Before we get into the best workouts for weight loss and how to use exercise as a tool in your weight loss journey, let’s make two things clear. First, there are a huge number of reasons to work out that have absolutely nothing to do with losing weight. From mental health benefits to better sleep to boosted immunity, regular exercise is an essential component of a healthy lifestyle. Exercise doesn’t have to be about losing weight, and for a huge number of people, it isn’t.
And that brings us to the second thing: If your goal is to lose weight, you should know that working out isn’t enough on its own to actually make that happen. There’s so much else that goes into weight loss and body fat loss; in fact, exercise isn’t even technically necessary to lose weight for most people.
We wouldn’t ever recommend a weight loss regimen that doesn’t include exercise, though, because exercise is good for you and it’s a healthy way to live. And on that note, even if you are doing everything “right”—working out regularly, eating appropriately—lifestyle habits like sleep and stress, and health conditions (think thyroid issues, to name just one of many) can get in the way of your weight loss efforts. Weight loss is an extremely personal journey that doesn’t look or work the exact same way from one person to the next.
With those disclaimers out of the way, however, it’s also true that there are certain exercises and workouts that can be particularly useful in helping you lose weight or burn fat or change your body composition as you please (and, on that token, there are certain mistakes you might be making in your exercise routines that can get in the way of your weight loss goals). The best workouts for weight loss, as we explore below, all have certain elements in common: They’re generally high-intensity and they burn a lot of calories in a short amount of time.
1. Your food choices—how you fuel your body—are even more important than your workout choices. I covered this above, but it’s worth reiterating: healthy eating habits are even more important than your exercise routine if your goal is to see permanent changes on the scale.
2. Exercise should become part of your routine in a meaningful way. In order to see results, hitting the elliptical for 30 minutes while you catch up with the Kardashians once a week just isn’t going to cut it. Instead, aim for three workouts if you’re just getting into a routine again, or five to six sessions if you’ve been at it for a while, says Holly Rilinger, a Nike master trainer, master Flywheel instructor, and star of Bravo’s Work Out New York. “And keep in mind that rest is key to reset mentally, physically, and emotionally, so make sure to build in at least one full rest day.”
3. You’ll need to really push yourself in every workout you do. It’s kind of a big deal that you bring your A-game to each and every workout. “I’d rather see you do balls-to-the-wall workouts three times a week than see you give 50 percent for five days,” says Rilinger. “Decide when you walk through that door you are going to give it 100 percent the entire time, and check in throughout your workout with one simple question: Can I give more?”
4. You’ll need to find a workout you genuinely enjoy if you have any hope of sticking with it.“Finding a trainer or workout that makes you happy is actually really important to weight loss,” says Rilinger. When you enjoy doing it you’ll be more likely to stick with it. Below are 10 workouts that will help you reach your weight loss goal. If you’ve tried one of the classes here and there and didn’t really love it, don’t give up on the sport or practice altogether. You may not have found an instructor you love yet, and that can make or break your goals.
Now that we’ve got all that out of the way, let’s talk about the specific workouts.
1. Interval Training
The number one training method the experts turn to again and again for weight loss: interval training. What’s that? “Any form of exercise where your heart rate spikes and then comes down repeatedly,” says Rilinger. This type of training keeps your heart rate elevated, which in turn keeps your metabolism humming. When that’s happening, you burn more calories.
One of the many styles of interval training is indoor cycling, though this workout leans heavily toward cardio over strength training, Rilinger explains. She also notes that cycling requires you to use various muscles in your body—quads, hamstrings, glutes, and core, for starters—which once again translates to weight loss. “The more muscles you have to incorporate, the more calories you’re going to burn because those muscles all require energy in order to work,” she says. “And the more energy you use, the higher those calorie-burning numbers climb. It’s all a cycle.”
Try it: Here are 4 fat-burning stationary bike workouts that you might like. If you’re more of a treadmill person, this 20-minute treadmill interval workout will kick your butt in the best way. And if you want to skip the equipment altogether, this 10-minute lower body bodyweight interval workout is a good place to start.
2. Weight Training
Consider weight training “the mother of all weight-loss techniques, the highest in the workout food chain, the top of the totem pole,” says Rilinger. Resistance training, whether it’s with your bodyweight alone or with added weights, is an effective method to help you drop pounds, if that’s your goal. Lifting weights has been shown to increase your resting metabolic rate, which means you’ll continue to burn calories even after you finish working out. It’s called the “afterburn effect,” and you can read all about it here. Rilinger suggests adding weight training to your routine at least three times a week. And since your body adjusts to workouts after being exposed to the same moves at the same intensity, becoming less effective over time, she says to mix it up about every three weeks to keep your body guessing.
Try it: First, if you’ve never done it before, be sure to read these strength training tips for beginners before you get started. And check out this primer on how to choose the right weights for your workout.
Now here’s a quick 10-minute total-body dumbbell workout and another 10-minute living room dumbbell workout to get you started. Here’s a 20-minute strength workout for when you have a bit more time. (Just be sure to use actual dumbbells, not the adorable dessert dumbbells above.) Here’s some info about how to superset at the gym. And if you’re going to use kettlebells and barbells in your strength workout routine, be sure to work with a personal trainer to make sure you’re using proper form. You’ve got this!
3. Boot Camp
For a workout that’s going to keep your metabolism elevated all day, turn to boot camp, as these classes (think Barry’s Bootcamp) combine two of the most effective styles of training: interval and resistance. “You’ll perform exercises, some more cardio-focused and others strength-focused, full-out for short bursts of time, coupled with short periods of rest,” says Adam Rosante, certified personal trainer and author of The 30-Second Body. But if it’s your first time giving it a go, speak up. He says a good instructor will help you determine when you need to crank up the weight or intensity (tip: if you can cruise through 10 reps without any trouble, it’s too easy), keep your form on par, and can always provide a modification for any move that might be too tough or irritates an injury. If you can’t make it to a studio, though, you can virtually sweat it out with Rosante in his 20-minute C9 Challenge, or try this bodyweight-only 16-minute routine.
“At its essence, boxing is really another form of interval training,” explains Rosante. But it also makes you feel insanely badass. Here’s the trick to remember: it’s a common mistake for beginners to punch using only their arm strength, but the majority of your power is going to come from your core and you’ll use muscles that are typically ignored in other workouts (hey there, obliques).
It’s best to log this type of workout in a class, as Rosante says it’s crucial for beginners to learn proper form from an instructor who can help keep your intensity level high. Here are 15 boxing gyms worth visiting. But if you want to brush up on your skills at home, try this beginner-friendly video from Milan Costich, founder of Prevail boxing gym in Los Angeles.
All you need is a pair of sneakers before you head out the door. But if weight loss is the name of your game, the lackadaisical head-out-for-a-light-jog style of running isn’t the way to go. Instead, find a hill you can sprint up, or crank the incline on that treadmill. “Running up hills forces you to work your glutes and legs—two of your body’s biggest muscle groups—even more, which requires smaller muscle recruitment and more energy expenditure,” explains Rosante. As noted earlier, the more energy you’re using, the brighter that calorie-burning fire burns. But proper form here is key. “Lean into the hill, and drive your knees as high as you can, striking the ball of each foot down directly under your body,” he says. “Keep your hands open and arms bent at 90 degrees, and drive your arms straight forward up to face level, then backward to the top of your back pocket.” And try not to let your arms cross over your body—that’ll just waste the precious energy your muscles need. If you’re training indoors, here are a few fat-burning treadmill routines to get you started.
Try it: You can do these 4 fat-burning workouts on a treadmill. Or you can take them outside if you’d like—for incline work, just fine a good hill.