I wondered what the best exercise for fat loss was. I honestly didn’t know the answer, but now feel I have acquired a more thorough understanding. As a scientist I ask questions I want answered and work to find the answers. However, all this digging in the details and nerding about does not mean fat loss should be a primary motivation for exercising. On the contrary, if the only reason that you exercise is to try to lose weight and everything else about exercising is a pain in the ass, I would recommend you to stop exercising. No matter your external motivation for exercising, be it health in general, weight loss, muscle strength or flexibility, if you want exercise to be a positive part of your life you need to find an exercise form that gives you something more, that is motivated by internal factors, preferably that you enjoy the actual exercising. If you want to lose weight and you know high intensity strength based exercise is the most effective exercise, but you would rather swim because you really like swimming, than the choice is simple. Swim!
That being said, for the sake of curiosity, let’s see what the best exercise for fat loss is.
There is not enough data to say much about what exercise form is more efficient, whether running is better than cycling for example or a step machine better than elliptical trainer. There are just too many other variables. There is however enough data to make a calculated guess about aerobic versus resistance exercise, and about exercise amount and intensity.
Just wanted to illustrate the expected effects of exercising without dieting. The below table gives a few examples of just how much weight and fat you can expect to lose. Results are not god, and tend to become poorer in time in the longer lasting trials. Many of the results are non significant. What this tells us is that diet matters. A lot.
It seems that resistance exercise is or can be just as effective as aerobic exercise in improving body composition. Resistance exercise usually cause some fat loss while also increasing muscle mass. Aerobic exercise usually causes larger loss of fat, but also larger loss of muscle. High intensity aerobic exercise causes less lean mass loss than low intensity.
The best exercise for fat loss should:
– be of medium to high intensity (frequently bring you above lactate threshold)
– include resistance exercises
– be interval based (30 min of sprint intervals is most likely better than 60 min jogging)
– not be performed every day (rest is important and more is not better than the right amount)
– exercise the whole body
– be combined with a high protein low glycemic diet for maximal improvement in body composition.
That’s it, as far as I can tell. Feel free to disagree. Tomorrow I’m off to the Norwegian Directorate of Health and the unveiling of the new national dietary guidelines. The snack there is crap (usually fruit), but hopefully there’s coffee and plenty of it.