Exercise for fat loss: How hard is hard enough?

How hard you work has an impact on the results that you get from your exercise program. If you watch the infomercials and popular TV programs or hire a personal trainer you are often left with the idea that the only way to exercise is all out. How hard you need to work depends on who you are and what you hope to accomplish with your exercise program.

When you are trying to lose weight how hard you work does not seem to have an impact on how much fat you use over the course of the day. A study in the International Journal of Obesity looked at the effects of high or low intensity exercise on fat use over a 24 hour period. The low intensity, easy, exercise used more fat during the exercise session but less fat after the session. The high intensity, hard, exercise did not use as much fat during the exercise session as the easy exercise but caused the participants to burn more fat after the session was done.  When total fat use was calculated over the 24 hours there was no difference between the hard and easy exercise.

While how hard you exercise does not appear to play a role in the amount of fat that you burn, it does have an effect on how much enjoyment you get from your exercise session and whether you will stick with it in the long run or not. A study done at Iowa State University looked at the effect or how hard people exercise and the impact it had on the enjoyment of the exercise session. The researchers found that when people were allowed to choose their own exercise intensity they picked an intensity that felt good for them and they enjoyed their exercise sessions. When the same people were told how hard to exercise even an intensity that was only 10% more than they chose significantly decreased their enjoyment of the exercise session.

Exercise plays an important role in a weight management program but only if you stick with it and make it part of your regular routine. Most people are willing to put up with some discomfort for a short period of time if it will help them reach a goal but choosing an exercise intensity that allows you to enjoy the sessions will keep you motivated to keep going and make regular exercise part of your life.

The programs that are developed for weight loss clients through this site use perceived exertion to help you set your exercise intensity. This permits us to prescribe exercise sessions for you that are hard enough to maximize both the benefits and your enjoyment of the program.


WHM Saris and P Schrauwen. Substrate oxidation differences between high- and low-intensity exercise are compensated over 24 hours in obese men. International Journal of Obesity (2004) 28, 759-765

P. Ekkekakis and E. Lind. Exercise does not feel the same when you are overweight: the impact of self-selected and imposed intensity on affect and exertion.  International Journal of Obesity (2006) 30, 652-660

Find us on facebook