Whenever I talk to beginner exercisers or people who are coming back after a long break and want to lose weight, they say to me, “I’m just going to start with cardio and once I lose weight, I’ll begin strength training.”
I totally understand that the idea of doing it all at once can be overwhelming, but strength training is not only a huge part of losing weight and feeling healthy—it’s the KEY. Best of all, it’s easier than you might think, and often requires just your own bodyweight.
Best Exercises for Weight Loss
Don’t get me wrong… I’m a huge fan of cardio! I love the way it makes me feel and I love the satisfaction of seeing how many calories I’ve burned, how many steps I’ve taken, and what zone I’ve been training in.
But when it comes to long-term weight loss and definition: STRENGTH TRAINING RULES!
Muscle is more metabolically active than body fat. In other words, muscle burns more calories per day at a resting heart rate than body fat. Thus, the more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns daily.
In addition, muscle is more compact (dense) than body fat and helps to give your body that sculpted, toned look.
No matter what your goals are, strength training is an important component of your weight loss or exercise program, and it’s never too late to start.
First things first: utilize your own bodyweight!
These four strength training exercises are some of the most effective bodyweight moves around and require ZERO equipment.
They’ll help you build muscle, lose weight, and feel better than ever. Here they are:
Best Exercises to Lose Weight (Strength Moves)
Why Push-Ups Are Important
Push-ups are one of the best bodyweight exercises ever invented, they require zero equipment, build strength in all of the right places, have many variations to keep things fresh, and are easy to modify and track progress.
You can burn calories working multiple muscle groups and shape your body at the same time.
How many pushups should I do a day to gain muscle?
The real answer to how many push-ups you should do a day is really – it depends. Building muscle is all about challenging yourself enough to provoke your body to build strength.
As we know, the process of building strength is all about taxing your muscles. When that happens, your body responds by building more muscle.
So how this results in a magic answer of X number of push-ups per day is not clear, because quite frankly – it doesn’t.
It’s the total amount of time that you challenge yourself to do push-ups over a week, for example, or so that will build strength to help build muscle.
For most of us, simply doing push-ups several times a week will lead to muscle gains. Just focus on tracking your progress like how many push-ups you can complete back to back, or how many push-up reps you can do in 3 sets.
How many pushups should I do a day for weight loss?
Doing only push-ups – even daily – is unlikely to be enough for someone looking to shed a lot of weight. Push-ups are an intense movement.
Yes, if you were to do them continuously, you would burn a ton of calories, but your body would fatigue very quickly before the calorie burn benefit would take place.
Push-ups alone also fail to provide the many benefits that come with challenging fitness routines, such as raising your metabolism and making you leaner.
The push-up is an amazingly effective move and it should be part of your weekly strength training routine, however, make sure to pair your push-ups with a consistent cardio schedule and you’ll lose weight in no time.
How To Do A Push-Up
When it comes to push-ups, your form is crucial. Each push-up needs to be a full range of motion.
If you only go halfway down or push your butt up in the air for several reps, you shouldn’t count them. Sounds harsh? Well, cheating never gets you ahead. Here’s how to do a proper push-up:
- Set your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, hands facing forward.
- Set your feet directly behind you at a comfortable position (together or slightly separated). The further apart your feet are, the more stable you will be until you are able to build your balance up enough to put your feet together.
- Make your body into on straight line from the top of your head down through your heels. Your butt should stay in line with your legs and back, never up in the air. Your abs engaged and your shoulders over your wrists. (Basically a full body plank position.) Keep your neck neutral, don’t drop your head or crank it back.
- With your arms straight, glutes and abs contracted, slowly lower your body until your chest touches the ground, or arms are at approx. a 90-degree angle, and push yourself back into your starting position. Try to keep your core body steady. Don’t sag through the low back or push your butt way up in the air.
Why Squats Are Important
Be proud of your buns! When women ask me the best way to firm their butts and tone their legs… I tell them to get their squat on! You need those glute muscles to do lots of everyday activities.
Squats also improve the mobility in your hips, legs and upper back. And as you get older, the strength and stability you develop from squats can help you out of a chair, reach for something on the floor, or simply prevent injury.
Do squats help you lose weight?
20-30 squats will make your heart rate rise!
The weight loss benefit derived from doing squats becomes apparent after consistent training when lean muscle tissue is built and bodyfat is diminished.
How many squats should I do a day to lose weight?
Losing weight is not as simple as saying “do 50 squats.”
That would be a waste of time and effort if you’re doing them without any other lifestyle interventions.
If you did only squats as an exercise, you could theoretically lose weight, because the move elevates your heart rate, burning calories.
However doing just squats for weight loss would be too intense, repetitive, and potentially cause injury. You’d have to do squats several times a day, every day, to make weight loss happen.
Don’t write off the squat, though. It’s a must-have exercise which is why it’s a part of this guide!
Squats are a very effective exercise to include in your weekly strength training program because your glutes, quads, and leg muscles will grow and your metabolism will thank you for it.
The squat engages your muscles and squats with added resistance help you build additional muscle which leads to additional caloric benefit down the road.
How To Do A Squat
- Drop and squat. Take an athletic, wide stance, point your toes outward slightly and sit back. Your butt should protrude out like you are sitting down in an invisible chair. Stay steady and strong as you squat deeper and try to keep your heels on the ground. The wider you put your feet the more it works your glutes and hamstrings (the back of your legs) and the easier it will be for you to stay stable. If your feet are a little closer, you will work your quadriceps a little more intensely (the front part of your thighs).
- Make sure your knees track over your toes. Don’t let your knees cave in to the center, engage your inner thighs and quads.
- Keep your chest lifted, shoulders down, abs tight. Make sure your spine is in proper alignment. Make sure you aren’t arching your back or scrunching your shoulders up around your neck. Pull your belly to your spine and contract your abs.
- Don’t round your neck. Look straight ahead or find a point of focus in line with your eyes. You don’t want to round your neck or look down at the ground.
- Get deep. Depending on your hip flexibility, you may be able to squat pretty low – try for quads parallel with the floor. If your flexibility isn’t yet to that level, that’s okay. Just remember that flexibility is something you can work on to improve. Aim for parallel which will deeply engage your thighs, hips and glutes.
Why Lunges Are Important
You can lunge anytime, anywhere! They firm up your backside, give you a shapelier bottom (who doesn’t want that?) and they also strengthen your glutes, hamstrings, quads and calves. The lunge is also a great conditioning exercise for many sports and activities. Get ready to see the results in your bottom half.
How To Do A Basic Forward Lunge
- With your chest lifted, chin up and abs contracted take a big step forward with your left foot. Sink straight down so your front left knee tracks over the top of your shoe and your back right knee points down toward the floor. You are on your back right toe. Push back to the starting position. Repeat on the right leg. Keep alternating. A good place to start is with 10-12 lunges on each leg and work your way up to 3 sets.
- Keep your knees aligned, front knee over your shoe and back knee pointing down.
- Watch yourself lunge with a side view mirror. Make sure you aren’t leaning too far forward or back or rounding your spine.
- Keep your knees, hips and shoulders all facing in same direction, forward.
- Think about how you are distributing your body weight. Don’t force your weight into your kneecaps but rather use them as a hinge. Engage your quads, hamstrings and glutes.
4. Full Body Roll Ups
Why Full Body Roll-Ups Are Important
I call the Full Body Roll Up the mother of mat Pilates exercises.
It has been said that one Pilates Full Body Roll Up is equal to six sit-ups and way more effective than a bunch of mindless crunches.
How To Do Full Body Roll-Ups
- Lie flat on your back with your arms extended overhead.
- Inhale arms to the sky, exhale and slowly roll up into a “C” curve reaching for your toes. (Think about threading your belly button to your spine, and activate your transverse abdominus.)
- Inhale and start to slowly go back in a C curve.
- Exhale as you uncurl your body one vertebra at a time back into the mat.
- The key is to keep your feet on the ground. Use your abs and back to gracefully articulate down to the mat and avoid using your hip flexors and glutes.
- If you have trouble keeping your feet on the ground, have someone hold your feet or use a resistance band around your feet and hold the handles in your hand.
- Or bend your knees as you come up. It’s always okay to modify!
Start with three to five and see if you can add a couple more each day.
Should you do sit-ups for weight loss?
While we favor the full body roll up over the sit-up, the traditional core move is still useful in certain scenarios.
Sit-ups are unlikely to provide much weight loss benefit on their own. While a sit-up does help to build muscle and burn some calories, it is meant as a strength training move not a weight loss exercise.
A sit-up is focused on a small part of the body compared to other exercises, which means it will not raise your heart rate enough to burn significant calories.
Calorie burn is a necessity for consistent weight loss. Sit-ups only would be a very inefficient weight loss plan. As part of an overall fitness plan, sit-ups are a strong choice.
Watch me demonstrate these four must-do exercises for weight loss in the quick video below!
Best Exercise to Lose Weight (Cardio)
While we highly recommend focusing on strength training for your fitness foundation, don’t forget about cardio. Both cardio and strength have their place in a well-balanced, healthy lifestyle.
In terms of the best cardio to lose weight, it’s important to focus on what you enjoy. The best cardio is the kind of cardio you will feel inspired to keep up regularly.
Below we’ve listed some of our favorite cardio workouts that aid in weight loss and contribute to overall health.
HIIT – High Intensity Interval Training
When it comes to weight loss HIIT workouts are one the most effective ways to drop pounds. People love HIIT because these quick workouts don’t need to take up much of your time.
HIIT workouts might last for only 10 minutes but that means you must work as hard as possible during that timeframe. HIIT is intense!
Research even points to the fact that HIIT can help shed stubborn belly fat. That type of fat is dangerous as it is linked to health conditions like heart disease.
Related: HIIT For Beginners
Jumping rope may seem like a simple way to get in shape, but it can be quite challenging—and burn up to 318 calories an hour (that’s for a 140-pound woman).
This cardio classic is easy – jump rope just like you did in grade school! It provides a full-body workout. Strengthen your glutes and quads to help you explode from the ground while engaging your core so that you don’t lose stability.
Jumping rope will engage your arms and shoulders and work muscles that might not be fully used in other exercises.
Kickboxing and boxing-style workouts are a great way to burn calories, sculpt muscles, and bonus – relieve stress.
The boxer’s workout is a full-body workout because you use the power from your legs to throw jabs, crosses, hooks and uppercuts.
Kickboxing is a demanding, tough workout physically and mentally – so it will help with weight loss and make you healthier overall.
Kickboxing is especially good for the oblique muscles in your core and lower back. It really does a number on them as you twist to deliver the most powerful blows possible.
Kickboxing takes some practice before you can turn it into an effective weight loss routine, but once you get the hang of it, there is no better form of exercise when it comes to weight loss!
Related: Beginner’s Guide To Kickboxing
Spinning, whether it’s on an actual bike or a stationary one, is one of the best ways to burn calories and build endurance. Spin workouts are all the rage now with Peloton part of almost everyone’s living room.
Spin can be an ideal weight loss exercise because you can burn calories very quickly while working on your endurance—all at the same time.
For people with painful joints, injuries, or sciatica, using a spin bike is often a good choice because you can control the weight you are putting on your joints.
Spinning is a low-impact activity but you can also get an incredible heart-pumping workout.
If you’re not inclined to run, try spinning. It’ll get your heart rate up and give you a break from long periods of standing or sitting still.
Related: The Beginner’s Guide To Spin Class
No matter what you do for exercise the most important thing to remember is to find an activity you actually enjoy doing. Life is too short to be miserable every time you head out for a workout.