10 Best Exercises For Weight Loss

When it comes to losing weight, we are often told that diet is the best way, that we eat matters more than what we do. Which is, in many ways, absolutely true! You can have fast weight loss without doing anything at all except cutting calories. But is it truly the best way? The only way? Of course not! The best weight loss is a combination of approaches, and if we only focus on one strategy for weight loss, we risk becoming unhealthy instead of healthy. Confused? I'll do my best to explain.

Why Weight Loss Is Unhealthy.

Let me start out by saying: staying above a healthy weight and carrying excess fat are more unhealthy than weight loss! There has been a little research to suggest that having a slightly higher weight is the best protection against illness, but the problem with using this as a crutch is:

  • Most of us are carrying more than an extra 5lbs.
  • BMI does not account for the fat versus the muscle we are carrying.

The only way to actually make sense of the “slightly overweight paradox” is to be completely honest with ourselves. I was dishonest with myself for years before I plucked up the courage to say “I'm not chubby, I'm not a healthy weight, I am overweight and unhealthy.” It changed my life. So unless you are literally carrying a spare 5lbs, the best thing is to be honest with yourself about whether you are actually healthy.

Now we have got that out of the way, it is time for the big revelation: Losing weight is unhealthy too!

For starters, when we eat less food we are not just consuming fewer calories, sugars, and fats. We are also consuming fewer proteins, vitamins, and minerals. And although consuming less of the former is the best idea, consuming less of the latter can cause serious deficiencies.

The less food we eat, the less likely we are to get all the nutrients we need, and this is even more accurate when we are looking at diets that restrict food types, or that are incredibly low in calories. This means you could end up feeling lethargic (B vitamin deficiencies), depressed (vitamin D deficiency), weak (protein deficiencies), low in motivation (magnesium deficiency), low in sex drive (zinc deficiency), etc.

What is more, when our body burns fat it enters a state called ketosis. What ketosis does is it makes our bodies combine fats and proteins to form ketones, which are a bit like a sugar substitute for our bodies. Instead of burning glucose from our food, we burn ketones from our fat.

And if we aren't eating much protein, then where do you think the protein for ketosis comes from?

That's right: YOU!

When you are burning fat and not eating enough protein, your body will literally digest muscle tissue to make energy for itself.

Next, we have the problem with stress. Stress is not just a mental state, it is very much physical. It is our bodies' response to danger. And not all dangers are big scary ones like bears. Some are little, persistent ones, like starvation.

When we eat less than our body needs to survive, it doesn't just start losing weight, it starts sending signals to our brain saying “There isn't enough food here!” And the longer you ignore those signals, the stronger they get.

Over time, this will raise your stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, making you feel not at your best, anxious, and desperate for junk food.

Last, but by no means least, we have the psychological effects of dieting. The best explanation:It makes us miserable. We cannot go out for a meal with our friends. We cannot eat our favorite foods. We need to count calories all the time. We need to handle the physical stress.

Being on a diet is bound to make you feel angry, sad, lethargic, frustrated, and lonely.

Once the weight is gone, your health will slowly become objectively better. But whilst the process is underway? You are less healthy.

Objectively, the best option would be not to get above a healthy weight in the first place. But if you're here, chances are that option is not available to you. So the only solution is to engage in weight loss as safely and healthily as possible. Which is where exercise comes in.

Health And Exercise.

Unlike dieting, exercise is objectively one of the best things for our health. Unless you are working out until you collapse, it is doing you some serious good.

First of all, it helps build your cardiovascular system up. The more often you exercise, and the more intensely, the harder your heart pumps, the more flexible your veins are, the lower your blood pressure is, and the better your overall circulation is. The end result is a reduced risk of heart attacks, strokes, hypertension, fluid retention, atherosclerosis, embolisms, etc.

Secondly, it improves oxygenation of our bodies. The more often and more intensely you exercise, the better your breathing is, and the more your cell oxygen transfer improves. Because oxygen is essential for helping your cells create energy, you will feel happier and more lively. Besides, now you won't be out of breath after a flight of stairs.

Thirdly, more exercise and more muscle means a higher metabolism. When we exercise, we grow muscle. And when we grow muscle, we increase our calorific requirements. A muscle cell burns more calories when resting than a fat cell. But muscle cells are also more active than fat cells. Which means that more muscles = more calories burned every day.

Fourthly, exercise improves our hormonal balance. It has been found that people who exercise regularly have a healthier, more stable hormonal profile than those who do not. Regardless of weight! Exercise raises testosterone and progesterone, controls estrogen, and reduces cortisol and adrenaline. It also releases the happy hormones: dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, and oxytocin, resulting in the fabled “runner's high”.

Finally, exercise is a fantastic opportunity to learn, grow, and/or to be social. Learning new exercises has been found to rewire the parts of our brain related to memory, habits, and coordination, encouraging us to grow as people. What is more, if you are a sociable person, or you want to be more social, getting a personal trainer or gym buddy, or joining a class or team, are some of the best ways of socializing healthily.

What does all this mean for health and weight loss? Quite simply that, even though losing weight takes its toll on our bodies, exercising when losing weight can cushion the blow a bit. If you are just dieting you may be nutrient deficient, burning your own muscles, stressed, and lonely. But if you add exercise you can eat more food, build muscle, burn stress, and socialize. Which option sounds more fun and sustainable to you?

How Exercises Compare.

Of course, not all exercise is created equal. Here is a chart comparing the ten exercises on our list. You will notice that even though they all made the list and are all great for us, they have very different qualities! The best one for you really depends on your personal needs.

INTENSITY

DURATION

GEAR

CLASSES

SOCIAL

COST

WEIGHT LOSS

SWIMMING

Variable

Variable

-swimming costume

-goggles

-pool

Available

Sometimes

Minimal

500-700 calories/hour

TEAM SPORTS

Medium

Medium

-uniform

-ball?

Available

Yes

Minimal

400-600 calories/hour

DANCING

Variable

Variable

-workout clothes

Needed

Yes

Variable

450 calories/hour

CYCLING

Variable

Variable

-bicycle

-workout clothes

Available

Rarely

High

650 calories/hour

HIKING

Low

Variable

-workout clothes

N/A

Often

Low

400-550 calories/hour

CALISTHENICS

Variable

Variable

-workout clothes

Available

Rarely

Low

600 calories/hour

Tai Chi

High

Short

-workout clothes

Needed

Sometimes

Low

250-350 calories/hour

YOGA

Variable

Variable

-workout clothes

-yoga mat

Needed

Sometimes

Variable

250-300 calories/hour

WEIGHTS

Variable

Short

-workout clothes

-weights

N/A

Rarely

High

250 calories/hour

HIIT

High

Short

-workout clothes

Needed

Rarely

Minimal

500-750 calories/hour

As you can see, there is a wide array of exercises for you to choose from. Here we have assessed them based on common preferences. For example, you might prefer high intensity running, or low intensity hiking. Or you might prefer social yoga, or less social body weight exercise.

That said, this is by no means an exhaustive list. Some of your more personal requirements may not be listed here. For example:

  • Is the timing flexible?
  • Can I get my children involved?
  • Is it safe for differently abled people?
  • Can I practice at home?

Always remember that your situation is personal to you, and that you must choose your exercise according to your own needs, not based on what someone recommended, or on what sounds fun.

The best exercise for you is exercise that you can do!

FAQS.

I haven't exercised for a long time, or ever. How do I start?

I'd advise starting slow, steady, and building up from there. Don't throw yourself into exercise when you aren't sure what will happen. Stop when you start feeling tired, and then see how you feel over the next 24 hours. If you feel OK, make sure to go a bit further at your next workout. And keep building it up until it's challenging!

Is exercise safe for everyone?

There are a tiny minority of people who are actually allergic to exercise. What this means is when they exercise they go into anaphylaxis and can asphyxiate, just like someone suffering a peanut allergy.

Besides these people, there is nobody who will find all exercise unsafe. Some exercises might not be right for certain people. I would not advise jogging if you have trouble with your knees, for example. But as a general rule, there will be some sort of exercise to suit your needs. If you really can't find any, talk to your doctor about different options.

Will I need to change my diet if I am exercising?

It really depends what your diet is! If you eat a healthy diet with plenty of vegetables and protein you will just need to increase your calories a little bit, to fuel your workouts.

But if your diet is specialized, then you may need to mix things up a bit. And if your diet is unhealthy you may need to work on eating healthier before you start exercising.

Some people turn to supplements when they start exercising. For most of us that will not be necessary, but in a few specific situations you might benefit from supplements:

  • If you find it hard to eat a healthy, varied diet you may need a multivitamin.
  • If your diet is low in protein you may need a protein supplement.
  • If you have a condition that makes it hard for you to absorb certain nutrients you may need to supplement them.

Is there one exercise that you would always recommend above all others?

Yoga! There are countless different forms of yoga depending on your level of expertise, how intense you want the workout to be, what aspect of your health you are focusing on, etc.

What is more, yoga is incredibly accessible. It is everywhere, so if you prefer classes you are very likely to find one near you. It is available in online videos, so you can learn the basics yourself. You can do it at home, for free, in casual loose clothing. And you can stop at your limits, no matter who you are or what your physical conditioning is.

In short, there is a yoga for everyone.

Are there any exercises I shouldn't be doing?

Jogging often on tarmac. This exercise used to be the standard “working out for weight loss” option, and in many places it still is. But it is probably the worst way to experience weight loss and get healthy.

For starters, it isn't the best for burning calories. Every mile you run will burn around 100 calories, so the average person will only burn around 500 calories, which is about what you burn with any moderate exercise.

It does not build muscle. How many marathon runners have you seen who are built? The more jogging you do, the slimmer and more straight shaped you will be. If you want size or curves, you need to do something muscle building.

The years it adds to your life are actually less than the years you will spend jogging over the course of your life. So if you don't like running, you're actually losing out on life by doing it.

And the fact of the matter is that many people do not find it fun. If you do? More power to you. But with all the fun exercises out there, never pick one you don't enjoy.

Finally, the environment we live in is awful for running anyway. Tarmac and concrete are awful places to run, and can cause long term damage to our knees and ankles.

Is it OK to push through the pain?

Many “fitspo” websites, articles, and images encourage you to push through your pain. And for newbies a little context is needed here.

It is never OK to be in pain when exercising. Pain is a sign something is seriously wrong, and if we push through it, we could actually tear a muscle, dislocate a joint, break a bone, etc. If you are in pain, you must stop exercising.

What this fitspo is referring to is not pain. It is discomfort, which is not the same thing. It is perfectly normal to experience an elevated heart rate, breathlessness, sweating, and a little muscle soreness when exercising. This is uncomfortable, but not painful. And the more you push through your discomfort, the better your workouts will be.

I don't have access to any gyms, natural spaces, or equipment, what can I do?

Many people do not have the time, or do not live in the right area, or do not have the money to invest in exercise. But this doesn't mean you are completely out of options.

Any exercise is “the best” exercise. If you try and stand as you do chores like sort your mail, do body weight squats while you watch TV, or do press ups while you wait for the microwave to finish, that is something. Remember that there is no such thing as too little exercise to be worthwhile. Everything you do adds up.

10: Swimming Laps.

What is it?

Swimming is a fantastic workout option. Getting in the water and moving, any way you can, is very soothing, and playing against the water's resistance can help you build muscle and endurance. You will obviously need access to a pool, which may be difficult depending on where you live and what you income is. It's the best exercise routine for beginners, people with joint or mobility problems, and very overweight or obese people. The water lifts your weight off the ground, so you are not fighting gravity, giving you much better mobility and letting you exercise harder.

How does it work for weight loss?

Swimming is a bit like a body weight exercise at reduced body weight. You are just moving yourself, and somewhat moving against the water, but the pressure is taken right off your joints and the water around you may be relaxing and comforting.

What is the best routine for weight loss?

2-3 times a week, for 30 to 60 minutes

Our best tip for weight loss: Don't just sit there! The downfall many of us have when swimming is we get too relaxed and bob about in the water, sit on a floaty, and generally get lazy. Learn some good swimming strokes and keep moving as long as you are in the water. You might want to set yourself an amount of time to stay moving, with some relaxed time at the end to reward your hard work.

9: Team Sports.

What is it?

There are so many different team sports, it would take all year to list them here! But in principle, team sports are any sport where there are many participants, divided into two teams, where the goal is for one team to defeat the other one.

How does it work for weight loss?

It really depends on the sport, but most combine endurance with bursts of speed and bursts of strength. This helps with weight loss by combining different types of energy burning and muscle development. A lot of weight loss routines combine intense energy burning exercises, heavy muscle building exercises, and slow but steady daily exercises, to help you develop your new body. Team sports combine all of this into one single session. And because it is fun, you are more likely to do it.

What is the best routine for weight loss?

Because of timing and commitment issues, you will probably find it easiest to practice once a week, for at least half an hour and up to two or three hours. Don't feel intimidated by the timing, though! Most people spend some time warming up, some time cooling down, have a break, and take it easy.

Our best tip for weight loss:

If there are no teams near you, you may want to consider forming a small sport group among your friends. You can get together once a week and practice together, break into two teams and compete, or just have fun.

8: Dancing.

What is it?

Dancing is the act of moving your body in time to music. There are many different types of dancing to practice, from traditional to contemporary, from structured dances to improvisation.

How does it work for weight loss?

Dancing is one of the best ways to get yourself moving because, quite simply, it is fun. We are moving every part of our body, and we keep moving not because we have to, but because we enjoy it. And that enjoyment also translates to a better hormone profile, which can help us with weight loss! It has actually been found that most people are born with a natural instinct for rhythm and sound, so the act of dancing to music could help you to achieve health during weight loss.

What is the best routine for weight loss?

If you just want to dance for weight loss, then a little bit every day, or an hour twice a week, may be enough. But many people find that they want to take dancing more seriously. If you discover a love for dance, there is no upper limit to how much you can practice. And not only will all those extra steps help improve your skills, but every minute spent dancing is weight off your body.

Our best tip for weight loss:

You need to choose a type of dance that keeps you moving! Don't pick something just because it looks dynamic or burns many calories per minute. Pick something you genuinely love, and you are more likely to make it into a lifelong habit.

7: Cycling.

What is it?

Cycling is the act of riding a bicycle. Some people like to cycle on paved roads, others may enjoy using skating rinks to practice tricks, others may enjoy mountain biking or racing. If you are interested in cycling, ask yourself what sort of cycling is the best for your enjoyment, as the gear needed for each type is very different.

How does it work for weight loss?

Cycling works in a similar manner to jogging, but has some distinct advantages. First of all, by cycling you can cover more ground faster, making it a more reasonable mode of transport. Secondly, as your feet are not repeatedly hitting the pavement it is not so bad on your joints. And last but by no means least, cycling makes it easy to carry things as you move, or to bring children with you, without overloading yourself.

What is the best routine for weight loss?

Most people find that the easiest way to incorporate cycling into their routine is to start cycling from A to B. But if you need to travel by foot or car, or if you would rather spend time focused on exercise, then half an hour three times a week is the best place to start.

Our best tip for weight loss:

Try different cycling routes. Exploring and finding new roads and paths, quicker ways, and avoiding high traffic areas can all make the act of cycling more fun.

If you are not an outdoors person, consider a stationary bicycle. This allows you to cycle in front of the TV or your computer, rather than outside in the elements.

6: Hiking, Rambling, and Walking.

What is it?

Hiking, rambling, and walking are all ways of making use of our best and simplest available exercise source: our own two feet. It doesn't matter where you live or what your physical condition is, even walking a few steps around your home can help with your weight loss. And if you physically cannot walk? Try using your usual way of getting around: manually wheel yourself, pull yourself along, anything. Just moving a little bit will make a difference.

How does it work for weight loss?

Humans evolved to walk, and if you have a hard time doing exercise because of physical or mental health issues, then starting with walking could be idea. There are very few financial or material requirements for walking, and if you are having a bad day you can just go outside, walk up and down indoors, or walk to the shops.

What is the best routine for weight loss?

If you are starting out with walking, there is no set routine you need to follow. Most people prefer to walk little and often. Because you don't need to plan for it, you can try just walking whenever you get the opportunity. Walk to the corner shop. Walk up and down the room. Walk the dog. Walk the children to school. Just fit it into your everyday routine.

Our best tip for weight loss:

Even if you are able to do some fairly intense activities, adding walking into the mix can be really great for you. That low-level, steady activity is one of the best ways of keeping your circulation working normally and your joints limber and comfortable, both of which can help make weight loss easier and more pleasant. Just don’t forget to use a GPS if you’re out in the wilderness!

5: Dynamic Calisthenics.

What is it?

Dynamic calisthenics are basically body weight exercises that you do energetically. All sorts of things fall into this category: aerobics, military workout plans, obstacle courses, etc. The idea is that you are going to be using your own body weight to create tension in your arms, legs, back, etc, to build up muscle.

How does it work for weight loss?

Contrary to popular belief, you don't need to add extra weights to yourself to exercise your muscles! A push-up exercises the same muscles as a bench press. A squat exercises your legs whether you are holding a weight or not. And these exercises can be done anywhere, in almost any clothing, making them perfect for busy people who do not have the resources for a gym membership.

What is the best routine for weight loss?

A bit like walking, body weight exercise can either be built into your day between tasks, or used as a single session a few times a week. It really depends on your needs. If you are fitting it into your day, try prescribing yourself a set number of actions every day, so that you can track how busy you are. For example, you might choose to do 30 squats, 30 burpees, and 30 jumping jacks today.

Our best tip for weight loss:

Because you are not using extra weight, you will need to perform the motions many more times to get full results. So if someone with weights would do five sets of four repetitions on squats, you might need to do 40 squats for the same sort of results.

4: Tai Chi.

What is it?

Tai Chi is a very popular form of exercise for people of all ages and abilities in China. It is actually a martial art, but, like yoga, there are many different forms catering to different needs, from self defense to balancing your qi. Most people who practice it use it only for the physical and mental health benefits.

How does it work for weight loss?

A bit like a combination of body weight activities and yoga, Tai Chi encourages you to use your own body to build your muscles. Because it is so forgiving and slow, however, it is much safer for people who may not be able to perform usual exercises.

What is the best routine for weight loss?

Many people who practice Tai Chi will do so every morning and/or every evening. It is an excellent way to start and end your day. This makes it perfect for people who have busy daytime routines that have little room for exercise. Just make sure you have half an hour before the day begins, or before bed, for Tai Chi.

Our best tip for weight loss:

Try and get an instructor, or an instructional video, to help you make sense of the movements. Tai Chi is very forgiving and very safe, but if you do not know what you are doing you are still at risk of injury. If there are no local instructors, look into alternatives, for example taekwon-do, or judo.

3: Vinyasa Yoga.

What is it?

There are many forms of yoga for people of all abilities and needs. But Vinyasa Yoga is one of the best for losing weight. Rather than using a single pose and then moving to the next one, Vinyasa carries you through from one pose into another seamlessly. This means that your routine can be the same every time, but also that you are using your supporting muscles and encouraging better breathing and balance whilst performing yoga.

How does it work for weight loss?

Vinyasa Yoga causes weight loss by creating lasting tension through the muscles. It is a bit like body weight exercise, only you sustain the position for longer and do not have a break between tensions. Rather, you are shifting your weight from one muscle or set of muscles seamlessly to the next.

What is the best routine for weight loss?

Because of how intense it is, an hour twice a week should be more than enough for most people. You might want to do shorter sessions more often, or two hours in one go, depending on the time you have free and your needs.

Our best tip for weight loss:

You may find it ideal to build up to your Vinyasa Yoga session by beginning with light, comfortable yoga exercises first. Then you can progress towards the more intense poses, before cooling down. Some longer Vinyasa sessions actually start with a warm up, move seamlessly into an intense workout, then progress into a cool down.

2: Weight Lifting.

What is it?

Weight lifting is when you add extra weight to your body and follow specific movements, designed to make your muscles work. Because you are adding extra weight to your body it encourages you to grow more muscle, a bit like a bodybuilder.

How does it work for weight loss?

Not only does weight lifting burn calories whilst you are doing it, the recovery also burns extra calories, and the muscle mass you are growing will raise your metabolism. But don't worry about getting too bulky! Growing muscle size is very hard, and when you are happy with how your body looks you can just stop adding extra weight and you will stop growing.

What is the best routine for weight loss?

Like Vinyasa Yoga, the intensity of weight lifting means that two hours a week is the best option for most of us. And also like Vinyasa, you can adapt your routine to suit your needs. At least twenty minutes per session would work best, though.

Our best tip for weight loss:

If you are nervous about using free weights, then consider using weight machines, aka multigyms. These machines put the weight somewhere behind or in front of you, attached to a system of pulleys. The weight is not on top of you, so the risk of injury and of poor form is reduced. But you can still perform the exercises you need to for a great weight loss workout.

1: HIIT.

What is it?

High Intensity Interval Training is where you perform activities very, very intensely for a few seconds or minutes, have a break, and do it again. For example sprinting. The best HIIT workouts combine speed, strength, and flexibility exercises, allowing you to compress a full workout into a shorter period of time.

How does it work for weight loss?

Normally we can't work out at 100%, because we get tired very quickly. HIIT lets us hit maybe 90-90% energy because we don't keep doing it for too long. This can help you to develop explosive energy, a better heart rate, and better breathing, all in a very short period of time. And because all these developments are happening quickly, you are burning an insane amount of calories doing it.

What is the best routine for weight loss?

Thirty minutes three or four times a week is the favorite routine for many HIIT fans. You can have HIIT session in as little as five to ten minutes if you wanted to.

Our best tip for weight loss:

You can make anything into HIIT if you want to! If you like the idea of swimming, then you can spend an hour at the pool and practice fast laps followed by a one minute break. If you want to do Vinyasa, then try and move through your routine as fast as possible, have a break, and repeat.

Bonus: NEAT.

What is it?

Included as a bonus because it literally stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. NEAT is those little fidgeting movements you do when you are technically resting.

How does it work for weight loss?

By fidgeting you are making sure that the time you spend “inactive” burns a few extra calories, or, better said: up to 2000. It has been found that a lot of “naturally slim” people are just engaging in more NEAT!

What is the best routine for weight loss?

It's simple: Whenever you catch yourself sitting still, standing still, or lying down, you fidget. You try and not stay still for a prolonged amount of time.

Our best tip for weight loss:

Try and fidget as naturally as possible if you feel awkward about it. Adjusting your position, tapping your foot, or stretching are all natural forms of NEAT. This way you can do it without feeling uncomfortable. Alternatively, look in to devices like treadmill desks, to actually exercise as you work!

To Wrap Up: Anything that helps you.

As I mentioned very early on in this article: The best exercise is the exercise you can do.

Many people feel bad about being unable to stick to their exercise routines. Some people feel uncomfortable or silly when exercising. Others feel they “should” be doing a specific exercise, a specific way, at a specific time, with specific people. Do you think that holding onto these attitudes will help you exercise, or get in the way of exercise?

As we have seen, a broad variety of exercises can be helpful for many different reasons. So if you find that one doesn't work for you, try another one. Try as many different exercises as you can. Work out a routine that suits you. Because, at the end of the day, an exercise you are doing will beat an exercise you aren't doing.