Vail Daily column: It’s just not working, Joan |

Vail Daily column: It’s just not working, Joan

Ryan W. Richards
Make It Count

I have learned two hard facts observing fitness culture in the last 18 years. First, 95 percent of all fitness activities and propaganda is completely screwed up. Second, the fattest people spend the most time performing cardio. The people who need to lose weight waste too much time spinning away in the hamster wheel. Treadmills, ellipticals and rowing machines are all great fitness tools, but come on — it’s just not working for you! Stealing the infamous line from the popular fitness website T-Nation, “Here’s what you need to know.”

Cause and effect doesn’t equal causation. I’m not saying that if you ride for two hours on your mountain bike that you are fat or will become fat from doing so. Gretchen Reeves, a longtime Vail resident and a professional boss on a mountain bike, is a student of mine who is quite ripped. She can crack eggs on her behind. Gretchen’s fat cells aren’t swelling because of her excessive cycling habits. However, my observations suggest that most fitness enthusiasts who spend excessive time sweating it out are overweight. Now, you may say, “Of course people who spend the most time on treadmills are fat; they decided it’s time to make a change and that’s why they are on the treadmill. They need to start somewhere, Ryan.” This all may be true. The unintentional consequence I continue to witness is that most of these individuals stay fat. There are several explanations to this, all beyond the scope of my point today.

A few weeks ago, I spoke to a woman who is a habitual cardio participant. Joan’s biggest complaint is abdominal fat that never left after child bearing. She is the typical victim of this trap. She is 10 to 15 pounds overweight and never makes much progress, even with the best intentions and effort. I recommended that she take a break from cardio over the next few weeks but eat significantly less. Even though Joan quit running, she gained 10 pounds during vacation. Her conclusion was simple. “Cardio really is the key. I’m not listening to that guy.” The bigger implication is this: Why is Joan gaining 10 pounds on vacation to begin with? All exercise shenanigans aside, performing or not performing cardio exercise doesn’t make much of a difference figuratively when we are talking about overweight people gaining large amounts of weight during vacation. What’s really going on?

The point is this: We know that exercise is critical for maintaining body weight. It is absolutely worthless when it comes to helping you lose weight. Dr. James Hill, the director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and one of America’s foremost experts in weight management, has spent over 25 years researching the causes of weight gain, adiposity and obesity and how to prevent or treat these problems. WebMD interviewed Hill and asked, “Do we really need to exercise to lose weight?” His response nailed it. “No. If you cut way back on your calories, you can lose a lot of weight without doing a lick of exercise. But you absolutely need to exercise to keep the weight off. Exercise is the key.” Again, exercise is great, but does it really make a difference when trying to lose your spare tire?


If it did work, I would be seeing these victims lose weight after 12 weeks of enduring the torture of the hamster wheel. They never do! I’ve never observed dramatic weight loss success from performing the requisite cardio their doctor prescribed. You cannot outwork a bad diet. If you’re not going to get serious about eating less, you might as well just stay fat and do something more rewarding than running on a treadmill. I’m not purposely trying to be nasty or discouraging. I’m not trying to throw Joan under the bus — she’s a great woman. Frankly, it genuinely hurts my soul because I have been there. I struggled through morbid obesity as a youth. Being fat sucks. I refuse to ever be fat again. I get passionately fired up about this because I understand the frustration. Here’s the question: If you knew the most efficient path to success at something, wouldn’t you do it?

Joan is back from vacation 10 pounds heavier from when she left. She is back on the hamster wheel. She will likely lose the 10 pounds. I know it because this is the cycle she experiences time and again when she travels. But ultimately, she will stay just as much the same. The only way for Joan to break the cycle is to embrace permanent life change. The most important part of her change will be eating less for the rest of her life.

Regardless of whether you run 50 miles per week or binge watch “Breaking Bad” episodes all day, you need to reassess the path you’re on if it’s not working. Be encouraged, and do the right thing.

Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, an athlete consulting and personal training company. Richards’ passion comes from overcoming childhood obesity and a T1-L3 spinal fusion. Contact him at or 970-401-0720.

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