Weight loss can be an excellent goal, but there are so many misconceptions on how to lose weight that it can become very difficult to know if you are doing the right thing. For that reason I am providing five common mistakes people make when trying to lose weight.
Mistake 1: Not strength training
Strength training is crucial to any weight-loss program. The obvious benefit is that it causes you to gain muscle. A 2010 study in the Journal of health sciences showed that this increase in muscle will help to increase your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR), commonly known as your metabolism.
Along with increasing your RMR through muscle gain, strength training also causes EPOC also known as the after burn. For the next 16-36 hours your body will burn calories at an increased rate, adding to the effectiveness of your workout.
I have heard it commonly said that the people with the best physiques spend their time in the free-weights section of any gym. While that may only be because there is a wall of mirrors in most free-weight sections, it is a pretty good indicator of the results strength training can have.
Mistake 2: Doing the same things over and over again (not progressing)
Gradual Progression is crucial for any weight loss program.
The first time an individual does a workout their body will be inefficient at the workout and will likely have some significant soreness. If you continue to do the same workout over and over your body becomes more and more efficient and the workout that was strenuous on Day 1 becomes easy. This will reduce the amount of energy the body needs to exert to perform the same workout.
This is why people who have physically active jobs can still have a huge gut. They do something daily that would be an intense workout for most people, but their body becomes too efficient at the work they do daily. Take this same concept into your workouts. If you do not gradually progress you will lose weight initially and then become stagnant.
The problem is that periodization is difficult for the average person to understand. A simple way to think of how to progress is by increasing weekly either the volume (reps/sets/Distance) or intensity (Weight/speed). A Simple progression you can follow is three weeks of building one week of de-loading. During a de-loading week the individual would still be training, but at a lower intensity/volume to reduce built-up fatigue from training. Below is an example of what this would look like with for cardio where volume increases and for a strength training where intensity increases.
- Week 1 Load: 8x1 minute airdyne@200 Watts, 4x6 Back Squats@55-65% Max
- Week 2 Load: 10x1 minute airdyne@200 Watts, 4x6 Back Squats@60-70% Max
- Week 3 Load: 12x1 minute airdyne@200 Watts, 4x6 Back Squats@65-75% Max
- Week 4 De-load: 6x1 minute airdyne@200 Watts, 4x6 Back Squats@50% Max
As you can see for the strength training, the loading and de-loading intensity changes and the volume stays where it is. While the cardio workout changes the volume, but leaves the intensity the same. The de-loading week if done Week 1 may have been difficult, but is actually a recovery, because it was done after the hardest workout in Week 4. Below is an example of changing the intensity for cardio and changing volume for strength training.:
- Week 1 Load: 10x30 seconds airdyne@200 Watts, 3x8 Back Squats@60% Max
- Week 2 Load: 10x30 seconds airdyne@250 Watts, 3x10 Back Squats@60% Max
- Week 3 Load: 10x30 seconds airdyne@300 Watts, 3x12 Back Squats@60% Max
- Week 4 De-load: 10x30 seconds airdyne@150 Watts, 3x6 Back Squats@60% Max
Mistake 3: Crash dieting
Most people think that to lose weight they must go on some sort of restrictive diet. Paleo, whole 30, Vegan, and keto are a few examples of popular diet plans. These diets are extremely difficult to maintain. They may have initial success, but very few people are able to maintain them forever.
Any healthy weight-loss plan should involve long-term lifestyle change, and crash dieting is not a long-term change. Likely everyone reading this article knows someone who has lost a ton of weight and then six months later they have put half or more of that weight back on.
This is the inevitable cycle of crash dieting because once you reintroduce what was in your diet beforehand the weight comes right back. Beyond that, these crash diets are very expensive to maintain, are not enjoyable for most people and alienate people during one of the most foundational social events (sharing a meal).
For example, you go on keto and cut out nearly all carbohydrates from your diet. Carbohydrates are your primary energy source for high-intensity activity, so exercising on this diet is very difficult. Your grocery bill is three times as expensive as it used to be because you are really committing to doing this right.
Now imagine you are going to your friend's house for dinner. You have extreme anxiety wondering if there is going to be anything there that fits your restrictive new lifestyle. Are you going to refuse to eat what they make, because it does not fit your diet? Are you going to bring your own food? Perhaps you will justify eating poorly because you have been so disciplined lately. This is not an outrageous scenario and it puts unnecessary stress around food (stress is bad for weight-loss). This diet is not realistic to maintain, and what is going to happened when you stop and reintroduce all the foods you were missing during your diet?
I repeat Crash dieting does not work.
Your diet needs to be the way you eat all the time—the long-term rule, not the short-term exception. If you can eat real food (that does not mean it needs to cost a fortune), learn how to portion control, and occasionally allow yourself to have small amounts of unhealthy indulgences you will have a much better chance of long-term success. Trying to do something extreme for a short period of time, in the end, crushes so many people's weight loss plan.
Mistake 4: Steady-State Cardio
Steady-state cardio is one of the most popular weight loss methods and is typically where people start their weight-loss program, although it is not the best way to have successful long-term weight-loss.
Most people start by trying to jog on the treadmill. For a number of reasons, this is not a great option—the primary one being that jogging involves a ton of repetitive impact. It takes a high level of training to be able to safely absorb and adapt to that type of repetitive force without getting injured. To quote Mike Boyle "You must be fit to run, you cannot run to get fit."
This repetitive impact can lead to a number of overuse injuries in an untrained individual such as patellar tendonitis, plantar fasciitis and shin splints. For someone who is trying to lose weight an injury is going to derail any progress that may have initially been made.
You may argue there are low-impact versions of steady-state cardio, which is very true.
There are drawbacks to this method as well though. Firstly, it is not time efficient. Most people do not have a lot of extra time to devote to training, so getting the most bang for your buck is crucial for any weight-loss program.
The other major drawback is the endocrine (hormonal) response to steady-state cardio. Cortisol is a catabolic (breakdown) hormone that controls blood sugar (via storage of carbohydrates, and reduced sensitivity to insulin), reduces inflammation, regulates metabolism and memory function. It is crucial for health and is secreted during any form of exercise. The problem is that moderate-high intensity (the intensity you need to be at to realistically lose weight) steady-state cardio has shown to cause increased secretion of cortisol. Hypersecretion of cortisol causes weight gain (specifically in the mid-section, face, and neck), but that is not going to be caused solely by steady-state cardio for a beginner. The bigger issue is that increased cortisol secretion can cause weakened muscles. Cortisol causes protein to be taken from the muscle and used to resynthesize glycogen, which in turn causes loss of muscle mass and strength.
As I described with the first mistake, gaining muscle is crucial for weight loss and long-term health. People attempting to lose weight need efficiency and continued gradual growth and productivity. Steady-state cardio hinders all of these goals and can derail an attempt at losing weight.
The alternative to steady-state cardio, which has grown in popularity over the past decade, is HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). This involves short intervals of work at a high intensity followed by a specific and intentional rest period. A meta-analysis published in 2019 on the Effects of HIIT vs. MICT (Moderate Intensity Continuous Training), found that HIIT took an average of 9.7 minutes less per session and was superior in improving cardiopulmonary fitness when energy expenditure (calories burned) was the same. HIIT training is better for heart health in less time. One drawback that I will mention is that HIIT is way more difficult than steady-state cardio. It is much easier to ride an elliptical or a spin bike for an hour than to do a 20-minute HIIT workout. That being said weight-loss is not easy and if you truly want to lose weight taking the easy road likely won't get you there.
Mistake 5: Too much too Soon
This is the most detrimental mistake the average person trying to lose weight will make.
Making multiple big lifestyle changes at the same time very rarely works out. Going from sedentary to working out five days a week is not sustainable in the same way that crash dieting is not sustainable. Even if you are mentally tough enough to sustain it your body will likely give out, and an injury will crush anyone's weight-loss program.
I see so many people with great intentions for weight loss that give up after a month because it is too difficult. I said in the previous section that it will not be an easy road to weight loss, and that is true. The hardest part about the road though is that it is long.
We all want quick fixes to whatever issues we may have, but in life and in weight-loss the quick fix is rarely the best thing for us. To Truly have healthy, long-term, sustainable weight loss you must make healthy, long-term, sustainable lifestyle changes.
Instead of cutting out all carbs why not try to reduce the number of times you eat out to 1-2 times a week. Your health and wallet will thank you. Instead of going to the gym five days a week try going 1-2 times a week for a month to acclimate your body to training before adding in another 1-2 days a week after that.
This does not mean to be sedentary on the days you are not specifically training. You need to make lifestyle changes to make yourself more active. For example, you can go for a walk on the days that you are not at the gym or pick up an active hobby like hiking or a sport to add physical activity into your everyday life. If you have a desk job try getting a standing desk and go for a walk on your lunch break.
These are not crazy changes and the number on the scale will not drop instantly. This though is the way that you don't get burnt out on your weight-loss program. If you want to change your life you need to change the way you live.
These five mistakes I see all the time from friends and clients whop want to lose weight. They are things that are easy to correct. With proper strength training followed by an interval of HIIT Training, increases in daily physical activity, minor tweaks to the way you eat, and gradual progressions over time you can truly lose weight gain muscle and live a healthier life.
Photo Credit: pidjoe/iStock
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