Table of Contents
- Why You Gain Weight
- Best Exercises to Lose Weight
- Do’s and Don’ts
Why You Gain Weight
For people wanting to lose weight, it can be frustrating to put in the time and effort at the gym only to watch the pounds either stay where they are or drip slowly off at a snail’s pace.
On the surface, it appears that you’re doing the exact same thing that everyone else is – squats, elliptical, bicycle, and a host of exercise machines – but nothing seems to be working!
The answer is not nearly as difficult as you may think.
It’s a simple math problem: more calories burned than more calories taken in equal your weight decreasing.
A “calorie” is nothing more than a unit of energy, and your body needs them in order to keep all your systems running at peak efficiency.
Weight gain occurs because our body stores more calories than we are burning, so if we’re taking in unnecessary calories (i.e. more than our body needs to survive), those extra units of energy will just…sit there.
I’ve seen it a thousand times in my work with individuals trying to lose weight: they torch their bodies in the gym, sometimes several times a week, but when it comes time to step on the scale there’s little to no change.
Usually, the culprit is not what they’re doing in the gym, but what they’re doing in the kitchen.
If you maintain a healthy diet and a solid workout program, then the weight will come off.
That’s not my opinion or that of your expensive trainer, but simple science.
In order to make the pounds come off, burn off more calories than you take in.
Provided you’ve got the diet part down, now we can get to the workout phase.
Below are thirteen of the best exercises that will burn off as many calories as possible.
Best Exercises to Lose Weight
You don’t have to go to a gym to get a solid burn; one of the best things you can do for your body (and your waistline) is to do some good, old-fashioned lunges.
But don’t let the simplicity of this exercise fool you; it looks easy, but do a few of these and your legs will be screaming for mercy.
The key here is depth.
Stand with your legs about shoulder-width apart, and put your hands on your hips.
Posture is very important for this exercise; make sure you keep your back straight and tall, or else it will suffer.
Take a very steady step forward with your right leg, and lower your body until your right leg is bent 90 degrees.
Hold for a moment, then bring your body back to the starting position.
Repeat on the opposite side with the left leg, doing the exact same thing.
One lunge for each leg is one rep; do three sets of ten reps total.
If you want to add another layer of difficulty, hold a few dumbbells when you dip, step onto a platform, or change directions throughout the set.
When I was younger, lunges were one of my favorite ways to get a great leg workout in quickly, but as I’ve gotten just a tad older (don’t worry, I still consider myself one of the “young people”!), it’s gotten a little bit more difficult, primarily in my knees.
If you have knee problems, try modifying it slightly by bringing a chair nearby for balance, or by putting blocks on the ground to touch with your knee before bringing it back up.
You want the depth, but not so much that it causes you more problems in the future.
These may sound like a whole barrel of monkeys, but ask anyone who’s tried to do one, and they’ll tell you that it’s the closest thing to a torture session that the Geneva Convention will legally allow.
Burpees are fast-paced, total-body, and tough.
If you’re aiming really to torch that fat as quickly as possible, however, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything better.
To perform a standard burpee, stand with your feet about hip-width apart, and let your arms dangle at your sides.
In one motion, push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower into a squat, bringing your hands up in front of your face.
Then, place your hands on the floor in front of you, and move your weight forward.
“Hop” your feet backward softly to land in a plank position.
Hold for a second, then perform the entire movement in reverse: jump your feet back to your hands, and stand up straight, reaching your hands up in the air, and jump once you are upright.
That’s one rep; lower your body back into a squat and prepare for the next one.
Complete eight to twelve of these to make up one set, and do three sets in all.
Chances are, one set of these will have your heart racing and your mind telling you to quit, but in case you’re up for making it a little bit more difficult, try adding a pushup once you get into the plank position, and/or jumping up onto a box once you stand up straight.
There are all sorts of other variations you can try, such as jumping over the box, adding a pull-up at the top, or bringing your legs into your chest when you jump.
No matter which way you burpee, this is one move that will engage your entire body, and one that you’ll definitely feel the next morning.
No doubt about it, burpees are one of the best exercises to lose weight, period.
Explosive Full-Body Lunges
This is a slight variation on the standard lunge that I mentioned earlier, but one that merits its own mention, precisely because there are so many variations that you can try to make it more challenging.
This exercise is higher-intensity, so only try it if you’re familiar with the standard lunge.
Also, make sure you are wearing proper footwear and have enough space to jump around (if you live above people, try to also perform this gently).
To execute an explosive lunge, get into the standard lunge position: feet shoulder-width apart, hands on hips, and back straight.
Step forward with your right leg until it makes a 90-degree angle, then jump up in the air and switch your legs in mid-air with the left leg now in front and the right leg in back.
Hold for one sure-to-be-painful second, then jump back up in the air and switch your legs back.
Repeat this process for a solid minute, and complete three minutes total.
While you most likely want to take a couple hours’ break in between sets, try not to let too much time pass or your legs will get cold which could increase the chances of injury.
With such a creative move, it only makes sense to have some equally creative variations involved.
For starters, try turning your body around 90 degrees whenever you jump so you face behind you, or reach down and touch the ground in between jumps.
I can’t emphasize enough, however, how important it is to maintain proper form and focus during this exercise.
If you feel yourself start to slack off, take a mini-break and/or dial down the intensity.
The last thing you want is to land on the side of your ankle and end up in the emergency room.
Timeless. Classic. Brutal.
All excellent words to describe the squat, and one of the best exercises to lose weight.
You’re most likely familiar with these in the form of “weighted squats,” where huge muscle-bound guys at the gym stand in the middle of a rack and balance a bar that is almost bending on their back.
Usually, there are at least five guys shouting “bro!” and cheering him on.
The concept is exactly the same if you don’t include the weight; it can still give you a solid workout just using your bodyweight.
Stand in the ready position with your feet shoulder-width apart, and dangle your arms at your sides.
Rest your weight back on your heels and lower your legs while raising your arms in front of you at the same time.
Keep your back straight and lower your legs until your thighs form a 90-degree angle with the floor.
Keep your feet in front of your knees the entire time so you don’t place unnecessary stress on your joints, and steadily raise yourself back into a standing position.
Perform 15 reps for a set, and do three sets to finish.
While a simple bodyweight squat is difficult enough for most of us, if you want to add an extra level of difficulty, hold dumbbells in your hands for this exercise; the amount of weight you hold on each side is totally your call, but make sure it’s the same amount on each side to keep your body balanced.
In addition, you can even add a slight hop to the end of the squat when you come up, to burn a few extra calories.
Not only will this exercise engage your entire lower body and core, but the amount of energy you’ll expend will make for a decent cardio workout as well.
Horizontal Mountain Climbers
This exercise is living proof that you don’t need a gym to get in shape.
Mountain climbers are fast, effective, but, most of all, brutal.
I don’t know if it’s the best way to lose weight, but if not, it has to be in the top five.
Mountain climbers engage your core, work your legs, and torch fat right off your stomach in no time flat.
Though this exercise can be performed with resistance bands, it works just as well without them.
Start with your hands on the floor in a plank position, with one knee brought up towards your chest and the other foot back.
Then, quickly bring your left foot up and put your right foot back, then switch again (sounds like the hokey-pokey, doesn’t it?).
Go as fast as you can for sixty seconds, but make sure your knees don’t touch the ground.
Rest for 20 seconds, and do two more minutes with a 20-second rest in between as well.
If you do it right, you’ll fall to the ground into a pool of sweat immediately after.
Modifying this move is relatively easy.
To make it a little bit easier, place your hands or elbows on a bench a couple feet off the ground.
If you want to make it more intense, just loop a resistance band around a post and put your feet through the handles to make it a little bit harder to move your legs.
Alternatively, you can also jump your feet to switch them, instead of keeping one foot on the ground while you alternate.
This may sound like a minor adjustment, but you’ll notice the difference in cardio very quickly.
You can also rotate your body and raise one arm in the air in between jumps to engage more of the obliques.
Jack Squat/Dumbbell Tabata Drill
Unless you’re already somewhat familiar with fitness, chances are a Tabata drill will be a little unfamiliar to you.
For that reason, it might be worth it to go online and watch a visual demonstration of this exercise, and then practice it slowly first before you go full speed.
Once you do unleash the beast, get ready to sweat, because this one is intense; and, depending on what variation you use, it can be the best way to lose weight, bar none.
Start off with your feet together, and hands holding dumbbells up at your shoulders; make sure you don’t pick too heavy a weight, or else your form will suffer and you’ll neutralize the cardio aspect of this exercise.
Next, do a jumping jack, thrusting the dumbbells straight up in the air over your head until your arms are straight, while your feet jump outward.
Go as hard as you can for 20 seconds, and then take a ten-second break.
Next place your feet hip-width apart and bring your dumbbells up to your chest.
Jab the dumbbells across your chest – left to right and right to left – and go as hard as you can for another 20 seconds, taking another ten-second break afterward.
This counts as one round, but try to go eight rounds total to finish out this exercise.
“Tabata Drill” is actually the name of a lot of different types of workouts, all of which focus on interval training with different objects, so if you’re looking to change up the pace, do some research into other variations.
The obvious modification of this specific exercise, however, is to increase the weight, but if you add too much, you’ll put undue strain on your arms.
Instead, try to increase the speed, but be careful not to throw the dumbbells too hard or you could risk injury to your joints.
Sixty Seconds of Jumping Rope
Time to head back to gym class for your favorite activity!
In case you thought all that time spent in physical education was wasted effort, this exercise proves differently.
There’s a reason everyone from actors getting in shape for movies to prize fighters training for their next fight count on this tried and true method to stay in peak cardio shape.
Don’t worry, it’ll also zap the calories just about as fast as you can say “Adriaaaaan!”
The goal here is to do a full minute of jump rope, so pick a length and a tempo that is right for you.
Ideally, you want the length of the jump rope to be as long as your wingspan, so hold the handles in both hands and try to make the rope taut.
If it’s too loose, you’ll end up stepping on it, but if it’s too tight, you’ll trip yourself and fall flat on your face.
The best way to lose weight is to keep a tight, consistent pace that you can maintain over the course of an entire round.
Start with both feet together, hands holding both ends of the jump rope, and bring your elbows in towards your ribcage.
Then, swing the jump rope over your head and hop as it passes toward your feet.
You can modify the exercise later by adding a little jump in between the rope swings, but for now, just focus on jumping over the rope when it comes your way.
Try to get the rhythm down first, but try to jump for sixty seconds.
Take a miniature break, and then do two more minutes with a break in between.
The sky is the limit on modifications for this exercise.
For starters, you can try to swing the rope twice on each jump, or if you’re really fancy, criss-cross the rope in front of you while you jump.
An easier modification is to mix in a little cardio and strength training by adding a round of pushups in the middle of each set.
With all the attention kettlebells have gotten in the fitness world lately, you would think they were some new invention; in reality, they’re one of the oldest forms of weightlifting around.
Their reputation as a fat-shredder and all-around fitness assistant is well-earned, which means it’s worth it for you to give them a chance.
The best part is, they won’t take up much space in your workout area, so you can make fantastic gains in your workouts rather easily.
Make sure that you pick a kettlebell (or range of kettlebells) that are right for your ability level, usually around 12-15 pounds.
For reference, I’m in my mid-30’s and I use an 18-pounder, but that might be a little much for someone just starting out.
The easiest exercise to introduce the kettlebell into your routine is the simple swing.
Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, and hold the handle in both hands in the front.
Then, squat a little bit while keeping the core tight and back straight, pressing the hips forward as you swing the kettlebell up.
Lower your arms and go back to the beginning squat position for one rep; do three sets of 15 swings to start.
As you progress, you’ll end up finding more and more ways to include your kettlebell in your daily workout routine.
Whether it’s the one-handed row, where you swing the kettlebell with one arm from a squat position above your head, or simply doing “halos,” called that because you swing the kettlebell either around your leg or waist in a circular motion, kettlebells are easy additions to any workout routine, and are some of the best exercises to lose weight.
Ask anyone how to lose weight fast, and most will suggest hitting the pavement.
There’s a reason why nearly every runner you see in the Boston Marathon is thin, and that’s because jogging is one of the best workouts to lose weight, period.
It may not be fun for most, and you may hate every second at the beginning, but there’s no denying its efficiency.
I used to hate jogging, too, with the fiery passion of a thousand suns, but once I gave it a fair shot (which, for me, was a couple months), it’s now become one of my go-to moves.
The best part is that once you run at even a steady pace, your body will continue to burn calories over the rest of the day, not just while you’re on the road.
I would suggest getting a couch-to-5k program or something similar to get started, or at least utilizing the 2:1 method: implement a period of rest that is half as long as your running session.
For example, if you run for two minutes, walk for one minute, and count that as one set.
This way, you don’t overexert yourself at the beginning and end up getting burnt out.
If you’re really wondering how to lose weight fast, throw some sprints into your regimen as well.
Adding even a ten-second burst of speed is enough to increase your heart rate and give your body a longer burn throughout the day.
No matter what, if you’re just starting out, the key is to pace yourself and don’t overdo it.
You want to stick with it for the long-term, not just those few days after Thanksgiving.
There’s a reason that rowing is called “the ultimate full-body workout.”
This oft-neglected machine sitting in the corner of your gym could be the key to torching those stubborn excess calories, but you have to have a plan to tackle it first.
Most people commit the cardinal sin by jumping on the machine, using bad form, and crashing out within a couple minutes.
Don’t be that person.
In the sense of full disclosure, I love the rowing machine.
I think it’s one of the best ways to lose weight of any on this list, and one of the only pieces of equipment I have in my home is this one.
I spent the money on a nice one, and yes, it takes up quite a bit of space, but I love hearing the sound of water moving while I’m getting my workout in.
When you first sit down, it’s important to focus on your posture.
Sit tall, lift your chest, and look out onto the (imaginary) horizon, maintaining a straight gaze so that your head doesn’t drop.
Watch your back, too, and make sure it doesn’t round out; this provides the double benefit of making sure your airways stay fully open as well.
Once you start rowing, utilize the 50-30-20 rule: 50 percent of the energy should come from your legs, 30 percent from your core, and 20 percent from your arms.
Like with your other exercises, focus on doing intervals as well, rather than going all out for ten straight minutes.
For instance, row hard for a minute, slow down for 20 seconds, and then pick it back up for another minute.
You can also mix in endurance training, where you row at mostly maximum capacity for the entirety of the workout but keep a consistent and intense pace.
Or, start slow and increase the speed steadily every 30-60 seconds until you are going full throttle.
Even better, implement all three in your rowing workout by doing a different style every day.
Swimming in a Pool
When you ask yourself, “How can I lose weight,” chances are swimming isn’t one of the first things you think of.
But if you’re fortunate enough to live in an area that is close to water, or have access to a pool that you can visit on a regular basis, swimming is a fun and super-effective way to burn off extra calories in no time.
And lest you think I’m referring to endless laps up and down the length of the pool (which is only fun if you’re either Michael Phelps or a fish), know that even just regular old horseplay is great for your body too.
Something as simple as treading water for a few minutes will get the blood pumping.
Part of why swimming is so effective for weight loss is because it engages the entire body: core, legs, arms; everything.
Because of that, your lungs will have to work extra hard to make sure oxygen is supplied to all parts of your body, giving you a fantastic cardiovascular workout.
Swimming is also very low-impact, which means if you’re a little bit on the older side, and/or have struggled with joint pain or other issues that can inhibit regular exercise, it is absolutely perfect for you.
The best way to get started swimming is by either taking a class, like water aerobics, or by hiring a trainer that can teach you the different styles: breaststroke, freestyle, backstroke, and butterfly.
Stretch before entering the pool to decrease the likelihood of cramps, and remember to pace yourself.
Most newbies jump in right away hoping to compete in the next 400m Olympic trial; you’re not looking to break any records here, you just want to get it done and enjoy yourself.
Boxing or Shadowboxing
Lace up those gloves and step inside the ropes, because it’s time to go fifteen rounds of sweat!
Boxing is not only a fantastic way to release any kind of pent-up frustration you may be feeling, but also is one of the best workouts to lose weight.
The quick pace plus the constant dipping, ducking, dodging, and jabbing force your body to be on the move constantly.
Depending on your weight, expect to use about 350 calories an hour, but if you take a class that is specifically aimed at burning fat, that can skyrocket to between 600-800 calories an hour.
As with the other exercises, the key for any new boxer is to pace yourself and work in rest time.
This is easy to do with a simple boxing workout, however, as you can easily set the timer for three-minute rounds and then take a 30-second break in between.
Go as hard as you can for as many rounds as you can, using proper form to prevent injury.
You can either set up a heavy bag in your garage or workout area or even do “shadowboxing,” which is just like boxing, except you’re not actually hitting anything.
The best part about shadowboxing is that you can do it just about anywhere, provided you don’t accidentally connect with someone or something.
If you’re wondering how to lose weight fast, the trick with boxing is to enlist others to take classes with you.
You can train together, and if you all continue to progress within the class, sometimes even spar with each other as well.
Talk about adding a whole new level to your friendship!
I get a lot of e-mails from people wanting to get in better shape, usually about very specific things, but every once in a while I’ll get a generic e-mail that simply asks, “How can I lose weight?” I’ll usually send them a short list of various things to do, and included on every single one of them is this one — running stairs.
There are lots of different variations on this theme, whether you’re talking about the Stairmaster at the gym (that everyone always avoids), or simply running up a flight of stairs at work or school.
That’s why I always skip the elevator if I can avoid it, and take the stairs instead: it’s one of the best ways to sneak in a little bit of a workout and kick start my metabolism into high gear.
Running upstairs, and really any form of up-tempo exercise is one example of what’s called HIIT or “High-Intensity Interval Training.”
HIIT is geared around using short bursts of intense activity to burn fat, instead of long, drawn-out cardio sessions.
Studies have shown that participating in HIIT workouts can be almost as beneficial as regular cardio sessions, so when I’m in a time crunch, they’re always one of my go-to’s.
To make the most of running stairs, utilize the 1:3 run-to-rest method.
Start off by running up as many stairs as you can for 10 seconds, and then take 30 seconds to come back down to the starting block.
Then, when your thirty seconds are up, run up those stairs for ten seconds as fast as possible again, then rest, and so on.
Do ten sets total of this routine, and you’ll be feeling the burn in no time.
Do’s and Don’ts
Now that you know what to do, it’s important to know how to do it.
Here’s a quick list of some things to keep in mind when you’re getting back into cardio workouts.
- Do pace yourself. Don’t go as fast as you can out of the gate, or else you’ll burn yourself out and end up not being able to finish. It’s better to go slow and steady and leave yourself wanting more than destroy yourself and never come back.
- Don’t push through the pain. A little bit of pain is unavoidable, but learn the difference between pain that is expected and pain that is telling you to stop, and respect your body when you feel the latter.
- Do your research and ask for help. Between personal trainers and the glorious invention known as the internet, there is no reason to be uninformed about any of these moves. If you don’t know how to do something, ask.
- Don’t focus on your numbers. Whether you’re glancing at the scale every couple minutes or checking your watch after every interval and kicking yourself that you’re not improving, remember to keep your eyes on what’s most important: your health.
- Do take care of your body. A little stretch, a little hydration, and your body will reward you in spades in the workouts to come.
The best part about a great cardio workout is that it can be done just about anytime, anywhere, using either minimal or no equipment whatsoever.
All you need is a plan and a little bit of space, and you can get a good, solid burn that will continue to melt the calories away for the rest of the day.
You don’t even have to string together a bunch of workouts to lose weight, either; pick a few every day, and give it your 100%.
And don’t worry about the people that stare at you as you come barreling by running up the stairs – pretty soon they’ll be the ones asking if they can do laundry on your washboard abs.