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Best Exercise Choices for Weight Loss

It’s the new year, which means a lot of people are starting to say “what was I thinking with that new year’s resolution?” right about now. If your resolution is to finally lose those pounds you have been fighting with forever, here is the next step in your game plan. 


Every time you say you want to lose weight, what you are probably looking to lose is FAT, not POUNDS. What the bathroom scale tells you is a general summary of where you are (total body weight, or TBW), not a detailed report of your health. If your goal is to be healthier, more fit, leaner, etc, then what you are looking for is a reduction in body fat weight (BFW). What is left after accounting for BFW is your lean body mass (LBM) or muscle, and of course skeleton and organs.


The best strategies for reducing BFW include: healthy dietary changes, increasing LBM, and creating an overall calorie deficit, in that order.  Creating a calorie deficit is when you burn more calories in a day than you consume through food intake, forcing your body to utilize stored energy. Making healthy diet choices will help you create a calorie deficit both through eating less calories and eating smarter calories. In all honesty though, almost nobody enjoys making the lifestyle changes that are entailed in a “diet”.  Increasing LBM and using up those calories throughout your day or through your workouts is the fun part, so let’s talk about that.


Why more Lean Body Mass is a good thing

Muscle tissue requires energy to function. Because of this, you can think of it as running hotter than fat tissue.

Look at it like this : between a running engine and a gas tank, which would you expect to generate more heat and do more work? Your body is designed to create the biggest gas tank it can in order to enable you to do more things. Voila, fat storage system! 


Every day, you burn a certain number of calories doing normal body processes (like breathing and walking around) without thinking about it. This is called your Resting Metabolic Rate, RMR. Every other thing that you do throughout the day creates your daily metabolic requirements, often expressed as how many calories you need for a given day. For reference, the labels on the back of every packaged food item refer to percentages of a 2,000 calorie per day diet for a 185 lb male. This was considered the “normal” back when the guidelines were put in place. 

Lean body mass is important in this conversation because it has a higher metabolic rate than fat does. One pound of fat consumes two to three calories per day, while one pound of muscle consumes seven to 10 calories per day. So if you can either add to your LBM or increase your overall RMR, you burn more calories without having to spend extra time doing mindless cardio.

Another important point is that muscle is more dense than fat is. One pound of muscle is approximately the size of a tangerine, while one pound of fat is approximately the size of a grapefruit. The density difference between the two tissues is only approximately 20%, but that difference is significant when visualized side by side. That means that while the scale may not always show the work that you are putting in, body size and composition should change as you continue to follow your plan. 


Best Method : LBM

The best method for increasing LBM is to lift weights. Specifically, to lift a weight that is above and beyond what would be considered normal and customary throughout your day. Lifting weights, especially heavier and challenging weights, encourages muscle growth and increases LBM. If you need help picking a plan, find a trainer or coach who can help you create a roadmap for gaining muscle mass. Get out there and move some heavy stuff!


Best Method : RMR

The best method for increasing RMR throughout the day has been shown to be Interval Training. Often, this is interpreted specifically as High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts, which have been shown to increase your metabolic rate. In a recent study from 2017, interval training increased RMR by approximately 2.5% after 4 weeks of training. 

You can, however, do interval work without dedicating the whole workout to HIIT. Starting with as little as 5 minutes of intervals at the end of your workout is enough to boost your metabolic rate by about three times as much as conventional cardiovascular exercise. One study showed increased performance from a group of cyclists who performed a 20 second on, 10 second off interval seven times compared to a group who rode continuously for 60 minutes. That’s 4 minutes of total work versus 60, and the 4 minute group showed better improvement in fitness.

Intervals can be performed with any exercise, with little to no equipment necessary. Choose an exercise, perform it for a short time with extreme intensity, then rest for a set amount of time. Often a good starting point for intervals is a 2:1 rest to work ratio, such as 20 seconds of sprinting and 40 seconds of walking or light jogging. 


No matter what combination of exercises you choose, if your goal is to be more fit/healthier/leaner, use a tape measure to keep track of your body measurements along with the scale. Checking your measurements and how clothing fits over the course of a training cycle will give you a better idea of how your body composition is changing and evolving than weight alone. 

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Dr. Paul Harris holds a Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Texas Chiropractic College and a Master’s of Exercise and Health Sciences from University of Houston Clear Lake. He is the owner of Delta V Chiropractic and Sports Medicine and an avid human movement specialist.