Why Exercise For Weight Loss Sucks

Why Exercise For Weight Loss Sucks

Alright, sit down. Let's have a talk. You need to hear this. Ready? It's reality time.

Exercise sucks for weight loss.

There. I feel better now. But you're probably angry. In fact, you're likely cussing at me. He's an idiot. A fool. What kind of numbskull thinks exercise is useless?

Related: 9 Reasons Why You're Not Losing Fat

Now wait a second. I didn't say exercise is useless. Nor did I proclaim that exercise doesn't burn calories. It does. We all know that. The problem is that unless you are moving for endless hours each day, exercise is rarely the most efficient method of losing weight and dropping fat.

Let me explain...

Calorie Reduction vs. Basic Cardio

Baseline time. Time to compare some numbers.
  1. Calorie Deficit - How much fat does a very small calorie deficit burn in a year?
  2. Cardio - How much fat does an average amount of steady state cardio burn in a year?
We are going to use a very modest calorie deficit of 300 per day.  This is the best place to start for the average man or women. It avoids the tendency to embrace the radical, instead focusing more on a longterm lifestyle change.

A 300 calorie deficit per day equates to a 2,100 calorie deficit per week. Assuming that weight loss comes down to calories in versus calories out (after any initial water loss from changes in dietary carb and sodium intake), this is a yearly calorie deficit of 109,200 calories.

109,200 calories is equal to a yearly loss of 31 pounds of fat.

Now let's compare this fat loss to a typical cardio regimen.

The average hardcore gym attendee is knocking out about 3 to 4 steady state cardio sessions per week. We'll go high here, and assume (for the sake of comparison) that our subject is performing four steady state cardio sessions per week.

One mile of treadmill walking, or about 20 minutes on the treadmill four times a week. This is four miles of walking per week.

Four miles of steady state cardio burns around 400 calories for the average individual. Average individual meaning someone who weighs around 180 pounds, If you're a 120 pound female you're going to burn only about 65 calories per mile. Here are some more examples to help:

  • 200 pounds, 35 years old - 116 calories burned per mile
  • 225 pounds, 35 years old - 136 calories burned per mile
  • 250 pounds, 35 years old - 156 calories burned per mile
  • 150 pounds, 35 years old - 89 calories burned per mile
  • 175 pounds, 35 years old - 112 calories burned per mile
  • 200 pounds, 35 years old - 137 calories burned per mile
Using these numbers, we find the average overweight 35 year old burns off the following amount of fat per year, while walking 4 miles per week:

Men - 24,128 to 32,448 calories is equal to a yearly loss of 6.9 to 9.3 pounds of fat.

Women - 18,512 to 28,496 calories is equal to a yearly loss of 5.3 to 8.1 pounds of fat.

So here's the bottom line: A slight calorie deficit is 3.5 to 6 times more effective as a fat loss tool than four miles of steady state cardio per week.

Digging Deeper Into the Real World

TreadmillNow let's kick these numbers up a notch. We'll throw them deeper into the real world.

Most physique "gurus" recommend losing about 1.5 to 2 pounds of fat per week. Considering that this requires a lot of discipline to stick to, we'll compare it to an equally hardcore cardio lifestyle; something a bit more aggressive.

Let's see how effective exercise is at burning fat if you're crushing the cardio. For this example we'll use five steady state cardio sessions per week. 40 minutes per session - or 2 miles per day.

Losing 1.5 to 2 pounds of fat per week equates to a yearly weight loss of 78 to 104 pounds, or a loss of 20 to 26 pounds every three months. This is a substantial number. I don't know many people who wouldn't be happy with this pace.

Now, it's cardio time. Here are the raw numbers. Remember, we are walking two miles per day, five days per week.

  • 200 pounds, 35 years old - 232 calories burned per 2 miles
  • 225 pounds, 35 years old - 272 calories burned per 2 miles
  • 250 pounds, 35 years old - 312 calories burned per 2 miles
  • 150 pounds, 35 years old - 178 calories burned per 2 miles
  • 175 pounds, 35 years old - 224 calories burned per 2 miles
  • 200 pounds, 35 years old - 274 calories burned per 2 miles
Using these numbers, we find the average overweight 35 year old burns off the following amount of fat per year, while walking 10 miles per week:

Men - 60,320 to 81,120 calories is equal to a yearly loss of 17.2 to 23.2 pounds of fat.

Women - 46,280 to 71,240 calories is equal to a yearly loss of 13.2 to 20.4 pounds of fat.

Here again, we find that a slow, steady, and healthy rate of fat loss is four to six times more effective at blasting fat than 200 minutes of steady state cardio per week. It should be noted that overweight women, because they are generally lighter than overweight men, have an even more difficult time losing weight strictly through cardio.

The Bottom Line

Even a very moderate reduction of 300 calories per day is a far more efficient fat-burner than 40 minutes of cardio, performed five times per week.

The point here isn't to slam cardio. Exercise is great for quality of life, overall health, as an anti-depressant, and as a conditioning tool. With that said, those that are trying to lose weight relay on cardio far too much.

It is very unlikely that even a quality amount of weekly cardio will overcome a mediocre diet. In fact, if your diet is left unregulated you might actually eat more calories per day when performing cardio.

Why? As mom used to say, "You're working up an appetite."

I am often asked:

How much cardio do I need to lose weight?

The answer can be quite shocking. Zero. Nada. Zilch. You don't "need" any cardio to lose weight. What you need, first and foremost, is a regulated diet. Without that foundation in place, it's very unlikely that you'll lose any quality amount of weight.

Spend time dialing in your diet so you are able to lose about 1.5 to 2 pounds per week. Focus on 80 to 90% whole, clean food choices. To this eating lifestyle, add in 3 to 4 cardio sessions of about 20 minutes.

The tag team of a quality eating plan and cardio will work wonders for your health. Cardio will also aid in fat loss, but only to a minor degree.

Remember this:
  • To lose fat combine a calorie deficit with clean eating.
  • To improve your health combine cardio, clean eating, and weight loss.
  • To look your best, combine resistance training, fat loss, and a clean, high protein diet.


Calories burned per hour based on activity level for individuals weighing 155, 180, and 205 pounds respectively.
  • Basketball (Shooting buckets) - 317/368/419
  • Bowling - 211/245/279
  • Canoeing (Moderate) - 493/572/651
  • Cross Country Skiing (Moderate) - 563/654/745
  • Cycling (Moderate) - 563/654/745
  • Hiking - 493/572/651
  • Housework (Light) - 176/204/233
  • Running (10 Minute Mile) - 704/817/931
  • Swimming (Casual Pace) - 493/572/651
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