The #1 question I get asked about is:
“What workouts should I do to lose weight?”
I wanted to share some thoughts on this topic with you today since I am so frequently asked about this (and if weight loss isn’t one of your goals, this can also help with exercising for overall health and well-being). Please know that I am no weight loss expert (and there is a lot I am still learning myself!); I just want to help provide you with some information and tips to consider as you go through and grow through your journey. I always encourage you to find what feels best for you, your lifestyle, and your goals.
The short answer to this one?
Any workout can contribute to weight loss if you maintain a caloric deficit. You can also lose weight without exercising if you eat fewer calories than you are burning, but you may be less likely to keep it off. One study found that only 10 percent of Americans who used dieting only to lose weight were able to maintain, compared to 89 percent of those who used exercise and diet.
It’s important to note that losing weight on the scale isn’t the same as losing fat either; often, with dieting alone, muscle mass is lost in the process (up to 50% is lost muscle, 50% water, and fat).
When it comes to exercising for weight loss, not all exercise is created equal. Strength training helps you build muscle and lose fat at the same time, which cardio exercise alone can’t achieve. Plus, you may find that some higher-intensity cardio workouts (or just too much cardio in general) may leave you hungrier or more exhausted, which can translate into an increased calorie intake and fewer calories burned throughout the rest of your day. While this may not be the case for you, this is where it’s essential to pay attention to how your body responds to your workouts and nutrition and make adjustments to meet your personal needs best.
If weight loss (reducing body fat) is your goal, focus first on optimizing your nutrition and then pair that with a balanced workout plan. Prioritize strength training and add cardio and mobility work in between to allow for adequate recovery.
And, if you have been consistent with your healthy habits for a while (at least 6 months or more) but haven’t felt or noticed any changes, it may be worth talking to your doctor to rule out any possible health conditions (such as thyroid or hormonal issues, etc.) that might be stalling your progress.
Things to Consider
If you want to lose weight quickly, you need to cut calories (quite a bit) to move things fast. You can do that by creating a more significant caloric deficit in your diet and/or by exercising more and/or pushing harder.
But I can tell you, as someone who has tried that in the past, it might equate to pounds lost on the scale; it’s also a recipe for feeling pretty awful.
Like most everything in life, slow and steady wins the race and making smaller, more manageable lifestyle changes can help you gradually reach (and maintain) your goal. It may take a bit longer to get there, but you’ll be more likely to keep up your healthy habits if you implement them slowly enough to become a part of your lifestyle (vs. something you are only willing to do for a short time).
Tip: Ask yourself, ‘Am I able to keep doing this for the next 10 or even 20 years?’ If the answer is no, it’s probably not something you’ll want to try to do for the next month or so.
As I have mentioned in the past, your health is the #1 thing to focus on if you want to lose weight, and every day I am learning more about just how important this is! (But please don’t just take my word for it; I encourage you to do your research, absorb what makes the most sense for you and your lifestyle, and then test it out to see how -or if- it works for you).
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to exercise to help improve the way your body looks. Still, it’s important to remember not to value the external over the internal if lasting, positive change is what you are trying to create.
Unfortunately, many unhealthy trends and behaviors are promoted in the health and fitness world, causing even more confusion about what is effective and healthy, making it that much more important for you to learn what is best for your body. (And, as you scroll through Instagram, please remember that being super lean doesn’t always equate to good health!).
Now I am no nutrition expert*, but I would be remiss not to address how important your nutrition is in weight loss. Exercise can help move the needle, but what you consume will be paramount. It’s much easier, for example, to not eat a 500-calorie treat than to do an hour-long boot camp class to burn off the same amount (sigh).
*For some great expert nutrition advice, please check out Rebecca the Dietitian’s helpful tips here on our blog.
And when we start talking about calories (just like with workouts), quality does count. So before you start slashing calories, please don’t forget to focus on cutting down on the ones that don’t add value to your health first.
We often hear about how vital calories and macronutrients (protein, fat, carbs, etc.) are but forget that the micronutrients (vitamins, minerals) in our food are just as crucial for our health. (For instance, some research suggests that low zinc intake may decrease your body’s resting metabolic rate and levels of thyroid hormone).
One of my favorite quotes about this is:
“Calories determine how much you weigh, macronutrients determine what you look like, and micronutrients determine how you feel.” – Dan Garner
I would say that workout types offer a similar kind of hierarchy — cardio training can burn some calories (or influence scale weight). Still, it’s strength training that not only burns calories around the clock but also gives your body shape or that ‘toned’ look. And when combined with the proper diet, strength training can shift your body composition, helping you gain muscle and reduce your overall body fat percentage. Finally, mobility work can influence how you feel and perform during your workouts.
So much like calorie tracking (or burning) can aid in weight loss, the value that strength and mobility training offers matters just as much (if not more) when it comes to changing your body composition and feeling and performing at your best.
So what’s answer?
The truth is that (healthy) weight loss is a sum of many factors in our lifestyle. Calories do matter for shedding pounds (you can lose weight eating only twinkies if you cut your calories enough, but you probably won’t be very healthy or feel too great!). Consuming quality calories keeps our body healthy to perform and feel our best.
Balancing our workouts is very similar. While you can lose weight by running off a bunch of calories every day, your body (and joints) may not feel too good or be able to sustain it for very long. Prioritize strength training (whether your goal is weight loss or improved health, it helps with both!) and allow adequate recovery time between resistance training sessions by mixing in mobility and cardio work.
And, since exercise and nutrition are only parts of our whole health picture, we also need to remember to address other weight gain influencing factors such as adequate sleep, stress levels and any possible health conditions.
In my opinion, learning to love your body as it is today (our self-image and self-compassion doesn’t always improve once we have lost weight) and taking great care of your health is one of the best ways to shed excess, not only in your body but also in your mind and spirit.
I would encourage you, instead of asking, “what will help me lose weight?” to try to change that to: “What supports my health the most?”
Create healthy habits that you can stick with over the long term (for life!) that support your health by nourishing your body with great food, plenty of sleep, stress-relieving practices, and balanced exercise.
Whether your goal is to lose weight, tone up, or feel better, a healthy diet and exercise plan must include the (right) variety of options for YOU. The key to success with nutrition and exercise? Consistency over intensity, every time. If you are trying to force yourself into something you hate or don’t like, it’s just not sustainable for a lifetime, which is the ultimate goal. And as you get started, or start back up again, don’t discount the power of small, gradual steps that compound over time (I’ll never forget the very first 10-minute workout I did that literally changed the course of my entire life!).
Finally, on days when it can feel tough to want to love your body and want to take care of it (I have those days too), think about how you want to feel at the end of your life: do you want to look back on it and wish you had spent more time worrying about your weight? Or, do you want to be able to say, “I am so glad I took such great care of my health so that I could live my life to the fullest!”