What’s the number one resolution people make when a fresh year rolls around? To lose weight! Of course, the goal is to get a healthier body composition and that means losing body fat rather than muscle. Adding exercise to the equation helps you do that. The problem with restricting calories alone is you’ll almost surely gain the weight you lose back if you don’t exercise. Plus, you’ll lose lean body mass along with the body fat. Longer term, this will slow your resting metabolic rate because you have less metabolically active muscle tissue. How you exercise matters too. Here are five of the most common mistakes people make when exercising to lose weight.
You Focus on Exercise Duration Rather than Intensity When Trying To Lose Weight
Exercise is a calorie burner but more isn’t necessarily better for fat loss. The real key to shedding body fat is intensity. In fact, an interesting study compared fat loss between individuals who burned an equal number of calories during exercise. One group of participants burned calories through high-intensity exercise while the other with longer workouts at a moderate intensity. Despite the fact that each burned a similar number of calories, the first group lost significantly more body fat. In fact, some studies suggest that moderate-intensity aerobic exercise has little or no fat loss benefits because your body adapts to it. Other research shows that moderate-intensity exercise has benefits but high-intensity training is MORE effective for reducing abdominal fat.
Why might high-intensity training be a better fat blaster? For one, it increases insulin sensitivity. In addition, higher intensity workouts are linked with a stronger EPOC or after-burn. Your body burns more calories for up to 24 hours after intense exercise. However, a study in overweight adolescents showed greater weight loss when the participants did longer duration, low-intensity aerobic exercise. Because of these discrepancies, hedge your bets and include some lower intensity cardio of longer duration in your workouts once or twice a week. The downside to longer duration cardio exercise is you burn fewer calories doing it over time due to how your body adapts to moderate-intensity workouts. If you’re not including high-intensity training in your workouts, you’re destined to plateau in your weight loss.
You Devote TOO Much Time to Cardio
Cardio burns more calories than weight training but building muscle is an investment that pays off longer term with a higher resting metabolic rate. Long periods of cardio, over time, can actually slow your resting metabolism, especially if you’re not doing HIIT training. If you’re restricting calories AND doing cardio, your body can become catabolic to the point that you lose muscle. Muscle loss will only sabotage your fat loss. As you lose muscle tissue, your metabolism slows. Yes, you burn more calories per minute doing cardio than weight training but high-intensity weight training triggers a metabolic spike that, much like HIIT training, burns fat after your workout is over. So, with resistance training, you boost fat burning afterward AND you work toward building more metabolically active muscle to give you a calorie burning edge. The reason men can consume more calories than women is that they have more muscle. If you’re trying to lose weight, don’t give up the cardio, but give at least equal time to weight training but, ideally, even more.
You Assume Exercise Alone Will Get the Job Done
Studies looking at exercise alone for weight loss have been disappointing. You might wonder why. After all, exercise burns calories. Unfortunately, research shows that, over time, your body adapts to your level of physical activity. It may take weeks or even months but it ultimately happens. One study showed that physically active people actually expend a similar number of calories daily to people who are only moderately active.
How can this be? When you do a workout, you may compensate by eating a little more and moving a little less throughout the day. The reality is you can wipe out the calorie burn from a workout just by drinking a frou-frou drink from Starbucks. So, focus attention as much on what and how much you eat as how you exercise. No workout, even a high-intensity one, can make up for poor eating habits. Get a reality check by keeping a food journal so that you KNOW how much you’re eating and make sure the bulk of your diet is whole unprocessed food. Diet quality counts when you’re trying to get lean and firm.
You’re Have a Set Routine
A routine is good only in the sense that it organizes your workout life. You don’t want to get TOO routine with the workout that you do. If you do the same workout over and over, adaptations take place that stymies fat loss. Your body tries to defend your current weight and buffer you against stress, so if it can adapt it will. We’re hearing that word adaptation a lot, aren’t we?
Some adaptations are positive, for example, your muscles adapt to the stress of strength training by becoming larger and stronger and aerobic training by using less energy to do the same movements. But once these adaptations take place, you’re a more efficient machine and you burn fewer calories when you do the same workout. That’s why you have to use progressive overload when you strength train and change your workouts periodically.
You’re Not Patient Enough
Almost everyone loves instant results. That’s why manufacturers of weight loss supplements are so successful. They lull people into thinking they’ll lose weight fast without exercising or dieting. Makes no sense, doesn’t it? Don’t expect exercise to deliver results immediately and don’t use it as your only vehicle for weight loss. Make it part of an overall lifestyle plan to achieve a healthy weight. It’s not JUST about exercise, you need a healthy diet, enough sleep, and a plan for managing stress and emotional eating to see real results – and it won’t necessarily happen quickly. Be in it for the long haul and focus on health, not just weight loss.
The Bottom Line
Now you know some of the pitfalls to avoid when you use exercise as a weight loss tool. Keep them in mind when you’re frustrated because you’re not getting the results you want – and make some adjustments.
Science Daily. “Losing fat while gaining muscle: Scientists close in on ‘holy grail’ of diet and exercise”
Competitor.com. “Fat Burning: Low-Intensity Or High-Intensity Exercise?”
J Obes. 2011; 2011: 868305.
Science Daily. “Why you won’t lose weight with exercise alone”
Related Articles By Cathe: