If you value your time and are currently overweight, read on to discover why you never need to feel guilty about missing that group class/spin/torture session ever again, and find out what you SHOULD be focussing on to finally get those weight loss results you’re after.
Many people associate the Gym with weight loss, without question. But as you’ll read below, this is a actually a LIE perpetuated by big industry. This misplaced focus on exercise is harming your weight loss results while stealing your valuable time you could be investing in yourself, spending with your family or growing your business.
Summary Points (because the busier you are – the more important this message is)
• Evidence cited in this article tells us that, if you’re currently overweight, exercise is not where your focus needs to be for losing that weight.
• Exercise and it’s effectiveness for fat loss, has been grossly over-stated, particularly for High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).
• If you’ve been telling yourself (due to an injury or chronic back pain/sciatica?) that, you can’t lose weight because you are unable to ‘exercise’ then you’ve been unnecessarily stressing.
• Prioritise overall activity before exercise. Keep moving throughout the day where possible, save a dog from the pound.
• Exercise contributes just a small percentage of the calories burned each day (unless your 2nd name is Phelps).
• We tend to treat ourselves more when we exercise – largely because we’ve been sold the “fat-burning” myth by gyms and personal trainers.
• Many personal trainers and gyms are keeping their clients in the dark around what the science says on this matter. Any wonder?
• As with everything else in life, focus on the ‘biggest bang for the buck’ habits and nutrition changes for weight-loss. Get some help and accountability from someone who doesn’t get their wisdom from the Sunday Mail.
• Focus on what works; Don’t get distracted; Keep the goal the goal (stolen from my hero, Dan John)
You’re one of the busiest people you know and you RARELY waste time on things that don’t ‘make the boat go faster’. Read on if you remain sceptical or are unhappy with your fat-loss results.
Have you ever considered that your regular Gym visit might be one of the biggest wastes of your limited time? Have you ever toted up the hours you are spending prepping gym gear, water and protein shakes; travelling to the gym, getting changed and showered, travelling home and washing clothes and drinks bottles …… It fairly adds up.
Are you being totally HONEST with yourself?
A quick question. Which of these reasons best describes why you go to the gym?
A) to lose weight
B) to get stronger
C) to get fitter
D) mobility/pain management.
If your answer is A? Congratulate yourself for being completely honest. For some reason, it’s not cool to tell friends about your fat-loss goals, particularly if you’re a bloke it seems!
It has also been my experience, that, what we tell ourselves – and what we tell our friends/family can be totally different things. Perhaps we’re just covering our bases for when we can’t get the weight loss results down the line?
If you selected b, c or d, it sounds like you have a different focus and that is totally cool. I’m sure you would, however, agree that all of these pursuits would come easier if we lost some weight FIRST? I’ll tell you how best to do that in a moment…
First off though, does any of this resonate with you?
• You’ve been going to the gym ‘on and off’ for as long as you can remember?
• You’ve often told yourself ‘this brutally hard workout is what I deserve’. Perhaps following a binge or indulgent weekend.
• You see beautiful people at the gym and like most people, have assumed exercise = ’slim’?
• You’ve struggled to consistently shed any sort of serious weight over this period?
• But yet you still continue to beat yourself up on the days you are unable to get through those gym doors
• You tell yourself that it would all be fine… if only you could get more consistent with those spin classes/HIIT sessions or other pain-filled ‘fat-burning’ classes.
• You have back pain, sciatica or an injury and simply can’t exercise as a result. You tell yourself that’s the reason you will never lose ‘the weight’.
It’s a love-hate relationship but mostly hate.
If any of this sounds like you — and losing weight remains a goal, then you should read the rest of this article to understand why exercise and the gym are probably a massive waste of time for YOU.
But everyone knows the gym is where you ‘burn fat’…….
If you’re running, cycling or attending group ‘fat furnace sessions’ down the gym in the name of weight loss, then, unless you’re an olympic class athlete, the evidence says your results will be very limited.
Looking at the studies in this area, we see that weight loss through exercise commonly produces less than a 3% initial body-weight reduction (Jakicic, 2009). A more recent study by Swift (2014) established that overweight individuals could only expect to lose a meagre 0-2Kg from aerobic exercise and even less from weight training.
To give you an idea of how depressing this is. If you currently weigh around 15 Stone and are going to the gym three times per week, you would typically expect to see less than a 7 pounds loss of body-weight.
Another study says that to get a more significant fat loss, of anything above 5% of initial body-weight (something your friends and colleagues will actually notice) you will need to undertake a painfully obsessive DAILY exercise regime to ‘burn’ 500-700 kcal’s (Ross, 2000). But a more recent studies also tell us that, due to other factors, such as dietary and activity compensations, not to mention lack of adherence (because the gym is such fun eh), even with this magnitude of blood, sweat and tears, our results will still be relatively small, with a weight loss of less than 3 kg (Flack, 2018).
If this were true, I would know it already…….
I know, this flies in the face of common knowledge, so thanks for sticking with me if you remain sceptical. If you’ve invested many hours down the gym in the name of weight loss I can also see why you don’t want to let go of those biases just so quickly.
But, perhaps if you just knew, how we’ve all been duped over the years, by influential people, businesses and lobby groups, all who have vested interests in selling the exercise myth…
Big Cola and Big Chocolate Co, amongst many other food & drink manufacturers, ALL have products to sell, that we can mostly all agree aren’t the most complimentary to health. These organisations and individuals have the clout to drive whichever narrative they want. Typically sounding something like “it’s not our products to blame. You just need to exercise more”…..
Then you’ve got Big Gyms, TV, personal trainers and Instagram stars happy to perpetuate the same exercise myths out of self-interest. Everyone’s a winner, except you.
We collectively continue to believe this nonsense, because the pervasive messaging and lobbying by ‘big crap food corp’ has been in our faces since the 50s. It’s been drilled into us by organisations and companies like Coca-Cola that remind us “Physical activity is vital to the health and well-being of consumers,” Cola corp, Macdonalds and Cadbury amongst many others have been associating themselves with exercise as sponsors of Olympics and other big sporting events for decades.
Let’s not forget that the New York Times exposed Coca Cola for funding research that emphasised a lack of physical activity, as the cause of obesity.
You’ve probably heard many soundbites along the lines of… “Stop playing the Xbox kids and get some fresh air”. Somehow I don’t think the message “drink less of our cola” would resonate so well with shareholders.
Biggest Loser = Entertainment Only
But surely all these people ‘melting the fat away’ in spin class can’t be wrong, and it works on Biggest loser……. doesn’t it?
No, it doesn’t actually, with recent studies backing up my own experience. But the myth has been doing the rounds for SO long, that personal trainers and gym instructors are often viewed as ‘fat-loss experts’ even when the science says exercise doesn’t move the scales any more than ‘taking a dump’. When your health is on the line, shouldn’t these paid professionals be telling you the truth?
In October 2017, a study examined what happened to contestants/victims on the Biggest Loser weight loss reality TV show, six years after they humiliated themselves for the nations viewing pleasure.
Talking about the show, the lead author of the study, obesity expert Kevin D. Hall, Ph.D. from the National Institute of Health, said that “the people who lost the most weight on the show weren’t necessarily the people who did the most exercise — instead, it was the people who ate the least”
HIIT Training is No Better for Fat-Loss
Maybe you know what HIIT is, but for everyone else, you’ve probably had some experience of HIIT without even knowing it. Remember that ex-army chic screaming at you in the gym to ‘Faithless’? That was probably HIIT.
HIIT (high-intensity interval training) sessions have you undergo absolute misery for short bursts with the stated promise of creating a magical post-exercise metabolic ‘fat-burning’ effect unmatched by traditional cardio. You leave the gym after 30mins, puffing out your chest because you’ve done your work for today. Just a moment later, you’re kicking back with your Doritos, confident that your fat-burning machinery has been fired up from that brutal 15-minute battle rope session.
Of course…….. it’s too good to be true, regardless of what the Body ‘Coach’ tells you. Absolutely incredible.
It’s certainly a time-efficient way of quickly increasing your fitness, but the evidence says it doesn’t bring any significant fat-loss benefits over traditional cardio. I would also propose that the additional stress and injury potential will wipe out any benefits over time. HIIT is very hard done properly.
Stress is stress after all. Whether it’s related to work or exercise, it can lead to bad food choices. Injuries also impair our activity levels and mood, further affecting our ability to lose weight.
Studies tell us that (depending on the intensity and duration of the session), this much-vaunted ‘after-burn’ effect of HIIT training (otherwise known as EPOC) is around 6-15% of all calories burned (LaForgia, 2006). So, even if you nearly died, burning 500 calories (being generous) in that kettlebell workout this morning, you would only be expecting to see a further 30-75 of those calories being expending after you stop exercising. Barely enough to burn off those calories you consumed when you licked the peanut-butter from the knife this morning.
More evidence emerged via a more recent meta-study (a study of studies) by Keating (2017). This compared the fat-loss effects of HIIT to moderate-intensity cardio, this time concluding that neither produced significant results! Findings showed that both types of exercise produced less than 1.5Kg of weight-loss when followed for over a month!
Another meta-study by Wewege (2017) came to a very similar conclusion with no clear winners for fat-loss and both achieving less than 1Kg weight loss on average.
So should I avoid exercise altogether?
Exercise is fantastic for our health in many ways. But just remember that without fat-loss, exercise alone IS NOT going to make you ‘healthy’
We’ve simply established that exercise is not a smart use of your time to achieve any meaningful fat-loss results. But if you have your nutrition dialled-in and can exercise WITHOUT losing focus on your most important priority (fat-loss) then fire ahead down the gym if that’s your thing.
For balance let’s look at this list (from our NHS here in Scotland) of ‘medically proven health benefits of regular physical activity’:
up to a 50% lower risk of type 2 diabetes
up to a 50% lower risk of colon cancer
up to a 20% lower risk of breast cancer
a 30% lower risk of early death
up to an 83% lower risk of osteoarthritis
up to a 68% lower risk of hip fracture
a 30% lower risk of falls among older adults
up to a 30% lower risk of depression
up to a 30% lower risk of dementia
up to a 35% lower risk of coronary heart disease and stroke
Also worth noting that exercise has, what seems like an increasingly important role to play when it comes to keeping the weight off, with evidence emerging that higher rates of physical activity often leading to lower rates of weight regain once individuals cease dieting (Foright, 2018)
Physical Activity vs Exercise
Lets quickly distinguish between exercise and physical activity as they are often wrongly interchanged.
Physical Activity – refers to ALL movement.
Exercise – refers to ‘physical activity performed to make or keep your body healthy’.
The spoiler here is this. Physical Activity should be prioritised over Exercise.
Because although it’s undisputed, that 30 minutes of daily exercise is worthwhile pursuing for many reasons (not fat-loss remember), it’s increasingly looking like it’s more important what you do the rest/bulk of the day (general physical activity) for health.
i.e. it will matter less if you do 30 minutes on the bike each day if (for the remaining hours) you sit at a desk or lay about the house ‘like a warm blanket’ as my mum would say. Conversely, if you’re a reasonably active person at work and a dog walker come home time, you are already exceeding NHS Scotland guidelines for physical activity and reaping many of those health benefits without trips to the gym.
Physical inactivity (lack of) has been identified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as an independent risk factor for chronic disease, is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide.
So although exercise can reduce your stress, aches and pains and symptoms of chronic conditions, physical activity can also achieve many of those same outcomes. But neither are great for fat-loss on their own.
- If you’re currently overweight, exercise is not where your focus needs to be to achieve meaningful weight-loss.
- Those max efforts may be damaging any nutrition and habit efforts elsewhere. Post-exercise doughnut anyone?
- If you’ve been telling yourself (due to an injury or chronic back pain/sciatica)? that you can’t lose weight because you are unable to ‘exercise’ then you’ve been unnecessarily stressing.
- Prioritise overall activity before exercise. Keep moving throughout the day where possible, save a dog from the pound
- As with everything else in life, focus on the ‘biggest bang for the buck’ habits and nutrition changes for weight-loss. Get some help and accountability from someone who doesn’t get their wisdom from the Sunday Mail.
- Focus on what works; Don’t get distracted; Keep the goal the goal (stolen from my hero, Dan John)
Flack (2018) Energy Compensation in Response to Aerobic Exercise Training in Overweight Adults.
Foright (2018) Is regular exercise an effective strategy for weight loss maintenance?
Foster (1997) What is a reasonable weight loss? Patients’ expectations and evaluations of obesity treatment outcomes.
Fenzel (2014) Labelling exercise fat-burning increases post-exercise food consumption in self-imposed exercisers.
Keating (2017) A systematic review and meta-analysis of interval training versus moderate-intensity continuous training on body adiposity.
LaForgia (2006) Effects of exercise intensity and duration on the excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.
Ross (2000) Reduction in obesity and related conditions after diet-induced weight loss or exercise-induced weight loss in men.
Swift (2014) The role of exercise and physical activity in weight loss and maintenance.
Wewedge (2017) The effects of high-intensity interval training vs. moderate-intensity continuous training on body composition in overweight and obese adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis.
End The Misery Starting Today
I don’t have the writing chops of Stephen King, but hopefully, you can see I’m in this game to help people like you succeed.
It’s not about thrashing yourself down the gym, but it’s not complicated either. You don’t need workout programs, meal plans, cheatsheets or macro splits to get your health back and get the body you want. You don’t need more stuff…
Apart from my new FREE book that is 🙂
Because it contains all the information you need to jumpstart your weight-loss under your own steam.
Use this guide to quickly and simply get to your ideal weight without the guesswork.
- Learn the “One Fat-loss Rule to Rule them All” (and why nothing will work if you overlook it).
- Discover the 3 most important areas of focus to get the maximum results with the least amount of friction.
- Learn the key tactics you need to know to lose weight without giving up your favourite beer or tipple.