Formerly obese personal trainer Kelly Coffey answers the question on everyone’s mind, “What is the BEST exercise for weight loss?”
Q: “I’m overweight and I want to lose weight 1. What exercise will make me lose weight?”
Let me cut right to the chase: Exercising to lose weight is like bailing out the Titanic with a 5-gallon bucket. Sure, you’re doing something, but the ship is still going down. Even the ACSM agrees – exercise alone is not a very effective weight loss tool.
When we have addictive tendencies toward food and we’re eating like it’s harvest time every day, caloric deficits don’t come easy. Consuming calories is a piece of cake, especially when we’re eating simple starches, sugar and frankenfood. I can eat 500 empty calories in five minutes in my sleep, hog-tied and buried to my neck in sand. Trying to then exercise enough so I go to bed having burned off more than I took in is a time-consuming, mind-numbing, and crazy-making endeavor. It takes way more time to burn the 500 calories I inhaled than it took to inhale it, and way more effort. Want to lose weight despite eating that donut? Sprint at full speed 2 for 40 minutes, or walk for 2 or 3 hours. Thanks, but no thanks.
The cardio-for-weight-loss approach could make anyone lose their shit. Sadly, the excess fat stays right where it is.
Don’t get bent, cardio fans. Cardio for cardio’s sake is great if you’re into that kind of thing. It may not be a stand-alone svelterizer, but it energizes the weary, strengthens the heart, and releases endorphins. Cardio – and just about any other kind of exercise – also helps the PNS restore calm to the body during periods of stress and anxiety. Even running, known by many for the toll it can take on the lower body, can be great, assuming it doesn’t lead to injury and that it’s done in the name of self-love and not self-flagellation, as is so often the case.
If the primary goal is to lose excess fat, then any exercise is wonderful so long as A) it happens in complement to ongoing, fat-torching nutrition, and B) it happens most days, if not every day. I and many of my clients have enjoyed great success eating the way humans evolved to eat during the body’s natural, seasonal period of fat loss. And during this natural trimming-down period, people moved.They worked. Hard. Every day. Sweaty, grunty, satisfying work.
Our ancestors didn’t just farm – they were farmers; physical work wasn’t an activity, it was an identity. So the answer to “What is the best exercise for weight loss?” is, simply, whatever exercise you choose to weave into the fabric of your identity. Don’t do yoga – be a yogi. Don’t hike – be a hiker. Don’t swim – be a swimmer. Don’t just mimic Bruce Lee standing in your undies in the living room – be a martial artist. Pick your mode of movement and assume the title as part of your identity. A year-long gym membership is useless compared to a new and developing identity as a jogger, a dancer, a jouster, a rock-climber or a curler.
Like many of you, I was an inactive adult . When I finally decided to exercise I became a weight lifter 3. I love strength training. It’s become a part of who I am, and it was a part of my identity long before I became a personal trainer. Because it isn’t something I do, but rather something I am, I always return to it regardless of other parts of my life all struggling to monopolize my time and attention 4.
So tell me: What new (exercise-oriented) identity might be fun to assume? Inspire me.
- Read: “I want to drop excess, unnecessary, ultimately harmful fat,” thank you very much. ↩
- 8 mph is full speed for me, and I can sustain it for about three minutes before I collapse. ↩
- My first real attempt at exercise was a one-mile jog with my wonderful friend, Emily. I hurt before, during, and for months after that little loop, and vowed I’d find something more in line with not feeling like death. Luckily, I did. ↩
- Babies. F-ing babies. Oh, and Facebook. F-ing Facebook. ↩