shorter workouts for better weight loss

shorter workouts for better weight loss

You're ready to lose weight, and you're working up the details of an ambitious exercise plan to help you do it. I'd recommend to slow down, take a step back, and look at the overall picture before you set yourself up for failure.

Diet beats Exercise

I've presented in both my Daily Diet series and my Fit-20 series that exercise, while highly recommended and very important, plays a smaller role in weight loss than your diet. Losing weight by exercise alone is like writing a novel by hand, in ink. It can be done, but it's going to take a lot more time and effort than you're probably willing to commit.

Worst Option - No Exercise

You can lose weight without exercise; you just need to eat fewer calories than your body uses for its sedentary lifestyle. However, exercise (and movement throughout the day) will not only help you accelerate your weight loss, but your goal for losing weight probably includes some component of "being healthy", and exercise/movement go a long way towards making you more healthy.

Good Option: Long Workouts, an hour or so at a time

Obviously you'll burn more calories in a 60-minute workout than a 20-minute workout, right? Not so fast my friends!, as Lee Corso would say. Longer workouts have a couple hidden pitfalls to watch out for:

1.) Intensity Level. 60 minutes may be 3 times as long as 20 minutes, but you can't workout at your highest intensity for 60 minutes (at least not until you're already in great shape.) You'll either need to slow your pace down, or you'll need to take lots of breaks, just to survive your 60 minute workout. On the other hand, you can push hard-core, high-intensity, for a 20-minute workout.

2.) I deserve it. 60 minutes is a long workout, and many people have a tendency to eat back the calories they burn, plus some! 60 minutes makes you hungry, and you end up fighting that "I deserve it" feeling the rest of the day. In addition, protein shakes and sports drinks can contain big calories.

3.) The numbers. All that extra time on the treadmill helps you burn about 300-400 calories, depending on lots of variables. These can easily be wiped out by one snack. Add in an order of fries and you're actually going backwards!

Better Option: Shorter Workouts - 20 minutes at a time, 3-4 times a week, along with more mobility during the day, everyday.

High Intensity Interval Training. Cross-Fit. Combining strength training with cardio. Doesn't matter what you call it, these workouts are very effective.
  • Gets your body moving
  • Increases your overall activity levels
  • Builds muscle mass
  • Builds body "shape"
  • Builds cardio endurance
  • Provides gains in strength, performance, speed, and endurance.
  • Moves your average daily calorie burn rate up by about 20%

Another Better Option: Playing Sports

The mental aspects of playing sports are a lot different from running on a treadmill - sports are fun. Go play an hour of tennis, basketball, or soccer with your friends, and you'll get a great workout disguised as a game. You won't have that same "reward yourself" feelings, because you don't need to be rewarded for having fun!

If you have the time available and the opportunity to play sports, either with friends or in a league, it can be a terrific part of your weight loss regimen.

Best Option: Really long, intense workouts - like Michael Phelps!

Michael Phelps photo
AP Photo
Michael Phelps eats 12,000 calories PER DAY during the peak of his training. Michael Phelps also trains, at a higher intensity level than most of us have ever achieved, for 6 hours per day.

Go ahead and try it. Swim for an hour or two in the morning. Then hit the gym, or go run about 10 miles, after lunch. Then get back in the pool for another couple hours in the evening. You'll be able to eat whatever you want and still lose weight!

Bottom Line

You'll lose weight as long as you eat fewer calories than your burn. And exercise will help. You have lots of options available - just pick the one that matches your lifestyle / desire / ability / plan / whatever, and go do it!

-Chris Butterworth