Many people want to lose weight, but we are creatures of habit, and change is hard. Plus, there’s an enormous information overload regarding weight loss – with some good recommendations, and some not-so-good – so it definitely can be a challenge to know what’s best. Although most of us understand that we must eat less and exercise more to shed pounds, that basic plan isn’t always easy to execute successfully.
Thousands of weight loss training programs are available, and they can lead to pounds lost. But others may be ineffective, unrealistic or unsafe. You can meet with a dietitian, consult online plans, review weight loss books, check out national programs or seek recommendations from your physician. Before taking on any new regimen, evaluate programs for the following.
Weight Loss Training Programs: Tips to Find the Right Program
- Healthy caloric deficit – Depending on your gender, age and activity level, we typically need approximately 1500-3000 calories daily to maintain health and weight. To lose pounds, then, we must decrease calories ingested and increase calories expended. But avoid extremes, like 800 calories-per-day diets, or exercise routines of 2+ hours per day. Not only are these unhealthy, and can be detrimental to your health, but ultimately, they are unsustainable over time. Even if you could gut it out for a few weeks of these extreme plans, eventually they become too difficult and you will give up.
Look for programs that recommend 1000-1200 calories at the minimum so that you can realistically follow the diet and maintain activity levels that enable you to burn calories and fat. Severe caloric restriction can result in loss of muscle, which will slow your metabolism and make it harder to maintain weight loss. Experts recommend a loss of 1-2 pounds weekly; avoid plans that promise drastic losses of more than 10 pounds per month.
- Balanced food intake – Of course, you need to modify caloric intake when dieting, but beware of plans that only allow specific foods (i.e., grapefruit, cabbage soup) or eliminate entire nutrients (such as carbs). These regimens typically are unhealthy and tough to sustain. Also, be cautious about programs that require you to take lots of supplements.
Ideally, a weight loss plan should incorporate a balanced diet of lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, healthy (but limited) fats and tons of water. No single food or supplement can magically result in sustainable weight loss.
- Cardio and strength workouts – For optimal fitness and best results for weight loss, you need to perform both cardio and strength training regularly, and not just one or the other. While cardio burns fat and calories, weight training builds muscle and boosts metabolism, so both are important. Steer clear of plans that simply recommend you hit the treadmill for hours or, in contrast, pump out endless strength reps with dumbbells.
- Safe exercise progression – To lose weight, you need to exercise consistently. And for exercise to be most effective, you have to challenge yourself. That doesn’t mean all workouts must be grueling HIIT sessions that leave you totally exhausted, but also shouldn’t be so easy that you can read a novel while you’re on the elliptical. Smart weight loss training programs incorporate gradual progression in terms of workout intensity and/or duration, using heart rate measurements and zone ranges to monitor your efforts.
Weight Loss Training Programs: Exercise Recommendations
While every individual’s exercise regimen should be customized based on their current fitness level, personal goals, access to fitness equipment and preferences, there are some general exercise recommendations that apply to everyone seeking to lose weight. Consider the following to enhance your success in your weight loss training program:
- Cardio is your friend – Cardio exercise keeps your heart rate elevated for 20-60+ minutes, and gets your body blasting calories and fat. There’s lots of options, including jogging, running, cycling, the elliptical, stairclimber, cross trainer, rower, swimming laps, inline skating and group exercise classes, such as kickboxing and Zumba. For steady-state workouts, maintain a challenging but manageable intensity (equivalent to about 70-80% of your maximum heart rate) for the duration of the session. Aim for 3-6 cardio routines per week.
- Take on intervals – For more effective workouts, interval training alternates periods of moderate intensity with high-intensity bursts where you increase your pace or resistance level from 30 seconds to 90 seconds to push hard. Alternate between lighter and more rigorous intervals throughout the regimen, and you can vary the timing of the intervals, with 2-3 minutes moderate, followed by one minute all-out.
Seek help from a trainer if you want assistance in creating a program, or in determining which interval workouts are best on specific cardio equipment. Or jump into a Tabata class, which follows a 20-second burst with 10 seconds of recovery for 8 sets, or 4 minutes, for each Tabata block.
- Hit the weights – Whether you use free weights, selectorized machines, plate-loaded equipment, kettlebells, elastic bands or body weight, working the body against resistance strengthens muscles, raises metabolism both during and after sessions and contributes to a toned physique.
Be sure to challenge the major muscle groups (glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, abductors, adductors, core, upper and lower back, chest, shoulders, biceps and triceps) for 1-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions. Strength train 2-5 times per week.
Use weights that are heavy enough to make the last few repetitions challenging to complete with good form. If you can easily crank out 20 reps, you need a heavier load, so don’t be afraid to increase the weight. And if you can only get through 3 reps, lighten the weight. Ask a trainer to show you some good exercises for these muscle groups, and to create a customized plan, or check out regimens online or in fitness magazines.
- Embrace variety – Yes, it’s easy to hop on the elliptical and do the same routine, week after week. But to progress and bust weight loss plateaus, it’s best to vary the challenges to your body. So mix it up and try a machine you’ve never used, experiment with a different workout on the cross trainer or participate in a new class. When you add variety, your body must work harder to adapt, thereby helping to boost results.
- Keep moving – In general, we all sit way too much. Find ways to be active outside of formal exercise, and move as much as possible. So take the stairs instead of the elevator, go for a walk with a friend rather than sit in a coffee shop, mow the lawn and garden after dinner versus zoning out in front of the TV and ride your bike to run errands. In addition, stand and pace when on the phone, do calisthenics and stretch when watching TV, use a standing or treadmill desk, play with your kids at the park and do laps during your child’s soccer practice.
- Stay committed – Weight loss is hard, and workouts can be uncomfortable. Undoubtedly, there will be times when you miss a workout or want to give up in defeat. You may wonder if this is all worth it. This is a journey, so keep your eyes on the prize, knowing that your perseverance will pay off with a slimmer, healthier and more active body. Fake confidence if you must, and grumble if you need to, but don’t ever quit. You got this!