Menopause App

Digital Packs Banner Digital Packs Banner


5 fitness MISTAKES that keep us fat

Special Healthista Expert Blog From nutrition and sport scientist Mark Gilbert, Editor-in-Chief of

Mistake #1: Checking out on the diet front Many of my clients think exercise will cause substantial fat loss without changing their eating but diet determines at least 70 per cent of fat-loss success.  In the fitness and sports nutrition industry we’re fond of saying: ‘You can’t out-exercise a bad diet’.  Part of the problem is that increasing exercise activity increases muscle size and because muscle weighs more than fat, she may have lost fat and appear slimmer yet the scale will have barely budged. But beyond the important distinction between losing fat and inches versus losing weight, even after several months, without a change in diet, most women won’t see a substantial loss of weight or fat.  In my opinion, the best diet change for weight loss is cutting excess sugar and starchy carbs and filling most of your plate with a protein food like fish, chicken, lean meat or eggs and green and colourful vegetables, along with a few daily servings of fruit.

Mistake #2: Wimping out on intensity Intensity measures how much work you do in a given amount of time when you exercise. Basically, if you aren’t breathing hard and, yes, perspiring for 80-90 per cent of your time in the gym, then you’re wasting it. You’ll probably be able to lose some weight in your first few weeks of training by doing the typical easy jog on the treadmill and then doing some crunches. This is primarily because your body is panicking trying to adapt to this new stress you’re subjecting it to. However, after the first few weeks, your body adapts and becomes more efficient and this is when it begins to adhere to a little rule of human physiology that dictates that the body will only change if it is forced to adapt to stress.

So if you jog on the treadmill several times per week at the same speed, your body has already got that covered – it can already handle that stress – and it has no reason to change. It’s good for your health but it won’t shift much additional fat. I’ve just co-authored a book on the topic of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and it works big time.

Mistake #3 Avoiding the weights room Some women still have this notion that if they lift weights, they’ll ‘get bulky’. I don’t know if these women were watching the recent Olympics but I’ve seen Victoria Pendleton, Jessica Ennis and Laura Trott in cocktail dresses and they looked hot.  Not only do they lift weights, they lift heavy weights and they lift intensely.  When you’re doing your weights, take short rests between sets and keep your heart rate elevated to burn huge amounts of calories – not just during exercise but for hours afterwards.

Mistake #4 Trying to target fat  I don’t know how many times I’ve heard women (and men to be fair) say something like ‘I need to trim up my tummy, so I’ll do some sit ups’ or ‘I need to tone my inner thighs, so I’ll use this adductor machine’. This is not how the body works. Regardless of the exercise you use, fat comes off of your body in a genetically pre-determined way when you lose weight.

Generally, if you gain fat on your thighs first when you begin to gain weight, unfortunately, that’s the last place you’ll lose it from, regardless of the exercises you perform. The unfortunate irony is that if you use the adductor machine (the one in which you sit and draw your legs together, working the inside of your thighs, instead of doing a big, demanding movement like squats or lunges, you’ll be burning far fewer calories and actually end up with more fat in that area and less tone.

Mistake #5 Doing the wrong moves If you spend a lot of time doing arm, ab and thigh exercises, like biceps curls, triceps extensions, crunches, leg extensions, leg curls, adductor and abductor, then you are not using your time in the gym efficiently. You are only working one small muscle or one part of a larger group of muscles. The key to getting the best results in the least time is spending most of your time doing ‘compound exercises’.  These are the movements that incorporate the large muscle groups of the body, so they require much more effort and calorie input. They also use several accessory muscles, so you can kill several birds with one stone.

As core movements, focus on squats and lunges (these are also by far the best exercises for the gluts/bottom). If women challenged themselves to do several sets of progressively heavier squats and lunges once or twice per week, they would see dramatic changes in their physiques that couldn’t be matched by any other exercises. Also focus on a back movement like rows or pull-downs and a chest movement like dumbbell bench presses. You should also do shoulder, ab, arm and hamstring exercises but fit these in after you have put in some intense work on the compound exercises.

Mark Gilbert is Editor-in-Chief of, is a columnist and Advisory Board member for Muscle & Fitness Magazine/Weider, UK Ltd and a columnist and member of the Medical Advisory Board for Muscle Insider Magazine.  Mark is the author of The Muscle and Fitness Guide to High Intensity Interval Training in WH Smith’s and Sainsbury’s



Like this article? Sign up to our newsletter to get more articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.

More Healthista Content