Monday, September 8, 2008

A move to health

I've been thinking of changing gears for some time, but just haven't yet. I figure that since I'm working on a PhD in Health Promotion and over 2/3 of Americans are overweight or obese, I could have some valuable information to offer. But for whatever reason I like to write about a bunch of stuff I'm really not an expert on... and I will probably continue to do so. But I recently got a comment asking for help with an exercise program. I'm going to work on answering this question, but it's going to take several posts. If you have questions or comments in the meantime, please post them and I'll answer them. So here's the first question I'm going to address.

"So, I need your help. I want to start an exercise routine and getting your help to maximize my benefits with what little time I have would be greatly appreciated.

I am hoping you can help me with the weight lifting/load bearing exercises. I want to work out at home 3 times a week to gain strength.

Can you post a blog about a good routine to do at home with free weights or canned goods that will help me gain muscle? How many reps are ideal...what exercises work various muscles in the body...etc.. I am hoping you can provide me with a whole body routine.

If you would do that, I would love it! I figure I can get in some exercise at home with the baby playing next to me and do the cardio outside the apartment whenever I have time. Are you up to the challenge? I am! I'm tired of this baby weight/fat!"

First I'm going to interpret the question because it doesn't fit with what is known about strength gain, weight loss, etc. The question begins by asking for a weight lifting program to gain strength. I'll get to that in a future post. The comment concludes with a comment about being tired of body weight/fat.

Here's my major thought for the day. Strength training is the worst method of weight loss available. OK, I take that back. A television and potato chips is probably the worst way, but strength training just doesn't create a caloric deficit, and it's a caloric deficit that is responsible for weight loss.

I should probably be clear that I by no means think that weight training is bad. In fact, I would consider it an important part of a weight loss program, but that is not the source of weight loss. So today I will talk about establishing a caloric deficit.

To start, maybe I should define a caloric deficit. If you are in a caloric deficit, that means that you are burning more calories than you are consuming. Weight training doesn't burn nearly enough calories to really make a difference in weight loss. Aerobic exercise is a far better way to increase caloric expenditure, but still isn't the real cause of weight loss.

Weight loss occurs most readily when caloric consumption decreases. Diet is the key to weight loss. I'll talk about that sometime, but for now, just know that if you aren't seeing weight loss results, it's generally not because you aren't exercising enough (although that could be part of it). Time and time again diet has been shown to be the most effective way to lose weight. Diet induced weight loss is more likely to be permanent when it is accompanied by regular aerobic exercise. Weight training helps maintain muscle mass.

That's all that I want to write today. The main point is that diet is key to weight loss while aerobic exercise and weight training also serve important purposes, but it's not generally the cause of weight loss. Next time I will talk about weight training at home to work all of the major muscle groups, but I wanted to be clear that it is a poor weight loss strategy by itself. Later, I will also address how to eat less and how to get more aerobic exercise.


The Woulfes said...

while i agree that you won't lose weight directly by weightlifting (i'm thinking like high weight/low reps) you can get one heck of a aerobic workout lifting light weights a lot. plus, anything that gets your metabolism up should help you lose weight right?

Not to mention that running, while making you thin, won't make you look good. you build the tone and muscle definition from lifting weights.

And dieting? Ugghhh...don't they make a pill for that or something? :)

Anonymous said...

any recommendations for a pregnant woman who is too tired do anything aerobic? just wondering . . .

Emily A. W. said...

thanks for answering my question. I look forward to future posts. I mainly want to make sure that I have an exercise routine that will get me fit, not so much lose weight. I figure having more muscle will help me feel better and when it is balanced with a good diet and aerobic 3 times a week, I should be on my way to feeling like my old sexy self again. (now don't go post something about how mental image has nothing to do with physical fitness).

Vertigo said...


I think you overstate your point about the relative unimportance of weight training. While I agree that weight training does not generally burn a whole lot of calories in any given session (unless the workout is ridiculous), consistently weight training does have the positive effect of increasing lean muscle mass which leads to an increased basal metabolic rate because muscle mass requires more calories to simply exist than does fat.

I agree that diet plays a more important role in weight loss (which should be called fat loss), but I think the three things you identify, diet, cardio and weights, are three legs of a stool that support fat loss.

There is a Canadian Physician who has a great blog at He would agree.