Exercise Won’t Make You Lose Weight

Are you beginning to feel like your belly needs its own ZIP code? There are reminders of being out of shape that are hard to ignore. Like when you sit down and feel that fat-roll folding over your belt, reaching out to touch your feet. Or when you’re gently walking and your whole torso jiggles.

Things like these used to mount up to a tipping point for me, and I’d begin exercising. Because that’s what you should do to lose weight, right?

Joseph Westrupp, torso

Exercise WILL Make You Lose Weight…

Let’s start with a complete contradiction. It’s definitely possible to lose weight with exercise alone, a lot of extra hard activity would likely do it.

That’s not normally what happens, though.

Working Out Burns Few Calories

If you’re not trekking through the Antarctic or spending your days training for the Olympics, exercise by itself is unlikely to strip off body fat. The world is full of overweight people who exercise without ever getting the results they’re aiming for.

The reason is that the average workout doesn’t burn enough energy to make much of a difference. Even worse, people often more than make up the difference by eating extra because they feel like they’ve earned it.

Not that exercising won’t help expend energy, or to say that it has no use in a weight loss program. The misconception is that people think all they have to do to shape up is begin an exercise program.

Energy Balance Is Critical

The message is simple. If you want to change your body composition, you must control your energy balance, and by far the most powerful way to do that is by changing how much you eat.

It’s far more efficient and easy to subtract a few hundred calories from your diet than to create that same deficit through exercise. It might seem obvious, but so many people miss it.

Diet for Weight Loss, Exercise to Tune

Exercise is still a critical component of weight loss, though.

When we’re talking about weight loss to improve how we look—by far the biggest reason people want to lose weight—we’re really talking about losing fat while retaining lean tissue. Muscle mass in particular is especially important.

Muscle mass takes energy to maintain, and can increase metabolic rate. The more muscle we have, the more energy we burn, which in turn makes losing fat easier. Plus, muscle is what provides a physique’s impact on a visual level.

We can use exercise to signal where we want the weight loss to come from during a diet. Using our muscles through exercise sends a message to body that the muscle tissue is needed, and that energy should therefore be found from fat stores instead.

During a diet that isn’t paired with training, more of the muscle we’d like to keep will be lost.

Therefore, because the way most people exercise doesn’t burn huge amounts of energy, exercise is better seen mainly as a way to tune weight loss rather than cause it (plus, it does help burn a bit more energy in and of itself).

Not Just Any Exercise

To send the muscle-preservation message to the body, muscles must be challenged with work. This can be accomplished with resistance exercise, typically in the form of weight training.

The exact protocol used isn’t overly important. What matters is consistency, and that the muscles are trained hard enough.


  • The average exercise session doesn’t burn enough energy to cause significant weight loss.
  • Most of a person’s weight loss is best achieved through diet.
  • Resistance exercise should be used to signal the body to keep muscle and burn fat.

Thanks so much for reading.

There’s more related stuff on fat loss here.

Feedback is very welcome, It’d be great to hear your thoughts and about your experiences. Just use the comment form below, or send me an email.

Stay Up To Date

If you liked this, sign up to my newsletter and I'll let you know about new work.

Join the Conversation


  1. This is the type of information that mainstream fitness should be focusing on. Quick and concise, straight to the point. It’s so hard to see people do 30 minutes on a elliptical machine 4 times a week and be frustrated when their not losing weight.

    1. Cheers for the kind words, Justin. You’re right, it’s frustrating. I was half tempted not to write this because it seems so obvious to people like us who’re knee-deep in the world of physical culture. But the truth is many people simply don’t know better. It’s not their fault, it’s just accepted (but erroneous) wisdom a lot of the time. Thanks for reading, man.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *