By: Alison Dunn Feb 04, 2011
  Article

Think working out will help you lose weight? Make sure you’re doing it right.

If you want to lose weight, you probably already know that’s best done in two parts: watching what you eat and exercising. But that’s often easier said than done.

“To lose one pound a week, you need to create a calorie deficit of 3,500 calories,” says Sue Abell, a personal trainer and creator of the Tread Powerfully fitness concept. “That means every day, you need to create a 500 calorie deficit. How are you going to do that?”

Abell recommends you cut 250 calories from your diet, and then burn another 250 calories through exercise. It’s a simple equation but not always easy. Far too often, people underestimate what they’re eating and overestimate the amount they’re burning through exercise – both of which equal a weight loss plateau.

Burning 250 calories a day through exercise doesn’t have to be hard. If you do it right, you’ll find you’re burning those calories with no problem. If you want your fitness routine to support your weight loss, get the go-ahead from your doctor to exercise. Then try following these guidelines:

Get out of your comfort zone: Instead of investing in a fancy heart rate monitor, Abell recommends using something called “perceived rate of exertion” to gauge how hard you’re working during a workout. Use a scale of one to 10, with one being the amount of energy it takes to walk around the block and 10 being such vigorous exercise that you cannot speak. Aim for between seven and an eight for your workout – where you can speak a sentence, but can’t carry on a full conversation. That’s when your body will start to say, “This is new – I need to use some more energy (i.e. burn calories).”

Don’t overestimate: We’ve all done it: hopped on the treadmill or elliptical trainer, worked out for 20 minutes or so and marveled at how many calories the machine says we’ve burned. The problem is that number is often overestimated and doesn’t take into account factors like your gender, age, weight and height. Instead, Abell recommends you try to get an accurate estimate of how many calories you burn by using an online activity calculator that requires you to enter your gender, weight, etc. (Check out one online activity calculator at about.com.) This way, you won’t overestimate how many calories you’re burning during an activity.

Make it sustainable: Yes, you want to burn calories, but don’t go too gung-ho on your activity – you’ll never be able to sustain that level of activity in the long term. “Be reasonable,” Abell advises. “If you say, I’m going to five spinning classes a week, that’s going to last two weeks. After that, your legs will be fried and you’re going to give up.”

Don’t sweat it: Sweating during an activity is great, but don’t automatically assume that the amount of sweat you produce equals a huge calorie burn. “Sweat is just water weight,” Abell says. “You should be replacing that water during and after your workout. Sweat loss does not equal fat loss.” How much you sweat also depends on where you’re doing an activity. For example, you’ll sweat a ton during a gentle hot yoga class, but you won’t burn a ton of calories. Or, you may not sweat very much on an outdoor run in the middle of winter, but you may burn a decent amount of calories.

Keep it varied: The more you do an activity, the more your body gets used to it – and therefore it burns fewer calories. An experienced marathon runner, for example, will burn fewer calories on a 10K run than a new runner because the marathoner’s body is far more used to running. By changing up your workout from time to time, you’ll keep putting new stress on the body and it won’t adapt by expending fewer calories.

A journalist with more than 10 years experience, Alison’s work has appeared in a number of top Canadian publications, including glow, Oxygen, Canadian Running and more. She is the former editor of a number of well-respected Canadian and American trade journals and recipient of a Kenneth R. Wilson Gold Award of Excellence in feature article writing. She is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College’s journalism department, as well as an avid runner and fitness enthusiast.