Archive | June, 2013

Exercise ALONE Doesn’t Work

19 Jun

Exercise ALONE Doesn’t Work
By Tim Skwiat, MEd., CSCS, Pn1

As a personal trainer, you are emblazoned with the opportunity to help people improve their health and fitness, overcome aches and pains, improve their performance, and much, much more. With this opportunity comes great responsibility. You see, you are not just a trainer, you are a coach, and you are charged with the opportunity and responsibility to get your clients from where they are to where they want to be.

The vast majority of your clients are coming to you to help them improve their body composition — to lose body fat, to add calorie-burning lean muscle mass, or some combination of the two. As a great trainer, you understand the importance of a progressive, personalized training program to help these folks achieve their goals.

However, I’m here to share some sobering research with you to highlight the fact that exercise, in the absence of nutritional intervention, is shamefully lacking when it comes to producing the desired fat loss that your clients seek.

When asked what the best exercise is for developing six-pack abs, renowned strength coach Mike Boyle will tell you, with a straight face and without hesitation, “Table push-aways.” The fact of the matter is that you can’t out-train a crappy diet.

As a matter of fact, a recent study demonstrated shockingly embarrassing results after 16 weeks of a solid training program. In the study, researchers assigned overweight folks to either a control group — where they didn’t exercise at all — or an exercise group.

The participants assigned to the exercise group trained for five total hours per week: three hours performing strength-training exercises with an Olympic weightlifting coach and two hours performing circuit training with a group exercise instructor. Throughout the course of the study, the scientists gathered data on body composition, as well as various other measures.

While the exercisers did get better results than the non-exercisers, the results were nothing short of embarrassing…

The control group gained 1 pound of lean mass, lost a ½ pound of body fat, and lost 0.5% body fat.

The exercise group gained 3 pounds of lean mass, lost 2 pounds of body fat, and lost 1.5% body fat.

While the control group sat on their rear ends, the exercise group trained intensely for 80 hours and lost only a few measly pounds to show for their effort! Ouch.


We could look at a couple other studies that show the same exact, pathetic results of exercise without nutritional intervention:

• In a study conducted at the University of Oklahoma, researchers again had the exercising group perform five hours of training each week and compared the results with a non-exercising control group. In this study, the exercisers performed three hours of aerobic exercise and two hours of resistance training. At the end of 10 weeks, the exercising group had dropped a measly 1 ½ pounds of fat.

• Researchers in Australia looked at the effects of an aerobic exercise program on the body composition of 58 obese men and women. The subjects exercised at 70% maximum heart rate five times per week (each session totaling 500 calories burned) for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, the subjects measured disappointing, “less-than-expected” average weight loss of less than 2 pounds.

• This seems so strong, in fact, that the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Position Stand, “Appropriate intervention strategies for weight loss and prevention of weight regain for adults”, states there is little evidence to suggest that exercise-alone is as effective as energy restriction for promoting weight loss.

While there are handfuls more to show, let’s offer some research that demonstrates the promising perspective of what happens when we add nutritional intervention to an exercise program:

• In a meta-analysis analyzing data from 25 years of research, scientists found that 15 weeks of combined dietary and exercise intervention produced a staggering 22-pound average weight loss that was also maintained by the subjects after one year.

• In a 9-month study at the University of Pennsylvania, researchers separated subjects into one of three groups: 1. diet (D) intervention; 2. exercise (E) intervention; or 3. diet + exercise (DE) intervention. You guessed it: the DE group demonstrated a significantly greater weight loss than either the D or E groups. Notably, the D group also lost significantly more weight than the E group.

• Researchers in Seattle performed a similar study to the one above but added a control (C) group and carried out the research for 12 months. In this study, the E group did lose slightly more weight than the C group, but the DE group blew those results out of the water: DE resulted in 3 ½ times greater weight loss than E alone.

The point of this is most certainly not to deter, frustrate, or upset you. You already know that a properly structured exercise program is part of the equation, and a significant one at that. The point, on the other hand, is to make it very clear that to optimize your clients’ efforts, their nutrition is going to play a huge role in their success — and yours. As your resource for honest nutrition and health information, it is a privilege to help you learn the tools of the trade that you can implement effectively and efficiently to best assist your clients. That will be the aim of this column moving forward, and I look forward to it!


Caudwell P et al. Exercise alone is not enough: weight loss also needs a healthy (Mediterranean) diet? Public Health Nutr. 2009 Sep;12(9A):1663-6.

Foster-Schubert KE et al. Effect of diet and exercise, alone or combined, on weight and body composition in overweight-to-obese postmenopausal women. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2012 Aug;20(8):1628-38.

Jakicic JM et al. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Appropriate intervention strategies for weight loss and prevention of weight regain for adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001 Dec;33(12):2145-56.

King NA et al. Beneficial effects of exercise: shifting the focus from body weight to other markers of health. Br J Sports Med. 2009 Dec;43(12):924-7.

Lockwood CM et al. Minimal nutrition intervention with high-protein/low-carbohydrate and low-fat, nutrient-dense food supplement improves body composition and exercise benefits in overweight adults: A randomized controlled trial. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2008; 5: 11.

Miller WC et al. A meta-analysis of the past 25 years of weight loss research using diet, exercise or diet plus exercise intervention. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1997 Oct;21(10):941-7.

Volpe SL et al. Effect of diet and exercise on body composition, energy intake and leptin levels in overweight women and men. J Am Coll Nutr. 2008 Apr;27(2):195-208.