There are many different exercises you can do for just about any type of goal. Want to be more flexible? Try yoga. Looking for more muscle mass? Focus on strength training. And if it’s weight loss you’re after, you’re certainly not alone. In the most recent report of its kind, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 49% of U.S. adults tried to lose weight in a 12-month period.
Losing weight is a layered issue and requires more than just an exercise regimen, including a diet with food specific to your goal of weight loss, but the gym (or at home on a mat) is where most Americans begin their weight-loss journey. According to the Mayo Clinic, you need a reduction of 500 to 750 calories a day through diet and exercise to lose 1.5 pounds a week. It should also be noted that having goals is good, but being too specific in them is one of the ways you’re sabotaging your workout, so it is important to realize that not every exercise or routine works the same way for everyone.
The Active Times consulted Stephanie Mansour, health and fitness expert and host of “Step It Up with Steph,” which airs weekend mornings on PBS stations nationwide, to help us put together a comprehensive list of the all-time best exercises for weight loss. We also consulted Harvard Medical School’s guidelines to determine how many calories are burned during some of these routines and gathered information from other popular fitness trainers and the American Council on Exercise for tips on how to do some of the movements properly to get the most out of your workout.
High-intensity movements such as box jumps push the body to burn fat before carbohydrates — good news for anyone trying to lose weight. Are your box jumps intense enough? Well, that is just one of many things your heart rate should be able to tell you.
“Burpees are an ideal full-body workout move that works the upper body, lower body and core all at the same time,” Mansour said. “This is a total calorie burner and also muscle builder, which helps with weight loss.”
Planks are another full-body workout. But instead of a dynamic exercise, planks are a static hold and require more patience and stamina. “By strengthening the core and working the upper and lower body at the same time, you're building muscle and muscle burns fat faster than fat burns fat,” Mansour said. Make sure you know how to plank correctly to get the most out of the exercise.
Pilates is one of the trendy exercises you need to try. It promotes core strength and stability through low-impact muscular power, endurance and flexibility movements. Pilates is not an aerobic exercise, so the Department of Health and Human Services would recommend that this be only part of a workout regime because it may not be as effective on its own. Pilates is also supposed to help kickstart your metabolism and, even though it’s low-impact, it’s a routine that will still make you sweat.
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Knee-to-elbow kicks are a cardio and strength-training move all in one — and the balance is key for weight loss. Mansour explained that cardio increases heart rate and burns calories while you're doing the exercises, and strength training gives you a calorie burn long after the exercise is completed because your metabolism remains elevated even after you stop working out.
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A squat is a lower-body exercise that works the biggest muscles in the body: the quads and glutes. “By working these large muscles, you burn a lot of calories and also help boost your metabolism, which helps with weight loss,” Mansour said. Squats can be dreadful, especially if you’re already sore from the day before, but they are highly effective and it's important to do them right to prevent any injury.
This exercise works the muscles of the upper body and also helps improve posture. Though it’s a useful tool to shed pounds, the weight-loss effects of this exercise are secondary to the muscle build and alignment that this exercise gives your body, Mansour said.
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Crunches are the ultimate core exercise and another one that requires nothing but your own body. “Crunches help to burn calories and also strengthen the core, whittle the waistline and tighten the midsection to help tone the middle of the body,” Mansour said.
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If you're worried about the scary effects of stress, consider cardio on a stationary machine like an elliptical or an exercise bike. Most fitness experts — Mansour included — highlight the importance of combining cardio and strength training in a weight-loss regimen. “As a private weight-loss coach, I help my clients to lose weight quickly [and] cardio is great for that to reduce stress, burn calories in the moment and improve cardiovascular shape,” she said.
If high-intensity cardio isn’t ideal for you, you can do light cardio exercises like jogging to maintain your fitness and weight-loss goals.
Interval running involves running at a faster pace than usual, which means it will require extra endurance. You run for a predetermined length of time, with a recovery jog interval, and then another fast run and repeat. “Intervals are a great way to work toward weight loss because they keep your body guessing as to how fast you're going to go next,” Mansour said. “When your muscles get used to what's coming, they don't work as hard.
Sprint running is similar to intervals in that it causes your body to use loads of energy to go fast, and then slow down during the recovery period. This alternating fast-slow-fast-slow cardio is very effective for weight loss.
Weightlifting continues to burn calories even after the workout because the muscles are repairing, recovering and building, which could also leave you a little sore. It’s one of the ways your body changes when you start working out. “Weightlifting with dumbbells, bands or other workout equipment is fabulous to build muscle and strength throughout the entire body and therefore burn fat and lose weight all the way around,” Mansour said.
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Jillian Michaels, the wildly popular fitness expert and television personality, wrote on her blog that circuit training workouts are ideal for people looking to lose those last 10 pounds. Circuit training “is a combo of strength and cardio exercises done back to back, with little or no rest in between moves,” Michaels said on the blog. And the exercises themselves don't have to be complicated, like the one she gave as an example: Pushups for 30 seconds, squats with dumbbell shoulder press for 30 seconds, bench triceps dips for 30 seconds followed by jumping jacks for 30 seconds. You can rest for 30 seconds and then repeat the circuit from the top.
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On her blog, Michaels credited high-intensity interval training, also referred to as “HIIT,” as an incredibly effective regimen for burning calories and quickly accelerating your fitness level — both key to losing weight. “[HIIT] is about pushing yourself during short bursts of your workout session so you're exercising at close to 100 percent of your maximum heart rate (MHR) and then recovering at a lower intensity of roughly 60-70 percent of your MHR,” she wrote. “These intervals can range anywhere from 20 seconds to two minutes, depending on your level of fitness.” To figure out your MHR, subtract your age from 220. If you're 35, your MHR is 185 beats per minute.
Any movement that burns calories and gets your heart pumping is beneficial for weight loss. Dancing is no different — and it’s fun. A 155-pound person can burn about 205 calories with 30 minutes of dancing according to Harvard Medical School.
Eccentric training is a trendy way to exercise and it’s a movement that lengthens the muscle as it is being contracted. An example is the part of a bicep curl where you are lowering your arm. The lowering is eccentric (sometimes referred to as negative training). Oftentimes the focus on downward force exerted on a muscle means you can use heavier weights than you would usually be able to lift, and this is often used to build muscle size as well as strength. Post-exercise metabolism and resting energy expenditure was elevated following resistance training with a concentration in eccentric training, according to a study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
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Pushups belong on every great exercise list — the upper-body exercise works more than one muscle and helps tone your arms, chest, shoulders and core. Mansour said the more muscles that are worked, the better for weight loss.
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A pullup is another exercise that works multiple muscles simultaneously as it takes an enormous amount of strength to raise and lower the weight of your body while suspended on the bar. You must not only pull yourself up using your biceps, but also the elbows flex and the shoulders draw toward the median axis of the body and bring the elbows to the torso.
Deadlifts are a weight-training exercise in which a loaded barbell with weights is lifted off the ground to the hips and torso, perpendicular to the floor, before being placed back on the ground. In such powerlifting exercises, people work their way to eventually lifting more than their body weight, which can make the movement even harder. When that’s the case, more muscles are recruited and therefore more calories are burned, Mansour said. Remember to take exercises like these slow to build up to heavier weights.
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A Turkish get-up is an exercise move that involves lying down and a kettlebell above your head. Research suggests that kettlebell exercises produce enough of a physiological response to aid in weight loss and on top of that, this move is also complex enough to aid in balance and joint strength.
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Harvard Medical School lists balance exercises as one of the four most important exercises to incorporate into your routine because they help to combat the natural loss of balance experienced in aging. Maintaining excellent balance is directly related to being able to continue to do other workouts to help your weight-loss goals and one of the most important tips for healthy aging.
Kettlebell swings combine strength and cardio, which is key to getting your heart rate up while also strengthening your arms and leg muscles.
This is another combination exercise that utilizes both upper- and lower-body movements to get a bigger bang for your exercise buck, Mansour said. Squat to press exercises work the quads and glutes while also toning and sculpting the upper body and shoulders.
Lunges also work the biggest muscles of the body — the quads and glutes — making them great for overall weight loss. You can also take it up a notch by lunging forward and taking steps with a dumbbell in each hand.
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According to Mansour, this is a standard core exercise that is all about maintaining gentle muscle contraction. It also recruits the hamstrings, glutes and quads to help with strength training and fat loss.
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Unsurprisingly, donkey kicks mimic the kick of a donkey. The exercise may feel like it is targeting just your glutes, but it takes your core to maintain stability, so the workout engages much of your body. Donkey kicks are compound movements, so the more vigorously these are completed, the more calories you will burn.
Wall sits are a great modification to squats and one of the best low impact workouts that break a sweat. Working the muscles of the legs will help with weight loss and overall calorie burn, according to Mansour.
Any aerobic exercise, including step-ups, are imperative to weight loss as they increase heart rate, improve cardiovascular health and burn calories.
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Taking the stairs is actually an effective means of exercise. According to the Mayo Clinic, opting for the stairs definitely counts as exercise and will help you to get your steps in for the day. You’ll burn about 65 calories in 15 minutes of stair climbing. It’s an easy habit to add into your routine.
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TRX is a form of resistance training developed by a Navy SEAL, so it’s a bit more intense than just opting for the stairs and it also requires special equipment. The American Council of Exercise examined the system and found a significant decrease in waist circumference and body-fat percentage for those who use it.
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It’s a pushup. It’s a squat. It’s sort of like a burpee with a weight. It’s a lot. The steps of a man maker are: plank, pushup, one-armed dumbbell row, squat and dumbbell overhead shoulder press. It’s a CrossFit move meant to engage the whole body and doing this vigorously will definitely burn some calories.
According to the American Council of Exercise, this advanced move is meant to work out almost the full body with an emphasis on the butt, hips and thighs. Because mountain climbers are a total-body exercise, they can burn calories and lead to fat loss.
A 155-pound person rowing at a moderate rate for 30 minutes on a stationary rowing machine will burn 260 calories. At a vigorous rate, they’ll burn 316, according to Harvard Medical School.
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Jumping rope is not only a fun activity from your childhood, it’s also a great form of calorie-burning cardio that also improves hand-eye coordination.
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Looking for abs of steel? Then take tips from the Man of Steel. To do this move properly, you must first lie on your stomach with your arms overhead and your legs extended. Two problem areas for people trying to slim down are the belly and lower back area of the body. The low-impact, high-reward superman exercise is all about movements that work the core and lower body.
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Scissors work the core as you move your legs forward and back in a scissors-like way. According to Mansour, tightening and toning the core helps with reducing dress and pant sizes as well as making the appearance of the abs more defined. This is a great move for anyone just starting out.
Tabata workouts help improve your resting metabolic rate and burn calories. Tabata is a timed exercise in which you repeat one or multiple simple exercises like mountain climbers or burpees as hard as you can for 20 seconds and follow that with 10 seconds of rest. Repeat seven more times. As with any exercise, don’t overdo it and embrace breaks throughout the week.
The v-sit hold is almost a full-body flex that engages many muscle groups. V-sit holds target the abdominal muscles — toning down your core — and strengthen your back muscles.
This one is also for your abs and was a gym-class staple. Combine this exercise with another one that requires you to lie with your back to the floor for a two-in-one.
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The bird-dog is a floor exercise, kind of like yoga or pilates, that strengthens the core using your own bodyweight. It primarily targets the abdominal muscles, lower back, butt and thighs.
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The triceps kickback is a simple exercise that can be done by beginners and experts looking for a solid arm workout. The targeted triceps workout will help you lose arm fat over time and build muscle.
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The standing wood chop is a more advanced exercise that primarily targets abs, according to ACE. The movements are all about twisting and lifting for a strong core, which leads to a smaller waist.
CrossFit mixes high-intensity cardio and strength exercises with aerobics and gymnastics. ACE dug into the highly popular branded fitness program and found that men burned an average of 20.5 calories per minute using CrossFit training while women averaged 12.5 calories per minute. Because CrossFit movements burn calories and boost metabolism, they’re great for weight loss.
Leg raises are great for abs, but can be challenging. The exercise is often recommended as a beginner strength exercise and is one of the ways to exercise when you don't have access to a gym. A pro-tip from Shape Magazine is to really press your lower back into the floor as you toss your legs around for more stability.
There are a variety of ways to do a bench dip and the many variations can target many muscle groups. An ACE research study found bench dips to be one of the most effective moves for eliciting a high level of muscle activity in the triceps because you are using your own body weight.
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Many forms of exercise help burn calories, but Harvard Medical School guidelines highlight exercises that focus on core-strengthening as being even more beneficial. Kayaking is one of those activities — the exhausting nature of paddling through the open waters is enjoyable and fat-burning at the same time.
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According to Yoga Journal, there are certain poses that will help burn fat, build muscle tone and give you more flexibility — all of which contribute to your overall weight-loss goals. Baxter Bell, an editor at Yoga Journal, wrote in a Q&A post that the most obvious physical benefits of yoga include loosening of muscles that have been tightened by inactivity, tension and stress. “Asana practice also increases the range of motion of joints, enhances flexibility, and can help correct postural problems that may have resulted from weight gain,” he wrote. And if stretching and posing doesn’t seem like a challenge, some of the regimes will definitely leave you sweating.
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Opting for the 15-minute walk over the two-minute car ride might help you lose weight. The addition of any physical activity outside of your ordinary routine coupled with diet changes can have that effect, but walking with just a little bit of intensity is surprisingly good at burning calories and an easy way to get started losing weight. According to Harvard Medical School, a 155-pound person walking for 30 minutes burns about 149 calories when walking a 17-minute mile and 167 calories when walking a 14-minute mile.
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Hop on a machine from one of the world’s best bike brands and get pedaling. Biking can be great for weight loss. A 155-pound person on a stationary bike for 30 minutes can burn 260 calories if they are going at a moderate pace and 391 if they are going vigorously. When bicycling between 14 and 15.9 mph, they can burn 372 calories per 30 minutes according to Harvard Medical School.
Maybe you are the type of person who wants to avoid all the gym etiquette rules that come with using equipment in a shared environment. And if that’s the case, this option might be right for you. This might seem obvious because of course you burn calories during the physical activity involved in competitive (or non-competitive) sports, but you might not realize just how many get burned during that healthy competition. According to Harvard Medical School, for a 155-pound person, 30 minutes of golf burns 130 calories, softball burns 186, soccer burns 260 and basketball and beach volleyball both burn 298. Of course, along with any exercise you do, it's important to eat right. Improve your diet with the 50 best foods for weight loss.
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