The Best Exercise for Weight Loss

October 21, 2013
Kelly Coffey

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.


  1. Read: “I want to drop excess, unnecessary, ultimately harmful fat,” thank you very much.
  2. 8 mph is full speed for me, and I can sustain it for about three minutes before I collapse.
  3. 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.
  4. Babies. F-ing babies. Oh, and Facebook. F-ing Facebook.


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Showing 20 comments
  • Kirsten Houseknecht

    well… i like Belly dancing, its low impact (or can be) and very very serious core abdominal work. sadly its tough to get motivated to do it outside of a class, but there are usually good classes close to people…

    i have moderate arthritis, so most of what i used to like to do is out of the question now…
    but i just got a mono fin, and a fat girl swim suit (its TOUGH to find a swim suit for us) so i plan on swimming a lot more


    I think this speaks to the passion in us all. We are what we are passionate about.

  • edie e

    I started jogging in Oct 2013, 15 seconds x 3 times during a 20 min walk with the dog. I am now up to 3.2 miles (5K). feel fabulous BUT have literally not lost an ounce. follow a pretty structured food plan in a 12 step program. so have had to let go of the numbers and just focus on how good it feels to run and even more, to complete a run and have all those happy floating feeling flowing in my tired body. and it helps calm my crazy monkey mind. appreciate your blog that I just discovered this weekend. really helpful.

  • jan bernardini

    Your blog is inspiring…started excersing 3 years ago…lost 55lbs and.. diabetes now i struggle up and down with15 lbs…go to the gym 6 days. week

  • LoRo

    I can attest to this. I became a rock climber four years ago. As a result, I lost 35 lbs, I dropped three pants sizes, I can do 4 pullups, and I’m proud of my climbing abilities. I could stand to lose some more weight, but my motivation is no longer based on feeling bad about how I look and feel, it’s in wanting to climb better. If I mention wanting Having that healthy, positive, competitive goal helps me make healthier decisions more often while *not* beating myself up over the odd ice cream or bottle of wine. 😉

  • Andrew

    I came across this post and found it to be totally inspirational, so I thought that I would leave a comment with my story and hopefully inspire some of your readers.

    I have struggled with my weight loss for many years now and didn’t really know what to do I tried lots of different types of exercise and different diets, until one day a mate of mine said that he was buying a new bike and wanted me to brush the cobwebs of my old Peugeot bike and go out for a ride with him, so I did and now I am hooked.

    I have been cycling for 2 years now I have lost 10 lbs and feel so much fitter, so you are correct when you say don’t cycle be a cyclist. Keep up the good work.

  • Katie

    I’ve been in therapy for about a month now for depression and self esteem issues. I can’t begin to describe how much inspiration I have found in reading your blog. I’m in love with your brash tough love approach and how I can actually relate to you because you’ve been in my shoes with being overweight yourself. So, thank you for sharing your experience! Also I think I’ve found my identity with being a kickboxer! I like to pretend I’m kicking the ass of all my naysayers!

    • Coffey

      Kick them, Katie. Hard. 🙂

  • kate

    I find your article so inspiring, but I am not athletic and I can’t think of any particular physical activity that I can so closely identify with. It is a bit frustrating, although I get the point of what you are saying!

  • Loraine Says JUMP

    For me it’s Kangoo Jumps. I lost about 45 pounds in 2011 zumba dancing with a local (and growing) franchise, but really fell in love with KJ when they added that to their schedule in late 2011. In 2012 I started getting certified to teach KJ, and in 2013 (finally!) started teaching my own classes. NOT at a gym, NOT someone else’s way, but by buying 12 pairs of boots and renting cheap spaces and using FB and word of mouth mostly to find clients. I often tell people that even a mediocre KJ session brings more endorphins than anything else I’ve done, ever. So, yeah, I don’t just do KJ, I practically evangelize about it.

    • Coffey

      Love it!
      Don’t just jump – be a Jump Believer.

  • donnajthomas

    I started biking on April 1, 2014. At 41, weighing 300lbs and having never been athletic before in my life, I wasn’t optimistic. BUT! I am seriously addicted to it now. I ride everyday, either stationary or on the path … and I love every minute! I never, ever thought I’d enjoy seriously sweating.
    Have lost 2 pants sizes in almost 3 months and 1 cup size. And knowing how hard I have to work to burn off calories keeps me away from unhealthy, high-calorie, low-return foods. Even beer (sniff … I love a good beer … or 4).

    So, I’ve become a cyclist. I completely get what you’re saying in this article … and I visualize myself that way. I think that visualization has been the major thing that has helped me stay with this. And, really, it’s not a “burden” or something I dread. I look forward to it!

    (Maybe I should think of myself as a “biker” though … sounds more badass)

    • Coffey

      That’s awesome. Yes, “biker” is totally the way to go.

  • Lori

    Yes, I’m going to become a swimmer. Back yard pool and all. We are relocating for health. Can’t think of a better reason. Texas will allow me to access the pool everyday. I get it, I’ve tried Atkins and was successful.. But it’s awful to eat meat non stop. What you’ve said here makes sense like I’ve had a real moment of clarity. Thank you, it’s never been explained do me in this way before. Eat what’s local, stop making pies every week.. And the thing is I, a southerner transplanted to the north and have gained weight every year here.. I love veggies.. I can’t wait. I also have some health issues and a pool is the place for me!

  • Diane

    My martial art of choice is Tai Chi and I have been “doing Tai Chi” for 2 years now. Your article has pushed me to realize that if I want to BE a martial artisit, I must practice Tai Chi every day. It is very low impact but it seriously works muscles you didn’t know you had! Thanks for this, you are a great writer and inspiration.

    • Coffey

      Yes! Enjoy becoming a master, Diane! 🙂

  • Kay Anderson

    Yes yes yes. Strength training inspires me. My trainer calls me the Beast, which I think is hilarious. I’m well on my way to becoming a boxer. And LOVING the movement I’m doing instead of bashing myself for not doing noting stationery cardio on a machine three times a week.

    • Kay Anderson

      That would be BORING cardio, not noting cardio. Sheesh.

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