10 Truths I’ve Learned About Exercise and Losing Body Fat

Happy New Year! It’s that time of year again when people want my help or opinion on “getting in shape for the New Year”. I get these questions because people have learned that I have a few years of weight training under my belt and continue to educate myself on body recomposition IE; getting stronger and losing body fat.

These conversations over the past few weeks with various people, got me thinking that it would just be easier to share the truths of exercise and fat loss I have learned, here on my blog.

I know this is a big departure from posting adventures, but this is MY website and can do whatever I want. 😉

1. Steady state cardio for fat loss sucks! Regardless of the poison whether it be running, treadmill, biking, the elliptical, rowing machine or whatever… The only thing that hours of these activities will do is make you better at doing those activities. Sure, if you go from being a couch potato to running you will get some fat-loss but only for a short time. Countless peer-reviewed studies have been published on the subject so I’m not going to hash out the details of why cardio sucks for fat loss because this article would go on forever. If you insist on running, do sprints. Interval training is a proven effective fat loss tool. However, if your goal is to run races and not lose fat, please plod away endlessly! I work in Physical Therapy and runners are good for my trade. 

P.S. I was a runner for years so I get it. No need to write me a nasty email explaining what running does for you. I know what a runners high is. 

A final word on steady state cardio and ‘weight loss’… Yes, I lost 25 lbs doing steady state cardio but that was riding a bike every day, all day for 2 months straight, over 2,700 miles through the Western Canadian/U.S. Rockies. Here are the facts about my weight loss. It was all muscle! And I’m leaner now (lower body fat) at 200lbs than I was after that trip at 175.

2. Diet is about 70 – 80% of body recomposition. You may have heard the old saying, you can’t out train a bad diet. This is very true! Putting good effort in for an hour at the gym a day means nothing if the remaining 23 hours suck. (Thanks to T-nation.com for those last words of wisdom)

3. Diet is not rocket science. Everybody has a good idea what it means to ‘eat right’ but most people looking for fat loss want to complicate it by using fad diets like; Atkins, Keto, Paleo, South Beach, The Mediterranean Diet, the list goes on and on. Sure these diets work but the problem is most are not sustainable. In other words, they are only for a short-term “instant” fat loss and that’s it. What happens when the diet ends? People go right back to where they started.

Your “diet” should not be a short-term fat loss plan but a wholesale life change in how you eat for the rest of your life. Stop the silly fad diets already and just eat the stuff you know is good for you and limit the stuff that isn’t. If you tell me that you ‘do eat right, with no junk and still can’t lose weight’… If you honestly believe that you are either; not being truthful to yourself about what is going in your mouth or truly not aware of how calorie rich the food you’re eating is.

4. Building muscle is the best way to lose fat. I want to stick a fork in my eye whenever I hear someone say… “But I don’t want to get bulky lifting weights”. YOU WON’T!!!!!!! If it was that fricken easy to build muscle mass, after nine years of weight training I should be looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger (in his prime). Spoiler alert… I’m not even close. The ‘bodybuilders’ that you don’t want to look like, male or female, got there with chemical assistance combined with hard work and dedication beyond what most can even fathom.

Here are couple wonderful facts about muscle. First; For those afraid of getting bulky, it takes a very looooooong time to build muscle mass. People hang on to this ‘bulking excuse’ as if they are gonna wake up one morning and say; “damn I have too much muscle and look like a freak, where did this come from?” PLEASE stop with that lame ass excuse to not lift weights.

The other wonderful thing about muscle… It’s expensive for the body to keep. In other words, it needs a lot of energy to exist so the more muscle you have, the more of food that you eat will go to feeding muscle instead of being stored as fat. Every person looking to lose fat should be working to build muscle… PERIOD! And this is just one of the multiple benefits of building muscle.

5. To build muscle you need to move heavy stuff. There are a multitude of rep and set schemes to build muscle/strength. Regardless of which one you do, it should be with a resistance that forces your body to change. For example, an exercise done for 3 sets of 12 reps should be done with a weight/resistance that has you pretty damn whipped at the 12th rep of the 3rd set.

6. Using ‘motivation’ to eat right and exercise is not sustainable. Sure people become motivated to slim down for a wedding or some big event, but for the long haul, you must develop dedication. Motivation is fleeting, dedication is forever. Sure it sucks sometimes to go to the gym or pass on the doughnuts in the break room, but when you have developed a true dedication to these purposes it just feels wrong to stray from your nutrition plan or miss a workout.

6. When weight training, use exercises that involve as many joints in the movement as possible.  Squats are a good example of a multi-joint movement. Joints from the ankle all the way up through the knee, hip, and spine are being moved. For beginner and intermediate lifters, good multi-joint exercises use a multitude of muscles, negating the need to directly hit individual muscles like the biceps. The idea is to get the best bang for the buck when you workout. Unless you’re an advanced lifter, single-joint exercises, like a bicep curl should not be a part of a body recomposition exercise plan. Anybody with less than 2-3 years of weight training experience is just pissing away time doing exercises like curls, tricep extensions and calf raises. 

7. Muscle is NOT built during a workout but during recovery from working out. So many people underestimate the importance of a good sleep for general well-being. It’s increasingly more important to rest well for body recomposition.

8. Excuses for why proper nutrition or working out is difficult for you, are simply predetermined excuses for quitting later. STOP WITH THE FRICKEN EXCUSES ALREADY! Listen… Everybody is busy, everybody has a food weakness, Everybody has times they don’t feel like working out. Many gym member regulars live a long way from the gym. Yada, yada, yada. You make time for what is important. If working out and eating a healthy diet is important to you, you WILL find a way to make it happen. Plain and simple.

Also please don’t tell me; “I can’t live without my Venti 1/2 & 1/2, 15 Pumps Vanilla with extra whip” (or whatever your unhealthy vice is) Guess you can’t live without those ‘love handles’ too?

9. Anyone trying to lose fat should throw away the scale. I’ve tried to be very careful to not use the words ‘weight loss’ in this article. Even though people say they are trying to lose weight, we all know it’s the dreaded body fat trying to lose. It’s just that the scale has foolishly become the barometer of fat loss or even gain. Chasing a number on a scale is a lost cause. Our body weight fluctuates from day-to-day as well as throughout a day. A rise in the scale number can be disheartening, often derailing an individuals progress when they probably are just retaining more water since the previous weigh in. As an example; I recently had a ‘cheat meal’ that consisted of a half-a-bag of chips, the water retention from all the sodium and carbs caused my weight to go up 4 lbs the next day. For somebody trying to lose body fat, this would be a very upsetting discovery, when it’s actually nothing.

Everybody knows that muscle weighs more than fat which makes the scale just an arbitrary number that doesn’t mean much. According to the BMI (Body Mass Index) scale, at my height and weight, I’m fairly solid in the ‘overweight’ category. The pic at the bottom of this page, I’m sure says otherwise.

Get rid of the scale and use the mirror, how you feel and how your clothes fit to judge your body recomposition progress.

10. Everyone is looking for a magic bullet that doesn’t exist. Marketers have the general population convinced their ideal body is as easy as a pill, supplement, super special diet or exercise gadget, guaranteeing fabulous results with little effort. But it’s all just marketing hype. If they didn’t provide all those wonderful guarantees showing beautiful actors with god-like bodies, (who certainly didn’t get that way using the product being hyped) they would never get your money and that’s all it is, a big money grab preying on a gullible population.

Put your blinders on. Don’t believe the hype. Save your money, use it for a gym membership or a weight set, and wholesome foods.

Everybody knows this but most don’t want to believe it… There are no shortcuts to your goals! Steady, consistent work over time will get you lasting results you can be proud of and a ton of compliments.

There are a lot more “truths” that education and experience have taught me but these are the basic tenants I try to impart during discussions regarding health, diet, strength and body recomposition.

Me and my new paddleboards. Summer 2017

Click here to read Part 2 More Truths About Exercise And Losing Body Fat

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9 thoughts on “10 Truths I’ve Learned About Exercise and Losing Body Fat

      1. Patti

        Ummm, no to your question.
        Great article. Thank you for posting it. I wish we lived closer so I could learn from you what to do. I don’t (big emphasis on don’t) like going to a gym for various reasons. However, I do make use of the equipment in our home gym. I found if I use the elliptical (often if not daily) it keeps my knees from hurting. I don’t do it fast enough for cardio so, it was good to read your comments on cardio. It seems it’s the movement that helps.
        Another fact…weight training is good for older women to do to help stop or improve osteoporosis.
        Thanks for the article. Maybe now I’ll make use of the Silver Sneakers we get through insurance and find a gym that will teach me what to do. Then I can do my workout at home!

        1. Scott Post author

          The great thing about beginning a weight training program is nearly anything you do will produce results. So just start! Your knowledge about optimizing training for your goals will develop. My start into weight training began as a home exercise plan when I was discharged from Physical Therapy (I was in therapy due to an injury caused by running). As my strength and body composition progressed so did my understanding of different exercises and training protocols. The information available on weight training is endless.

  1. Barney Bauet

    Scott, Best exercise advice article I’ve ever read!
    …BTW, thanks to you and Mike I’m almost a year into weight training now, took me 6 months to get to “dedicated”. …your advice and observations are terrific and I’m gonna pass this on to all my mid-70 year old buddies!

    1. Scott Post author

      Glad to hear you’re doing well Barney and on a weight training program. You know that your mid-70’s buddies are the population I work with. As we age maintaining strength becomes more important for posture, balance, functional mobility, range of motion, etc.

  2. Jay Gingrich

    Hey Scott,
    Thanks for posting this from years of experience.
    Back in the day when I was framing houses year round at 10,600 ft in CO, and running behind the house evenings, there may not have been so much need for exercise to keep up with mtn biking, kayaking, nordic and backcountry skiing, etc, and just staying on the sunny side of the ground.
    However now being retired, it really helps to keep a baseline of conditioning. The gym is a default exercise trip, if we’re not doing a longer bike ride, ski tour, etc. When traveling I carry a triple bungee cord with handles, look for places to do pullups, bar dips, puships etc. Playgrounds are good- usually empty-with kids in front of screens all the time, Also, with Medicare you need a Supplement plan, which usually includes a wellness benefit like Silver sneakers silversneakers.com, which gets you a free pass to 80+ % of the gyms, rec centers, and pools in the country. A shower is a plus also when traveling on the dirtbag circuit.
    Doing this allows one to keep doing the outdoor activities at a strong level without injury. Nope, haven’t turned into a muscle freak, but can still see the belt buckle, and if my old drill sargent catches me out of step and yells “give me forty, boy! ” no problem.
    So…no excuses.

    1. Scott Post author

      Hey Jay, good to hear from you. Hope you’re doing well in Colorado.

      I like Silver Sneakers, The gym I use participates in that program. Traveling with bands and portable exercise equipment is a great idea. This past summer I nearly invested in a TRX strap training system in order to exercise during the sailboat trip I took. Turns out that system would not have worked well on the boat.

      I’m so active at the gym mostly because I want to remain strong and ready for anything. Never know when the next big adventure will present itself. All I know is I want to be ready to do whatever catches my interest and not be limited by physical ability. Even if that includes riding a bike for weeks again.

  3. Lara Jane

    Well written post. I can totally to your this point number 7 “Muscle is NOT built during a workout but during recovery from working out.” Great style of writing and encouraging post I lost 20 lbs last year I am aiming to lose some 6 lbs, your post have motivated me in the right way. Thanks for sharing.


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