Personal factors often determine how much fat you burn
During my long career in the fitness industry, one of the most common questions I hear is, “what exercise is best to burn body fat?”
If you had asked me this question 25 years ago I would have probably said either cross country skiing or running at 10 kph. The reason I would have picked these two activities is that they were consistently at the top of most charts that would list estimated calories burnt for a particular activity. Today, I would answer this question differently.
Before we get to my answer, we need to understand that fat is used as a fuel source when your energy output (exercise and daily movement) exceeds the amount of energy you put into your body (food and drink). When it comes to exercise, the key is to burn calories. A calorie is a unit of heat energy. If you ask your body to do something that gets your heart rate elevated very high, in combination with many muscles contracting intensely, you will burn many calories.
The question becomes, in a 60-minute workout, what activity burns the most calories in that time period? The answer is: Anything that motivates you to get most of your muscles contracting and heart rate at maximum.
If someone was so inclined they could jump up and down as fast as possible flapping their arms wildly for an hour and they would burn an insane amount of calories. The reality is who would ever do that? You would think after a minute or two the person would get either really bored or wonder if their families are booking a room for them in a mental institute.
The amount of calories expended goes up the harder you make your body work. Some factor would have to exist that would make you want to put your body through some very hard work. Here are three factors that are key motivators for someone to go out and push their body to the ultimate limits of exhaustion—all for the ultimate goal of becoming leaner.
When you are enjoying yourself time seems to pass by more quickly. Here’s a few scenarios. Person #1, l will call her Nikki, walks on a treadmill alone in the basement of her home. Trying to lose a few pounds, she watches the time click by very slowly. A 60-minute workout feels like it took double that time to complete. A combination of boredom and no one around to visit with makes it unmotivating for Nikki to keep the elevation and speed high on the treadmill. She may finish the 60 minutes, but she could have worked much harder.
Person #2, I will call her Tara, meets with her neighbour and together they embark on an outdoor walk around the trails in their community. The cool, crisp morning air, the beautiful scenery, plus trying to keep up with her friend makes the workout enjoyable and challenging. The time passed is not even noticed. Tara even looks forward to their next walk together. The bottom line is the exercise you pick for weight loss should provide you with physical and mental pleasure. If it does not, you will not work hard and are more likely to be inconsistent with your exercise.
The activity you pick should have a goal other than just weight loss. Keeping your mind engaged in the moment and not wandering off thinking about the stresses in your life is vital for intensity and consistency. The number one choice of activity for me to stay lean is sports. I love playing hockey, any racquet sport and bike racing. When you are engaged in sport, your mind is focused on the objective of that activity. Competition against others or the clock gives you a reason to work and move vigorously.
Pick an activity that will make you better at something that is important to you. If you can develop a skill set or specific fitness that matters to something going on in your life you are more likely to not miss the exercise sessions and focus on getting better. The fat loss now becomes a by product of your activity choice not the focus. Here are some examples:
Your husband and children are fit and proficient at cycling.
You have not been on your bike since you were a child. They want to cycle 50 kilometres to the family farm. You want to be a part of the adventure, but your weight, fitness and bike skills are lacking. Picking cycling as your activity to lose weight is a great idea because at the same time you develop a skill, are spending quality time with your family and are a great role model for your children.
You are a stay at home mother.
The hardest parts of your day are carrying laundry up the stairs and moving furniture around to vacuum underneath. You struggle because your muscles lack the strength necessary to accomplish the tasks more easily. Picking weight training as your activity to lose weight is a great idea. You build muscle to make your daily routine feel less exhausting. You are able to accomplish more plus feel less lethargic at day’s end. Simultaneously, your increased muscle tissue helps to boost your metabolism, further contributing to fat loss.
“Keeping your mind engaged in the moment and not wandering off thinking about the stresses in your life is vital for intensity and consistency.”
It amuses me to watch infomercials selling fitness equipment to help people lose weight. They place really good looking lean people on the equipment, show how convenient the piece is to use plus promise amazing results easily and quickly. Whether you use a stationary bike, treadmill, rower, tread climber, Bowflex, elliptical, stair climber or whatever…. it does not matter. When it comes to fat loss, burning calories is all that matters. The more you can burn during the time you are exercising the more fat loss will eventually occur. To burn a calorie you have to increase your body’s temperature. If you want to burn many calories thus decreasing the size of many fat cells you have to make your body work long and hard. Will you be motivated to kick your own ass consistently over and over again walking on your treadmill in the basement of your home? Probably not. Plus, don’t think the model on the infomercial did that either.