Ugh, what is the best exercise for weight loss? Talk about a loaded question with a million answers. When people are thinking about weight loss or wanting to reshape their bodies, exercise gets a WHOLE lot of attention. Seriously. There have got to be HUNDREDS of news headlines every freaking day claiming that this, that or the other exercise is the holy grail of weight loss.
Let’s just get real for a second, ok? Exercise is not, has never been and will never be the holy grail of weight loss. Remember that 80/20 principle we talked about? 80% or more of your success and results will come from what you put in your mouth. Your nutrition choices, and how they facilitate fat loss and hormone balance, are the primary determinants of your progress. Period end of discussion.
With that said, exercise is absolutely part of a healthy lifestyle and can certainly accelerate your weight loss results. Just keep in mind that you CANNOT out exercise a crappy diet. You just can’t. And you’ll be pretty miserable trying so don’t even bother. (Been there, done that.) If you don’t have your diet right, no amount of time on the treadmill is going to get you where you want to go.
When I first decided I needed to get serious and transform my health (and weight) once and for all, I weighed over 300 pounds. I felt overwhelmed by the magnitude of changes I needed to make. I knew that if I tried to do everything all at once I’d get frustrated, feel like a failure, lose hope and probably never reach my goals. I began to focus on cleaning up my diet and didn’t want to have to worry about “gym time”. So I didn’t. No guilt, no pressure, I just identified the biggest rock (food) and invested my energy there.
I did, however, buy a treadmill. I wasn’t ready (or willing) to jog or even walk briskly. The thought of it stressed me out and I didn’t want to take on anything I wasn’t SURE I could do. I put the treadmill in front of the TV and many evenings, while watching a TV show, I’d walk very, very slowly. I didn’t break a sweat. I didn’t want to. I just wanted to move a little bit more. Sometimes I’d walk for 5 minutes. Other times I’d walk for an hour. I did that consistently until I had lost my first 50 pounds.
By the time I had lost 50 pounds I was feeling pretty comfortable and at ease with my new way of eating. It felt effortless. It wasn’t a strain. I wasn’t obsessing over food or white-knuckling it through my days to avoid a binge. I felt in control. Everything was good. I was ready to take on more and I decided I wanted it to be working out.
I joined a gym and hired a trainer. I worked out with him 2-3 days each week for 30 minutes per session. So we’re talking 60-90 minutes PER WEEK. I would characterize those workouts as cardio/resistance. We definitely lifted weights but nothing all too heavy. We focused on high intensity workouts that included resistance but also included LOTS of movement so my heart rate was always elevated. The goal was to not stop moving, maintain my muscle mass and burn fat. We definitely weren’t focused on building strength at that time.
I have to say that those workouts helped me fall in love with fitness again. I had once really loved it but let’s just say “we lost that lovin’ feeling” for a while!! It came back! I started doing some additional workouts on my own. My confidence started to grow. I bought a few kettlebells and a few times a week I would do swings and goblet squats in my home office. I actually even brought one of the kettlebells to work and I’d often take a break in between meetings to knock out 20-50 swings! I was really loving it.
By this point I had probably lost about 100 lbs and my weight loss was beginning to slow. I was seeing sagging skin in my arms and belly and wasn’t too happy about it. I talked to a number of experts, did a lot of research and made the decision to switch personal trainers. I started training 3 mornings each week (30 minutes each session) and we really focused on full-body strength movements. I’m talking squats, deadlifts, etc. I knew I needed to get stronger and build a better foundation so I could have a strong core and avoid looking like a huge sack of skin. On the days I didn’t workout with my trainer I would do high intensity cardio workouts. Uphill sprints, burpees, jump rope – you name it. It was hard but it was good. I was training 6 days a week and continuing to make progress.
I wasn’t surprised when I hit my next plateau. I was pissed but I wasn’t surprised. That was just about 2 months ago. I am closer than ever to my goal weight and my body just isn’t quite as responsive. I’ve lost a ton of weight in a fairly short period of time and understandably, my body has adapted. I made the decision to change trainers AND change gyms. Instead of a traditional personal trainer, I now work with a strength coach three times each week. We work on form, speed and strength. We focus on large muscle groups, lifting HEAVY weight and truly finding my inner athlete. Three days a week I’m working strength with Blaze and the other three days I’ve switched it up: 2 days I do longer duration cardio workouts. I used to avoid traditional cardio – those types of workouts weren’t good for me at the beginning but now my body is really responding to them. That is an important point to make: what works for you will likely change throughout your weight loss. That’s ok. That is normal. Your body will adapt, you’ll gain strength and endurance and you’ll need to switch things up. Don’t get frustrated by plateaus – embrace the opportunity to work on a new area of your fitness and wellness.
Here’s what I have found is most important when it comes to pinpointing the best exercise for weight loss:
The exercise you actually do trumps the exercise you think you should do but always avoid. Seriously. If you hate running, don’t run. If you love Zumba – go Zumba your ass off!! Sure, there will always be good/better/best when it comes to effectiveness but no one will argue that the most effective workout is the one you’ll actually do. And you know which one you’ll make time for? The one you love.
Listen to your body. For several months I over trained. I pushed myself too hard and I hurt my knees in the process. Unfortunately, I’m still paying the stupid tax on that. The pain flares up every now and then. I want to push through it. I hate being injured. But I don’t push. I back off and always, always, always avoid aggravating the injury. There’s always an alternative. Chill out. Don’t take yourself out of the game by being stubborn.
Expect plateaus. You cannot do the same thing indefinitely and expect to get the same results. Your body will adapt and your results will slow. Don’t get frustrated, just roll with it and use it as an opportunity to try something new.
Lift heavy things. LIFT HEAVY THINGS. I’m serious!!! LIFT HEAVY THINGS!!!! I don’t care how old you are or where you are in your fitness journey – LIFT HEAVY THINGS!!!!
I want to end this little ditty the same way I started it. The most IMPORTANT thing you can do for your weight loss an health goals is clean up your diet. You don’t need to take on the world all at once. If that is where you need to improve, focus on improving that. Put your energy there. Take your time. Practice, practice, practice. You don’t need to take on exercise if you aren’t ready. You will serve yourself (and your health) by mastering your nutrition and adopting healthy, moderate nutrition changes. Add the fitness component only when you’re ready and don’t be afraid to go slow.