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Exercise: Does It Work For The Overfat Population?

© Wayne L. Westcott PhD

In a larger study, 383 men performed 25 minutes of strength exercise and 25 minutes of endurance exercise, two or three days a week, for eight weeks (Westcott and Guy, 1996). This combination exercise program produced a 6.4-pound fat loss and a 3.7-pound muscle gain, for a 10-pound change in body composition.

These are impressive improvements for two months of basic exercise, so these men must have been in pretty good shape to start with, right? Actually, only a small percentage of the participants began the program with a desirable body composition. The rest started at varying levels of over-fatness.

As presented in Table 1, the men were divided into five categories based on their initial body fat assessment: (1) less than 15% fat; (2) 15-19% fat; (3) 20-24% fat; (4) 25-29% fat; and (5) 30% plus fat. You will note that the men's entry bodyweights averaged about 20 pounds heavier in successive categories, ranging from 169.9 lbs. to 247.9 lbs. You will also notice that the body composition improvements were greater in successive categories, ranging from a 1.1 to a 6.3 decrease in percent fat. It should be noted that it was difficult to obtain accurate body fat measurements on the most obese participants, rendering their results less reliable.

Table 1. Bodyweight and body composition data for male exercisers, categorized by initial percent body fat (N = 383).

Percent Fat Initial Reading Body Weight Pre (lbs.) Body Weight Post (lbs.) Body Weight Change (lbs.) Percent Fat
Pre (%)
Percent Fat
Post (%)
Percent Fat Change (%) Fat Weight Pre (lbs.) Fat Weight Post (lbs.) Fat Weight Change (lbs.) Lean Weight Pre (lbs.) Lean Weight Post (lbs.) Lean Weight Change (lbs.)
Under 15%
(n = 51)
169.9 168.8 -0.8 12.8 11.7 -1.1* 21.9 19.9 -2.0* 147.7 148.9 +1.2*
(n = 139)
190.4 188.6 -1.8* 17.7 15.7 -2.0* 33.8 29.7 -4.1* 156.6 158.9 +2.3*
(n = 109)
211.0 208.3 -2.7* 22.3 19.5 -2.8* 47.1 40.7 -6.4* 163.9 167.5 +3.6*
(n = 53)
227.1 222.7 -4.4* 26.8 22.9 -3.9* 60.9 51.1 -9.8* 166.2 171.6 +5.4*
30% PLUS
(n = 31
247.9 240.9 -7.0* 36.0 29.7 -6.3* 91.2 72.5 -18.7* 156.7 168.4 +11.7*

* Statistically significant change (p<.01)
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About The Author
Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA. He is strength training consultant for numerous national organizations, such as the American Council on Exercise, the American Senior Fitness Association, and the National Youth Sports Safety Foundation, and editorial advisor for many publications, including Prevention, Shape, and......more
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