In order to lose fat, you must be in a deficit of calories. Creating a deficit can be done via exercise, or solely through your diet. By using exercise as the means to creating a calorie deficit, you have the choice to utilise cardiovascular activity and/or resistance training.
If a deficit is created without the use of physical activity, i.e., through only a reduction in calories consumed, the muscles of the body are not utilised and you must stick to a deficit below your TDEE excluding exercise.
On the other hand, by using physical activity to create a calorie deficit, you can in fact expend additional calories to enable yourself with the advantage of being able to consume more food. Compared to creating a deficit solely through the amount of food consumed, utilising exercise as a tool to create a calorie deficit certainly has more benefits.
Cardio vs Resistance Training
Besides reducing the risk of heart disease and many other life-threatening health issues, performing physical activity works the muscles responsible for our physical performance and our body composition.
Cardiovascular exercise has a wealth of scientific support backing its ability to strengthen the heart and improve physical fitness. Certain types of cardio emphasize mostly the muscular endurance of the legs, such as running. While swimming requires a larger involvement of the arms. By simply comparing the body compositions of runners with swimmers, often it’s the case that runners have a greater ratio of leg to arm muscle, while swimmers tend to carry more muscle than runners in their upper bodies.
- Fun Facts: Usain Bolt often consumes in excess of 5000kcals per day while training in preparation for an event, and still maintains a low body fat percentage.
- Similarly, Michael Phelps consumes in excess of 12,000kcals in the lead up to his swimming events!
These stats just go to show that exercise requires fuel, and by using physical activity to aid in your fat loss journey, you have the option to exercise more in order to put yourself in the position where eating more is possible without gaining weight!
Resistance training (weight or bodyweight training), puts more emphasis on strengthening and building muscles. Through the use of resistance machines, weight lifting and bodyweight training, we are able to isolate certain muscles and muscle groups in order to prompt muscle fibre recruitment and utilise the strength and ability of a muscle to the greatest of its ability. This is a very important factor to consider while aiming to lose fat.
Eat Your Protein
When in a calorie deficit, the body aims to use up its own energy supplies to keep functioning. Most of the time, fat will be burned. However, if you do not consume enough protein and do not utilise your muscles, then your muscle could be one of the sources your body draws upon for energy… which is exactly what we don’t want to happen.
Assuming that body composition is one of the biggest reasons you want to lose fat, it’s paramount to utilise the muscles effectively to ensure they aren’t broken down and used for energy. The more muscle you have on your frame, the more visibly toned you will appear when losing body fat. If you do not utilise your muscles then the body will see them as having no purpose and will begin to breakdown the muscle tissue and use it as energy. Likewise, if you do not consume enough protein to maintain your muscles, they will simply begin to deteriorate.
How Long Should You Spend Exercising?
It depends what form of exercise you do!
One of the biggest reasons people choose to not participate in physical activity is because they “don’t have time”. There seems to be a misconception about exercising where people believe that you have to spend an hour, an hour and a half, or even two hours in the gym for it to be beneficial.
Fortunately, that’s not true at all. My training days usually last around 45 minutes; they consist of resistance training and High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). I use resistance training to help maintain and build muscle, and I use HIIT to keep my body conditioned and improve my physical fitness. HIIT sessions can last as long as you like. You’ll simply get out what you put in. My favourite form of HIIT is performing intervals on the indoor rower, giving full effort for 45 seconds and taking 45 seconds rest, then repeating the process for 15 minutes. A great place to start HIIT training would be to perform 30 seconds as fast as you can, followed by 1 minute of recovery at a steady pace while you catch your breath back, continued for 12 minutes.
How Long to Spend Resistance Training
As for resistance training, when using a 3-day body part split (Push/Pull/Legs), I usually perform 8 exercises with 3 sets on each. My rest time is kept to 45 seconds between sets and exercises, which is high intensity but allows me to complete my workout in 42 minutes if I stick to the timings.
- Tip: Perform compound exercises which use multiple joints and target a number of muscles to keep the intensity up and get the most bang for your buck.
By using appropriate rest times and amounts of exercises and sets, you too will be able to keep your workouts smart and effective. You may also wish to complete the HIIT training on separate days when you have less time, or after your resistance training workout. Either way, you’ll still spend less than an hour in the gym and you’ll have an amazing workout.
How Long to Exercise for According to Guidelines
The guidelines for exercise in the UK are 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise 5x per week. Resistance training with just 45 seconds rest, and HIIT are both classed as high intensity, so you’ll blow those guidelines out of the water if you stick to a resistance training/HIIT based plan 3 or more times per week!
How Long to Spend Exercising in Classes
If you’re not a fan of training with weights and performing HIIT cardio, and you’re still looking for another type of physical activity to perform, you may want to try MetaFit. MetaFit is a class which is often available in health clubs, taught by an instructor. The workouts consist of bodyweight exercises but still use a HIIT format, so their workouts last between 15 and 30 minutes. A great class to attend in the mornings before work when you’re short on time.
How Long to LISS Train for
For those of you who aren’t stuck for time, you may wish to opt for a lower intensity form of physical activity. Low Intensity Steady State (LISS) cardio is a great way to burn calories. A fantastic example of this method is using the Stairmaster, or a treadmill on a high incline at a pace that challenges you, but you’re still able to talk at, while walking briskly for 45 minutes to an hour. This form of exercise is fantastic for people who have joint issues in their knees and ankles as well, as the impact is low.
Take home message
Hopefully this article has helped you to understand the numerous forms of exercise you can use to help you on your fat loss journey. A combination of both resistance training and cardiovascular training works best when trying to better your body composition. Make sure you’re in a deficit of calories and you’re consuming enough protein while dieting to maximise muscle retention and growth.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
George Platt (BA, Hons.) is a Personal Trainer, Online Coach and Fitness/Nutrition Writer. George’s passion for physical activity and health developed from a young age after having open heart surgery. You can find out more about George via his website or Instagram: @GeorgePFitness93.