What exercise should I do to burn fat off my arms? How do I burn belly fat? How should I work out if I want to lose 10 pounds?
These are questions I hear very frequently from clients, on fitness forums, and social media. The TRUTH is that exercise by itself has not been shown to have a big impact on weight loss, and is not effective for weight loss.
That's right, exercise is really not that great for weight loss. It is also very unlikely to remove body-fat from specific areas. Research has shown that weight loss alone will not cause significant reductions in weight or body-fat. And although there is one study that has shown a slight area-specific fat burning effect, the evidence is limited and it's only a small effect anyway. So don't count on burning fat off your stomach with a bunch of ab work.
Research HAS shown that exercise can help you maintain weight loss, and you will look a lot more toned if you actually have some muscle to work with. So exercise (resistance training in particular) is still very beneficial if you want to lose weight and keep it off. It's just not going to cause the pounds to drop off all by itself.
This is because nutrition plays a far greater role in how much fat is lost. Even long and grueling workouts will typically only burn a few hundred calories. I routinely see salads that contain well over 1000 calories. Easy to see how working out without changing your diet will usually fail to produce much in the way of results.
That is why all of our personal training programs come with nutrition plans too, so you can dial in your diet and see amazing results.
Some people even notice that they unintentionally gain weight when starting an exercise program. This is because working out can make you hungrier, and cause you to increase your caloric intake without realizing it. Working out also tends to help people justify extra treats or snacks. If the "I just worked out soooo hard...I deserve some ice cream!" line of logic sounds familiar...this might apply to you!
The more grueling the workout, the more impactful these effects are. So be cautious of going too hard too fast and overdoing it. You may end up doing more harm than good.
With that out of the way, I do have some tips for optimizing your workouts if your main goal is losing fat or bodyweight.
1. First, don't completely overhaul your workouts and switch them to all high rep low rest time circuits. You'll end up losing your strength and muscle if you do so, which actually makes it harder to lower body fat. Maintain (or begin) a regimented resistance based program that focuses on progressive overload. Then make a few small tweaks.
2. Focus on compound exercises such as squats, lunges, presses, etc. These movements work a lot of body parts at once, so they have a bigger metabolic impact than isolation movements like curls or crunches. This means you'll burn more calories/fat doing them.
3. Add in controlled amounts of cardiovascular exercise or resistance training circuits. For example, add a couple of cardio classes on your off days, or an extra circuit on the end of each of your regular workouts. Keep what you do consistent so that you can progress or regress it as needed based off how you respond.
4. NEAT is the energy you burn from anything other than sleeping, eating, and working out. Walking to the car, laughing, or head-banging to your favorite tunes would all count. This often decreases when trying to lose weight, so adding in ways to increase it can be beneficial. Tracking daily steps is my favorite way. Dancing during TV commercials or doing 10 jumping jacks every hour on the hour is another way. Pick something that sounds fun or engaging to you and stick with it. It will help counteract our bodies natural metabolic 'slow down' that comes with weight loss and caloric reduction.
I hope this helped you get some ideas about how you can use exercise to maximize your weight efforts. If you have any questions feel free to send us a message. If you would like help learning how to lose weight from a professional personal trainer, right here in Austin, then give us a call or book a free Transformation session. At that session you will do a detailed consultation with a professional trainer, a short workout, and then your trainer will put together a plan for you to achieve your goals. Click here to get started!