The Secret to Exercising for Weight Loss
Updated: Jul 13, 2020
Cardio, weightlifting, powerlifting, HIIT, Tabata, Crossfit, Kickboxing, Yoga, etc.
What is the science regarding weight loss and what combination of workout programs are best for weight loss?
All weight loss programs revolve around the law of Energy Balance.
Increase muscle mass in order to increase metabolism, increasing calories burned.
HIIT is the most well-suited cardio program to effectively burn calories AND minimize muscle loss.
If you're a woman, you're probably looking for a lean body but not too skinny. You want a toned upper body but don't want to look bulky. You want a flat and lean stomach. And you want slender defined legs.
If you're a man, you're probably looking for a muscular and athletic physique but not like the Hulk. You want a big chest, abs, and a V-shaped back. And you want nice well-defined arms that stretch your t-shirt sleeves, with just the right amount of vascularity.
Whatever your body goals are, they probably involve some kind of weight loss in order for you to achieve them.
To better understand the science behind weight loss and hence what kind of exercises are most effective, we need to understand the law of Energy Balance.
Energy Balance is the relationship with "Energy Intake" and "Energy Output".
Energy Balance is a simple math equation. With energy intake (calories consumed) on one side, and energy output (calories burned) on the other. The differences between these 2 factors are what lead to weight gain and weight loss.
This one concept governs all weight loss programs. Any "secret" or "hack" that claims to magically bypass this law of physics, be extra cautious over their claims.
Hence, by this relationship, there are only 2 ways to lose weight:
Eat less (Consume FEWER calories)
Exercise more (Burn MORE calories)
For today, we'll only focus on Point 2, burning more calories. What does "burning" calories actually mean?
Where burning calories are concerned, the 2 main areas we want to explore are 1. BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate aka metabolism) and 2. Energy for exercise. Let's look at how we can increase "burning calories" in each area.
BMR is affected by many factors such as age, gender, height, etc. But the one big factor that is actually within our control is Lean Body Mass (basically everything in your body that isn't fat).
What that essentially means, is that the more muscle we have, the higher our BMR, the more calories we burn a day just by being alive.
This is why The Rock can eat so much and still look great!
Women, don't despair, you can build muscle without looking bulky, you just have to do it the right way, which is a topic for another time.
Back to the topic of today, what combination of workout programs are best for building muscle? We'll save the specifics for another time, but put it simply, you need some kind of external load (weights).
By introducing an external load, your body has to overcome a weight that is greater than what it's used to (your bodyweight). In order for it to overcome this weight, it HAS to get stronger, building muscle.
Hence, any workout program that involves lifting weights (Crossfit, weightlifting, bodybuilding, etc) would get you on the road towards more muscles -> increased metabolism -> greater weight loss.
Energy for exercise
For decades, we've been told that if you want to lose fat, you need to do cardio. Lots and lots of cardio. While it's true that cardio burns more calories than lifting weights, it also causes us to LOSE muscle (when have you ever seen a competitive marathoner that's also jacked?).
As we just learned, muscle mass is pretty important too when it comes to losing weight. So the TYPE of cardio we do is important as well. The ideal cardio program should: be effective in burning calories, and minimize muscle loss.
There are tons of research that show that higher intensity cardio (sprinting) burns significantly more fat compared to low-intensity cardio (long-distance jogging).
More specifically, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is the most effective way to burn fat while minimizing muscle loss, because:
Increases BMR for up to 24 hours
Increases insulin sensitivity in muscles
Increases fat burning in muscles
Decreases appetite post-exercise
When we talk about High Intensity, that means 30-secs to 1-minute bursts of effort at 70%-80% of your max effort, with minimal rests in between sets just to catch your breath.
You know you're doing it right if you're panting and dripping with sweat after 10-15 minutes of effort. If you're spending 30-40 minutes on your HIIT, the intensity is probably too low.
Now you know the fundamentals behind weight loss and how programs are designed to help you achieve your goals. Hopefully, this helps you to sort out the good programs from the bad ones.
Note of caution: At Kairos Nutrition we believe in sustainable weight loss. When you first embark on your journey of weight loss, it's easy to get over-excited and try to do too much too soon. This often leads people to go on 1. Crash diets and 2. Over-exert their body, potentially leading to injuries. Which could have disastrous consequences on your body.
Take it one step at a time. Our final piece of advice: Work JUST outside of your comfort zone, but don't run too far ahead of it.