Exercise Efficiency and Fat Loss

personal training st. john's
It was a hot and humid 30-degrees Celsius when we were running and all I could think about was “Don’t over heat! Don’t over heat!”

We were on a one-week vacation down in the Dominican Republic from the arctic St. John’s, Newfoundland. Apart from the 40-degree temperature difference from where we came from, the humidity was probably the worst part, as we weren’t used to it.

So just as a car that overheats and has to stop, I was trying to run as efficiently as I could so I didn’t waste energy and produce excess heat. The car-human analogy works really well actually. At the beginning of your running career, your physiological systems are like a fuel-guzzling diesel engine. Your runs burn a ton of calories and your running economy is well, lacking.

With training, your cardiovascular system adapts to the training stress and develops more capillaries, your heart pumps more blood per beat, you produce more oxygen carrying red blood cells and so on. Essentially, your body is trying to be more efficient at delivering oxygen to your working muscles and ridding these working muscles of metabolic byproducts. As this process becomes more efficient, the easier your runs feel and the fewer calories you burn at the same submaximal pace. Overtime, you turn your body into a fuel-efficient Toyota Prius, which is able to go further with less fuel.

This is why running for fat loss doesn’t work forever.

For the most part, to lose fat, you need to eater fewer calories than you expend. People commonly use exercise, weight lifting or cardiovascular activity e.g. running, ellipticaling, swimming, etc., to bump up the calories-expended part of the equation. (Note: the major method for expending calories is your basal metabolic rate, which is the energy your body and brain need to survive – digestion and non-exercise activity thermogenesis also play a role in the number of calories expended, but we’ll save that explanation for another day)

So in the beginning of a runner’s career, the amount of calories expended is quite large compared to the amount expended after the body starts to adapt. Just picture how you felt after running 20-minutes around a few blocks to how you feel now, running the same distance at the same pace – you obviously feel better after training.

To put a quantity on this, say you expended 300 calories during that 20-mintue run 6 months ago. After training, your body might only expend 100-150 calories running that same 20-minute run today.

So the bottom line here is that you need to adjust the volume or intensity of your runs to burn more calories with each run.

Lifting weights is no different.

As you learn the skills of weight lifting, your form improves over time and you can lift more weight. For example, you use less energy to perform a deadlift or a bench press (at the same submaximal weight) compared to when you first started. Essentially your body improves the neuromuscular communication between your brain and the involved and non-involved muscles, thus making your actions more precise. Your body also increases the amount of muscle you have, which increases your strength and further makes submaximal weights feel easier.

So similar to running, you will expend more calories lifting weights when you’re new versus after several months of training AKA skill practice.

Now put this in the context of fat loss. If you don’t change your diet and just attack your fat loss goals with exercise (weights and/or cardio) and don’t progress your workouts, you’ll burn less fuel and have less of an impact on the calories in/calories out equation over time.

This is why you need to incorporate a few more strategies to your fat loss plan:

1) Have a look at the quantity of food/liquid/food-like substances you consume daily. My Fitness Pal is a free app you can download to estimate how many calories you should consume per day. Eat below this estimated number and you should technically lose weight.

2) Progress your exercises (weights and cardio) overtime so you can continue to develop muscle, strength and your cardiovascular system. Approach exercise not as a calorie burner, but as a method to improve overall health and body composition – lifting weights and getting stronger will increase the amount of lean mass you have e.g. MUSCLE! Where you have the most control of your calories in/calories out equation is in the kitchen.

So were we running for fat loss in the Dominican? No, because I was trying to expend as little energy as possible AKA calories to get through that run. Exercise is a great addition to any fat loss plan, but it’s not the only strategy you should apply. In Lose it Right by James Fell, he states, “…if you’re counting on exercise as your sole or primary weight loss tool, you’ve given yourself a pretty steep challenge no matter how you attempt it.”

Your body becomes more efficient at exercising so progress wisely and adjust food consumption accordingly. Good luck!

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BUNDLE_LWF 2 GSF 2 SquareIf you’re interested in learning new workouts, my friend Jen Sinkler just released Lift Weights Faster 2 this week. Jen put a ton of work into this fantastic product that provides a resource that anyone could dive into and feel at home with. Whether you’re seeking fat loss or performance gains (or of course, both!), her workouts are designed to fit your needs, time and equipment.

I was even asked to contribute one of my favorite conditioning workouts ☺

Learn more about Lift Weights Faster 2 here: www.JKConditioning.com/liftsweightsfaster2

photo credit: Famous Health Studio via photopin (license)

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