How to Exercise for Fat Loss

I remember getting a tour at Gold’s Gym.  This gym just opened and I wanted to join because of their saline pool option.  (I did not mention what I do for a living, just rolled with the tour.)  He showed me the cardio cinema room where I could “bust out two hours of cardio”.  Really?  Why the hell would I bust out two hours of cardio unless I was training for a specific sporting event like a half marathon?  Is this the crazy information that people are being fed?  Do people really think they have to burn 2 hours worth of cardio calories?

Think about it, walk into any commercial gym and look where majority of people are working out.  Most people are on some type of cardio equipment getting there 30 to 60 minute of aerobic activity at the same pace possibly even reading a book while they are doing it.  A year later, they look the same and their body has not changed one bit.

It is this old myth of calories in vs. calories out.  Unfortunately it’s not that simple.  We need to look at the hormonal effect of the exercise we are doing.  A two hour cardio session is not promoting the hormones that are ideal for health or burning fat.

So what is the best exercise combination to change the way your body looks NOW?  What is the best way to boost your health and metabolism so you can maintain your ideal weight without having to spend hours on an elliptical or run 10 miles a day?

If you are looking for fat loss and overall health improvements this is what your exercise selection should look like.  Note, this pyramid will be most successful while following a whole food plan, like Eat Wild.

Wild Workout Fat Loss Exercise Pyramid

triangle 4The foundation of your program needs to be lifting weights.  Lifting weight increases your lean mass so that your body is more metabolically active.  Lifting weights increases hormones like testosterone and human growth hormone, which keep our metabolism high and our belly fat in check.  Lifting weights (especially heavy weights) provides an EPOC (Exercise Post Oxygen Consumption) effect where you have an elevated caloric burn after your exercise session.  A 30 minute session on the elliptical does not do this.  Weight lifting improves bone density as well.  Don’t be afraid of lifting heavy, ladies.  It’s so much better for your body.

The next tier is interval cardio.  If you are going to do cardio (that is not restorative), then do interval cardio.  Run, bike, elliptical, or whatever mode you choose, but do it as interval training.  Interval training consists of short periods of high intensity effort followed by a recovery effort.  These workouts can be done in 10 to 30 minutes tops.  Interval training also has the EPOC effect as mentioned above.  This only needs to be done 1 to 2 times a week as proper recovery is imperative.  More is not better in this situation.

This level does not include long duration cardio at a steady state.   Long duration cardio is not ideal for long term fat loss.  You can lose weight, but often muscle mass is lost as well lowering your metabolic rate.  Long aerobic cardio also increases chronic stress hormones like cortisol which triggers the body to store fat.

In my opinion, participating in events like 5Ks, marathons, triathlons and other endurance sports is partaking in a sporting event.  You train for these events to finish, get faster, win your age group, or just check it off your bucket list.  Fat loss exercise is a completely different protocol.  I’ll write about endurance sports training in another blog.

The top of the pyramid is restorative exercise.  To balance the high intensity, we need low intensity exercise.  High intensity stimulates the sympathetic nervous system; low intensity stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system.  We need balance.  With high stress jobs and lives, it’s very good to do activities that promote rest and recovery while moving.   These activities can also be very meditative and good deep breathing practices.  Yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong, walking, or an easy bike ride are a great way to restore the body and lower stress hormones.  When stress hormones are lowered the body will easily let go over body fat since it is not in a state of alarm.

Exercise is just a small component of fat loss equation.  The other major players are sleep, proper food selection, and monitoring stress levels.

Exercise does not have to become a part time job for you to lose fat and look great.  Exercise smart so that your hormones work in your favor and you become a fat burning machine.