Monday, July 12, 2010

Follow this equation to lose weight. No, really.

When it comes to weight loss, there's a lot of information out there. Everything from magical rituals involving acai berry elixirs to gimmicky and suggestive full body workouts to "simple rules" to crash diets.
Unfortunately, they're almost all fluff. There's no reason, or no good reason, to spend money on any of those schemes. It's simple physics- if your energy output is greater than your energy intake, you will lose weight. Period. The relationship between these two variables determines whether you gain, lose, or maintain your weight. In other, overly simplistic words, move more. If you want to lose weight, that's all you need to keep in mind. Park at the first parking space you see rather than getting the closer one (this one will make you popular at parties, especially when it rains). Return your cart to the actual store rather than a return bin. Eat standing up. Walk around when you're on the phone. But those are little things. And you aren't going to drop amazing amounts of weight doing them, but they will help. It's going to take focused exercise, which is usually a disclaimer on ANY diet commercial.
Ok, I should probably give some back-story, here: I wanted to join the military after being a couch potato my whole life. I weighed at least 230 pounds (I wasn't a big fan of scales at the time) when I first talked to my recruiter, and over the next several months, by following the advice in this post, with one notable exception, I dropped down to 145 pounds, though I've put some back on because I don't like looking like a zombie.
Because this is going to be a topic I'm inclined to discuss at length, I'm going to break it up over several posts. Today, I'm going to focus on exercises to increase how much energy you put out. Next time we'll talk about consumption, and tricks to reduce it without messing yourself up.
But first, let's talk calories: Another easy way of increasing our energy output is by raising your basal metabolic rate. The BMR is how much energy you'd expend if you just stayed in bed all day. This varies from person to person based on age and gender, and there's a calculator you can use to estimate it here. Now that we know that, note that one pound of fat contains 3500 calories (or kilocalories, kCals, for you non-American types)- so you can shoot for 500 calories of exercise per day to lose about a pound a week.
The single best thing I can recommend for burning calories is cardio- some kind of cardio. Any kind. If you have back problems, consider a recumbent bike or even an arm bike. Rowing is another good method, and many gyms have a row machine you can get on. Lap swimming is also good. Something to get your heart rate up and keep it up. When I was too fat to run at more than a slow jog, I trundled around the cul-de-sac, and as I got better, I increased the distance, until I was doing a half-mile or more. I didn't know how much more- I was just moving! If you can have fun while you're doing it, whether by listening to an iPod or whatever else, singing softly to yourself, squirting random passers-by with a watergun (actually, this may lead to interval training, which is great for that extra burn!), so much the better. For an idea of how many calories you'll be burning, there's a good chart here.
But there's something else that's often overlooked and just as important- weight training. Why? Because, for one thing, when you run, you burn calories, and your body will tell you you're hungrier than usual. So you'll eat more, often more than the calories you burned, and you'll be healthier, but you won't lose much weight. Remember the initial equation? A good way of increasing this is the development of new muscle tissue. Running helps there, but an even better way is weight training.
Curls, squats, and anything else to increase the density of your muscles (not necessarily mass, but that helps too), will help improve your BMR. Ideally, they should be done at a gym (or using free-weights) so you can increase resistance as your strength begins to plateau. Push-ups are great, for instance, but they only go so far- you'll eventually hit a wall and need something extra (if you can do 100, or even 50 push-ups in one sitting, doing more isn't going to do much good). There are plenty of great workouts you can do with simple free weights- my favorite is the Spartacus workout. Or go to the gym and grow your own- remember, for maximal fat loss, you want to target large muscle groups, and change up the exercises every few weeks. You can pack on 5 or 10 pounds on your quadriceps (the muscles between your knee and the pelvis on the front) with relatively little effort by doing squats- and it's great for increasing your metabolism. That said, it's slow if you're looking for quick weight loss- you'll lose weight slowly, or even gain weight, as muscle increases. Over several weeks, you can expect to see a drop in weight as your fat loss catches up to your muscle gain. Also, warm up before the exercises with light weights, and stretch afterwards. Stretching before a workout actually reduces your strength, and can improve the chance of injury.
This post is already longer than I'd hoped for- so more to come next time.

No comments:

Post a Comment