You think you’re doing everything the doctor ordered. Three times per week, you step on the treadmill and watch as the “calories burned” number racks up on the monitor, and then you step off 30 minutes later, having burned your desired number of calories, and having gotten in your prescribed amount of cardio. And you even watched your favorite show on TV.
But lately you notice you’re not getting anywhere. You seem to be staying at the same weight and your clothes aren’t getting any looser. If someone asked you, you’d tell them that you go to the gym to be healthy. But underneath it all, you really did expect to lose some weight, right? I get it. Been there, done that.
Here’s what’s going on: With long bouts of low-intensity cardio (steady-state aerobics), your body adapts over time. So if you just consistently log in for 30 minutes, the treadmill screen will tell you that you burned the same number of calories, but in reality, you’re not! In a cruel twist of biology, your body adapts by getting more efficient at that exercise. Furthermore, as soon as you step off the machine, your metabolism immediately returns to its pre-exercise rate. (If you think you can outsmart your body by spending even more time on the treadmill, think again – over time you will find yourself hungrier and craving carbs like crazy!)
If the goal is fat loss, using cardio machines is not the most effective way to do it. In fact, according to Alwyn and Rachel Cosgrove, owners of Results Fitness in California (one of the most successful gyms in the country), steady-state cardio is the fifth-best choice for effective exercise for fat loss!
Here’s the best way to manage your time at the gym if you want to burn fat:
- If you have 3 hours per week spend at the gym, spend it doing resistance training. Grab some heavy weights and start lifting! Body sculpting doesn’t count. If you can do more than 20 reps, you’re just doing aerobics, so go back and grab some bigger weights! This will boost your calorie burn 24/7.
- If you have time 3-5 hours per week to spend at the gym, do weight training and add in some high-intensity anaerobic interval training. (Example: hill sprints!) I’m talking MAX effort! You’ll probably need a trainer to “encourage” you through these! Now you’ll be boosting calorie burn 24/7 and raising your post-exercise metabolism.
- If you have 5-6 hours per week for the gym, add in some high-intensity aerobic intervals. (Example: jog/run intervals.) It’s still a higher intensity overall than steady-state aerobics.
- If you have 6-8 hours per week for the gym, and you’re still not losing fat, then you’d better take a very close look at your diet. At this point, add a long bike ride or run at 75% of your maximum heart rate. Why not do this all the time? It will take away from other higher-priority fat-burning activities.
- If you have even more time, now add in your slow, steady cardio. Go for long, fast walks or slow jogs. This type of exercise is fifth on the list as far as effectiveness on fat loss, according to the Cosgrove coaches!
The Takeaway: Overall, weight lifting is the best exercise for fat loss. And if you’re going to be on a treadmill, make sure you get in bouts of high intensity.
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