Track Your Workouts, Lose Weight Faster

September 9th, 2011 | Posted by Alison Spath in Weight Loss

This is the second post in a three part series about measuring the various aspects related to weight loss to more effectively achieve weight loss success.

I want to start by saying that when it comes to losing weight, I use to put WAY more emphasis on exercise than I do now.  Being active is certainly an important part a healthy life – but studies suggest (and from what I’ve found in my own experience as well), improving the quality of your food and being mindful about how much you eat can have a much bigger impact on weight loss when compared to exercise alone.  This is why the calorie counting post came first and a post about keeping an exercise log came second.

With that said, it is no secret that regular physical activity comes with a slew of health benefits – weight loss included.  Keeping track of your workout statistics can be particularly useful when you’re getting serious about weight loss and can make a real difference when it comes to how quickly you lose weight.

The Basics

Any calories you burn during a workout get added to your daily calorie allowance.  Time spent being active can mean being able to eat more while still continuing to lose weight.

For example, let’s say you have a budget of 1300 calories a day in order to lose weight.  With 30 minutes on the elliptical or treadmill or a jog around the neighborhood, maybe you burn 300 calories.  You can now add those 300 calories to your daily calorie allowance.  In this example, that means you’ve now got 1600 calories to “spend” while still losing weight at the same rate.

For me – being able to eat 1600 vs. 1300 calories is the difference between sanity and insanity.  I like to eat.  Actually, I love to eat.  And while I use to feel guilty admitting that, I’ve come to learn that it’s OK!  We’re supposed to love to eat!  Eating is primal – it’s a part of survival!

But it’s easy to feel deprived when you are restricting your calorie intake for weight loss – and I know that when I start feeling deprived, weight loss starts to feel like a real drag.  The effort it takes to stay on track begins to feel unsustainable and it’s really tempting to just throw your hands in the air and give up completely.

So whether it’s 300, 400 or 500 extra calories, a few hundred more calories can make a huge difference in how emotionally satisfied you feel while you’re losing weight – and that emotional satisfaction is really important when it comes to being able to stay on track.

How Keeping Track of Exercise Can Help

a feeling of accomplishment

It can be very rewarding to come back and jot down what you did during your workout.  It reminds you that you DID something and gives you a sense of control.  Track as little or as much as you want.  Activity, time spent, distance, calories burned.

You can take it further and write down how you felt before, during and after your workout.  In conjunction with a food log, you might start to make connections between what you eat and how it plays a role in your energy levels and your desire to work out.  It was a food log that helped me figure out daily greens made running go from So-So to Oh So Much Better.

Speaking of which –>

an exercise log can help you identify trends

Do you notice that you are overly hungry the day following an extra long work out?  Is it easier to work out less and not be as hungry later that day or the following day?  Do you start to feel restless and edgy if it’s been three days since you’ve raised your heart rate for an extended period of time?  Do you notice that you’re sleeping more soundly on the days you worked out?  Or perhaps sleeping better in general now that you’re more active? Have you started to notice that your cravings are diminished when you get more quality sleep?  Do you see how exercise suppresses your appetite for a while?

planning gets easier

As you get in the habit of writing down exercise, you might begin to find yourself penciling out a work out plan a few days in advance – which makes it that much easier to stay on track.  You might start to plan exercise right into your day and find it easier to make time to get sweaty.

I plan physical activity a few days out – and most of the time only in my head;

The weekend weather looks better than today’s forecast, and I’d rather be outside when it’s sunny than rainy – so I’ll do yoga at home today, rest tomorrow, run on Sunday and we’re going to hike on Monday.

for future reference

It can be helpful to look back at your exercise logs from the past.  When you’ve got months or years worth of data, you can compare where you were then to where you are now – for better or for worse.  Whether you’re starting over again or are incredibly more fit now.  When you’ve lost the weight and everybody and their sister are asking you how you did it or how you got started running, you’ll have that information available to go back and more easily share what you did to help others find their way.

Keeping Track Can Save You From Shooting Yourself in the Foot

Let’s say you are trying to lose weight but aren’t tracking anything.  You spend a half hour on the elliptical machine at the gym or go for a 3 mile run and burn an undetermined amount of calories.

And then let’s say later in the day you decide to order a pizza for dinner. And because you “worked out today”, you feel justified in eating an extra slice (or three).

Except each slice of pizza is 250 – 300 calories (a low estimate). With that extra slice, you’ve just eaten back most of the calories you burned during your work out. Two extra slices can turn two steps toward weight loss into one incredibly fast step backward.

So that’s not to say you don’t get to eat an extra slice of pizza now and then or that you can’t eat your favorite foods and still lose weight; just so long as you account for it in your daily calorie allowance.  But when you are in weight loss mode, it’s easy to let your workout trick you into thinking you’ve got scads of extra calories to “spend” today when actually you only have a few hundred extra – and if you eat all those calories back anyway, what was the point?

Of course there’s always some point – exercise does a lot of great things for you either way – but if you are exercising with weight loss as your goal, you still need to be mindful of what and how much you eat.

This is why keeping track of your calories in and your calories out can make a huge difference in how quickly you lose weight.  When the numbers are staring you in the face, you are now aware that if you eat those two extra slices of pizza, you won’t reach a calorie deficit today and you push your weight loss goal that much further away.

It’s that awareness that can help you say “not this time” to an extra slice of pizza and continue to move forward.  Say it with me now: what gets measured gets managed!

How to Determine Calories Burned

I have a Garmin 405 and because it stores my age, gender, height and weight – I trust it to be fairly accurate at gauging how many calories I’ve burned when I run or ride.  I’ve used (but don’t own) a Polar Heart Rate Monitor that can calculate calories burned in much the same way.  There are also devices like The Bodybugg that are known to be accurate.  I’ll trust “calories burned” numbers on the machines at the gym if I’ve entered my stats before I got started.

The Daily Plate will estimate for you too (as far as I can tell, it accounts for the physical stats that you enter), and there are other websites that can help you calculate calories burned during exercise too.  It’s important to understand that a 130 lb woman does not burn as many calories as a 180 lb man doing the same activity for the same amount of time.  Your physique plays a role in how many calories you burn – and you burn less calories as you get smaller and more fit.  As long as you take your stats into account for whatever activity you did, you can be confident that the numbers you’re getting from whatever source are likely to be accurate.

When in doubt, I round DOWN when it comes to calories burned.  If there’s going to be error, I’d rather be slightly under than slightly over!

I’ve kept track of exercise in a variety of ways and to varying degrees over the years.  I go through phases where I write down work out stats and phases where don’t.  When I do, I might keep track in my daily planner, on the blog, through the Daily Plate when I’m counting calories.  You can use a calendar, a notebook or journal, write down as little or as much as you want.  Make it easy and do what works for you to make it sustainable.

If Exercise is Something You Absolutely Dread

then don’t sweat it.  (At least not yet…)  If you want to lose weight but don’t know where to start, many experts agree it’s better to put your energy into making better food choices first, THEN focus on adding a regular exercise regime if that’s what you want to do.

Figure out how to best stretch your calorie budget while still feeling satisfied, learn how to eat more vegetables, how to make resisting temptation easier.  Save a workout routine for another point down the road.  I’ve found that once eating whole, fresh foods is coming more naturally, it’s that much easier to give fitness your best effort.  As the saying goes, “If you have a million priorities, then you have none”.

Exercise feels a lot easier and better when you’re eating good food anyway.

But don’t use this be an excuse to be completely inactive either.  Find ways to make staying active easy, simple and fun.  Walk or ride your bike everywhere you can.  Head to the playground with your kids and find some way to be active together once you’re there.  Do something you truly enjoy and it’s that much easier to be sustainable.

This feels like a good time to throw in that “I AM NOT A PROFESSIONAL” disclaimer.  I just read a lot.  And I experiment on myself a lot too.  As always, proceed with caution as you make changes to improve your health.  Do your research so you can make informed decisions as you begin take more responsibility for your health.

Whichever way you choose to approach it – tracking these aspects that impact weight loss brings awareness, and with awareness you’re likely to find it’s easier to see the changes that are needed.  Once you know what you need to do differently, you’re one step closer to making it happen.

Further reading:

Part 1: Calorie Counting for Weight Loss Success

Diet, Not Exercise, Plays Role in Weight Loss

The Key to Losing, Exercise or Diet (Shape Magazine)

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19 Responses

  • Yup. Awareness is sooo important when it comes to exercise and, especially, eating! I like to plan my weekly workouts. I plan specific workouts for 5 days/week on my blog and/or FB page. Once I have done a workout I enter them into DailyMile. It’s neat to be able to look back at past weeks… I actually don’t keep track of calories, but I have a goal as to weight workouts, yoga, barre classes, etc. If I don’t do some (or parts of some) of the planned workouts during the week, I have a “policy” to make them up on the weekend. For example, right now, I “owe” myself a weights workout… :) If I don’t have anything to “make up” I get to do what I like on the weekend, which sometimes is “nothing” (really never nothing as the toddler makes me move every day…).

    I like that you point out that some forms of exercise can make you very hungry, and that that’s something to consider. I used to do a lot of long cardio workouts, and they always made me VERY hungry. I”ve found that barre workouts, weight circuits, HIIT, and not so many long carido sessions work a lot better for me.

    And when it comes to food, simply writing down everything I eat once in a while really helps to make me aware and keeps me accountable at this point!

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