If you’re trying to lose weight, diet and nutrition are crucial, but adding the right workouts can be game-changing.
In fact, after dieting, exercise is the most effective way to lose weight. It burns calories and speeds up your metabolic rate, both of which can help you lose weight faster and keep it off long-term.
Exercise also has a variety of benefits that go beyond fitness. It’s good for your mood[*], brain function[*], joint strength and mobility[*], longevity[*], and more.
Here’s how exercise fits into a comprehensive weight loss routine, as well as five of the best exercises for weight loss.
Diet is the Most Important Thing for Weight Loss
There’s a saying in the fitness community: “You can’t outrun a bad diet.”
Ultimately, this is true. Exercise can help you lose weight faster, but it’s unlikely to work on its own.
To lose weight, you have to be in a calorie deficit — your body must burn more calories than you consume. Workouts don’t burn calories fast enough to compensate for a bad diet or excess calories unless you spend hours in the gym, which is not a sustainable way to lose weight.
Exercise is an adjunct to a good diet. It can help, but for sustainable weight loss, you want to prioritize eating well.
The good news is that there are a lot of effective weight loss diets. You can try a few and find one that works for you (and you can use a macro calculator to figure out how many calories to eat for weight loss).
If you’re following a healthy diet, exercise is a great way to burn fat faster, build muscle, and get into great shape. These are five of the best weight loss exercises.
Walking often gets overlooked, but it’s one of the best ways to lose weight. It’s low-impact and doesn’t require equipment, and you can do it almost anywhere. Plus, walking burns about 400-500 calories an hour, depending on your body weight[*].
Even if you’re already in good shape and you work out a lot, walking is a valuable addition to your exercise routine. It lubricates and strengthens your joints[*], which will improve your mobility and make your other workouts more effective.
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Consider setting a goal to walk every day for a set amount of time that feels achievable to you. As you become more comfortable with walking, you can increase the time or add in another workout from this list.
2. Lifting Weights
Resistance training (also called strength training or weight training) is an excellent exercise for long-term fat loss.
While actual weightlifting workouts don’t burn many calories, they do build muscle. Muscle increases your resting metabolic rate — the more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns in a day[*].
That means putting on lean muscle mass speeds up your metabolism all day long, even when you aren’t working out. As a result, lifting weights is one of the best ways to reach your weight loss goals.
If you’re new to weightlifting, consider hiring a personal trainer at your local gym. He or she can help you come up with an exercise routine that targets all your muscle groups.
A trainer will also teach you to lift weights with good form, which will protect you from injury and make sure you get the most benefit out of your workouts. Alternatively, you can find workout routines and instructions online.
Aerobic exercise (often called cardiovascular exercise, or cardio) includes jogging, running, jumping rope, elliptical workouts, and other long-distance or endurance training.
Cardio workouts improve your lung capacity and burn more calories per hour than the other types of exercise on this list. The tradeoff is that cardio doesn’t help with building muscle, so if you want to keep up the calorie burning, you have to do cardio consistently.
Running is a good choice, and if you find that it hurts your knees, you can switch to an elliptical machine, which takes away the impact on your joints.
4. Bodyweight Exercise
Bodyweight exercise involves using only your body to work out. It requires no additional equipment and minimal space, making it ideal if you enjoy working out at home.
A popular bodyweight routine splits your workouts into lower body and upper body exercises — for example, working your glutes, hamstrings, and quads one day, and focusing on your chest, back, shoulders, and arms the next day.
This kind of plan works out your entire body over the course of a week and leaves room for cardio so you can train your endurance as well.
A beginner’s guide to at-home workouts can help you choose bodyweight exercises to help you meet your fat loss goals.
5. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
HIIT is brief, but very intense exercise designed to exhaust you in under 20 minutes.
HIIT is usually a full-body workout and may incorporate sprints, bodyweight exercise, kettlebells, and compound lifts with lighter weight (like deadlifts, squats, or lunges).
A typical HIIT workout chains multiple forms of exercise together in short bursts with minimal rest (usually 30 seconds at most) in between sets. A sample workout may be:
8 rounds of the following:
- 25 seconds of all-out sprinting
- 20 kettlebell swings
- 10 bodyweight squats
- 30 second rest
By the end of a HIIT workout, you should be fully exhausted and pushing up against your physical limit.
HIIT is good for both cardio and muscle building. The high intensity causes a massive spike in the hormones that build muscle and burn fat, like testosterone and human growth hormone.
For reference, ~1 hour of heavy weightlifting increases human growth hormone by around 400-700%[*]. A 15-minute HIIT workout increased human growth hormone by 2000% and testosterone by 38%[*].
HIIT training is a more advanced type of exercise, so you may not want to start it unless you’re already comfortable in the gym. That said, a bodyweight HIIT exercise plan is a simple (and safer) way to try HIIT if you’re a beginner.
CrossFit is another good exercise for fat loss. Its founder based CrossFit workouts on the idea that fitness means being able to do practical, functional movements, and that exercise should increase your ability to do physical work in any context.
As a result, CrossFit combines a wide variety of workout disciplines. It incorporates weightlifting, jogging, sprinting, bodyweight exercises, HIIT, mobility, and more.
CrossFit workouts are intense. However, when you join a gym, the coaches will assess your fitness and teach you how to work out safely, so anyone can start CrossFit.
Each CrossFit workout is different, which can be fun if you get bored of exercise easily. CrossFit gyms typically have strong communities, too. If you want to make friends and you’re inspired by working out with other people, CrossFit may be a good choice for you.
Swimming is a low-impact exercise that burns a lot of calories. Because you’re in the water, your joints take almost no stress when you swim.
Depending on your weight, speed, and type of stroke, swimming can burn between 300-1200 calories an hour[*]. It’s also a whole-body workout that develops your muscles evenly. It’s good for fat loss, endurance, and muscle growth, all at the same time.
Yoga is a popular way to exercise and relieve stress.
Yoga isn’t as much of a calorie-burner as the other exercises on this list –– an hour of yoga burns about 300 calories[*] –– but it comes with other benefits, including increased flexibility and psychological wellbeing. Many people also find yoga enjoyable, which makes it easier to stick to over time.
If you’re new to working out, a more gentle type of yoga, like hatha yoga or yin yoga, will ease you into exercising while protecting you from injury. If you’re looking for more intensity, try a hot yoga class, like vinyasa flow or bikram yoga (you’ll burn extra calories, too).
Cycling is a low-impact alternative to jogging or sprinting. Steady, moderate cycling burns between 500-700 calories an hour, depending on your weight[*].
You can either ride a bike outside or use a stationary bike at a gym. Many gyms offer cycling classes with an instructor to guide you through a group workout. You can also sprint on your bike or do HIIT, which burns extra calories.
If you want to improve your cardiovascular health without putting stress on your joints, cycling is a good choice.
A healthy, sustainable diet is the most important thing for weight loss. If you only exercise without changing your diet, you’re unlikely to lose body fat.
However, once you have your diet dialed in, working out is a great way to lose weight faster, build muscle, and become an overall healthier person. Exercise is also good for your brain, mood, joints, longevity, and more.
The exercises in this article can help you get into great shape. Try each of them and see which one feels best for you. And remember to start slow — consistency is more important than intensity.