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I joined a gym 2 months ago, and have exercised almost daily.

In the first 2-3 weeks I went to the gym almost daily exercising for about 45 mins (treadmill, weights etc) but I realised this was not sustainable because I was really exhausted. Also the treadmill hurts my knees. So now I'm working out at the gym 6 times a week with one rest day. However, I am not sure if this is the best way to work out, because after about 2 months, I only lost 4 kg. My target is to lose 10kg.

Typically, my gym session is 15 mins on the Crossover machine (http://www.technogym.com/gb/products/cardiovascular-training/ellipticals/excite-+/crossover/3765) on the level 5-6 difficulty (out of 25). This is what I think is the "medium" intensity as I sweat quite a lot. Then after that I either do 20 minutes of weights or 15 minutes on the rowing machine (for 2km).

Is this the right approach to lose weight? Should I do more or less cardio / weight lifting? Also, would increasing the workouts to twice a day be better? (30 minutes for each?) I'm female, in my 20s. Any tips on how to structure my workouts?

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If your only goal is to lose weight, then you should cut the weight lifting out and focus solely on cardio. The other major factor to focus on is your diet. All the cardio and weight lifting in the world won't do anything for you if your diet is poor. –  Moses Mar 17 '13 at 0:03
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I would not cut muscle training to zero. Muscles are burning your calories! As Moses said increase cardio training. But do some muscle training - focus on big muscle groups like breast, legs, back (lat) neglect the rest. –  Alina B. Mar 17 '13 at 17:29
    
@Moses I would love a reference--even a reputable trainer--for the claim that one should do all cardio for weightlifting. But I agree totally with what you say about diet. –  Dave Liepmann Mar 19 '13 at 1:54
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@Moses Calories expended is not the be-all-and-end-all of weight loss calculations. Nor is weight loss really what people want when they use the term. This article is just one recent example of the counterargument to your claim. –  Dave Liepmann Mar 19 '13 at 13:56
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@Moses Why would anyone want to lose fat and muscle? Or lose weight at the expense of strength? (Other than athletes attempting to stay within a weight class). –  Kate Mar 19 '13 at 17:31
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6 Answers 6

The goal here is not weight loss. You can lose weight by chopping an arm off or donating a kidney. What you want is to be healthier, look better, and lose fat. The term for this is body recomposition, that is, changing out body to be composed of more muscle and less fat.

We don't know

The science is not clear on what method is best for losing weight. Many methods seem to work for some people, but not for others. Many methods seem promising but turn out to be tough to make work reliably. Some people just run, some people just lift weights, some people just stop drinking soda and eating fried foods. For other people, they do all these things and it doesn't seem to have any effect.

The best we can say on the exercise side is that regular, hard efforts sustained over several months work much better than irregular or less intense workouts. Hard work and diligence pays off.

Diet first

The first exercise for losing fat is to make sure your diet is in order. Most everyone can agree on the fundamentals: minimize or eliminate soda, sugary processed snacks and desserts, highly processed breaded and fried fast food, and so on. I would go one step further and go through the effort of an elimination-reintroduction diet process to determine whether you do better without dairy, wheat, legumes, and so on.

You'll also want to make sure to get plenty of sleep and have a manageable amount of stress. Losing fat is a lot harder when you're stressed or underslept.

Don't starve yourself, and don't restrict any macronutrient unless you're sure you know what you're doing. Your body needs protein, and fat, and if you're working out it definitely needs carbohydrate. Eat quality foods, lots of vegetables, lots of protein, no junk.

Exercise

Like I said above, lots of things can work. This approach is just what I suspect works best.

  • Strength train at least a little bit, to increase your metabolism and make you more capable of harder conditioning workouts. Once a week is fine, though two or three will work too. Barbells, kettlebells, and dumbbells are all fine, but keep the weights heavy. You should use enough weight so that you aren't able to do more than five or six reps in a set. Squats, deadlifts, chin-ups, bench and overhead presses, dips, Olympic lifts, Turkish get-ups, lunges, and rows are all fine exercises.
  • At the end of those workouts, or as a separate workouts, do high-intensity conditioning to get in a lot of work. This should be your primary focus. Five to twenty minutes of hard conditioning, two to four times a week is reasonable. This could mean sprints, hill sprints, dragging a sled, pushing a Prowler, barbell complexes, kettlebell swings, dumbbell clean-and-jerks, burpees, bodyweight intervals, or a whole host of other exercises. CrossFit workouts are usually designed with this model, as are the conditioning portion of the Max Effort Black Box program. The point is to stay at a high intensity for a relatively short period of time, which will burn plenty of calories. Your workout can be something like "as many reps as possible in five minutes", or "sprint for one minute, then walk for three, then repeat five times", or "five squats with the dumbbell, then five presses, then run across the room, do ten push-ups, bear-crawl back, and repeat the whole thing as many times as I can in twenty minutes".
  • If you still have energy after that, one or two medium-to-long sessions of running, swimming, or biking are fine. This is less efficient per minute than high-intensity conditioning, but is a straightforward way to get a large volume of work into your weekly schedule.

This will take a tremendous amount of work, but also improve your strength and add muscle, making you more able to do things.

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You said almost everything I wanted to say. I would add that as females, we have to be extra concerned with bone density and osteoporosis - heavy squats and deadlifts increase bone density. –  Kate Mar 19 '13 at 20:09
    
@Kate More answers are always better; I'd be interested to see how you phrase similar ideas. –  Dave Liepmann Mar 19 '13 at 20:41
    
@Kate Your comment is very interesting, "as females, we have to be extra concerned with bone density and osteoporosis - heavy squats and deadlifts increase bone density." How would you explain this statement to a 65 year-old lady diagnosed with osteoporosis? Do you think that only "heavy squats and deadlifts increase bone density?" Thanks! –  DrTrungNguyen Mar 19 '13 at 23:17
    
@GetFitChimp My understanding is that the best ways to increase bone density are load-bearing exercise (squats, deadlifts, etc) and impact (jumping, running). The 65-year-old osteoporitic lady can be convinced like anyone else: by researching it, by taking my word for it, or by trying it. –  Dave Liepmann Mar 19 '13 at 23:46
    
@Dave Liepmann I take both research and your word for it. The question here is not whether (Close Kinematic Chain - CKC) exercises are beneficial or not regarding increasing bone density. However, I just wanted to know if only "heavy squats and deadlifts" are beneficial regarding altering then bone density. Thanks, –  DrTrungNguyen Mar 20 '13 at 0:32
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Lightbulb,

Moses already mentioned about dieting, and Moses is right. I don't know much about your diet, but I can tell you that the truth about sustainable weight loss has a lot to do with proper eating and little to do with exercising. This works for all normal individuals (no hormonal imbalances).

With this being said, I don't think you should worry about whether you should lift weights or doing cardio to lose weight. The truth is that if you decide to lift weights, and you burn more calories then you consume, and if you continue to do so, then you will lose weight. You may even get more toned and more muscle definition. Look at the women gymnasts and cheerleaders. They use their own bodyweight as resistance.

On the other end, if you run 2 hours per day, but you consume more calories than you burn, then you will gain weight. This is true with many people in the gym on the treadmills and the ellipticals. It's really all about calories in and calories out.

It sounds like you are working out at a moderate intensity (sweat a lot), so I won't change much. Just make sure your diet is good and clean. Here is what I always tell my patients and clients!

Tips and tricks for successful and sustainable weight loss:

Eat healthier foods throughout the day to include meals and snacks. Try to eat every 2-3 hours (including snacks) to keep your metabolism running high, thus resulting in burning more calories.

Consume the least amount of sugar as possible. Foods like milk, juices, sodas and sweet snacks have lots of sugar, which will slow down your metabolism, thus will not be effective for burning calories. Be sure to read the label before purchasing or consuming.

Drink plenty of water so that you will feel full throughout the day (12-16 glasses per day). If you do eat late (after 7 PM), try to eat good calories like vegetables and lean proteins. If not, make sure to exercise extra to burn those calories the same night.

Yes! Exercise, but try resistance training. You do not have to use actual weights, but rather mostly your body weight to get results (look at the gymnasts). Plus, resistance training has been shown to boost your metabolism. Remember the more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn throughout the day.

If you start a habit by eating healthier, most likely you will sustain the results because it is so natural to eat, and not so natural to exercise and sweat.

I hope this has been helpful!

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You already have good answers so I’ll just add a few extra points:

I only lost 4 kg. My target is to lose 10kg.

  • Body Fat Percentage - Tracking your weight is not necessarily the best guideline to judge your progress. Tracking your body fat percentage and waist measurements may give you better feedback and motivation.

    Because I am assuming that your goal is to lose fat and not muscle, tracking your body fat percentage gives you better information about how your body composition is changing, so that you can determine if your exercise and diet program is on track. Since you are lifting weights, your percent of lean muscle mass is most likely improving. This would not be reflected as a loss of weight on the scales.

Is this the right approach to lose weight?

  • Diet - As others have already mentioned, the most effective way to lose weight is to improve your diet and nutrition. Portion size, balanced nutrition, frequency of meals, hydrating and avoiding empty calories like sugars and sugar substitutes are all things to consider when planning your diet. Exercise is important, but diet is key.

    Exercise - Others have covered the ideas of resistance training for muscle strengthening, cardio for endurance training and HIIT (when you are able) to burn more calories in a shorter amount of time. Each have their benefits, so the fact that you are doing both cardio and weight training is helpful for your goals. As others have pointed out you don't need to do weight training everyday and you do need to give yourself recovery time. (See signs of overtraining below.) Circuit training, cross training, body weight exercises, resistance bands are all valid ways to help you meet your goals.

    You didn't mention any flexibility exercises, so you may want to add some stretching and/or foam rolling after your workouts to maintain your flexibility. (These don't help with weight loss but they do help to keep your body in good shape so that you can continue exercising over the long run.)

Also the treadmill hurts my knees.

  • The elliptical is a good alternative to the treadmill given you have knee problems. At some point it may be worth having your knees checked out to find out why you have knee pain. A sports medicine doctor or physical therapist could evaluate your alignment, feet, footwear, weaknesses and any myofascial restrictions that may be contributing to knee pain. Correcting the problem(s) may help to keep you exercising and prevent overuse type symptoms.

I was really exhausted.

  • Watch for signs of over-training. Balancing your workouts with sufficient rest will help to keep you from burning out so that you can keep up your workouts for a lifetime. What are some signs of overtraining?

Last but not least - Congratulations on such a good start.

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LightBulb,

While there are many excellent ideas to think about in the responses on this thread, already, I would like to register my opinion that there is no "one-size-fits-all" regimen, or type of work-out, that's "best" for people of all ages, all physical conditions, all body-types (by "body-type" I mean such genetic factors as metabolism, and your tendency to have a "natural" gene determined optimal weight).

Also, your long-term, and recent, exercise history comes into play here: it's one thing to be re-starting to exercise after a long period of not exercising; quite another to be very obese and just starting to exercise; another "universe" entirely to be over sixty, and start weight-lifting.

Without knowing the details of your age, your current physical condition, your history of exercise, and more information about your diet, metabolism, sleep habits, use or non-use of stimulants, tobacco, alcohol, etc., I don't think a lot can be said, except to congratulate you for starting to exercise !

But, one generalization I think can be made is that working out ... doing the same work-out ... more than four or five times per week is probably too much. And, particularly if you are "pushing your limits" you need to consider, and find, your body's minimal rest period for restoration.

On the other hand, if you are varying types of exercise, for example: doing cardio three times per week; doing weights twice a week; and swimming twice a week, imho, I think that can be a good thing.

The key thing is to avoid resuming exercise to fast, and too intensely, after a period of relatively not exercising. To do that is to risk injury, and the kind of exhaustion that will lead you to stop exercising, particularly: imho, if you are over fifty years of age.

A key variable you can work with, as referred to in several responses here, is "intensity:" as you probably already know, achieving a certain level of intensity, and maintaining it for a certain amount of time, is essential to increasing "aerobic fitness."

Similarly, the relatively newer concept of high-intensity interval-training (HIIT) in anaerobic exercise, suggests that short intense heavyweight work-outs, interspersed with exercise using lighter weights, can give you quicker gains in strength, and stamina (I have not seen studies of anaerobic HIIT and weight loss, or gain).

Finally, there's every indication that using "variety" in your work-outs, varying their type, and what you do, has a strong effect on total impact and carry-over of strength and fitness into everyday life.

For me (age 69), a combination of alternate days of aerobic exercise, and weights, with two days off, and then a swim-day, works best, but I vary that by sometimes doing a work-out where I alternate fifteen minutes on a treadmill with a circuit of several weight-machine exercises where I do high reps per set, and repeat that cycle three times.

The more you exercise and observe carefully how your body responds; the more you pay attention to your diet, and adapt to a more healthy way of eating, the easier it gets.

My own personal bias is that a longer-term effort involving exercise and slow change of diet is much better than any "dieting," per se. And, for some people, like myself, born with a very slow metabolism, and a large frame, we need to accept that being large (not obese, but heavy, and having more body-fat than other people) is just a natural part of who we are.

good luck, Bill

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Strong Lifts

Like every one else said. Diet is going to be the main part. Look into eating paleo or keto. That will cut some weight fast depending on where you're at. Even eating right though I never got skinny. Strong lifts are what helped with that. It's lifting every other day. If you're worried you're going to get "Bulky" like the big guys at the gym. Trust me you won't. They spent years and years to get where they are with tremendous amounts of effort. Starting out I'm confident you'll see some muscle gain as well as weight loss.

Also - I went from a huge beer belly gut to getting pretty cut and working on getting a six pack. My best weight loss has been from weightlifting and doing zero cardio (not saying cardio is bad just saying it didn't help me cut weight like so many people praise it for)

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Ericobert! Would you mind explaining more on what you meant by, "Even eating right though I never go skinny?" I'm curious on your "eating right formula." Also, what do you really mean by "they spent years and years to get where they are with tremendous amounts of effort to get bulky?" Thanks! –  DrTrungNguyen Mar 19 '13 at 2:16
    
I have to give a -1 because, though I agree diet is a fundamental key, your evidence for using StrongLifts to lose weight in absence of cardio is purely anecdotal. Were you eating the same when you did cardio as you were when doing SL? Was your cardio light, moderate, or high intensity? Did you measure weight lost or BF% lost when tracking results? Did you measure your results at the same time of day? Did you account for variances in workout frequency between the two programs? There are so many factors that could result in SL appearing better than cardio, when practically speaking it is not. –  Moses Mar 19 '13 at 5:43
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@Moses Until you provide evidence of some sort, your claim that lifting < cardio for weight loss is worse than anecdotal; it's a raw unsupported claim. –  Dave Liepmann Mar 19 '13 at 13:52
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@GetFitChimp By eating right I was eating mostly Paleo with cheat days here and there. I still had a bit of a gut and since the main question the OP is asking is about weight loss I thought it good to mention. I know calories in + calories out = weight loss. I just think it's important to mention depending on how you eat now just "eating right" might not get you the weight loss you're looking for, especially since I believe a lot of people equait weight loss with looking ripped. Just my two cents. On the "Bulky" topic, I only mean that people worry about getting huge. That won't happen quickly –  Ericrobert Mar 19 '13 at 15:47
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@Moses Hey I understand that everyones body is different and will react to exercise differently. To answer your question though I was running about 15-20 miles a week (about 3 a day) at a pretty good pace and I kept my calories down to about 1500-1800. While I saw weight loss on the scale but I never had any success in BF% which is what really shows I think. Once I started weight lifting I saw a pretty decent change in BF% and now that I've gotten more serious about it my calorie intake is actually a lot higher. Not saying you're wrong just that it didn't work for me. –  Ericrobert Mar 19 '13 at 16:00
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I would recommend circuit workouts initially to get the best bang for your buck. Combine exercises that get your heart rate up with weight lifting and you will both burn fat and firm up with a little muscle, which also helps you to burn fat.

Since you are having difficulty maintaining the regimen you were on, try three to four days a week - this will help to maximize recovery and give you balance.

Obviously the longer the workout the more calories you are going to burn, but you can do simple things like combining upper and lower body exercises to maximize your calorie burn. (For example, add a squat to your bicep curls.) Make sure you alternate cardio with these strength exercises and you will really start to see some changes.

As you start getting stronger, make sure to increase weight or change up your routine - you want to keep your body guessing so you don't plateau.

There are tons of references out there and with a simple web search you can find a wide variety of sample circuit workouts. Just as an example check out this Circuit reference.

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@ user1205577 You mentioned about circuit workouts, "initially to get the best bang for your buck." I agree to a certain extend. However, would you also recommend any diet changes? Do you think that circuit workouts will help Lightbulb to lose the most weight? Thanks, –  DrTrungNguyen Mar 19 '13 at 17:16
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@GetFitChamp, I definitely agree with you - pairing the proper diet with exercise is extremely important. I didn't mention the food aspect because the title asks "What is the best way to train at the gym for weight loss purposes?" But your point is key - weight control boils down to burning more calories than you consume. –  user1205577 Mar 19 '13 at 22:24
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