4 Workout lessons from “The Biggest Loser”

Some people find “The Biggest Loser” supremely inspirational, while others question the combination of extreme caloric restriction and hours of intense daily exercise. Participants, who consume 800 to 1,600 calories a day, may start with 30 second run intervals, but they’re done at 10% incline and run as fast as possible. And, in the final six weeks of the 18-week program, they train for a marathon. We say that’s too much too soon.

But no one can debate that participants lose stunning amounts of weight and half of them keep it off for good. For a story in our February issue, we profiled the final four contestants on their journey toward the marathon, caught up with former contestant who are still running, and got more realistic advice from Robert Huizenga, M.D., designer of the show’s fitness regime. I’ll have some nutritious advice to share with you in my next post.

Don’t have five hours to exercise every day like “Biggest Loser” contestants do? Fear not. If you’re looking to drastically change your fitness, Huizenga says two hours of exercise a day can produce dramatic results. Here’s his pared-down yet still rigorous program. But be patient—major changes don’t happen overnight. Keep a workout log and include details on how easy or difficult things feel as well as a weekly weigh-in.

1. Work out twice a day. Once in the morning and once in the afternoon or evening—six days a week—so you end up with a total of 10 to 12 hours of exercise a week. “You burn more calories in two separate intense sessions than you do in two consecutive hours of exercise,” says Dr. Huizenga. “And go to bed early so you can get up early. Sleep is essential to weight loss.”

If you don’t already exercise, we suggest starting with 30 minutes of alternating between walking and running in the morning (see link to plan, below) and then going on a short walk after dinner. Add to each of these workouts as they become easier.

2. Walk, jog, or run for your morning workout. “People naturally use a higher level of exertion—and as a result burn more calories—with jogging compared with exercising on equipment like a stationary bike or elliptical machine,” he says.

3. Mix it up. For your afternoon or evening session, alternate circuit or weight training with any aerobic exercise. This can be biking, swimming, rowing, skating, basketball, or tennis. The strength training builds muscle mass, which will help your body burn fat, even at rest.

4. Work out at an intensity that feels difficult. “You should find it hard to carry on a conversation for as much of the workout as you can,” says Dr. Huizenga. And increase your intensity with each workout. Low-level to moderately intense exercise won’t cut it for weight loss, he warns. An obese adult would have to walk for more than 33 hours at a moderate intensity to lose one percent of their body weight in fat; jogging would result in the same fat loss in 11 hours.

A reviews by editor:

Losing 4 pounds in one month (about one per week) is what most physicians would consider a “healthy rate” of weight loss that is going to be permanent. Plus, in all likelihood you are gaining a little muscle mass while your fat cells are shrinking. Stick with it!

My two thoughts are:

1. Keep track of your measurements like waist and thigh circumference – this can be a better gauge than weight as far as health goes. These numbers may go down faster than the scale!

2. Do try adding a second workout – it’s worth a shot for sure.