How to Periodize NEAT to Optimize Results

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By Kimberley Leggett

When it comes to optimizing a client’s overall health, stimulating progress and preventing any plateaus, we must also consider an often neglected variable – their cardio and NEAT levels. 

So what is NEAT?
NEAT or Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis is the energy used for everything we do when we are not exercising (hence the “non-exercise”) or sleeping. This includes things such as brushing your teeth, sweeping the floor, walking up a flight of stairs and even talking on the phone. They all burn calories, and more than we would expect.

When considering our client’s NEAT levels we must also understand the implications that their occupation will have on this number, as this will vary drastically from one client to another. Clients who work as nurses, personal trainers or those in construction and are required to be on their feet or engaging in activity throughout the day, will have much higher levels of NEAT than a client who has a desk job. Overlooking even this simple factor between active and sedentary jobs can mean hundreds of calories when calculating energy expenditure. 

Now, if your client falls under the sedentary category, there are ways to increase NEAT even when having to be bound to a desk. By simply ensuring you are increasing your client’s leisure NEAT when they have time off or working in a walk on a lunch break – any improvements in NEAT can improve daily thermogenesis. 

Every gym junkie or health nut knows that to lose fat you need a negative energy balance by which there is more ‘energy out’ than there is ‘energy in’. We can do this in two simple ways – either by reducing caloric intake to ensure we are eating below maintenance or increasing energy expenditure by increasing activity. This is when we look at manipulating NEAT and cardio levels in line with training and nutrition program in order to reap the best results for our clients. 

So, why is this important?
When comparing two individuals of the same size, Dr James Levine from the Mayo Clinic found that different NEAT levels correlated to a difference of up to 2,000 calories a day. So, by simply moving around more you could burn approximately 2,000 calories without trying (although you may need to lift a finger or two to do so!)

How is this impacting results?
The truism of modern society is such that we do not move very much these days as compared to generations before us. In the age of convenience we are living increasingly sedentary lifestyles and this is having detrimental effects on health. Obesity, which was rare a century ago, is now the new normal with approximately two thirds of the worlds population overweight or obese.

What’s the solution?
By making a conscious effort to move more on a daily basis we can ensure that our clients are making progress and improving their overall health. This won’t require walking in circles around the neighborhood at 9pm, waiting for a Fitbit to vibrate when 10,000 steps has been reached, but will instead require a change in behavior and lifestyle habits. Together with an experienced coach, clients can reap better results by having an individualized strategy towards their fat loss program which factors in their NEAT levels. 

How do we periodize cardio and NEAT levels?
When strategizing cardio and NEAT levels for a client we must first ascertain their starting point. Again, this is to ensure that we are not decreasing their energy output daily and takes into consideration their occupation and current daily activity. 

If we look at periodizing over a 12 week period, our cardio and NEAT levels may look like this:
Phase 1: 10,000 steps per day (this is the minimum requirement for general health which is shown to improve glucose tolerance, reduce blood pressure and proven weight loss)
Phase 2: 12,000 steps per day
Phase 3: 14,000 steps per day
If a client begins with a high activity level, ie. 15,000 steps, we do not want them to lose their energy output throughout the day.

In this case, Phase 1 for a client would start at 15,000 steps and progress incrementally. Keep in mind that progression is dictated by results – if your client is feeling rundown or losing too fast, slow down the progression. If your client is not losing fast enough, speed up the progression.

Another key component in the fat loss tool kit which we can use in order to optimize client results is planned cardio. This is cardio which is done outside of the NEAT target and will follow a structure as follows:
Phase 1: None
Phase 2: 30-45 mins steady state 3-4 times per week or 2 x 30 minute intervals 30s ON 20s OFF
Phase 3: 2-3 hybrid sessions (20 mins of interval work (20-100s work, 5 mins rest + 20 mins LISS) 

If results appear to be stagnating, then it is time to do more. Taking the same principles we apply to weight training, we apply here and need to consider progressions with cardio. This is important as what may have worked in the first few weeks may not work for the next and could mean wasted muscle if the client is doing more cardio than required. So, if your client appears to be stalling, consider their NEAT levels and apply appropriate progression strategies and see their fat loss efforts triumph! 

Are you a personal trainer, athletic trainer or strength coach who wants to take your client’s results to the next level, whether that is for fat loss, hypertrophy or athletic performance?
Enrol in both the Fundamentals of Program Design & Advanced Program Design online courses through the Ultimate Program Design Bundle!


Beradi, J. (2006). Cardio Progressions: Are you getting the most out of your cardio training?. T-Nation. Retrieved from: (2020). Counting your steps. Retrieved from: Group. (2014). The truth about cardio for fat loss. Poliquin Group. Retrieved from: Performance. (2020). 5 proven ways to boost fat loss with NEAT. Retrieved from:’s health Research Institute. (2020). Obesity projections worse than terrorism threat for our future – and we can do something about it. Retrieved from:

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