Whether you’re looking to trim a few pounds or embark on a dramatic transformation challenge, exercise will play a key part in that process.
Notice we didn’t say that exercise is the “only” thing you need to lose weight (or fat). It is a part of the process. Concomitant with exercise is a proper diet, adequate sleep, and high amounts of non-exercise physical activity (e.g. walking the dog, parking at the back of the parking lot, etc.).
That being said, not all workouts are created the same. Some are centered on building strength, while others are focused on building muscle. Some are focused on boosting endurance, and others are there purely for their extreme calorie burning.
Today, we look at 12 of the best workouts for weight loss.
#1 Circuit Training
We’ll kick start this list by giving you a workout that helps build strength as well as burn calories (providing a two-pronged stimulus for weight loss) -- circuit training.
For those of you not familiar with this format of exercise, circuit training entails performing a series of exercises (typically between 6-10) for a prescribed number of reps (or time) with minimal rest between movements. After all the exercises in the circuit are complete, you rest for 1-2 minutes before repeating.
Typically, a circuit is repeated between 3-5 times depending on the length, duration, and intensity of the training session.
In addition to burning tons of calories, circuit training also supports cardiovascular health due to the elevated heart rate and breathing that accompanies the demands of this style of training. Moreover, circuit training is also one of the best workouts for individuals who are short on time as you are able to complete a lot of training volume in a relatively short amount of time, especially when you combine upper body and lower body exercises.
#2 High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
If there’s one form of exercise that’s most frequently associated with weight loss than any other it’s high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
HIIT involves performing short bouts of all-out, max effort exertion interspersed with brief periods of rest.
This creates a metabolic maelstrom that burns crazy amounts of calories, not only during the workout, but for hours afterwards.
The “catch” with HIIT workouts is that you really have to push the envelope and challenge yourself. You won’t maximize the benefits of these brief, intense workouts if you’re not pushing yourself as hard as you (safely) can during the “work” periods.
Typical HIIT protocols involve 20 seconds of all-out effort and 10 seconds of rest or 30 seconds of work and 15 seconds of rest. EIther of these can work, provided your fitness level is up to snuff. If not, you can still reap the benefits of HIIT workouts by modifying the work-to-rest ratios to match your fitness level.
For some, this could mean 30 seconds of work to 30 seconds of rest (a 1:1 work-to-rest ratio) and for others, it could man a 1:2 ratio of 30 seconds of work to 60 seconds of rest.
Whichever modality you choose, the overriding factor (which can also be applied to the rest of the workouts contained on this list) is to challenge yourself and work as hard as you can. Don’t compare what you can do to what you see others doing.
Perhaps the most common form of “workout” adopted by those looking to lose weight or “exercise” -- running.
It can be an effective way to help increase calorie burning, and many individuals enjoy the thrill of lacing up their shoes and hitting the open road.
At the same time, it’s important to remember that you don’t “have” to go running/jogging (or any other specific form of exercise) to lose weight or get healthy.
Running can be helpful for increasing energy expenditure, but if you don’t like it, feel free to adopt one of the other training modalities on this list.
#4 Jumping Rope
A mainstay of combat athletes, jumping rope not only helps burn calories, but builds coordination and cardiovascular fitness.
It’s an outstanding way to get your cardio in for the day/week, and (best of all) it doesn’t require a lot of space or a gym membership. This makes it ideal for those pressed for time (and budget).
Rope jumping can also be folded into HIIT or circuit training workouts.
Building off of the previous best workout for weight loss comes the activity with which it is most often associated -- boxing.
In case you’ve never tried it for yourself, hitting a heavy bag or even shadow boxing can be one of the most challenging, sweat-inducing workouts of your life.
In addition to helping you lose those unwanted pounds around your midsection, high-intensity boxing workouts can also help build stronger shoulders as well as better serratus muscles, improving shoulder health and upper body definition.
One of the newer workout trends to catch fire the past few years is rowing. Unlike most traditional cardio modalities, rowing is low-impact, making it ideal for those who can’t tolerate running, jogging, or jumping.
Furthermore, rowing can be performed in either a steady-state manner (one speed for a prolonged period of time), HIIT, or worked into a circuit training routine.
One other reason we love rowing as a form of cardio is that it is one of the few options that works the upper body and lower body. The vast majority of cardio workouts only involve the lower body muscles. Rowing relies heavily on your back and shoulders, which are two of the muscle groups most individuals don’t train nearly enough.
Swimming is perhaps the most daunting workout on this list for no other reason than most people aren’t that great at it. Sure, you can hang out in the pool and have fun, but actually swimming laps for a specified amount of time is another thing entirely.
Like rowing, it’s low-impact and works the entire body, making it not only great for training your cardiovascular system, but also building strength in your legs, core, shoulders, and back.
Not all workouts have to spike your heart rate, leave you gasping for air, or so tired you can barely walk out of the gym. Sometimes, you can get a great workout while also reducing stress and finding a bit of inner peace.
So much of our lives are spent in a “go-go-go!” manner. Yoga provides the opportunity to slow things down, shut out the clutter of daily life, improve flexibility, and burn calories. In fact, some forms of yoga can have you burn over 200 calories in 30 minutes!
If you’ve never tried yoga before, don’t worry. There’s something for everyone. Some individuals will prefer the more meditative styles, while others prefer the more active flow-based styles, like power yoga. Whichever style you try, approach it with an open mind and be patient. It will take some getting used to, especially if you’re weak on balance, coordination, and flexibility.
#9 Resistance Training - (most important)
Lifting weights doesn’t get the respect or publicity it deserves when it comes to weight loss. Dare we say if there’s a choice between only doing cardio or only doing weights during your weight loss journey, it should be lifting weights.
While weight lifting workouts may not burn as many calories during the workout as a cardio session. The real benefit comes in the hours after the workout is over. You see, resistance training workouts (like HIIT workouts) boost metabolism for hours and hours after the workout is over. It also helps build muscle, and the more muscle you have the higher your resting metabolic rate is.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t include cardio in your weekly training plan. The most efficient path to weight loss is to use a combination of dietary modifications, resistance training, and cardio. Just don’t discount the calorie-burning and muscle-building benefits of resistance training!
#10 Bodyweight Workouts
An extension of the previous entry on the list of the best workouts for weight loss is bodyweight training. Often overlooked, but definitely making a resurgence over the past couple of years, bodyweight workouts can be tweaked to accommodate whatever you’re looking to do -- cardio, HIIT, resistance-training, circuit training, etc.
All that is required is the ground and your body. It can be done just about anywhere and costs next to nothing, except maybe a bit of sweat equity on your part.
You can get great results using nothing but your body and Mother Earth, but if you want to really expand your exercise repertoire and maximize bodyweight training, it can be helpful to invest in a pull up bar and suspension training setup. The good news is that these are very affordable and take up very little space.
Whether you’re on a bicycle, recumbent bike, or spin bike, cycling is another great workout for weight loss. It’s easy on the joints, and can be manipulated to fit into steady-state workouts, HIIT sessions, or even bodyweight circuits.
It provides a great cardiovascular challenge, and can help build stronger quads and calves.
It’s hard to believe, but simply walking more during the day can be a great (and relatively easy) way to increase your energy expenditure. It doesn’t feel like “exercise” in the traditional sense because you’re not locking yourself into a specific set and rep scheme in the gym.
Simply moving more during the day and going on a walk or two when you have some free time can significantly increase your non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) -- one of the key components of your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).
As an added benefit, taking a short walk or two during the day can also improve mood, blood sugar regulation, blood pressure, and digestion…all while supporting your weight loss journey and transformation challenge.