Can Exercise Really Help You Lose Weight?

Written by: Brad Pilon

Most of us believe that exercise is a great way to burn extra calories for fat loss goals. However, we tend to be less active throughout the rest of the day if we do strenuous exercise. This decrease may be very slight; for example less shifting around in your seat, less fidgeting, maybe one or two less trips up and down the stairs.

By the end of the day it can add up and represent a couple hundred less calories burned throughout the rest of the day. This will lower your daily energy expenditure simply because you are less active and erase some of the calorie deficit created with exercise.

For example: If you burn an extra 500 calories during an intense workout, but you end up having a nap and avoiding some housework and a short walk you would normally have done that day, you could easily end up right back where you started. You may just shift your normal daily calorie burn from household activities and running errands to a workout.

But the total amount of calories burned for the day could easily just end up the same, and even worse you might not get some important work done around the house or errands that you were planning on getting done.

This is not to suggest that you should never exercise (far from it) but it’s to ensure that you understand what exercise can and can’t do for weight loss. Now we will determine what the different kinds of exercise are and what they do.

There are many different forms of exercise that can be divided into two general categories:

1) “Cardio”

2) Resistance Training


Cardio” is slang for “Cardiovascular Exercise”. This is the type of exercise that is recommended for general health and strengthening the heart muscle. These days many people do cardio to lose weight and burn fat, but it’s important to realize that the original reason people did cardio training was for heart-health.

You can do cardio in many forms like:

Low intensity – walking, slow jog, biking.

Medium intensity – Jogging, biking, cross training, running, interval training High intensity – Usually in the form of intervals such as ‘sprint-walk-sprint’

This type of exercise can help improve health and conditioning but it will have a minimal effect on the shape of your muscles, in order to actually shape and grow your muscles you have to do some form of “Resistance Training”.

Resistance Training

Resistance training is different from ‘cardio’ because it requires you to lift much heavier weights and can only be done in short bursts for a few seconds at a time (this is what we call a ‘set’).

Resistance training can also incorporate all of the following styles in some form:

Weight Lifting – this includes bodybuilding, Powerlifting and Olympic style lifting

Bodyweight training – Push-ups, lunges, chin ups etc…

Resistance bands – You can get rubber bands with varying degrees of tension to perform all kinds of exercises to work the full body

Plyometrics – This is a very high intensity style of training based on jumping and ballistic movement

Resistance training is essential to building, shaping and tightening the muscles all around your body. This is important because your muscles are what give shape to your body, and you can change that shape with resistance training. This is a critical step that many people forget about when they are trying to lose weight and ‘get in shape’.

Once you’ve lost the weight and you’re sporting a new leaner body you will likely have a new sense of excitement and motivation to take your body to the next level. This is where a well designed resistance training program can help you shape your body and muscles into a that ‘beach body’ look that garners ooh’s and ahh’s from your friend on facebook when you post a new profile pic from the beach!

If you start a resistance training program you can build and shape all the muscles on your body into any form you want. This way you can take even more control of the look of your body when you’ve finally lost the weight. Underneath our fat is just muscle, so building and shaping that muscle is a critical step in getting into the final shape that you really want.

Here are a few training programs that I highly recommend:

If you are looking for weight lifting program, you can try John Barban’s Adonis Golden Ratio.

If you are interested in body weight training and / or body weight exercises then check out ‘Body Weight Burn‘ by Adam Steer.

Cardiovascular exercise is something you can gradually incorporate into your lifestyle as you progress. At the start you may not be able to handle it at all (or very little). I’ll be honest; it will most likely be really challenging until you’ve lost some initial weight. This is why I recommend starting with something with very low intensity like walking. If you feel like you’re not ready for cardio training, don’t worry; you can lose a significant amount of weight without exercising at all. Once you feel ready you can start slowly and build up over time. Your cardiovascular endurance and strength will build up much faster than you think once you start exercising.

I have worked with people who have lost between 80-100lbs, some of them didn’t do any exercise until they lost the first 50-60lbs simply because they didn’t feel they were ready yet. And this is an extremely important point I need to make – cardio training is not essential for weight loss. In fact, depending on how much weight you have to lose it may actually be a detriment to your weight loss efforts. So it’s really up to you. Some people enjoy doing exercise and jump right into a resistance training program mixed with some cardio, others like to wait until they feel ready.

It’s really up to you to decide if/when you want to add in exercise. I can say that almost everyone who has lost a significant amount of weight eventually started to add in exercise to their lifestyle simply because it started to feel good to get up and move around more. This is something you’ll have to discover for yourself, but I’m sure at some point sooner or later you’ll likely just want to start moving.

For ‘cardio’ I only do low intensity stuff like walking and some elliptical machine work. I just go to the gym and zone out watching tv for an hour or so while I’m walking.  For a weight training program I follow the Adonis Index workout as it’s designed for my exact goal of getting the best shaped body possible.

Both ‘cardio’ and resistance training have numerous health benefits and are what I would consider essential to a ‘healthy’ lifestyle. If you have a capable body and mind, I see no reason that you shouldn’t partake in both at some point.

BUT, and this is a big BUT, as I said before – neither of them are essential for you to lose weight!

This is a big distinction I’m making right here.

You can lose weight without doing any exercise at all. And in fact it’s not even advisable for people with a lot of weight to lose to even attempt exercising until they’re at a manageable weight to start doing so (I’m talking about people who have 100lbs to lose or more). Now I know you’ve probably seen television shows that have people weighing almost 400 pounds doing intense exercise sessions, but I’m guessing they have doctors and paramedics on site at all times – something most regular people probably don’t have at their gyms.

It would appear that the more weight you have to lose the easier it will be to simply focus on diet to take off the first big chunk of weight. For people with approx 70lbs or more to lose it seems easier to focus solely on diet at the beginning for three reasons.

1)        If you’ve never worked out before it’s difficult to start two new things at once (diet + exercise) and manage them both. It’s much easier to focus on one thing (diet) and master it before you take on the challenge of starting a workout program as well.

2)        If you have more than 70lbs to lose you might find it very difficult to start any kind of workout program simply because of the physical limitation of your current body size. A workout program might be too much for your system to handle until you lose some initial weight.  Going for a walk when you 70lbs overweight is much more difficult than when you’re only 20-30lbs overweight.

3)        For some people exercise may distract them from the real issue of eating less. People will try to exercise the weight off without changing their dietary habits. This almost always ends in failure as we’ve already discussed with the calorie compensation effect and rest compensation effect of exercise.

For people with more than approx 70lbs to lose it’s perfectly fine to cut the first 20-40lbs with diet alone. Once this initial weight is lost you will have built some momentum and feel very good both physically and mentally and then you can start incorporating exercise to help you get rid of the final 20-30lbs. You’ll likely find that it’s much easier to start working out with a lighter body than when you were at your heaviest.

In fact, if you’re new to working out and you try to workout too soon, it might sour you to the idea of working out all together because it’s going to feel much more difficult when you’re heavy than when you’re lighter. The last thing you want to do is start a workout program and hate it. Exercising should feel good, so you need to be in the right mindset when you start a new program. The following picture is a much better way to view how dieting and exercise fit together for your overall weight loss, health and body shape.

This is a much more accurate way to view what diet and both forms of exercise (cardio and resistance training) can do for weight loss, getting in shape, and improving your overall health.

The bottom Line

Exercise can be used to build and shape your muscles, and improve your overall health, but it’s not essential for weight loss. If you want to use exercise then by all means add it in (and I really encourage you to do so), but if you really don’t want to, don’t worry.

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