In order to get fit and then stay that way you need to understand how the process works. It’s not magic and it's not rocket science, it’s logic - more specifically your body’s logic.
There is a certain number of fat cells in a fully developed human body which is fixed by eating habits during childhood and adolescence. The number of fat cells then stays the same during one’s adult life. The body uses those cells like pockets to store compressed energy = fat. It will not access these cells if it has plenty of energy available from other sources, like the previous meal.
The fat stored in the fat cells is then reserved for when we do need it in case of starvation or for when we are unable to hunt and gather. This was a great self-preservation mechanism that was meant to ensure our survival at a time in our evolution when food was scarce. This is no longer the case of course. We may no longer have to ‘hunt’ further than the shelves of our local supermarket in order to get access to an abundance of food but our bodies did not get the memo and they still stockpile and reserve every single bit we have not used up – just in case it is needed in the future. As a result we have to diet and exercise so we can keep these fat reserves at a healthy level.
How does exercise work
The entire purpose of exercise is to add extra energy expenditure to your normal day. The reason we need to actively think about exercise now is because our lifestyles have changed drastically from what they used to be – we move less than ever, if at all and everything is optimised for the absolute minimum energy expenditure. We drive everywhere, we take elevators and escalators and even our meals are being delivered to our doorstep. Much has changed since the hunter-gatherers days when we had to run miles and fight hard to catch our food, but we still own the same bodies our ancestors did.
We gain too much weight and the mechanism that is designed to safeguard us is killing us because, sadly, the evolution hasn’t caught up with our technological progress just yet.
When we are active our metabolism speeds up because we have higher energy needs. The body then begins to use up fuel. Whatever you may eat ultimately combines with oxygen to give three chemical compounds: water, carbon dioxide and adenosine triphosphate (referred to as ATP). Some ATP is stored natively in the muscle and it’s available to burn at short notice (which is why our muscles can exert a lot of force without having to warm up or having to wait for our breathing to get deeper and our oxygen supply to the bloodstream to increase). The ATP stored in the muscles does burn out quickly which then means that our bodies, in order of priority access:
carbohydrates - stored as blood glucose, liver glycogen and muscle glycogen.
fat - stored in the bloodstream, in the muscles and finally in the body as subcutaneous fat.
protein - which is muscle tissue.
Every time we take a deep breath during exercise this process takes place deep inside our body. When we exhale the carbon dioxide we exhale is basically a by-product which contains the real weight (i.e. the fat) we lose, converted into CO2. If you ever wondered how fat leaves your body - you literally breathe it out.
Exercise for fat loss
You realize now that all exercise works. You can pretty much do any kind of activity you enjoy and follow a regimen you like whether it’s free-weights or bodyweight training, running or cycling, yoga or dance, boxing or martial arts and you will get extra energy expenditure to burn the reserves.
How much you burn per session will depend on how hard you work, your current fitness level, your age - the older you are, the more the preservation systems work overtime, and how much muscle mass you carry. How often you vary your training will also play a role.
Option 1: Bodyweight / Cardio
Any training session that raises your heart rate and gets you out of breath is considered a cardio workout. You can do anything in a cardio way - even lift weights if you do it fast enough. Speed anything up just enough for your body’s cardiovascular system to get engaged and you’ll get into a high burn zone when your body is naturally using up more resources in a short period of time.
Without any additional fuel (food) it’ll start digging into the reserves (fat cells) during your session and keep on burning slightly higher for a while after - speeding up your metabolism.
How to: Put a high paced workout together yourself or pick one ready. Get a maximum burn from the power-three:
High Knees: running on the spot bringing your knees fairly high, one single minute of this exercise will push you out of your comfort zone.
Jumping Jacks ( aka Star Jumps): the ultimate cardio move for high burn from your childhood. It still works.
Burpees: works your whole body and push your VO2 to the max.
Even push-ups and squats can be used for cardio provided you do them fast enough, so your options are limitless. Use a set number of reps per exercise or go for time and try to beat your own stats every single time turning it into a HIIT (high intensity interval training) session.
For a ready routine go to workouts’ page, select “high burn / cardio” or “interval training / HIIT” options in the filter at the bottom of the page to get workouts more suitable for high burn and weight loss. Pick any one you like or pick at random.
Show up for your sessions and do your absolute best whatever it might be on the day. The more you work, the harder you work - the more energy you use up. At the end of the day it’s all about energy in - energy out, provided you don’t also reward yourself with extra snacks you will see results in the way you look and feel.
Option 2: Cardio / Running
Running is a traditional cost-effective cardio option - all you need is a route and a pair of trainers and you are ready to go. Being extremely physically demanding it takes tremendous energy expenditure and it can help you jumpstart your weight loss journey.
In the beginning, especially if you are not used to it, it will be challenging and you will find yourself out of breath and gasping for air and that’s perfectly normal - everybody goes through that. It will become easier with every next run and eventually, even your second nature. No matter what shape you are in right now you can become a regular runner.
How to: The easiest way to start is to follow a beginner program or pick a route and explore it, see how far it will get you. Start small and keep on challenging yourself to greater distance and faster speeds and make sure you keep your regimen fresh to keep advancing.
Running for weight loss has to be varied and modified to avoid a pattern your body can recognize and adapt for. If you feel you are breezing through your run, you are not out of breath by the end of it - your body has optimized for it and it’s time to mix things up. That’s how you avoid hitting a plateau in your running abilities and weight loss aims.
Big Thighs: Acceleration requires power, power comes from muscle so if your ultimate goal is weight loss longer runs will help you streamline your body and make it thinner. If you have thick thighs long slow runs (over 45 minutes) at a comfortable pace or jogs will help you get rid of the bulk.
Option 3: Strength Building
Cardio is not the only way to lose weight, lifting weights or doing strength oriented bodyweight training is another option especially if you eventually want to have more defined muscles or simply don’t like the “cardio” part of working out.
We all have muscles but we all carry a different amount, the more we carry - the more we burn. Muscles are extremely high maintenance and will make your body burn more energy throughout the day and double during a normal training session when naturally compared to someone with lower muscle mass.
The more muscle you gain the more fat you lose as you exercise and just go about your day = your every move uses up more energy. So, lifting weights or doing any other kind of strength training will not just help you get stronger but also trimmer and fitter.
How to: Strength training can be done at the gym or at home using equipment or your own body weight. Push-ups, pull-ups and squats at home will get you started, adding some basic home equipment like dumbbells and a sandbag will take you even further. Regularly lifting or moving heavy things around - boxes filled up with books or furniture will force your body to gain muscle strength and waste energy from the fat cells when it’s out of other sources.
Do something that requires strength long enough and regularly enough and your body will be forced to change. Strength training for 30-40 minutes every day will make your muscle mass go up and your energy needs will too. This means that you will need more energy to go about your day than you needed before so if you required 1800 calories per day to function before you will now need 2200-2500. If you eat less than that your body will start turning to your secondary fuel tank for energy - your fat cells.
Bulk tip: Strength training alone will not give you bulk, not without a high protein diet, the most it will do is give you tone. Due to lack of testosterone women can’t get bulky doing strength training either. In order to build muscle the human body requires quality muscle building material - protein, and a lot of it.
Increasing the reps and the length of your training is one way to get more out of your workout but it also means you’ll be spending more time training which is not always an option. Sometimes the only way to fit in more exercise and benefit more from it is to up the intensity of each workout.
It’s simple: go for time and make it your goal to beat your numbers each time at each session. You will always stay challenged: you will burn more and then you’ll continue burning higher throughout the day.
That’s why HIIT (high intensity interval training) is so popular amongst people with busy lifestyles. It lets you burn higher in a shorter period of time and then continue burning slightly higher hours later due to a speeded up metabolism. It does require you to work at the absolute limit of your current abilities - a comfortable pace is not an option here.
A long steady burn, like long runs or casual but constant daily exercise is another way to get that energy expenditure. It’s all down to your goals and circumstances. Some people can only get 30 minutes of training per day, others can only train throughout the day and the lucky ones can fit a two hour session in. The ones who can dedicate more time in total to exercise will benefit the most but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t even try and fit in as much as we can each time.
Variety is key
The worst thing you can do when you exercise for fat loss is stick to one thing and one thing only. Our bodies are smart, they adapt and they adapt quickly. What was a challenge yesterday will be a lot easier to do today and tomorrow it will be a breeze. That ability helps us tremendously in our day-to-day life but when we train to gain, or to lose in this case, this becomes a problem.
The more your body is used to the same exact activity, the less you gain and less energy it wastes performing it. You burn fewer calories each time you do it and eventually you hit a plateau.
So, if you are training for fat loss variety is key. The easiest way to vary your training is to do a different kind of training every time and avoid having a clear pattern your body can recognize.
The same workout can be done differently, too:
- Reduce rest time
- Increase number of sets
- Increase number of reps
- Do it faster (high burn)
- Do it slower (strength building)
- Modify exercises to make them more challenging
You can do sports, you can do bodyweight and cardio, HIIT workouts, running and sprinting in a mix. The more confused your body is the more you gain from each session and the more energy you burn in the process forcing your body to dig into the fat reserves and let go of the extras. Energy in - energy out, exercise is that extra “out”, combined together with reduced portion sizes to limit the “energy” in you get the winning combination for weight loss and healthy weight maintenance.