Stop burning calories.
Ok, so maybe I’m being dramatic. I want you to burn calories, because that means you’re moving your body and doing physical work. But when we look at our workouts primarily as opportunities to burn calories, it’s usually for a few reasons that may actually get in the way of your progress toward worthwhile goals.
1. You think about burning calories so that you can “earn back your food”. First of all, you can easily eat back the calories you burned in less than a minute depending on what you choose to eat. Especially when we use tracking tools like Myfitnesspal or treadmill computers, we often overestimate how many calories we’re actually burning and then end up overeating.
2. It sets you up to have a bad relationship with exercise, if you’re just working out to get to eat more. Someone once remarked “you’re not a dog dancing for treats.” That really stuck with me. We may exercise to change our bodies – it might be the shape of them, or how they function, or how exercise makes us feel emotionally. Those are all great reasons to hit the gym. And yes, calorie expenditure is a bonus effect because we really can eat more food and maintain or lose weight more easily when we’re active. Yet if we begin to feel guilty about eating unless we’ve done a killer workout, it can become less pleasurable to work out.
3. Some of the activities that will improve your body composition goals the most aren’t actually the ones that burn the most calories during your workout. Yeah, running moderately for an hour will burn a bunch of calories while you’re running. But after you stop, your body doesn’t take long to get back to its starting point. By contrast, when you lift weights, you will burn relatively few calories while you’re actually lifting, but because you’re using so many big muscle groups and doing really intense work, your body has to work harder afterwards to pay back the oxygen debt you created.
This effect is called EPOC, or exercise post oxygen consumption. What it means for you is that your metabolism will be revved up more for several hours after you do a strength workout or do an intense metabolic session. And yes, your body will burn some extra calories from that.
You may miss out on other benefits of exercise.
4. Still thinking about burning calories? Packing on more muscle means your body is burning more calories all the time to fuel that muscle. That’s another win for lifting if you’re trying to change your physique while getting to eat a bit more food.
So all in all, what I’m saying is this: lift weights because it’s great for your metabolism, your bones, your overall health, and will make you feel and look like a badass. Do cardio-based activities because they’re good for your body too. But don’t work out only because you burn calories to earn your supper. Does anyone say supper anymore? Let’s bring that back.
And finally, if you’re trying to lose body fat, start with your nutrition. If that’s not on point, no amount of exercise is going to overcome it.
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