Exercise alone does not work

After being in the fitness industry for 3 years I stumbled across a bombshell, exercise does not help people to lose weight or achieve a body fat target. I used to think that hammering people into submission with burpees, pull-ups and bigger dumbbells would do the trick. Sure I knew that people needed to eat a balanced diet and good quality food, but exercise would be the main method for change. After all, I was a Personal Trainer not a Nutritionist so I had to believe in my product, I worked out a lot and was happy with my physique so surely it must work.

Then I read a very interesting study that changed my perspective. In this study 100 initially sedentary participants either stayed sedentary (about half of them) or began exercising (the other half). The exercisers were given a program to follow that added up to about 5 1/2 to 6 hours of activity per week that lasted for a total of 12 weeks. The non-exercisers did nothing for the 12 weeks except show up to take measurements.

These individuals, as stated above, did no exercise before the study began. As a result of this sedentary lifestyle, they averaged between 35% and 40% body fat (according to DEXA scans). Once the study began, the training group gathered together for 3 weight training sessions per week and 2 group exercise / interval sessions per week. All the training was designed by a top class coach and overseen by a weightlifting coach and group exercise coach, so there was a pretty high level of quality control there.

It’s important to note that no changes were made to the participant’s eating at all. This was done on purpose. The study wanted to test the effects of exercise alone – without diet. In other words, the question became: Without a dietary intervention, can exercise alone reshape a person’s body? At the end of the 12-week study, without dietary control, 12 weeks of high intensity training produced a fairly disappointing 1% loss of body fat. In terms of raw data, the participants lost only 1 pound of fat and gained 2 pounds of lean muscle vs. the placebo group.

To put this into perspective, the group who exercised would have improved strength, flexibility and aerobic capacity, however, the body composition results are awful. If you had hired a personal trainer for 12 weeks, seen them 3 x per week at an average cost if £50 per session that is a grand total of £1800 down the drain in terms of how good you look when you are naked.

If you want to drop some weight, lose body fat and discover a leaner version of yourself you have to make dietary changes. Exercise alone will not achieve your goals. If you do not eat better, you will not change.

Change is hard, but if you are driven by a specific goal, it’s more likely than not to keep you on track, so first of all, find a goal. Secondly, lets break this problem down into smaller chunks.

You have 5 hours a week to dedicate to your goal. You are going to spend 3 hours exercising not 5. You need to spend 1 hour on a weekly food shop. Nowadays you do not even have to leave your house, you can sit at your laptop and order your food to be delivered to your home from all the major supermarkets. Make sure it is good quality and is from the food groups you have been allocated.

In the second spare hour you are going to plan your weekly meals and figure out which nights you will be at home to cook. Few of us are able to eat at home every night due to busy social or working lives, but when you are at home – cook, and cook plenty. Leftovers are now going to be turned into additional meals and tupperware should become your new best friend. Think about the evenings when you work late, you walk through the front door hungry and you look in your fridge and there is nothing to eat unless you cook it now. This is where bad food choices creep in – takeaway anyone?

Now imagine being able to walk to your fridge and pull out a meal that is ready to be heated up and you have some celery and hummus at hand from your weekly shop that you can snack on whilst you wait. This way you are one step closer to achieving your new body instead of two steps further back.

Understand the importance of eating well for your aesthetic goals. Spend time doing something about it. Do not expect to join a gym and be transformed through sweat and tears.