Here's Why You Might Want to Skip a Workout

written by Carrie Borzillo - Oct 18, 2021
medically reviewed by Dr. Tolulope Olabintan, MD - Nov 22, 2021

Photo Credit: by Bruce Mars, by
Photo Credit: by Bruce Mars, by

We’ve heard a lot of “rules” for managing our diets and exercise routines. “Calories in, calories out” is a diet mainstay where you’re supposed to burn as many calories as you eat in a day. “Eat less, exercise more” is another. This is where you’re supposed to burn off more calories than you eat. And then there are the thoughts of “I run for beer” or “I run for cake,” in which people are trying to just burn off the extra treats and excess calories they desire.

These ways don’t necessarily work, and of course, no singular diet theory is a one-size-fits-all anyway. There is new research that shows more physical activity doesn’t necessarily mean more calories burned. This study, which was published in ScienceDirect this August, found that our bodies compensate for calories burned which could work against those trying to lose weight.

Additionally, the study also reported “as we get fatter, our body might compensate more strongly for the calories burned during activity, making losing fat progressively more difficult. Determining the causality of the relationship between energy compensation and adiposity will be key to improving public health strategies regarding obesity.”

Food vs. Exercise

This begs the question: What should the ratio of eating and exercise be to lose weight? The bottom line is this: No article, podcast, or book can give you this specific answer. Weight loss has less to do with cookie-cutter advice, and more to do with a specific plan for your gender, age, weight, height, medical history, and even your workout history.

To the latter point, the body can build up a tolerance to your typical workouts and if for instance running used to help you lose weight when you were younger, it might not help you the same way when you are older. Going to a doctor to get bloodwork done to check your overall health, as well as your hormones and thyroid which can have a lot to do with weight loss, is really step one in your process.

Here’s an easy way to look at it, as reported by Waverly Oaks Athletic Club: “Your body’s metabolism is really smart and wants you to survive. Think about it this way: in terms of evolution, your body wanted to hold on to fat stores in case of famine. When you slash calories and over-exercise (especially by doing lots of cardio), your body has compensatory mechanisms to protect your fat stores. First, your body sends signals to your brain saying, ‘Uh oh, Jane isn’t getting enough food. I’m going to make her really hungry to get her to seek food and keep her from losing her fat stores, which will keep me alive.’ That’s why, after a long day or week of eating veggies and lean protein, you are so hungry that you have absolutely no willpower, eating anything not nailed down to the floor.”

Cardio vs. Weightlifting

Doing a lot of cardio workouts can trigger hunger and cravings to make up for all the calories you’re burning. Because of this, many fitness and diet experts are going back to a more traditional way of working out with old-school weights. And they are NOT advising everyone to work out harder, or even to work out every day. It’s more about working out smarter to burn more fat and build more muscle, and that, they say, is through weightlifting.

“It’s not about burning more calories necessarily, but instead about converting fat to muscle that burns more while at rest – ultimately increasing your basal metabolic rate. Lifting weights is a game changer for weight loss and toning. It changes your metabolism, so that we don’t need to work out for hours to see the changes we desire,” says certified fitness trainer Joel Freeman, who is the creator of LIIFT4, one of Beachbody’s top streaming programs.

Studies have shown that weight training may improve your metabolism over time and that it’s generally more effective than cardio at increasing the number of calories you burn after a workout. One study that measured men and women’s resting metabolisms over 24 weeks of weight training resulted in a 9% increase in resting metabolism for men and 4% in women.

Freeman suggests doing workouts with compound movements that work large groups of muscles at once for more burn and bigger strength gains. If you use heavy weights, your body keeps burning calories all day. “Your muscles will burn more calories throughout the day lifting weights than just with a cardio workout,” said Freeman in a recent interview with Los Angeles television station KTLA.

Weightlifting Tips

1. Ask a Pro: Consult your doctor, a certified fitness trainer, and/or nutritionist before embarking on any new diet or new workout routine.

2. Gear Up: This is not something you want to do barefoot because if you drop a weight, you can easily break a toe. Any sneaker with good traction will do.

3. Start Easy: Begin your weightlifting adventure with either no weights, just using your body as resistance, or light hand weights (1-3 pounds each) and work your way up to heavier weights gradually. The way to know if you’re ready to move onto heavier weights is simple: Is it too easy for you? Do you not feel the burn anymore? If you answered yes to either question, move up to the next weight category, which is normally going from 1-3-pound weights to 5-pounders to 8-pounders to 10-pounders to 15 or 20 pounders.

4. Stretch Before & After: As with any workout, you need to warm up the body with stretches before and after weightlifting.

5. Practice Good Form: There are literally thousands of free videos online (whether it’s on social media, YouTube, or fitness magazine websites) to teach you the correct form to use when lifting weights, as well as instructional videos for before and after stretches and full weight workouts. Good form helps you protect your back and knees and not pull a muscle.

6. Go Slow: You want to lift and lower the weight slowly, so you are isolating the muscle you are working. Counting “1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, 3 Mississippi” is a good rule of thumb for how long it should take you to lift and then lower the weight each time.

7. Count Your Reps: Freeman suggests doing three sets of 8-12 repetitions (a.k.a., reps) for each workout move, especially when using lighter weights. Rest 10 seconds between each set. Most fitness instructors advise doing more reps with less weight to burn calories and tone up. Using heavier weights with less reps is more for bodybuilding where you want to increase your muscle mass.

8. Breathe: For some reason, people often hold their breath when lifting weights. Don’t do this. Be mindful of your breathing as you lift and lower your weights.

9. Mix It Up: Don’t work out the same muscles every day. You want to work out legs one day, arms another day, shoulders and abs another, and so on.



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While the above article is based on thorough research, we do not claim to offer a substitute for medical advice from a qualified healthcare provider. The article was written for information and educational purposes only. We aim to provide helpful information to our readers, but cannot provide a treatment, diagnosis, or consultation of any sort, and we are in no way indicating that any particular drug is safe or appropriate for you and your individual needs. To receive professional medical attention, you must see a doctor.