Cardio, weights or both? What is the best form of exercise for fat burning?

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Cardio, weights or both? What is the best form of exercise for fat burning?

How many times have I heard people ask what exercise can I do to lose weight? How often should I be exercising? How long will it take? How much will I lose? Will I ever get my waist back?

First you have to be clear about what you’re trying to achieve – is it really weight you want to lose or is it actual body fat and inches? You can lose weight but your body shape could be just the same, just a smaller version, or you could lose actual fat and inches but perhaps not lose as much weight as you thought you would. The Metabolic Effect team describe this really well in that you start as a large mushy pear, you lose some weight and you become a smaller mushy pear BUT … if you lose the fat and inches then you can become a tight, lean hourglass – both are fine but the second is more likely to maintain what they have achieved and will tend to be fitter and healthier whereas the former is less likely to maintain their results and, more often than not, will end up as an even larger mushy pear than they started as, with the associated health consequences.

Secondly, if you don’t address your nutrition you won’t be achieving long lasting results that you can maintain in the long term. It’s all very well undertaking tons of exercise but if you don’t address your nutrition then the benefits of the exercise will be negligible. Nutrition is the key to losing body fat and keeping it off, for example, you can train your abdominals with a wide variety of abdominal exercises but if you don’t lose the fat then you ain’t gonna see the abs! It is nutrition that is primarily responsible for losing the fat, it’s often portrayed as being 80% nutrition and 20% fitness related.

Exercising for fat loss

Traditionally people have undertaken cardio training to, allegedly lose the lbs and inches, believing that long duration cardio is the answer to fat loss but, as Jill Coleman, points out … ‘Cardio is NOT the most effective way to lose fat. And when used in this manner, can often do us a disservice by making us FATTER in the long run’. Whilst yes weight, and some fat, can be lost with cardio and old school type aerobic exercise, it also rids the body of what is metabolically active tissue, our muscle mass, and also contributes very little to actual body change. Added to that people, especially as they get older, find that in order to maintain any losses achieved through cardio they need to do more and more of it which, ultimately becomes unsustainable. Surely what we’re looking for is the best results that can be achieved in the shortest period of time, leaving us free to participate in whatever else life has to offer us.

I’m not saying don’t do cardio and if you’re training for a specific event, or you just enjoy it, then don’t stop it altogether, just be aware of what you’re trying to achieve from doing it and whether you may be able to do so in a more effective and efficient way.

For me, personally, walking is my kind of saviour. Whilst I was living in Lanzarote I was very tied up in my job and getting settled there and my nutrition and fitness took a very big back seat. As a result my weight increased, my fitness levels decreased and I was definitely becoming a larger mushy pear. Stepping on the scales at a health check was a huge wake up call for me and I vowed to do something about it – at the time I was still stuck in the old school thinking of eat less, exercise more which, admittedly, did work initially and I lost a stone, and a dress size, through upping the cardio and decreasing the white, processed carbs and counting the calories. But, I was also doing two other things which I now believe contributed more to my weight loss than just the cardio upping and calorie decreasing.

I was also walking a lot every day, regularly anything from 20 minutes to two hours. Fortunately where we lived in Lanzarote was on the doorstep of some of the incredible volcanoes on the Island, which provided some amazing walking routes for me. Plus I was also lifting weights, adding resistance training to my exercise schedule.

Lifting weights/resistance training has tended to be avoided as there has been the misperception that we, as women, will bulk up. However, the majority of women I know with the best physiques incorporate strength training, and lifting heavy, as a regular part of their regular exercise routine. Weight training will continue to burn calories after the event, more so if you stay away from the sugar! By combining resistance training with walking, plus the initial upping of my cardio, which literally was just running on the treadmill and/or using the cross trainer, I did manage to lose some weight and yes some body fat and inches as well.

But … it became harder to shift the next stone that I’d decided I needed to lose and I’d also started to slip back a bit into old habits, as maintaining what I’d so far achieved was becoming harder and harder to maintain. Bear in mind I was still going with the out dated notion of eating less, exercising more model to lose weight, I was also becoming super obsessed with the scales, weighing myself not just every day but sometimes more than once a day, definitely not a good thing and a habit which I am incredibly glad to no longer have (more on scale obsession in another blog!). I was also stressed with our move back to England, and all that entailed, but at the time I was still a bit behind on knowing all about the effect stress and our hormones have on our weight/fat/inch loss journey – I still thought it was about calories in versus calories out, as my now out-dated training had previously taught me.

Changing my approach

I continued with this approach upon my return to England, still maintaining, just, what I’d managed to achieve in my last seven months living in Lanzarote but I’d reached a plateau and I was thinking that in order to keep on top I’d need to increase my cardio and be careful with what I ate and drank even more, not easy to do.

It was around this time that I was beginning to work back in health & fitness (whilst in Lanzarote I’d taught English to primary aged children at a Private bilingual school, I call it my time out!) and I updated myself on all things fitness and nutrition related. What an update it was and, at the time, such a revolutionary change. I pretty much changed my whole approach to my nutrition and adapted my approach to my exercise – the walking was great, the resistance training was great (even though I needed to lift heavier) but tons and tons of cardio exercise was not so great. I started to do HIIT workouts, short duration, high intensity, I started to lift heavier, and I varied my workouts more.

And the results of this change of approach? Not a great deal of actual weight loss but … two more dress sizes lost, inches lost, fat lost, a waist regained and the pure delight of being able to wear clothes that fitted comfortably, not snuggly or too tightly. Being able to wake up in the morning and not worry about what to wear to cover my bottom, my tummy, my arms! Feeling, and being, healthy and happy and managing to overcome my obsession with the scales and all because I managed to change my approach to my exercise and my nutrition.

Nutrition for fat loss

‘Many people are not aware of this, but dieting has never been proven by research to work over the long run. In fact, it has actually been proven not to work. 95% of people who go on diets end up gaining all of the weight back and 66% of those people end up fatter than they were before they started the diet. And when they gain the weight back most of it goes straight to the stubborn fat areas’ – Metabolic Effect.  Even if you do your weight/resistance training you might have greatly toned muscles but if you have fat and water over them you won’t be able to see them! This is what I referred to earlier on, you can become a smaller mushy pear than you were previously or you can become a lean, tight hourglass.

When I started to get myself back on track, whilst living in Lanzarote, I went with the old school nutritional advice based on calories in versus calories out, I was exercising more and eating less, not realising this was the reason I, in the long term, found it difficult to maintain.

So, what did I do to turn this around? I ate for fat not weight loss, it is, primarily, the quality and type of food that you eat that affects whether you lose fat or not so I started to make sure I was eating foods that aided my fat loss. The first thing I did was ditch the breakfast cereal and I haven’t touched it since, I was an addict to Weetabix with skimmed milk (& sugar!), it was my breakfast staple but now it’s an omelette, a stir fry or a frittata and I do not miss the cereal at all! I’d also been known to have toast (wholemeal bread of course!) with butter and silver shred plus a glass of cranberry juice and I thought I was being healthy! I now know better and these too have been ditched.

I became aware of the effect what I eat and drink has on my hormones which, in turn, affects my ability to lose and gain fat. I have found that stress and the subsequent increase in my cortisol levels has an incredibly detrimental effect on my body. I can eat and exercise in accordance with the up-to-date scientifically based guidelines but, if I am stressed, I might as well be back to eating breakfast cereal and upping my cardio.

I ate to make sure I kept my HEC in check – ‘HEC  stands for hunger, energy and cravings, and when your hormonal metabolism is balanced these three biofeedback tools will also be balanced. When the metabolism is functioning optimally, hunger will be reduced, energy will be balanced, and cravings will be almost absent.’ (Metabolic Effect).

I am still a work in progress and I am still finding out what does and doesn’t work for me as an individual which is what I want to encourage you to do, and you also need to be aware that this will be something that changes as you go through life. Everyone is different and what works for one may not work for another, but there are things everyone can be doing to help them on their fat loss journey and, ultimately, their journey to optimal health and well-being.

What can you do straight away to increase your ability to lose fat

  • Move more, I can’t emphasise this enough, if you have time to watch the television you have time to get up and move, to go for walks. It doesn’t have to be strenuous, leisurely walks are all that are needed, just make sure you are moving more, especially if you just crash and burn on the sofa every night in front of the television. If you start moving more you will find that this will be one activity you will do less and less of, I very rarely watch television, I couldn’t tell you what was happening in the soaps! We tend to download series and watch them as and when or go to the cinema, that’s about the extent of our screen watching!
  • Incorporate weights/resistance training into your schedule, muscle mass is something we want to keep hold of for as long as possible. It appears it declines naturally with age but if we keep strength training then we can help to increase and strengthen it which can only be a good thing.
  • HIIT Workouts –  high intensity interval training, short, sharp to the point! ‘Not only do you burn more calories during HIIT workouts, but the effect of all that intense exertion kicks your body's repair cycle into hyperdrive. That means you burn more fat and calories in the 24 hours after a HIIT workout than you do after, say, a steady-pace run.’ (
  • Metabolic Effect (ME) Workoutsthese are fab for fat burning, optimising and building muscle mass and improving your cardio system all at the same time. The exercises used in these types of workouts are done so in so in such a way that you can build muscle and burn fat and continue doing so after the session.
  • Buddy-up – something that helped me tremendously when I was getting back on track was having a friend who was doing the same. She was in England whilst I was in Lanzarote but we kept in touch via email and messaged each other once a week to chat, tell each other how we were getting on, the ups and the downs. We helped each other stay that bit more on track and focused. If you don’t think there’s anyone you know already that you can do this with then there are lots of forums, groups and such like that exist where you can find this type of support. Remember you are not alone, there is always someone, somewhere that can help.
  • Reduce the stressthis is a definite must, if you are stressed this will affect your ability to lose the fat and inches and your ability to maintain the loss. Identify what is causing the stress and identify ways in which it can be better managed, reduced or removed.
  • Sleep, sleep, sleep – make sure you get your shut eye at night and you are well rested. Lack of sleep also has a huge detrimental effect on our fat loss, not to mention our ability to achieve optimal health and well-being.
  • Relax – find time to do something that relaxes you every day, even if it’s just for 10 minutes to read a book, phone someone for a chat, write a letter (a bit old fashioned I guess in this day and age!), write a journal, meditate, anything that helps you to just switch off for a bit.

Ultimately, as said by the Metabolic Effect, you have to ‘do what works for YOU’, through gaining an understanding of ‘your unique metabolic expression, psychological sensitivities and personal preferences.’

Many of the classes that I run and teach are designed with fat burning and muscle building principles in mind including the Body Blast ME Style, Body Blitz Combo, 20/20/20, HIIT Workout and PiYo Strength & Flow. Make sure you check out the classes’ timetable for venues, days and times –









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Member of European Register of Exercise Professionals (EREPs)