So what is the best exercise to lose weight? It’s a complicated thing. The wise words of Socrates comes to mind:
…What a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.– Socrates
In other words: do you even lift, bro? So as you might know, I was the definition of a couch potato. I wasted years sitting in front of a TV or computer, playing videogames or watching mindless schyt. About the only form of physical activity I got was going upstairs to get more food.
I knew I should have gotten some kind of exercise, but where do I start?
What do I do?
Do I join a gym?
Do I run a 5k?
Do I lift 300 lbs?
WHERE DO I START?
I’ll try to give people a little insight into what I’ve learned over the years about the best exercise to lose weight.
Just how important is exercise? Should I even bother?
Regular exercise provides a boatload of benefits — from improving cardiovascular health, to fighting stress and depression, to increasing testosterone. Thus, there are few habits that will better ensure a lifetime of success and well-being than making a daily workout a non-negotiable part of your life. Instead of trying to get on the exercise wagon when you’re a tired, out-of-shape, middle-aged man with a lot of responsibilities and very little time, make it a habit now when you’re at the top of your game. Regular exercise is a tough routine to start, but once it becomes a solid habit, most people continue with it indefinitely. The physical and psychological benefits become almost impossible to give up.
While “daily” exercise is going a bit overboard, I think the important of having a routine is the most important thing. Even if you do something once or twice a week, that’s excellent. Weight lifting is a perfect example of this. You need time to rest and repair, so doing it daily would be foolish.
For years, I absolutely hated any kind of physical activity. I mentioned this in my story about being forced to run the mile every year in elementary school. I just hated it. I hated sweating, I hated being out of breath, I hated getting achy. Most of all, I hated the embarrassment. I hated not being able to move around like normal kids, I hated that I was never picked for the sports games, I eventually just gave up and resigned to a life of the couch potato.
Parents, the worst thing you can do to a kid is let them sit inside and never get any exercise. I’m proof of that. Kids have a built-in desire to play and move, but videogames and TV seem to distract and kill that urge. Force them outside if you have to! Don’t let them become another statistic, it’s all in your hands.
Now I go out of my way to look for new ways to get my body moving. I subconsciously look around for stuff to grab and do pull-ups on. I sprint for no reason sometimes. It’s just fun, I really can’t explain it… It’s wired into my brain! It’s naturally built into our genes, we are programmed to want to move! Our ancestors had no choice but to be constantly moving around for survival, what makes you think you’re any different?
You are an animal and virtually all animals have a biological need to move around. Unless you’re descended from the sloth, you have an innate desire deep down to move and be active! Need more? Any regular physical exertion is the best exercise to lose weight:
The researchers found that regular exercise for 6 months changed the methylation states of many genes in our fat (adipose) cells, including 31 genes specific to obesity and diabetes type 2, reducing their expression level a small but significant amount, <10%. When they independently silenced a few of these specific genes with siRNA, expression of these genes was reduced by 50-70%, and the basal metabolic rate of and the rate of fat breakdown in fat cells increased drastically, by about 44%.
In other words, if you exercise regularly, you’re going to have a harder time getting fat. Pretty nice, eh? Reddit discussion here. I could write 50 articles about the health benefits of exercise, but instead I’ll direct you to Mark’s Daily Apple. He’s got hundreds of articles giving you plenty of reasons to start some kind of exercising. You’re a caveman, act like it! As an ex-gastropod, getting into exercise was just as important as learning about nutrition. As you lose weight, you’ll find your body is lighter and has more energy, you’re going to want to move it more!
I’m sure you’ve got a lot of questions, so here goes:
What is the best exercise to lose weight: Running vs. weights?
Weights are far superior to running. Literally in every way possible!
When you weight lift, you create micro-tears in the muscles you used. You’re literally ripping your muscles apart. As gross as that sounds, it’s got a huge benefit for those of us interested in losing weight. For those people who don’t do much physical activity, I would always suggest eating a mostly low carb diet. The carbs really don’t need to be used for energy when people sit around all day.
However, a splendid change takes place in the body when you weight lift. Those micro-tears change the way your body uses the energy. In order to repair and grow those muscles, they need both protein AND glucose. Long story short, this means you can binge on carbs and it all goes straight to the muscles! Silverhydra explains “carb backloading“:
With endurance exercise, metabolic circuits, or other low-grade stressors there is an increase in glucose transports to muscles (and thus partitioning less to body fat), but this does not inherently mean muscle growth. …assume that consuming nutrients in the morning without exercise is a 50/50 split adipose/muscle.
Consuming them in a carb-backloading style will decrease both tissue’s insulin response by the same degree, yet raise muscle’s; mathematically if they are the same potency the split will now be 25/75 adipose/muscle. Of this 25/75 split, even less than 25 is going to adipose because of metabolic reactions… You must do some form of resistance training to allow the excess muscular energy stores to be put to use at protein synthesis… If you do this strategy after low intensity cardio, you’re just looking for excuses to binge eat.
TL;DR: Normally your fat cells and muscle cells will divide up dietary energy equally. By using weight lifting, you tip the balance towards the muscle cells soaking up the energy to rebuild the torn muscles after a workout.
In other words, the carbs you eat go straight to the muscles. Weight lifting + meat + carbs = HUGE MUSCLES + Fat loss. This is the key motivation for my workouts: If I push myself in weightlifting, I will be able to binge on carby foods and meat, get huge muscles and not get fat. WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE!? :D
Just running on a treadmill for an hour won’t do the same thing. You need to really push your muscles to “earn” your carbs. I believe cardio/running is something that should not be ignored completely. We humans are meant to run, that’s how we are.
For many, it’s a pleasing way to get some exercise and enjoy being outdoors. For others its a misguided attempt to lose weight by running on a treadmill and sweating their asses off for an hour. That’s not fun and I think it’s a waste of time and effort.
If you like running or other cardio stuff, by all means, do it. Just don’t use it as an excuse for bingeing on food afterwards! Or worse, don’t be one of those idiots who burn a few hundred calories on a treadmill then down a Gatorade and gain all those lost calories right back! What’s the point!?
After weight lifting, it takes upwards of 72 hours to completely repair the muscles. During that time, residual calories are being used to slowly repair the muscles. You can be sitting there a day after a good workout, watching netflix, passively burning calories. That doesn’t happen after running on a treadmill. Fat loss with muscles is sexy!
For men, this is obvious. As you lose the weight, filling it back up with muscle is just plain awesome.
Growing up the fat kid I was, I often looked up to cool guys with big muscles. I wished so much that I could look like that some day. It’s still a work in progress, but I’ve already made huge strides in the right directions.
As a man, I think muscles just look cool. Every single day I can look down at my arms and see all the work I’ve put into them. I get a sense of accomplishment every time I feel the rock hard sexy muscles I’ve built. That’s just my way of looking at it, you don’t have to have huge muscles. (But it certainly doesn’t hurt!)
Ladies: WEIGHT LIFTING WILL NOT MAKE YOU BULKY! You will not look like this unless you take steroids! If you drop the bodyfat AND get strong, you will look TONED. It’s the difference between looking fit and looking “skinny-fat!”
“I’m overweight and have never worked out a day in my life:”
Do you need a gym? No.
In most cases, people join a gym because they think they need to. This is pretty typical, especially around new years. Virtually everyone ends up getting stuck in an expensive yearly contract, goes for a few times then forgets about it and waste a lot of money. You don’t need it. I’ll rant about the bullshyt most commercial gyms pull in a future article.
Firstly, learn about nutrition and get your food right. That’ll be the best way to get rid of the fat, period. Exercise is secondary to diet if you want to slim down. Weight is 80% nutrition and 20% exercise.
Having said that, as a newbie you should begin with simple body weight exercises. In most cases, you don’t need a gym to do these. They’re fairly simple and straight forward. Pick a few and try them out.
If they’re hard to do at first, GOOD! It means you should use that as your goal. Take something and try to do it once a week. Do a set of them for a month and see if it gets easier.
If it gets easier, that means you’re slowly building muscle to help it along. Set a simple, easy to achieve goal and work towards it. There’s plenty to choose from: Mark has a few, or give nerd version a try. If you have access to some equipment, here’s some more advanced stuff.
My preferred body-weight movement is squats. You unconsciously do it every time you sit down. It’s a very natural movement, it’s something we have to do almost every day. It also has the added benefit of working out multiple muscle groups at once, aka “compound movement.” I love those because it means you’re getting more bang for your workout buck. More on that in a bit.
Make a goal, work on it at LEAST once a week, and monitor your progress in writing. This is the most simple way to get into exercise. If you concentrate and work on it, make small steps, you’ll reach your goal. When you reach one goal, you plan for the next step up and make that your new goal. Rinse and repeat. The hardest part is just STARTING.
A note on machines at the gym: For the complete newbie, go ahead and use them. They’re easy to figure out and keep consistent from one week to the next. However, unless you have a specific injury or are trying to workout a specific muscle group, you’ll want to eventually move to the free weight dumbbell and barbells. This is because machines prevent you from using a full range of motion and will build some muscles but not others.
When you deal with heavy weights, your body is using certain “fast twitch muscles” to help stabilize the weights. If you use nothing but machines, you’ll never work those muscles. If you try to use real weights after using nothing but machines, you are asking for an injury!
I’m healthy enough to do weightlifting. Where do I start?
Compound exercises will be your best bet. Working out multiple muscle groups at once will mean less time at the gym and less overall effort. The “big 3” compound exercises are:
- The squat
- The deadlift
- The benchpress
A few years ago when I finally joined a gym for the first time, I was kind of embarrassed to go. I was still fairly heavy, I had no idea what I was doing, and I felt like I should do it only because “everyone else is doing it.” At the time I was working a second shift job and I decided to go there after work (at about 2 am in the morning.) That way there was rarely anyone around to see me…
I had a “personal trainer” give me a rundown of what I should do and I was completely confused! He glossed over all these complex movements in roughly ~30 minutes and I found myself forgetting almost all his instructions by the next day. He paid very little attention to form, just showed me how to do it and expected me to know the exact movements. He threw all these confusing terms at me and then shooed me out the door.
Despite this, my curiosity was still firing. I did some research and tried to figure out a regimen from the net. Again, I was confused by the jargon and the nomenclature, but I decided to attempt something simple like the 5×5 protocol. (Video explanation here)
I quickly realized I had no real strength or endurance, so I had to start from scratch. All my young life, the pull-up bar was the bane of my existence. Public humiliation will do that to a kid.
My biggest goal was to finally be able to do a real pull-up for the first time in my life. Luckily there was an assisted pull-up machine that I used to progressively increase my abilities with a little “extra push.” I created a goal for myself, I visited the gym at least 1-2 times a week, and I slowly got to heavier and heavier weights.
I corrected my diet and slowly lost body weight. Thanks to the gained muscle from the assisted pull-up machine, I eventually reached my goal. As of now, I can crank out 10-20 pull-ups effortlessly, but I had to start somewhere!
A word of warning for anyone who weight lifts or is considering weightlifting: form is CRUCIAL.
When I started, I did my best to learn about form from the internet, but you HAVE to perfect it before you can get to the really heavy weights (over 200lbs).
If you don’t, you will get injured. Period.If you really want to get serious about weight lifting, you have no choice but to make sure your form is right. I can’t stress that enough. NO ONE WANTS TO GET INJURED.
I have been paying to have a form coach personally watch me and explain all the subtle movements to me. I have only recently learned how to squat properly, and soon I will go into bench-pressing form.
Sure, I can bench 150 pounds pretty easily, but since I don’t trust my form, I’m not going go any heavier until I feel more confident. The last thing I want is a “slipped disc in my spine” or a “torn rotator cuff”, etc. I’ve heard it takes years to properly learn and execute good form, and I’ve just begun.
I’ve squatted about 200lbs in the past, but since my form was bad, it doesn’t mean anything! If you’re a newbie to weight lifting, don’t let this scare you off. You gotta start somewhere, and there’s plenty you can do for that.
I’m saying if you ever want to get serious about it, you need to put in the effort to learning and perfecting form, otherwise you’re playing with fire. Over at Nerd Fitness, Steve may have gotten into weight lifting too quickly and he wrote about the results here. It’s well worth your time and effort to prevent future injury!
A pain in my knees was my body telling me something was wrong so I backed off. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, eh? I respect crossfitters for trying to get into weight lifting, but I’ve heard many, MANY, complaints about bad form.
No matter what you’re doing, make sure you emphasise form or you’re not working out the muscles correctly and you’re wasting your time. Worse, you may end up with a debilitating injury and never lift weights again!
If this doesn’t make you cringe from the horrible form, then you should not be weight lifting really heavy yet!
Any other forms of exercise you’d suggest?
Well, you could climb a mountain? I recently visited Yellowstone and climbed Mount Washburn. That’s 6.5 miles total, 1400 ft elevation gain, 10,243 feet up. I was scared of bears, but I’m glad I did it. The view was spectacular. I’ll go into more details on another article.
I mention this because I don’t even think of it as exercise. It’s ADVENTURE! Just go out and find things you enjoy that involve physical movement. Don’t think of it as exercise. More realistically, start a sport or better yet, a martial art.
For instance, Krav Maga. Growing up, I always admired the cool warrior-type characters in video games and movies. It was that natural male instinct to want to be strong and fight bad guys. I really wanted to be like one of those cool warriors characters. It was fun to control one in a videogame, but it didn’t feel right. I was no longer satisfied with merely controlling an artificial warrior avatar.
I wanted to become the warrior! Needless to say, as a fat kid, there was practically no chance of this happening. What’s the point of learning all these awesome intense physical movements when the body couldn’t keep up? Oh well, keep dreaming, right?
Well, now that I’ve managed to finally transform my body, I want to learn how to become a warrior. I cut way down on the body fat and I finally have some real strength. The question I kept asking myself was where do I go from here? Do I just join some random kung-fu class? Do I buy a martial art DVD and go by that? Should I just go out and pick fights with people like in Fight Club?
Eventually I was reading Art of Manliness, and I stumbled on an article for “Krav Maga.” Hmm, weird name, but it was this bit that originally caught my eye:
“A well-trained practitioner of Krav Maga is basically a walking human weapon.”
….Yes. I like the sound of this! The more I researched it, the more I liked it. It’s a very powerful technique that “combined the most effective techniques of boxing, aikido, judo, wrestling, and jujitsu into a single, fluid, fighting military discipline that emphasized continuous motion, simultaneous defense and attack, and attacks to an assailant’s soft tissue and pressure points.”
More specifically, I loved the term “retzev,” translated as a “seamless explosion of violence” Haha, the testosterone in me just shot up a few points.
So I’ve recently joined a Krav Maga gym and I’ll write more about it as I get more experience. For those of you who have a gym close to home, check it out. Otherwise you can also get a DVD for home, but it is better to have real people to fight along side. It’s just more fun that way.
No matter what you’re doing, make it fun, reward yourself, do it with friends or family. Challenge yourself, try something new, plan to do it weekly if not daily, make it a habit and eventually you’ll want to do it naturally.
Lastly, of all the things I ever read about, this guy knows his stuff better than anyone. His nutrition is perfection and his techniques are flawless. This is the easiest and best exercise to lose weight and get a six-pack stomach.
- Lift heavy stuff if you can, focus on form.
- Try to get out and walk as much as possible. Humans are meant to walk.
- Don’t spend hours on a treadmill unless you REALLY want to.
- Get outdoors, enjoy nature, move like you’re supposed to.
- Play sports, jog, swim, twerk like Miley, whatever it takes to get you moving.
- Do your best to turn it into a habit, reward yourself for being consistent.
- Experiment with everything, figure out what you like. Don’t knock it til you try it.
- Eat under your BMR to prevent fat gain
- Eat lower carb if you’re not working out
- Eat carbs (if you can earn them) for muscle gain
- No matter what you do, get plenty of protein.
Most of all: HAVE FUN! Make it something you look forward to and enjoy. Plato once wrote: “In order for man to succeed in life, God provided him with two means, education and physical activity. Not separately, one for the soul and the other for the body, but for the two together. With these two means, man can attain perfection.”
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