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The Myth of Exercising for Fat Loss

This question came in from Tony:

“Any weight training regime for weight loss, or perhaps bulk loss a better way to frame it.”

And on reading it a can of worms opened in my brain.

So I have to talk about this in this weeks newsletter, and more importantly, why the question is wrong.

First of all, I did advise Tony that weight loss is about calorie deficit, so adjusting the diet is the change he is most needing.

Then do 3x full body workouts per week and change happens.

Over my whole career as a coach I have refused to train people for the purpose of fat loss.

That doesn't mean folk haven't trained with me with that as at least part of their goals to meet.

One of the most dramatic changes I ever saw was a lad who had 30 minutes to train on his lunch breaks.

He did three workouts, 10 min warm up, 15 minutes strength, shower and out.

He quit the drink

And in 3 months was unrecognisable.

He trained 3 times per week. A total of 45 minutes per week spent on his work sets.

This was less than his previous attendance when he had longer and did a greater number of exercises.

But what he did do was:

Fully commit to 3 sessions per week.

Cut out drinking alcohol midweek.

Was more conscious of food choices.

Tracked lifting progress

The training saw him get stronger and put on some muscle.

The calorie reduction and improvement in food quality is what put him in a deficit and stripped away the fat.

His program was based on Escalating Density Training, one of my favourite methods, especially for those short on time.

He did a 2 exercise superset, upper body lift paired with a lower body lift, on a 15 minute timer.

Tallying up the total reps lifted of each exercise within the time limit.

Next week, he'd attempt to do at least 1 extra rep.

After a 25ish % rep increase from starting with the weight, he would increase the load and start over.

I've written on this method a lot, it's the brain child of Coach Charles Staley and is such an elegant way to train. But it’s not the focus of today’s newsletter

In reality, I could have given Matt any program at all.

It wouldn't have mattered, at least as far as fat loss is concerned.

Fat loss is about diet, NOT exercise.

Exercise is about performance.

And one of the highest performing athletes of the last couple of years is Tyson Fury.

A man at the top of a sport where athletes are famously well conditioned.

If you've ever boxed, kickboxing, fought I'm any code. You'll understand how conditioned a boxer must be to be standing after 12 x 3 minute rounds.

And what does Fury look like?

Especially compared to many of the opponents he has beaten?


This is why asking for an exercise plan for fat loss is the wrong question.

Now, nutrition is not my wheelhouse. I defer to Seb for this, he has actually studied the topic because, unlike me, he finds it interesting.

What does Seb do when a client asks him about fat loss?

He asks for a food diary.

He doesn't test your 1RM or count how many Kettlebell Snatches you can do in 5 minutes.

He doesn't ask for your 400m time

He asks what you eat and drink.

Then he tells you to eat more protein while he analyses your diet before coming back with proper suggestions.

I once read a post by a high profile figure in the personal training world say how we, as an industry, were failing because the general population is becoming fatter on average.

The reason “we're failing “ is because the fitness industry positions itself as the answer to so many problems, including fat loss.

The gym is a place to build strength, mobility and endurance.

Yes, the extra calories you use in training will make it easier to lose fat, but that’s it. It's an accelerator to fat loss, not the cause.

And, as we become accustomed to training, our body becomes used to training, the effect of exercise on calorie cost reduces.

You MUST change your diet if you want to lose body fat.

That is the domain of the nutritionist, not the strength coach or the personal trainer.

What do we mean by change and why is Seb going to ask you for a food diary?

Just like going from no exercise to all out training is a recipe for disaster, so is a complete dietary overhaul.

No, you start slow and easy and you gradually ramp up in training.

Training goes in peaks and troughs, changes as wants and needs change.

So should your diet.

You make small changes, as in Matt cutting out the midweek beers.

Or increasing protein intake as per Seb's stock advice.

Then you make the next change, then the next.

You want changes to be sustainable and practical.

And, just like we, as needed, might increase or reduce the intensity of your training, you can go through stricter and more relaxed periods of diet.

Having these thought out ahead of time is a good idea, but not as good an idea as being flexible in your thinking.

You must accept that real life happens and has to be lived.

There will be periods to “crash diet” to get an acute, if short lived change in bodyfat levels. This is how our combat sports guys live, they crash diet on the run up to a fight where they must be a specific weight.

Then after, they relax and go back to what bodybuilders refer to as “maintenance”

Maintenance is a sensible, sustainable diet that provides you with the nutrition you need to live the way you want to live, including training and including having fun.

Getting a good maintenance diet is probably the place most people fall down. So much so an old Thai Boxing coach I knew had a print out he would give his lads once they started training seriously that would help them learn how to fuel themselves while staying relatively lean and so not have to cut very much going into a fight.

Notice the trend?

It’s the nutrition that matters for fat loss, NOT the training.

If you have a few pounds you want to shift, get onto Seb. You can book a nutritional consult with him through the Wg-Fit site, or if you’re in WG-Fit, simply ask him.

Don’t ask me.

Here’s what I will tell you:

Eat like an adult

Eat foods of one ingredient

Listen to your body

And that’s about it.

Do ask me about exercise though.

I’m good at that….


Dave Hedges

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