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Do you even lift?

At the end of June, the brain trust at Vox published an article that said exercise doesn’t work for weight loss.  I guess they’re right because it’s “evidence-based” due to the numerous citations to various studies, most of which I haven’t bothered to read.  I guess it was a good thing I didn’t pay attention to all the studies when I decided that exercise would be part of my weight loss plan because heaven forbid I drink the Kool Aid and believe this kind of surrender monkey journalism.

Of course not everyone can or will lose weight using exercise.  I’ll provide a more concise, common-sense explanation than this steaming pile of “evidence-based” shit that pretends to pass itself off as an authoritative article.  Good lord:

 As long as you get on that bike or treadmill, you can keep indulging — and still lose weight. It’s been reinforced by fitness gurus, celebrities, food and beverage companies… like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, and even public-health officials, doctors, and the first lady of the United States. Countless gym memberships, fitness tracking devices, sports drinks, and workout videos have been sold on this promise.

Of course the message is bullshit, and I’m well aware that the food industry has been trying to sell this (remember the god-awful Global Energy Balance Network?).  The funny thing to me is that I don’t think the authors have a clue about the number of people in the fitness industry that sell the exact opposite message (1).  Of recent, I’ve seen more fitness facilities than not pair nutrition with exercise, whether through offering workshops, resources or the services of a registered dietitian.

Ignore the food industry and ignore the “gurus” that are dumb as boxes of rocks, which pretty much all of them are.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that we at OT are smart enough to ignore BS messages like the one above.  Now, let’s go back and ask ourselves if we can lose weight through exercise.  We can revisit whether we should or shouldn’t after that.

The Pontzer Study

I don’t want to spend too much time on the discussion of the Pontzer Study so I’ll leave it at telling readers why I ignore it: take a simple TDEE estimator and run estimates like I did for a 35-year old, 200 lb male – a lean active one and a sedentary not-so-lean one.  The idea that two people of the same weight with significantly different body compositions and significantly different activity levels burn equal amounts of calories is stupid beyond words.  Hell, the differences in basal metabolic rates is over 200 calories a day.

The Studies

I’m not against research or using research studies in their appropriate context.  The problem I have here is that I don’t think that the studies are being used in the appropriate context.

One of my favorite articles on the subject of exercise and weight loss was written about a year ago by James Heathers and published at Medium.com. He goes to town on the research:

No coach without profound cognitive impairment would ever propose such basic, low-expectation dreck as a meaningful exercise program…

…Basically, these protocols range between a gussied-up version of ‘go for a walk’ through to ‘come on, shift yourself about a bit I guess’. They have no skill development component, no increase in work capacity to match progress, no anaerobic work of any kind, no mobility or movement pattern work of any kind, basically nothing…

…The reason these programs are identical and as bland as plain white toast is that it is necessary. Having variables sufficiently controlled enough to study demand that we heavily compromise on all the things that make fitness ‘work’. Everyone has to do the same program, for the same length of time, with no thought to any other factors whatsoever. We are trying to observe a controlled stimulus in order that we can derive information from it… but competent training (and the improvement you see in muscle mass, bone density, body composition, vascular health etc. that you see with it) is wildly nonlinear…

…These programs in these studies aren’t designed to cause maximum weight loss. They’re designed to create an environment where we can demonstrate a meaningful difference between our set independent variables, if one exists.

If the purpose of the Vox article is to demonstrate with 60+ studies that shitty exercise protocols will lead to shitty results, then mission accomplished except for the fact that one need not write a long-ass article to say what could be said in ten words or less.

Something I didn’t expect caught my attention:

To explore the effects of more exercise on weight, researchers have followed everybody from people training for marathons to sedentary young twins, and post-menopausal overweight and obese women who ramp up their physical activity through running, cycling, or personal training sessions. Most people in these studies typically only lost a few pounds at best, even under highly controlled scenarios where their diets were kept constant.

Out of curiosity, I skimmed the study on the sedentary twins and the methodology caught my interest.   This was a study conducted over a 100-day period with a tightly controlled diet and an exercise routine that was adjusted every 25-days.  The average weight loss was 5 kg (11 lbs), or approximately 6% of body weight, almost all of it fat mass, all of it from exercise.  That’s approximately 3/4 of a lb per week.

A 100-day period will only result in a “few pounds at best” if only because of the 100-day period.  The participants managed an average weight loss of 3/4 a lb per week using very low intensity exercise and having the intensity adjusted every 25 days.  For crappy exercise protocols, that’s an impressive rate and shows how exercise can help the weight loss equation when diet is kept in check.

Let’s go further. Kick that experiment out over a year and the weight loss could reach 40 lbs, but that doesn’t matter because the exercise protocols in studies don’t reflect the strategies people use in the real world.  This is what we see in a real world example:

Basically, I just went to the gym, and I … walked. On a treadmill, uphill, at a brisk pace, for about an hour every day — and I do mean every day — from July to April…

…August, which meant I moved out of my parents’ house and away from their immaculately stocked refrigerator, and also meant the place where I worked all day was located more than a 10-foot walk from where I slept…

…You’ll notice I talked mostly about weight loss through exercise rather than diet…The thing is, though, it was a lot easier for me to hop on a treadmill than to cut portions, at least at first…

Without all the facts, I have to speculate, but given the 100 lb weight loss, it’s not hard to do so.  Since his diet was in check, we don’t have to worry about it for this discussion.

What does a 60-minute brisk walk on an uphill pace look like for someone that’s overweight and just starting to do it? Slow and not so steep.  In fact, it’s entirely possible that he didn’t complete the full sixty minutes and had to work up to it. Over time, as his body adapted, he was able to walk the full sixty minutes and able to increase both incline and speed to varying degrees as his conditioning improved and as he was losing weight, a rate of almost two pounds per week for an entire year.

When I trained for a half marathon, I began as a sedentary individual. I had to work up to the ability to be able to run (slowly) for a sustained period of time (I literally walked before I ran).  I followed a specific program that incorporated progressive overload  and per the SAID Principle, my body was adapting rapidly, losing weight at a relatively fast pace.

If the “evidence” paints a less successful story, the “evidence” addresses people that simply don’t work as hard, which brings me to my next point:

Exercise is hard

Yes, if you want to create a significant caloric deficit through exercise, you must develop the work capacity to do it.  That does take effort, a lot of it, maybe more effort than most people want to make, especially those that look to exercise solely for the health benefits, which is perfectly okay.

However, once again, this idea of “significant” weight loss comes up, this time through a graphic showing the projected weight loss of a 200-lb person running four-days a week for 60 minutes each.  Over a month, the projected weight loss is approximately one-pound per week.

I don’t know what assumptions were made regarding what was done on non-running days and I think this analysis ignores what can or has to happen to someone’s weight to get them up to that work capacity, but again, I’m scratching my head wondering why we believe that a rate of weight loss of one pound per week is somehow bad.

In one of the upcoming installments, I’m going to discuss dieting and weight loss and I should address the problems we as a society have with expectations versus reality.  I have no idea what people think they should achieve losing weight through exercise, but if this article is any indication, it’s much higher than realistically possible.

I’m pretty wired into the bodybuilding world, and because of that, I’ve read a lot about the nutritional strategies to build muscle, maintain weight and lose weight. While some of this applies more to leaner individuals and obviously contest preparation strategies don’t apply to regular individuals but a rate of weight loss of one pound of week is considered good.  It minimizes risk of loss of lean mass and the deficit is sustainable without too many issues with the body’s tendencies towards homeostasis.

Why you shouldn’t exercise to lose weight, explained with zero studies:

So yes, people can lose weight through exercise assuming that they’re not dietary morons and that they’re willing to put in a level of effort that produces the necessary work capacity.  There are no short cuts, secrets, magic portions or unicorns.  It all comes down to effort.

Should people exercise to lose weight?  That depends.  I’ll do Vox a solid here by writing what should have been published instead of all the crap I had to suffer through reading in order to bring readers my opinion on the subject:

(1) Even if you like exercise, unless you’re planning on embracing a fitness lifestyle, I would recommend people approach exercise exclusively from a general fitness and health perspective.

(2) Injury risk.  People marketing high intensity exercise programs promise rapid weight loss and so long as these people are including a halfway decent nutrition plan, rapid weight loss will occur.  However, the risk to benefit relationship needs to be carefully considered (I discussed this over a year ago here).

(3) People don’t know enough about what works and what doesn’t.  Exercise for fat loss over an extended period of time entails a different skill and knowledge base.  There’s too much misinformation and falling down the wrong rabbit hole could lead to wasted time and effort followed by discouragement.

(4) Some people hate exercise.  If willpower is required to exercise, it’ll end up the same way as it does with dieting, not well.

(5) If the goal is to confront a body image issue, run the other way.  This will end very badly

(6) The myriad of other factors and reasons that people either can’t (physical, life, work-life, etc., economic) or shouldn’t exercise or view exercise as a means of weight loss will go into this catch-all point.

That said, despite there being a few decent kernels of truth among this awful article, pay no attention to the defeatist “evidence-based” types that claim to be experts on matters of exercise simply because they attend spin classes, consult experts I’ve never heard of (read: none of the evidence-based scientific types that not only publish papers but actually train clients to do what the authors say shouldn’t be done…cough James Krieger and Alan Aragon…cough) and completely butcher the concept of what is and what is not a reasonable expectation of weight loss.

These people are the gym equivalents of the people that grab the heaviest weights possible, walk into my beloved squat rack, do their cheat dumbbell curls, still have arms that look like they don’t even lift and spend more time texting than lifting.

I think I’ll stick to the people that know what they’re talking about.  I suggest you do the same.

(1) If you take advice from celebrity “gurus”, I feel sorry for you.

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Dave is a part-time blogger that writes about whatever suits him at the time.

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101 thoughts on “Do you even lift?

  1. Yo! Bro! Nice article.

    I lift, and let me tell you, there is some serious synergy with dietary stuff, bro. The eggheads and bean-counters can do all the empirical studies they want. This is straight physiology bro.

    For instance, I was training for a marathon this past winter and stopped getting swole, and I ate whatever the hell I felt like (because I was running 20 miles and stuff), and I did not lose a pound. In fact, I may have gained weight during my marathon training. In any case, my weight actually moved from my shoulders and chest to my gut, and my enlarged gut plopped up and down all 26.2 miles to the finish line (at which point I rewarded myself with beer). I’m also pretty sure I screwed up my meniscus for a good while. Do not recommend.

    Then, bro, I started lifting again, high weight low reps, and pounding protein and a ton of fiber for like three months, with mostly HIIT for cardio. I had the best gains of my life, bro. Even though I was lifting sometimes as little as once a week, I was lifting more and more every time, my arms and chest were getting super swole, and my belly was getting so that I could crack open seashells on it like an otter, bro, and eat the delicious raw crustaceans inside, with all their low fat, high protein goodness.

    Then I got really busy taking care of really sick people and stopped having time to go to the gym and now I’m fat again. I’m literally hunched over at the airport writing this comment on my laptop, and my fatigued, world-weary upper body is actually being supported by the round fluid beach ball that is my abdomen. So sad. Pathetic.

    Anyways, I think it stands to reason that you get the type of body you want by actually doing stuff to shape the various components of your body and not by, say, eating a lot of grapefruits, or checking off some abstract boxes that someone came up with from some survey.

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  2. I embrace the Health At Every Size (HAES) model.

    There’s stuff here I might quibble with, but your point (1) is pure gold. Lifestyle changes will result in bodily changes. But maybe you don’t want to. You can still be healthy, though you probably won’t lose weight.

    You adopt a lifestyle because it enriches you in the moment. Not because it lets you reach some abstract goal. It’s because you enjoy the grunting or the muscle burn or the kiai or the being thrown and not getting hurt. Whatever it is. Sometimes it takes a bit to get to the point of enjoyment, but that is what sustains it. Staring at a scale doesn’t do it.

    I don’t think that exercise will create a backlash the way dieting does. (Diets are implicated in the causes of binge-eating). Maybe just burnout. Unless you choose an activity (or more than one!) that is enjoyable for its own sake. And we are capable of enjoying some pretty out-there things.

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  3. I’ve recently started exercising not because I want to lose weight (though, I suppose, I do… in theory) but because the doctor told me I had hypertension.

    Thanks to jogging a half mile every day and going rock climbing every week (and a little pill every day), my blood pressure went from “seriously, this is a problem” to 120 over 80.

    And I haven’t lost much weight at all. Barely any.

    Now, come Lent, I pretty much go full Atkins and usually manage to lose about 20 pounds in the 46 days… but then Easter hits and “one cheat meal” turns into “one cheat day” turns into “it’s Friday, I’ll be back on the diet come Monday” turns into “technically, a large pizza is four packed lunches”.

    But my blood pressure is back to 120/80. So that’s something.

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    • Just observing the people around me, it seems like having a metric other than weight loss to target is helpful because weight loss is a pretty slow moving variable. It sounds like blood pressure was probably a good one. Runners have distances and times (e. g. “I threw up after a half mile last time and now I can go 3/4 without throwing up!”). Weight training is great for beginners because progress is really fast and exciting and measurable.

      Then once you’re more fit and doing more serious exercise, weight loss starts to happen as a side effect (or at least becomes a lot easier to affect because you’re physically able to work harder).

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      • “How long can I go on an elliptical”.

        Weight loss is an awful metric because it fluctuates so much, because muscle weighs more than fat, for a million reasons. (Especially for women, whose water retention ALSO fluctuates).

        I mean as a overall metric: “I was 300 now I’m 240” sure. But week to week? It’s just discouraging.

        But something like I used to be able to do 10 minutes on an elliptical and now can do 25 — that means you’re healthier, no matter what the scale says. Your heart is better than it was. Same with jogging or walking — I do two miles now instead of one. That means things are better.

        That doesn’t mean you’re great, that doesn’t mean you’re not still unhealthy, but it does mean you’re better than you were. Things are improving.

        And issues that might affect what you lift, or run, or how long you can do cardio — those are a lot more obvious than issues that might bump your weight up or down 5%. “Nasty allergies are killing my breathing” or “My shoulder’s still super sore from last week” or “I’m still getting over a cold”, etc.

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        • Have you read any of Lyle McDonald’s work?

          You touched on the issue of women and weight loss and he’s trying to finish a book about it. Water retention, hormones, and a whole host of other issues I’ve heard about come from him.

          He hasn’t finished it because there are too many issues to address.

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      • I think my next metric will be “time”. I can do a mile in less than 17 minutes.

        The next goal is doing a mile in less than 16:30.

        I don’t even weigh myself anymore. I just take my blood pressure and count how many seconds it takes me to go down to the part of the road where the two trees come out of the fence and back.

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      • Then once you’re more fit and doing more serious exercise, weight loss starts to happen as a side effect (or at least becomes a lot easier to affect because you’re physically able to work harder).

        I think I can agree with this.

        Weight loss can be a side effect depending on one’s fitness level and nutritional intake but at some point the body will adapt to those indirect influences and everything will level out.

        I agree that it becomes easier to affect, at least in theory. Once someone gets to a point where nutritional and fitness levels are dialed in, the weight loss as a side effect no longer applies. It would have to be deliberately done.

        One example I can think of is a fit runner that may want to train for a race and set a personal PR. It’s not my area of expertise but I’d assume that peaking for a race requires an increase in training volume and perhaps adjustments to diet to account for the increased volume and perhaps to improve body composition. , thoughts?

        I’m in the process of leveling things out for myself. I’ve switched both my training and nutrition recently after a disastrous experiment with a cyclical low-carb diet (fun but no thanks). Once that levels out, it would require deliberate changes to variables to produce future fat loss, and it would be a slow process, as my current process is.

        Of course, at that point, it’s not at all about health, but to each their own…

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        • Peaking for a race does require an increase over the course of months of training effort. Rest and good diet are obvious parts of that or else injuries or fatigue will screw up everything.

          Dropping weight for a race can be tricky since too few calories or solid nutrition will definitely hamper workouts. When i was first losing weight i could drop two pounds a week easily for a few months. I exercised but i had a wider comfort margin. Weight loss made everything easier and faster so training gains came fast just from the loss and starting from low activity means there are a lot of low hanging fitness gains. I did train for XC race a few months into losing weight but i wasn’t’ stressing my body the same way i do now. It was all getting fit.

          Now i would never want to lost that much at time. I’ve only aimed at taking 10 pounds off over the same number of weeks. In one sense burning all those calories at training makes weight management easy but the risk is in the overcompensation thinking that all those burned calories means i can eat a lot. Proper nutrition minus a few calories per week to lead to weight loss has a narrower comfort margin. Few people can really train well if they are hungry often.

          Changing body composition is interesting and i can’t say i focus on that. That’s not that much of a runner/skier thing. There are changes but the focus is on good race shape/form/paces. There is certainly some excess fat loss during training which is the only thing that should be lost while peaking for an endurance event.

          Most year round training concepts focus on having a base building period where the focus is on raising cardio/aerobic capacity. This is an off race season task. Race season focus is on target paces over certain lengths and more race specific workouts. It’s less about body composition a but focus on different energy systems.

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          • Thanks for the insight.

            My thought on the body composition for endurance athletes is that the training volume and types of training combined with the diet geared towards fueling those training sessions in order to maximize performance would likely lead to changes in body composition due more to the training adaptations vs. trying to diet down (a la bodybuilding).

            Also, if your off-peak conditioning is good, changes in body composition should be at the margins. I’m not thinking of off-season endurance athletes acting a lot like off-season bodybuilders, the latter of which can end up getting fat as all hell depending on what they’re doing.

            I completely agree on trying to work out on too few or even the wrong kind of diet. I did okay in the gym running on a very low carb diet (and yes, it can do wonders for body composition done right) but since switching back and eating more carbs than I probably have in two years (and cycling on my off-days to make sure I consume adequate fat), the intensity I’ve been able to achieve in the proper and intelligent way, is the best I’ve ever been.

            That’s without doing a damn bit of cardio, which I’ll resume at some point. I rolled my ankle pretty badly a few weeks ago so I need to give that a little bit of rest.

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    • When I first started out, I was pushing 200 lbs and had not so good cholesterol and blood pressure numbers.

      I cleaned up my diet, pretty much intuitively, started my running and within 16 weeks, my health markers were excellent.

      I tell people that the changes in my health markers were more likely because of the added exercise and the changes to my diet more than the weight loss itself. I don’t know how much the weight loss itself helped my health (besides orthopedic which is a no-brainer) so I’d rather not unintentionally mislead people.

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      • I keep forgetting everyone is not my height and build. :) Back when I was 22, and doing serious exercise a minimum of 3 times a week (like 90 minutes of what was, effectively, high-intensity cardio with body weight exercises thrown in, although I thought of it as “martial arts”) I clocked in at 220. I was not particularly muscular, though I am a bit over six feet.

        IIRC, that’s “morbidly obese”. Now while I wasn’t ripped and 1% body fat, you could actually see my ab muscles. So you know, I figure I might be many things at 220, including “could stand to lose another 10 pounds” but not “morbidly obese”.

        I’d love to see 220 now, but I’m aiming for 250. If I ever get there, I’ll reassess.

        In the meantime, my health is pretty good. The worst is my cardiovascular system, which is “20 years of sedentary living” bad, not like “real problems” vad. That’ll be fixed by, you know, the elliptical and the treadmill.

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          • Nah, I was quite a competitive swimmer from about six through high school. As in I spent many, many years considering a mile swim a “mild warm up”. (As in the ages 8 through 18″).

            My whole family is built pretty much the same — big shoulders, overall big frame, ridiculously strong legs (seriously, I’ve not been able to wear boots since I was a kid. It’s the calves).

            I float quite well. :) Honestly, just a big frame and a naturally pretty muscle heavy build, especially in the legs. I mean now it’s buried under way to much fat.

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        • At 6’1″, 220 pounds is at the high end of “overweight” territory, not quite “obese.” “Morbid obesity” has a couple different definitions, but generally at that height it would be over 300 pounds.

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          • Yeah, someone that weight and height will be kinda chunky, not really fat.

            The formula for BMI divides weight (in kg) by the square of height (in meters), which is a bit off. Naively you’d expect to divide by the cube of height, but people don’t expand equally in all three directions, so some intermediate exponent would be better (like 2.5 or so). In any event, taller folks will tend to have BMIs that overstate how fat they are.

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    • Re: Atkins…

      I spent six weeks experimenting with someone not dissimilar to Atkins. The formal name for it is The Anabolic Diet (“TAD”), the book written back in the mid-1990’s by a guy named Mauro DiPasquale. What was interesting about it is that it was published during the heyday of high-carb dieting in the bodybuilding world, yet it was just a more formal and methodical approach to the bodybuilding diet of the 1960’s and 1970’s – a low carb diet with a high carb day thrown in the mix.

      I understand the appeal of Atkins and other low carb diets (i.e. ketogenic), especially for laypeople because initial weight loss is rapid, very rapid; however, that weight loss is water weight because less water is retained because of the lower amount of glucose in the body.

      When I ran TAD, I ran into a number of issues, the same ones I’d probably have if I ran Atkins or a pure ketogenic diet.

      1. Fat is not filling, not to me. I was more hungry than I wanted to be, which leads me to…

      2. Compliance. For me to comply and not be hungry as hell all the time, my caloric intake was significantly above my TDEE and I ended up gaining weight despite the loss in water, not a lot (3 to 5 lbs maybe) but enough to know it wasn’t working.

      3. Saturated fat intake – I’m not anti-fat, but the most practical way for me to hit my calories and macros was to switch from white meat to high fat red meat. I was eating between 16 and 24 ounces of red meat a day plus my eggs. I didn’t think that was going to end well at my next doctor’s appointment. I could have used other approaches but this was easiest.

      4. Overly restrictive – Low carb diets, especially keto, are ridiculously restrictive, and at some point, powering through that diet is going to require more willpower than it’s worth because of the “need” to avoid certain types of food. It’s sets up binge eating, especially when people try to transition out.

      5. No practical reason – it’s all about energy balance (calories in vs out despite what the deniers say). The research is pretty clear that all types of diets lead to similar long-term weight loss results. The If It Fits Your Macros crowd, before they took it to the realm of cult-like religious status, were on to something with being flexible: get the most from the least.

      Unfortunately, diet culture and the weight loss industry don’t share my kind of common sense.

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  4. The sheer amount of conflicting information out there is killer. I tried to look up something simple: “If I’m doing a row of machines, what should I be doing?”

    I got everything from 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps to one set of 12, and further conflicting information on “how to tell if you’re over or under doing it”.

    Man, I just want to do cardio then work out the major muscle groups. I got cardio covered — I’m so out of shape that “let’s see if we can work up to 25 minutes on an elliptical” is a solid goal, and also the machine tells me what my target heart rate is (and even shuts down if I get into a danger zone). (Also, seriously love that elliptical. It’s killing my thighs, not my knees. Huzzah).

    But the machines? I don’t want to do free weights, I’m not at the point where I want anything more than “Making sure what I’ve got works right”. And not only am I unsure what to do, but every source I get contradicts the rest!

    So I’m learning painfully. I’ve learned to end with biceps and triceps (because most of the chest and shoulder machines also work those at least a little, and if you exhaust them first then you can’t really get the shoulders and chest going because your arms hurt). I’ve learned that if I’m getting shaky, I should stop because pushing will mean two days of pain. (I’m still trying to figure out if I should push until I get shaky, or just until I’m feeling a burn). I’ve learned that I need to rest at least 20 minutes before taking a hot shower after working out, which in hindsight was common sense.

    That’s not even getting to diet! The information on that is just as bad, although I’m lucky — my wife’s pre-diabetic, a good chef, and we’ve switched to a low-carb diet tailored to people with blood sugar issues. That’s not ideal, I’d imagine, if I was trying for bulk — but I’m trying for general health here, so low carbs and low sugar with lean protein ain’t a bad choice.

    That and I’ve switched to salads more often and away from crappy breakfasts from drive-throughs, and figure I’m at least not making it worse.

    Working out is a freaking mystery, one that my usual method (research!) doesn’t help with. The people at the gym are helpful, but most are just kinda making it up as they go along to.

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    • I think the key is that most of the differences between plans/concepts don’t really matter for most people. Pick any decent workout plan/concept and you will be fine to start with. Heck even at advanced levels it doesn’t always matter much.

      There is a ton of talk in marathon circles about the best training plans and people will hyper focus on the length of this workout or which day of the week it is best to do it. At best the difference is far less then 1% for most changes people will hotly debate and more likely there is no difference. Even in a race all the micro changes i can make may add up to 1 or 2% in my time. Now i want that time in a race but for overall fitness they don’t’ matter. And even in the race my overall fitness is going to matter a lot more than the tiny changes i can make.

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      • That’s why I’m not too upset about it and am just working on establishing habits.

        It is a bit vexing at times. Mostly right now I’m trying to figure out exactly when to stop. I’m pretty sure many times I don’t push enough, and that feels like wasted time. :)

        But overdoing it is…unpleasant and wastes more time recovering.

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      • I’m looking for lean muscle, not bulk.

        Basically I’m looking to tone up what i’ve got and make it work better, but I don’t really want much more than I need. Upping my base metabolic needs is just a bonus.

        In terms of health, the cardio is really what I need and so I make sure to start with that.

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        • Your rep ranges are backwards. The lower rep ranges lend to strength training or lifting explosively (Olympic lifting).


          You can lift at bodybuilding type rep ranges or my suggested 15 reps and not bulk unless you’re eating to bulk. The diet is what’s important there.

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  5. I like moderate exercise. It’s good for physical and mental health; but I know it won’t help with weight loss. I usually don’t run more than 2 or 3 miles at a time a few times a week. That’s a few beers. However when you start to run well in excess of 5 miles at a time most days a week, then it gets to a point where it might seriously impact weight loss.

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    • That’s true unless you’re paying close attention to diet and using the increase in exercise to manage a deficit. If added two or three, 3-mile runs a week and hold my diet as it is, I’d definitely see weight loss as would most people.

      The devil’s in the details though. I’m thinking 1/2 lb per week at the most with a declining impact as the body adapts to the exercise, which is why I’m currently not doing any cardio.

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      • Dave,
        Try one pound a week loss, on the treadmill.
        3.5mph, 10% grade. 15,000 feet up.
        Yeah, you can really grind yourself into dust if you’re willing to put the time in.
        (The goal is to be doing Everest each week. in four days of treadmill.)

        The thing about cardio is that you can shift into fat-burning mode (after around 30-40 minutes), and then you’re basically just chewing up your fat.

        (At some point, I may wrestle the treadmill away from my husband…)

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        • I’m lucky to make 15 minutes on an elliptical. :) But that’s serious cardio (keeping me at about 150 bpm) and then I follow that up with a full round of weight machines. I’ll deal with fat burning after my cardiovascular system gets up to snuff.

          I suspect though, since my full workout takes about an hour, I’m burning some fat. :)

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          • morat20,
            Weightlifting is predominantly anerobic, which is good for building white muscle mass, not so good for burning fat.
            (Although everyone who wants to shill for building white muscle will say “you burn more at rest later!”)

            For weight loss, you’re aiming for something like 60% of your max heart rate (low and slow, if you work out too hard, you’re doing something that you can’t sustain for long periods of time), and keep it for an hour to an hour and a half.

            (and I had to look up what an elliptical was).

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            • Ellipticals are fun. A bit of an adjustment (they don’t use your leg muscles quite like treadmills do), and the ones I use adapt the resistance to keep your heart rate in the target zone. So no zooming along at a low heart rate (a problem if you’re setting your resistance yourself — some people have it way to low and zoom at high speed and aren’t really working anything out), it makes you work for it. :)

              I get to my target rate (140) quickly and stay between 140 and 150 for most of the time.

              I’m aiming for 25 minutes as my first goal. Once I hit 30 minutes, I’ll have to alter some things, as I’ll be at the gym longer than I want to be.

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        • I have the cardio capacity to do that. I could grind myself into dust. I could also add in some low intensity running to the tune of 10 miles a week.

          The thing is that the body will adapt to that added cardio and it’s may not be as much of a fat burner as people think. Depends how and depends when.

          As it is, I can jack my heart rate up weightlifting, and even though it’s predominantly anaerobic, the intensity of effort I use combined with the short rest periods does the intended effect. I remember nearly puking several times when first starting out but not any longer :D

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          • As it is, I can jack my heart rate up weightlifting, and even though it’s predominantly anaerobic, the intensity of effort I use combined with the short rest periods does the intended effect. I remember nearly puking several times when first starting out but not any longer :D

            Oh yeah. I do cardio and then move onto the machines, with little break between machines.

            My heart rate does not really go back to rest until I’m done for the day. It seems to hover in the 110 to 130 range as I’m working the machines (up when I’m lifting, down when I’m moving between them or wiping them off).

            I figure that’s burning some fat.

            I weirdly got two workouts Sunday, which i’m still paying for. See — i went to the gym, did a full workout, then came home and showered. Then my son called needing help moving (something he’d said he’d had handled) so about 2 hours after finishing my workout I was hauling furniture and boxes up to a second story apartment.

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  6. I owe a lot of responses over the last two posts, but I’m going to put this out here for you to try the next time you’re at a gym. You can do this with all machines, and it’s a full body workout.

    After a ramp up set or two (call it 40% and 70% of working weight plus or minus), do three sets of 15 reps of the following: start with 2 minutes rest and as you progress, shorten the rest to 60 seconds. I recommend dropping rest periods 10 seconds per week.

    1. Hamstring curls
    2. Leg press or hack squat machine
    3. Chest press
    4. Shoulder press
    5. Lat pull downs
    6. Tricep pushdowns (rope preferred)
    7. Bicep curl – both arms

    Slow and controlled for your reps. Keep track of your weights lifted. If you get to the last set and you still have reps left in the tank, go to failure (stop when form breaks down) and then incrementally increase weight.

    You hit all the major muscle groups. You’ll get plenty of workout with the rep scheme. You can vary your rests as need be in order to get the recovery you need to push through (hell, go three minutes if you have to but shortening rests will increase capacity).

    All of these can be done on machines so you don’t need to deal with free weights, and you’ll get a good workout. I’ve done something similar using free weights and machines.

    Hope this helps.

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    • It may take a few sessions to get the movements down and the working weights to where you want them to be but that’s ok. Spend the time getting acclimated with what you need to do and then go from there. You can get a lot of mileage out of this.

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    • That’s pretty close to what I’ve been narrowing down to. There’s a few other areas I’m working on — lower back and hips, due to some inherent weakness from an old injury — that’s per a physical therapist. I did the rehab with them, but I’d like to ensure that area stays strong. And abs, because why not.

      What’s “go to failure” feel like? That the bit where the muscles get all shaky and you’re pretty sure you can’t manage another one?

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  7. My wife does a lot of classes, PiYo and beachbody type stuff. They all talk about diet along with exercise. None of them say weight loss can come just from exercise. They do push short term challenges to lose a certain amount of weight through a special program and modified diet more than i think is wise but the classes are very supportive and engaging apparently.

    Those kind of classes work for her but you are correct about the 4th point. Lots of people don’t’ like exercise or can only do something they like for part of the year. That is a real conundrum. Exercise for 6 months per year and being fallow the rest is better than nothing but it very much limits your gains, puts you at risk for injury when it comes time to more again you end up spending months just getting back to where you ended the last season.

    Lot’s of fit people talk about how people were designed to move and really use our bodies. That is true for me and you. But many people didn’t become sedentary because they were forced to be. Sedentary feels good in lots of ways and if you lived a hard life ( as most people throughout history have) the chance to be sedentary really seems appealing. That doesn’t mean it’s good, but the appeal is clear.

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  8. I think what’s hard about a conversation like this is that Vox is reacting to exactly the claims you acknowledge are stupid and wrong. And it is correct that exercise is at best a small component of weight loss (in a global sense, though it’s often the critical margin).

    Using approximate numbers, someone’s resting metabolic rate might be 1800 calories per day. Normal activity if you’re not super-active may add another 400. That sixty minute walk? Call it 325. If you go on that walk then have a slice of pizza, or cake, that you’ve “earned” you’ve been counterproductive. So those facts (which I think are approximately right, though the specific numbers will change depending on age/weight/gender/etc) could lead to a few conclusions.

    Conclusion one: if you stick to a diet and eat 1800 calories a day, you’ll lose weight whether you walk for 0, 30, or 60 minutes, so you “should” focus primarily on diet. No excercise on earth is going to save you if your “lunch” is two thousand-calorie slices at Costco, or you go out to eat a lot.

    Conclusion two: if you want to eat a normal diet, rather than a diet-diet, you damn well better exercise a lot because that’s the margin that’ll save you.

    I think there’s actually pretty good research that most people who lose significant weight, and keep it off, exercise regularly. So that tells you its important. That said, it’s a small percentage of calories, so from that perspective it’s secondary to intake. You can quibble about the story, but at some level both are true.

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  9. Not gonna lie, I exercise cuz I wanna look good, and I wanna look good because I want people to be attracted to me. It works well enough. I hit the gym 2-3 times a week, just stretches, mobility, and weights. I save cardio for dancing or walking or whatever (plus sex!). My go-to fitness guides are Strong Curves and Mary Bond’s Posture Book. They seem to cover the basic aspects of having a body that works okay.

    I enjoy it well enough. I enjoy the results a lot. The point is, I lived a lot of years not doing these things. I wasn’t very happy. Nowadays I keep myself in decent shape, and now my life is pretty amazing. It’s worth the effort, so I make the effort. When it’s time to hit the gym, I remind myself what happens if I let myself slip.

    I don’t let myself slip. Ever.

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    • “I don’t let myself slip. Ever.”

      This is what works for me as well. When i don’t feel well, and really don’t want to go, I still make myself go. I just get Ok with completing a less than vigorous workout. Once i’m there, I frequently end up pushing all the way through my regular workout. But if i cant, I take it easy. Missing though, that is the genesis of all my previous “failures”. One miss quickly becomes more. So I”ve been doing my best to avoid taking that first step.

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        • I found that once I had a garage, getting a weight rack and having it right there made a big difference. It’s right there. Like, through a door. No extra time required. You could start literally 90 seconds from now. Why aren’t you in there?

          Weights are cheap on craigslist if you have the space for them. Then again, the reason weights are cheap on craigslist is because having them right there in your house clearly doesn’t work to motivate 100% of the population.

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          • Garages are too hot in Houston like…9 months of the year. You’ll die. :)

            I used the home treadmill a lot, but not as much as I should have. In hindsight, a home bike or elliptical would have been better.

            I’d really like to take up jogging but….I’m pretty sure my knees wouldn’t like it. Maybe in 40 pounds, you know?

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            • @nevermoor

              The one piece of equipment I’d love to have in my house is an assault bike or an old Air Dyne. I’d use it for HIIT and steady state cardio. Everything else I’d probably need a gym for given my training regimen.

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              • Nah, I’m good. :)

                We’re already doing diet changes (the missus is looking pre-diabetic and would prefer not to make the jump, and I’m tagging along) and I’ve got a good two or three times a week gym thing I’m figuring out.

                I’m giving it a month to get my body a bit used to regular exercise and movement (the downside of a desk job) and I’ll reassess then.

                I do miss having people to play raquetball with. Cardio is a lot more fun if it’s a game.

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    • My training is focused around bodybuilding splits so I’m not going to lie and say this is only about my health.

      I train five times a week. Currently doing very little cardio though my heart rate can stay significantly elevated given my volume and rest periods.

      I have my training splits on my personal exercise Facebook page Misadventures in Exercise. i use that for the detailed stuff I probably won’t post here.

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  10. While science contradicts itself one way, then another, the best thing to do is something.

    I’ve found that fitting that time into your day is the hardest part – my daily rhythms are fairly fine-tuned – and what you do during that time can be adjusted later. If you have half an hour, you could walk or you could do HIIT. But there’s a space to work with.

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      • If you’re trying to lose weight, half an hour’s a stupid thing (you’re just burning spare, free, available carbs). You want fatburning, and that means give yourself an hour or an hour and a half (even twice a week).

        So P90x, Insanity and other high intensity training programs are stupid because they’re “burning spare, free, available carbs” and people still manage to lose a lot of weight doing them.

        People that exercise hard and still manage to lose weight generally eat a diet higher in carbohydrates and lower in fat, yet despite burning spare carbs, they lean out like crazy.

        I don’t quite know where you’re getting your broscience.

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      • You don’t need an hour or an hour and half twice a week, especially when people can simply increase their non-exercise activity in a way that doesn’t tax their bodies and do so over a seven-day period and watch the effects of that accumulate over time.

        If you’re at a point where you need 90 minutes of cardio and you’re not training for some kind of distance race or you’re a nutjob like me that sometimes enjoys the occasional 8-mile run, something isn’t right.

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