What is the best exercise for weight loss?

8.1k of you Google ‘best exercise to lose weight’ monthly, so it’s safe to say that weight loss or fat loss are fitness goals for a decent number of you. And if you’re looking to exercise to help you with that – though we always recommend seeking advice from a healthcare professional – you’re looking in the right place.

The NHS recommends that you to engage in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, per week, to aid weight loss. A study conducted at the University of Kansas also confirmed that exercise was an important component of weight loss and potentially the best indicator of weight maintenance.

But weight loss is definitely not the only reason to get your blood pumping: exercise has a whole host of benefits, including – according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – improving brain health, reducing the risk of disease, and strengthening your muscles and bones, now and all your years ahead. For general health, the NHS recommends doing at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity,

One of the best things about fitness is the variety of options available – whether you prefer yoga, hitting the gym, or running outside, so you’re bound to find a club, culture, or – dare we say it – cult that’s right for you.

Without further ado, we’ve got eight forms of exercise to lose weight, guided by our fabulous panel of fitness experts and PTs. Whether you’re a beginner just easing into working out or you’re curious about approaching weight loss safely and sustainably, we’ve covered all the bases.

And while we’ve got you: don’t forget to check out our Women’s Health app, available to download on Google Play and from the App Store, for workout videos you’ll love.

1. Weight-loss exercise: running

    A great exercise for weight loss, running improves your cardiovascular health, burns calories and increases stamina. However, it’s not that beginner-friendly.

    ‘It helps to burn harmful visceral fat, commonly known as belly fat,’ says PT and CEO of Peak Performance Health, Richard Puplampu. But, and this is important, going out and trying to run for 30 or 40 minutes without proper training won’t do you much good. Instead, stick to a plan and work your way up.

    This four-week running plan designed by personal trainer and run coach Tashi Skervin-Clarke will help to get you to a place where you can run for 30 minutes non-stop.

    Or learn how to start running with 30 tips for beginners and dig deeper into running for weight loss. Whatever you choose, do it safely, sustainably with progressive goals in mind. Not mammoth feats that’ll push your body to its upper limit.

    2. Weight-loss exercise: cycling

    ‘There are plenty of benefits of cycling; it is an aerobic workout that’s brilliant for increasing your body temperature, improving endurance and helping support the cardiovascular system,’ explains says trainer and founder of Glam Fit Jenna Rigby.

    It works as weight-loss exercise, too: a study carried out at the University of California found that minimally to moderately, but otherwise healthy women, who worked their way up to indoor cycling for 60 minutes daily over just over 6 months lost 12% of their initial body weight.

    ‘You can burn up to 600 calories per 60 minutes [depending on your body weight and fitness levels] which is a great workout,’ Rigby continues. However, she caveats, it’s not ideal for beginners initially as poor form, lack of mobility and low stamina could cause issues.

    Pushing pedals to hit your weight loss goals can be fun, too – not least because you can get your kicks on an exercise bike as well as out in the real world on an actual bike.

    Is there any difference between spinning and cycling as weight-loss exercises?

    Basically, yes. Most spin classes (hello, Peloton) fall into the category of HIIT: high-intensity exercise with short breaks, whereas a bike ride is more likely to count as LISS (low-impact steady-state) cardio, which is slower with consistent effort throughout.

    Which is the better weight-loss exercise?

    As with all exercise, the best one to hit your goals is the one you do regularly.

    That being said, smashing a spin class every day will create more stress in your body than a gentle daily 30-minute bike ride as your body is put under more strain. Commit to three to four cardio sessions a week, focusing on mixing up the sessions between high and low intensity.

    Get yourself kitted out before you hit the road with the best bike helmet, cycling gloves, and bike lights.

    3. Weight-loss exercise: walking

    According to Nike and ITV trainer Luke Worthington, a mix of strength training (more on this later) and walking is the best way to lose weight well.

    ‘The most effective way to reduce body fat is to remain in a mild energy (calorie) deficit… and the most effective way of doing this is to increase NEAT [Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis – every activity you do that burns calories but isn’t exercise, sleep or eating],’ he says.

    So, everything from household chores to a lunchtime walk increases our NEAT and helps to keep our fat burn ticking over each day. ‘By increasing the amount we walk – 10,000 daily steps is a great and achievable goal,’ he suggests.

    Try this beginner-friendly walking plan as part of your weight-loss exercises

    If walking for weight loss is your goal then it can be good to work to a structure: enter our four-week plan, designed by PT Sam McGowan to get your steps up and improve stamina.

    walking for weight loss

    Focus on good form and tick off the workouts as you go – it’ll make you feel accomplished AF.

    4. Weight-loss exercise: strength training

    Whether you’re following a strength training for beginners guide or are familiar with lifting dumbbells and kettlebells, strength training is a fantastic way to maintain and build lean muscle tissue. The more muscle you have, the more calories you’ll burn each day during workouts and at rest.

    ‘An improved metabolic rate [how quickly your body uses fuel and fat for energy] will lead to more calories being burned throughout the day and lower your chances of struggling with big fat loss plateaus,’ says PT and online fitness and nutrition coach, Daniel Harrod.

    Which weight-loss exercises help me build muscle?

    Simply put, by focusing on resistance training over cardio.

    ‘To build and maintain muscle, you need to place greater stress on the muscle tissue you already have with weights. Traditional steady-state cardio can’t provide enough of an impact to achieve any appreciable muscle gains,’ Harrod says. Instead, look to workouts that put your muscles under stress and stimulate new tissue growth.

    Stuck for strength training ideas? Try these:

    Play Iconpreview for Upper Body Workout | WH 4-Week Home HIIT Plan

    5. Weight-loss exercise: HIIT

    The darling of social media, quick HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workouts are about as en vogue as it gets, ATM. Characterised by challenging bursts of effort followed by rest, it’ll get your heart rate up and then some.

    ‘It works by combining short intervals with short rest, manipulating the heart rate into an anaerobic state [working with limited oxygen],’ explains Rigby. ‘You’ll benefit from the fat-burning effects long after you’ve finished the workout.’ Trust us when we say it’s hard, sweaty work: think jump squats, burpees and tuck jumps.

    Jump squat

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    • Stand up straight, your feet shoulder-width apart.
    • Sink into a squat with your legs at a 45-degree angle.
    • Using your arms to propel you, jump up before returning to a squat position.


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    • Crouch down, your feet just further than shoulder-width apart and your hands on the floor
    • With your bodyweight in your hands, kick both feet out behind you, resting on the balls of your feet.
    • Jump forward and propel your body up in one swift move, landing in a standing position.

    Tuck jump

    • Start by standing with your feet a little less than shoulder-width apart.
    • Drop down a little into a quarter squat then explode into the air.
    • Keep your back straight throughout and tuck your knees up towards your chest as much as possible, before landing as softly as you can. Avoid landing with locked knees and be sure to maintain an upright neutral spine as you land.

    However, because of its intensity, HIIT is a form of exercise that beginners should be cautious of when starting out.

    Fortunately, because we’re nice, we asked PT Gauri Chopra to design a four-week HIIT plan that’s totally beginner friendly.

    four week home hiit plan

    If you’re more of a wake-up and see how you feel type of exerciser, try these workouts on for size, instead:

    6. Weight-loss exercise: yoga

    Doing yoga for weight loss can seem counter-intuitive, not least because one of the main benefits is a calmer mental state. However, zen vibes aside, there’s a lot to be said for the strengthening and lengthening asanas you’ll find yourself in.

    Focus on the more vigorous yoga flows – Vinyasa and Ashtanga – for a higher calorie burn, or slower-paced classes – Yin and Restorative – to counteract the other forms of exercise you’re doing.

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    7. Weight-loss exercise: Pilates

    Renowned for its focus on the core muscles and lengthening abilities, doing Pilates every day or weekly can help to burn fat by increasing your heart rate but it won’t be at the same intensity as exercise like running and cycling.

    ‘Pilates is an excellent, low-impact way to tone and strengthen the body,’ says PT and founder of the Body Beautiful Method, Aimee Victoria Long. Focus on progressing when you’re able and engaging the mind-muscle connection for the ultimate burn.

    Try the 36 best pilates home workouts on YouTube STAT.

    8. Weight-loss exercise: swimming

    ‘Swimming is a great way to lose weight,’ says Puplampu. ‘Swimming for 60-minutes, 3 times per week can significantly reduce body fat, improve flexibility and reduce your risk of heart disease. Due to its low-impact nature, it’s easier on your joints too which makes it a great option for people with injuries or joint pain. ‘

    16 swim workouts to help you lose weight and burn fat.

    I’m new to weight-loss exercises; where should I start?

    Slow and steady really does win the race and it’s no different when starting an exercise regime. Go too fast out the gates and you risk causing yourself an injury and being benched for the months it takes to heal.

    ‘Walking is a great place to start,’ says Long. ‘Starting straight off the bat with an exercise like running will add more strain to your joints – that are already under pressure if you have excess weight to lose. This could cause an injury which would stop you exercising.

    ‘Start by aiming to complete a 30-minute brisk walk every day. Aim to keep increasing how far you’re walking over the 30 minutes and gradually you’ll start to see a difference, both in your weight and stamina.’

    Once you’ve got the basics down and are more familiar with moving regularly, you can think about progressing your routine. Scroll up to #3 for our four-week walking for weight loss plan.

    Is it better to measure weight loss or fat loss?

    This will depend on your goal, says Long. ‘If you’re an obese person, try to work towards a healthy target weight, before worrying about fat loss. That being said, if you’re starting with some muscle mass and you don’t want to lose it, it can be better to measure fat loss.’

    Why so much chatter around which one is best to focus on?

    Well, learning how to lose weight is a different beast to learning how to lose body fat. The first prioritises changing your weight without too much consideration of whether you’re losing fat or muscle. The second looks at where your weight loss is coming from, trying to tweak your exercise and diet to make sure you’re maintaining muscle whilst shedding fat.

    ‘There is a long list of factors that can affect a person’s weight,’ explains Harrod. ‘Water retention, the weight of your limbs and organs such as your stomach or bowel content, how stressed you are, the list goes on.’ Instead, he suggests focusing on the ratio of your muscle mass to body fat percentage – especially if your goals are aesthetically minded.

    Put simply, the higher your muscle mass and lower your body fat, the more ‘toned’ you’ll look – something an individual number on the scale won’t be able to indicate.

    What’s a safe rate of weight loss per week?

    The NHS suggests losing 1lb – 2lbs is a safe rate of weight loss in adults, something most trainers agree on.

    ‘For most people I’ve trained, they’ve lost around one to two pounds per week,’ says Nature’s Health Box nutrition and fitness expert, Tom Jenane.

    ‘Some weeks were better than others but we were focused on progressively lowering their body fat percentage. Set a realistic target and work out how much you can lose each week. This will help you know how long it’ll take to reach your goal.’

    If you’re after some hard numbers Rigby, has some guidelines:

    ‘For someone whose BMI is above 30, losing 1-2lbs a week is great progress and can lead to a sustainable lifestyle. Most women in this category lose around 7lbs in their first month and around 5% body fat after 12 weeks of being consistent,’ she says. ‘If you have less than a stone (14lbs) to lose, I would expect you to have reached your goal around month six of being consistent.’

    Got all that? Ready to go out and smash your goals? Thought so. Get after it, people!

    Plus: don’t forget to check ou out our Women’s Health app, available to download on Google Play and from the App Store, for workout videos you’ll love.

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About the Author: Rayne Chancer