There was a recent study in the Journal of Applied Physiology, where they took a cohort of 96 obese people and started them on different exercise regimens, as well as a targeted 30% deficit in daily calories.

They were either slotted into four different programs, as explained on this writeup:

All subjects performed their exercise programs three times a week for the same length of time and at the same intensity (51 minutes at 50 percent intensity during weeks 2-5; 50 minutes at 60 percent intensity in weeks 6-14; 60 minutes at 60 percent intensity in weeks 15-22.

What they found was that the weight loss was the same, regardless of activity, as written by the research team:

"The present study shows that, when adhered to alongside a hypocaloric diet, different exercise training programs (endurance, strength, or their combination) or the following of physical activity recommendations are equally efficient in terms of improving body weight and body composition variables in obesity management."

Given that there has long been debate about the "best" exercise to lose weight, how can I as a fitness professional use this information to help the people that I work with?

  • The most important thing you can glean from this, IMO, is that you can't outrun a bad diet. You should remind your clients of this.
    – Tyler
    Commented May 7, 2015 at 2:42
  • How often do you work with obese people? Because that's the only thing this study can conclude anything for: is how it effects obese individuals. I'd also look at how they prevented confounding variables from skewing their results (how do they know that the exercise had any effect at all after the 30% daily deficit?), if at all.
    – Alex L
    Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 1:08

3 Answers 3


I wouldn't say that the study is flawed per say, but it's not overly encompassing and is too easily taken out of context. It targets obese people who haven't done anything, and tracked them for ~5 months.

This study to me is akin to the "you can eat Twinkies all day and lose fat". It's true in a very isolated sense, but zoomed out a bit and looked at it with a broader scope it falls a bit flat.

Ninety six obese (men=48; women =48; age range 18-50 years) participated in a supervised 22 week program.

Further, they were all in caloric restriction which is known by the largest contributor by far to fat loss.

In addition, all groups followed the same hypocaloric diet.

I think the larger take away is two points that are already fairly well known:

  1. Calorie control is the largest influence on body fat, especially for people who are already obese (it's a safe assumption they were in calorie excess before).

  2. That in the initial 6 months of training, you can almost get the same bang-for-your-buck throwing a phone book around a room as you could doing more specialized training.

The difference to me with the second one is that, in the effective strength training realm (unlike something like zumba, as an example) is that you now have a higher basal metabolic rate, higher bone density, are less injury prone, and have the skills necessary to progress to even more effective styles of training.

But why does all that matter?

Because weight loss is coupled with weight management. The less injuries you have, the higher your bone density, the better your balance, and the tougher your connective tissue, the more you're going to be able to stay active and spend less time on your rear-end dealing with ailments. The higher basal metabolic rate is nice icing on the cake.

  • I realize that in your opinion (and quite possibly true) that weight training offers a lot of ancillary benefits, but how do I use the information in the study as a long term strategy to promote the health of clients? What if they absolutely hate weight training?
    – JohnP
    Commented May 6, 2015 at 19:06
  • @JohnP , I guess I'd reply that the data leads where it leads. If people don't want to follow evidence that's their decision but it doesn't invalidate the evidence. At a practical matter with trainee-clients I suppose I'd focus on diet and overall activity (what the study did), and that even a second place choice (diet, no strength training, yoga/zumba/jogging/etc) that people hold onto is light years better than nothing.
    – Eric
    Commented May 6, 2015 at 19:31

Having read what you posted, I can’t say I’m surprised by the results. I think it bolsters the opinion that there’s no one perfect (”best”) way to achieve an individual’s fitness goals. Too often, we lose sight of the fact that we all react to training stimuli differently. Suggesting a specific training regimen or diet modification without prior intimate knowledge of the client’s goals and personal situation is not in the client’s best interest.

Clients (paid or otherwise) typically consult with a personal trainer because what they’ve tried either hasn’t achieved their goals, or, they are looking to improve to the next level. In some instances, they’re willing to pay for your expertise and knowledge with the understanding that whatever you recommend is specific to their personal goals. That study would imply that recommending one training protocol over another would not matter. Given that, shouldn’t the approach of your recommendation be geared toward the client’s individual goals?

I often think about exercise prescription in the same context as a physical therapist. Given a patient’s condition, they don’t recommend the accepted “best” exercise to resolve the situation. Rather, they take the time to personalize exercises that are optimal for the patient’s goals whether it’s return to sports, or, acts of daily living.

I think taking the time to learn about the goals, aspirations, and limitations of your clients, and, adjusting your protocols accordingly, is far more important than prescribing the “best” exercise.


Probably the biggest takeaway is that almost any exercise will work if done with sufficient intensity, and combined with the proper calorie deficit. Thus, clients should be free to pick exercises that interest them, that they can stick to. And I would advise emphasizing that those involved in the exercises did do them regularly and with intensity.

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