Less Exercise Equals More Fat Loss – Of Course It Does

Several people have sent me a link to the study that just came out that showed that less exercise resulted in greater fat loss. From Study Suggests Less Is More for Exercise and Weight Loss:

If you’re looking to shape up, researchers at the University of Copenhagen say 30 minutes of rigorous exercise can be as effective as an hour when it comes to shedding weight.

The team studied 60 heavy but healthy men between 20 and 40 years old who wanted to lose weight. Twenty-one were directed to get 30 minutes of aerobic exercise — running, cycling and rowing — daily. Twenty-one were told to get 60 minutes, and 18 were assigned to a control group that remained sedentary. The results showed that exercising for 30 minutes at a pace hard enough to break a sweat was sufficient to promote weight loss.

Makes sense to me. The more you exercise, the stronger your appetite signal will be. Maybe not at first, but eventually appetite matches energy expenditure. The more time you waste running around the neighborhood or on the treadmill takes away from the time you could be spending preparing healthy food in the kitchen. You get lean in the kitchen, not in the gym.

I’ve covered my thoughts on this topic in the April post Fat Loss and the Case For Less Exercise.

Photo by Andrea Zamboni

One thing I do want to say is that 30 minutes a day seems excessive to me. I’m down to 15 minutes a week and I’m as lean an collegiate volleyball player. And I haven’t broken a sweat exercising in several years. The time I used to waste on exercise volume has been freed up so I can spend more time on food preparation. It is a simple economic decision. If 90% of body composition comes from diet, why would you waste so many hours exercising only to return home too exhausted or time crunched to make a nourishing meal?


Add yours

  1. I would even go as far as to state that people SHOULD NOT EXERCISE before they have leaned out by fixing their diet and eating habits. I think I can remember Dr. Doug McGuff saying the same thing in the Bulletproof Exec podcast.

  2. “If 90% of body composition comes from diet, why would you waste so many hours exercising only to return home too exhausted or time crunched to make a nourishing meal?”

    i have never seen it stated so simply and effectively. Problem is most don’t know the 90/10 rule of body composition. They typically have it reversed.

  3. @Stephan – I totally agree in theory. However, I can see how some dieters could get a psychological benefit from exercise that keeps them more focused on the dietary aspect. This will likely vary from person to person.

    @Chuck – Thanks! I had originally added a longer conclusion, but trimmed it because that sentence says everything I wanted.

  4. Hi Michael,

    I love your site and tend to agree with nearly everything you post on, but I differ here.

    Are you really that efficient with your time that you need to hack your movement in favour of food prep? All that time efficiency sounds a bit stressfull as a total life load. People are meant to eat, but they are meant to move as well.

    Is it the exercise you don’t like? It seems unnatural to me to not want to move as much as possible (within healthy reason). I tend to match my movement to the seasons due to your influence actually, but for me its not related to weight loss, just energy needs.

  5. @Mike – I think we might have different definitions of exercise. I am all about movement. Walking, playing and even light yoga are all movements I engage in, but I would never consider them exercise.

    Drew Baye added a Ken Hutchins quote defining exercise here:

    Exercise is a process whereby the body performs work of a demanding nature, in accordance with muscle and joint function, in a clinically-controlled environment, within the constraints of safety, meaningfully loading the muscular structures to inroad their strength levels to stimulate a growth mechanism within minimum time.

    I agree. Movement in itself isn’t exercise until a sufficient demand is placed on the muscles. Because I exercise so infrequently, I actually move more than I did when I spent hours exercising. I’m also pain free now.

    So I spend 15 minutes under high intensity so I can spend hours engaging the world at a very low intensity.

  6. I was wondering how many pullups you do in your sessions. I’m a 51 year old guy, 5feet 11, 165 pounds. I do a set of 5 pullups/chins, 2X10 pushups, and 20 squats(no weights) every 2 days or so. Keeps me tight, and able to dig the gardens, and give me a bit of definition, so I’m pretty happy with my routine. But no matter how hard i try, i can’t seem to get to more than 5 or 6 pullups. And I do them slow, from a full hang, none of that kipping crap. In your opinion is it worth it for an average guy to kill himself to get to 10 reps?


  7. @Dan – If I am fresh, I can do 20 body weight chin-ups at a normal pace. But to me that isn’t interesting. I like to knock out 5 reps and then pull myself to the top and lower myself into a mid-range position and hold on as long as I can.

    If you change from doing chin-ups every 2 days to every 5th or 7th day, your numbers will go up.

    You have given me an idea for a post. Later this week I’ll do an entry on how I improved my chin-ups.

  8. 20 still sounds superhuman to me, looking forward to the post!

  9. @Dan – Legend has it that the great Bruce Lee could do 50 consecutive 1-armed pull-ups. That is superhuman.


  10. Really? 50? Maybe. He was pretty light, wasn’t he? I saw a video of Al Kavadlo cranking out 20 pullups, and he barely made the last one. Anyways, i did my last chinup set last saturday (5 reps). Normally, i would do chins again on monday, but i’m waiting till (wed). I’ll go for the max and see where i end up.

    Is every 5 or 7 days often enough to maintain strength? I always heard every other day, with in between days to rest up and repair.

  11. @Dan – If you aren’t getting stronger and able to increase the number of reps you are doing, then your recovery period is insufficient. 5-7 days is more than enough. As your intensity increases, so should your recovery period.

    Check out John Little’s podcast interview, which discusses recovery rates towards the end.

    I was stuck at 5 chin-ups for years when I was lifting 2-3x times a week. Only when I backed off did my numbers go up. Remember that you are building muscle when you are resting, not at the gym. When you return to the gym before recovery has completed, you are interrupting that growth signal. That might work for 20 year old untrained lifters, but as we get older and have some training years behind us, we need longer rest periods.

  12. Hi Mas,
    I discovered your site after doing some googling for the Power to the People workout. I’ve been doing a low rep workout of squats, deadlifts, and bench presses with some chin ups. My main focus is getting stronger rather than trying to go for a pump to get bigger muscles now. I’ve been slowly getting stronger. I’ve been doing the powerlifts 2-3 times a week but am noticing that I’m pretty sore all the time even with low volume workouts. Would you recommend doing a power to the people type workout less often? I find it very interesting that you improved your chins by training once a week.

  13. @Joel – Short answer is YES, less workouts and more rest has been more effective for me.

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