What is the best exercise for fat loss? We’ve had this question a few times in our sessions recently.

[TL:DR]

  • Exercise to build muscle and strength through resistance training
  • Nutrition to lose fat.

And on to the long answer:

Historically, the fitness industry has spoken about the fat burning zone, which is typically at a low HR… I also see a lot of comments along the lines of “great session 500kcals burnt whoop whoop”

Conversely we get the “hmm, only 200 kcals burnt, what am I doing wrong… need to work harder”

Annoys me a little bit because it’s misguided. But the fault lays squarely on the fitness industry of obfuscating matters and making it complicated.

So let’s start to makes some sense of it.

To answer the question: “what is the best exercise for fat loss” we need to track back to understand how the body triggers fat loss. And to do this we need to understand a bit about metabolism…

At a very simplistic level, and assuming that your body’s metabolic systems are working well, in order to lose weight you need to burn more calories that you eat. This puts you in a calorie deficit which will result in fat loss.

Now there are lots of ways in which your body burns energy:

  • BMR – basal metabolic rate, is what your body consumes by simply being. Eating, sleeping, digesting food, building or repairing muscle, pumping blood and oxygen around, maintaining the right temperature, etc… This is THE biggest proportion and estimates suggest is around 70% for women.
  • NEAT – is Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, which is the next step up. It’s everything you do that’s more than BMR (but not exercise). So school run, tidying, shopping, cooking and housework, leisure walks, etc
  • And finally we have EAT – which is of course the Exercise Activity Thermogenesis and is what you “burn” while exercising. On average, we expect this to be 10%…

There’s some other small bits too but I’m gonna to ignore this in order to simplify…

So just by looking at this, you can see that the EAT is the smallest segment. It makes sense right? Most of us workout 2-4 times a week for about an hour ish. It’s not going to have that much of an impact overall.

Which leads me to the position I hold (and many others – it’s not just me)…

If you only have 4-5 hours per week in which to workout, you should ensure that you are getting in the best bang for your buck. And that best bang is most definitely RESISTANCE TRAINING. This can take many forms. HIIT, circuits, weights or bodyweight. But the consensus is that you need to work hard, recover, work hard, recover several times within the session. Where “work hard” equals 80% or more of max heart rate or 8+/10 on the RPE – rate of perceived exertion scale.

And reasons for this are:

  • Resistance training stresses your skeleton which is excellent for preventing the onset of osteoporosis especially for, ehem, women of a certain age.
  • Resistance training will damage muscle and through this overload will also build muscle. This will affect your metabolism in two ways Damaging muscle means more more repair work for your body. And more muscle = greater engine to run,. So increase in BMR.
  • The above is again super important for women of a certain age because of the body’s tendency to atrophy (lose) muscle once we hit our 30s and beyond…

There’s one caveat to all this. If you really don’t like resistance training, you should do whatever floats your boat: dance, cardio, yoga. Because the mental and hormonal benefits of doing something you enjoy are significant. And let’s face it, you’re more likely to continue doing something you enjoy. Having said that, if you think you don’t enjoy resistance training, you haven’t been to one of our sessions, yet!! It’s definitely worth a try

Of course the answer would be incomplete if I didn’t mention NEAT. NEAT is certainly one of the areas of metabolism we should REALLY target when trying to lose fat. Studies have shown that naturally slim people tend to have higher NEATs, that seem to be naturally occurring, that is without them need to really think about it. They fidget more, walk more, move more and so on. So we absolutely should be looking at this (alongside diet) as a way to trigger fat loss.

So instead of asking what’s the best exercise for fat loss, a better question to ask is:

“How can I change my nutrition to trigger a fat loss….”

Well that’s another story altogether…

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Wanna find out exactly how to use nutrition to trigger fat loss? Find out about my Nutrition course here.