How to Exercise For Fat Loss

By Mike Howard
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Truth be told, if you are currently active, exercise is ALREADY WORKING FOR YOU. You are improving your health in a way that no other intervention can match. If you exercise regularly, this should be the number one reason why you exercise. If you aren’t, this should be the number one reason why you start.

From a fat loss perspective, I’m going to share with you how to use exercise to enhance your results.Before I begin, here are a few disclaimers:

  • Programming should be individualized. Apply these principles, but be sure that you are tailoring things to your own individual needs.
  • Experience is huge here – if you are relatively new to exercise, take it slow at first and build up. If you are new to weights – learn how to properly execute basic lifts.

Without further ado, here is a basic guide to properly using exercise as a fat loss tool.

Hierarchy of Importance

  1. Diet
  2. Strength training
  3. Higher intensity cardio training
  4. Lower intensity cardio training
  5. NEAT and other day-to-day movement

Resistance Training

Lifting is going to help you save and put on muscle tissue, which will keep you efficient at expending calories. The session itself does not burn many calories. However, there can be a somewhat significant post-workout expenditure as the body works to regain normal homeostasis. More importantly, strength training just plain makes you look better naked.


  • Perform a minimum of 2x per week, preferably 3 (full body).
  • Use compound or multi-joint movements such as squats, deadlifts, rows, presses, cable chops for at least 80% of your workout.
  • Use primarily dumbbells/barbells/kettlebells, cables and body weight exercises for best results.

Higher Intensity Cardio

Get more bang for your workout buck with HIIT (high intensity interval training). This is something to build up to, as taking yourself to this level too soon can result in bad things.


  • Use 2:1 or 1:1 intervals (2 minute recovery, 1 minute intensity, or 1 minute recovery, 1 minute intensity). The intense phase should be very taxing. Repeat intervals 5-15 times.
  • Perform this workout on a variety of modes (running/biking/elliptical/rower).
  • If you are new or deconditioned, begin with less-intense work intervals and/or give yourself longer rest periods.

Lower Intensity Cardio

You can go with either a MISST (medium intensity steady state training), or MIIT (medium intensity interval training). Essentially, you are looking to go at a 70-80% max heart rate for 20-30 minutes. For intervals, consider a 2:1, or a 2:2 work/recovery ratio – making work intervals less intense than the HIIT session.

Day-to-Day Activity and NEAT

Take advantage of opportunities to walk whenever possible. If you are at a desk all day, get up and move or see if you can convince your employer to have a treadmill desk (a tall order but worth a shot). Walk to the grocery stores, take the stairs, and walk while talking on the phone.

NEAT (Non-Exercise-Activity-Thermogenesis), is the energy expended in everything we do that doesn’t involve eating, sleeping and sport-related activity. About 30% of a person’s daily expenditure comes from NEAT – burning more calories than exercise in most non-athletes. Again, train yourself to move around if you are prone to sitting still.

Special Considerations for Dieters

If you are “dieting down” (i.e. in a substantial caloric deficit), you need to take your exercise down. Many gurus and programs advocate big dietary restrictions combined with very taxing, high volume strength programs combined with HIIT – stupid, stupid, stupid! This is a recipe for overtraining and injury.

If you are dieting down, eliminate HIIT sessions altogether in favour of lower intensity work. Continue strength training, but greatly reduce the volume (sets/reps). But, do keep the weight on the bar the same.

Final Thoughts

Incorporating a well-planned, well-rounded exercise program into your fat loss plan will enhance your progress, and in the process make you stronger, more equipped to handle calories, and yes, help you will look better naked!


  1. mikle

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  2. Nibedita

    Sir i am in a problem becouse my Belly & hips is look very ugly plz suggest me

  3. ArrowSmith

    Could you say that in English please.

  4. TonyK

    Sigrunde, I’m not the original author of this blog entry, but when it comes to fat loss, weight training is effective for reasons OTHER than any minor difference in the metabolic rate of a pound of fat vs. a pound of muscle.

    Instead, the difference lies in the hormonal responses of exercise that go above and beyond your lactate threshold vs. exercises that stay below your lactate threshold.

  5. Sigrunde

    Great summary!

    But – since you stress weight training to build muscle mass – what do you think of this paragraph in the Times-article?

    “According to calculations published in the journal Obesity Research by a Columbia University team in 2001, a pound of muscle burns approximately six calories a day in a resting body, compared with the two calories that a pound of fat burns. Which means that after you work out hard enough to convert, say, 10 lb. of fat to muscle — a major achievement — you would be able to eat only an extra 40 calories per day, about the amount in a teaspoon of butter, before beginning to gain weight. Good luck with that.”

  6. Spectra

    Great article! I know a lot of women that do ONLY low-intensity cardio and expect to get major results. You HAVE to do strength training! I tell my girlfriends that I do strength training (both with my own body weight and with free weights) and they all say the same thing: “But you’re not huge! Doesn’t lifting heavy weights make you huge?” Answer: Unless you are taking steroids/testosterone supplements and training extremely hard, you will not bulk up. I do have very nicely sculpted muscles and my body’s very curvy, but hey, better that than being a walking stick figure.

  7. ArrowSmith

    You’re a one-note guy with your weight lifting. What about body weight exercises like push-ups/pull-ups? Those are wondrous.

  8. TonyK

    After reading this article, I went back and read your first rebuttal to the TIMES article (which BTW, was also a fantastic article). A lot of the comments I read were very disturbing to say the least. I’m sorry, but if a lazy person like me can go on a plan of eating right and following a well-planned exercise program, then anyone else can. Some of the attitudes expressed in the comments really do go a long way toward understanding why so many people are overweight these days.

  9. TonyK

    Wow, fantastic article Mike! I will definitely be forwarding this to as many people as possible. A lot of people have come to me asking me how I’ve made such a big transformation in my body. Up to now, it took a lot of effort in explaining everything to them. I think this article sums things up very nicely! Thanks!

  10. Barry

    Excellent post. I’d supplement the strength training recommendation with my own: Lift heavy! Pick a weight that you can lift for 5 to 8 repetitions. If you can get more reps than that, use more weight! Heavy weight sends your body an unmistakable signal that it needs to keep the lean mass.