercises have the added bonus of making your heart healthier.
2. Grow muscles
Muscles cause your body to burn more calories at rest. This happens because muscle tissues are a lot harder to sustain, therefore your body burns through more calories to maintain them. Effectively, muscles are a convenient hack for fat loss.
3. Have better food choice
This isn’t about picking fewer fat-rich foods, or about swapping junk foods for whole foods, or even about monitoring calories to ensure you’re eating at a deficit – although all of these make a difference. Let’s forget about macronutrients for now and think about the micronutrients within foods and their benefits.
Did you know foods high in fiber are slower to digest and so promote a feeling of satiation, or that vitamins are integral in metabolism, which promotes energy production and fat burning? We often forget about micronutrients but vegetables, fruits, and grains are rich in them.
Exercises to Do for Weight Loss
Despite everything I’ve said building up to this point, I will point out some helpful exercises (as this is the point of this article). However, it should be noted that to lose weight, no individual exercise is better or worse than another; it all comes down to how you utilize them. When you exercise for fat loss, your main goal is to burn calories, therefore you want to participate in exercises that either raise your heart rate or ones that involve more body movement (because the more parts you move, the more intense the exercise is and the more calories effectively burned).
Low-intensity steady-state exercises or, more specifically, LISS cardio. The idea with these exercises is that you pick an exercise where you can maintain a tempo for an elongated duration (20 minutes or longer). The exercises can be walking, swimming, jumping rope, cycling, or even a sport – the list is endless.
The key with LISS cardio is that you have to elevate your heart rate to certain point of exertion (get to roughly 65% of your maximum heart rate) and maintain that level across the duration of the exercise. You try to maintain this level across the exercise because your body is put into a state where it is burning through energy storage to keep the exercise going. If you’re not exerting yourself enough, your body isn’t being pushed enough to start burning calories. This is why intensity/exertion is important, but the pitfall with LISS exercises is that a lot of people don’t necessarily put in the right amount of work, and this is where HIIT comes in.
High-intensity interval training is grueling and isn’t for everyone, but unlike LISS, it’s harder to half-ass HIIT exercises, therefore even if you aren’t performing at your best, in all likelihood you’re still reaping benefits from the engagement.
Like the name suggests, integral to HIIT are the intervals; depending on how the training routine is broken down, you have timed sections where you go as hard as you can (30-60 seconds), and then sections where you either rest or (preferably) continue working out (active recovery) but at a much slower pace to recover for the next hard interval. Depending on your goals and fitness level, the length of time involved in the work-to-rest ratio in HIIT is typically 1:1, 2:1, or 1:2.
Since we’ve established that having an elevated heart rate is key to burning fat, you can imagine why HIIT is very effective. LISS works on keeping your heart rate elevated at a steady, and manageable point for a long duration whereas HIIT has you knocking at your limit on and off for a short duration. Both of these exercises are effective and choosing between either simply comes down to preference and time management, really.
One thing to note though, is be careful of finding exercises that claim to be HIIT. This is especially rampant on Instagram because HIIT is treated like the silver bullet of fat loss therefore everyone and their personal trainers use it as a buzz word because it’ll garner clicks, views, and attention – but only some of them are actually providing you with proper HIIT workouts.
3. Circuit training
A lot of exercises that claim to be HIIT are actually just circuit training (or even poorly programmed LISS). Circuit training is a set routine that incorporates different exercises in it to get you working. Depending on the format of the training, with circuit training you typically don’t have to think about how much intensity you’re putting in; the exercises are typically specifically chosen to prompt certain intensity levels at different parts, all you have to do is focus on trying to last through the course and do your best.
4. Resistance training
As mentioned earlier, having muscle encourages your body to burn more calories while doing nothing, because of the energy required to maintain them, therefore weight lifting or doing some form of resistance training (calisthenics; CrossFit; etc.) can dramatically boost the development of muscles and kickstart the fat burning.