Whether you’ve just begun or you’re months into your weight loss journey, chances are you’ve found yourself wondering what the best exercises to lose weight are. Spoiler it’s not endless cardio.
Before we dig into the details, let’s do a bit of myth busting first:
Despite what you may have seen in advertisements for the latest fitness gadget, it is not possible to spot-reduce fat with any exercise. When we begin to burn fat through exercise, it comes from all areas of the body at the same time, with more recently stored fat burning faster than older fat stores.
I like to compare this process to that of lighting a candle. When making a candle, the wax is poured into the bottom and built up. When we light the candle, however, the wax on top (i.e. the most recently added wax) burns first. Burning fat works in a similar way.
So, the short answer to weight loss exercises is a challenging and balanced program.
What Exercises Are Most Effective for Weight Loss?
Again the short answer here is a balanced program, but what does that look like?
This means your program should train all 3 energy systems, which is a fancy way of saying your program should include high intensity burst workouts like sprints or powerlifting, moderate intensity and duration training like traditional strength training or circuits, and long duration low intensity activities like walking, jogging or dancing.
The ideal program is built like a pyramid. Begin with a foundation of functional strength training making up the majority of your routine, followed by low intensity training at the second tier, and high intensity activity making up the smallest segment of your routine.
This structure is the most effective because, in order to lose weight, we need a well-functioning digestive and nervous system. By training in all 3 training zones, we are teaching our bodies to be as physically adaptable as possible. This maximizes the effectiveness of each workout and allows us to progress and challenge ourselves a little more with each training session.
Why Am I Working Out But Not Losing Weight?
Now what if you feel like your program has all of those pieces? What if you’re strength training, jogging and even working in a few sprints throughout your week and still the scale hasn’t moved? The most likely culprit here is lack of effective recovery.
Let’s revisit our pyramid analogy.
Imagine the sand that the pyramid is sitting on as our recovery. Effective recovery is arguably the most important, yet most overlooked, component of a well-balanced routine. When we’re looking at calories in vs. calories out for weight loss, it can feel like you need to train every day to maximize calorie burn. That approach, however, will result in, at best, a brief weight loss followed by a stubborn plateau; at worst, poor digestion, increased fat storage, and an increased risk of injury or illness.
Recovery goes beyond just stretching after every workout (which I hope you’re not skipping). Recovery is how well you sleep, how you manage your stress and how you fuel your body before and after your workouts.
What is the significance of this? This may appear frivolous at first glance, but it is actually based on hard science. When we are stressed (which can be caused by daily stressors, lack of sleep, pain, or an insufficient nutrient balance), our fight or flight nervous system activates, resulting in a number of unfavorable side effects.
When we are stressed, our cortisol levels rise, telling our bodies to prioritize survival and put everything else on hold. As a result, our digestion slows, we stop recovering, and our happy hormone (oxytocin) is stunted. This means that not only will we lose motivation to exercise, but we will also feel worse afterward, and because we are not digesting food effectively, we are significantly more likely to store fat from food.
So if you’re feeling stuck, take a look at your routine and ensure you’re doing the following:
- Maintain a consistent bedtime routine and get at least 7 hours of sleep every night (this can vary person to person).
- Have reliable stress management strategies like deep breathing, meditation or designated technology detox times worked into your daily routine
- Do not skip meals and prioritize carb pre-workout, and protein post-workout. Since 10% of the calories burned every day comes from digesting food, you only sabotage yourself if you’re not eating..
- Take rest days. You don’t have to and shouldn’t train every day.
Now if you’re looking at that list and feel like you could improve in several areas, resist the urge to change all of them at once. Pick one, master that new habit and then add the next. Juggling too many changes, as most of us have experiences, is also a stressful experience.
7 Best Exercises to Lose Weight
Now the reason you’re here, the absolute best exercises to lose weight! In looking at this list you may notice a theme. The umbrella for the best type of exercise to lose weight is a compound exercise, meaning exercises that use multiple muscle groups simultaneously. That means no, biceps curls didn’t make the cut here.
All variations of squats utilize both our entire lower body and our core (this means abs and back).
Bonus points for goblet, Zercher or front carry squats to get the upper body involved.
All variations. Again, to safely perform a deadlift, you need strong legs, core and great grip strength
3. Kettlebell Swings
These are deadlift’s intense cousin. Not only are you working the same muscle groups targeted during a deadlift, you’re also getting in some of the high intensity training I mentioned earlier.
4. Turkish Getups (TGUs)
These are the posture child for the full-body workout. This exercise not only works every muscle in your body, but it also improves your strength and mobility at the same time.
5. Walking Lunges
Walking, like TGUs, works multiple muscle groups (core and lower body) and helps to train your body to absorb shock, which means healthier joints.
6. Transverse Step Ups
In addition to training multiple muscle groups, this exercise is great for anyone with tight hips or back pain.
7. Bulgarian Split Squats
Not only is this a challenging exercise, it’s also great for anyone that sits at a desk all day. With every rep, you’re stretching the front of your hip and thigh to improve lower body posture and reduce pain from sitting.
I encourage you to try integrating these exercises into your routine, but remember to start slowly for your safety. All of the variations on this list will be effective, and they all have lower intensity or bodyweight regressions that you can start with and work your way up to. So, instead of pushing yourself too hard, meet your body where it is now and gradually incorporate these exercises into your routine.
If you’re struggling to find the best workout or exercise to lose weight, simply stick to a balanced diet, prioritize effective recovery, and begin incorporating the above weight loss exercises that work multiple muscle groups.
Featured photo credit: Benjamin Klaver via unsplash.com