The Best Exercise Types to Help You Lose Weight, According to Experts

Healthy, sustainable weight loss takes more than exercise—but these workouts can help you reach your goals.

Regarding weight loss—the healthy, sustainable, not-gimmicky kind—it's tempting to want a quick fix with as few changes as possible. Here's what you should know about some of the best exercises to help you lose weight.

For many, that means turning to products such as exercise programs, trendy how-to books, or commercialized foods and drinks, none of which are likely to offer safe, lasting results.

When it comes to healthily lose weight, exercise can help assist in helping you reach your goal—that is, as long as you're choosing the right kind.

The Key to Weight Loss

The road to actual, sustainable weight loss is not-so-straightforward, Liz Davis MA EP-C, a clinical exercise physiologist in Columbus, Ohio, told Health. "Weight loss is largely dependent on the balance between the calories you consume and the calories you expend," explained Davis

So, despite how buff your cycling instructor or the Instagram model peddling a skinny detox tea looks, trendy products alone won't contribute to weight loss. Instead, weight loss depends on your ability to maintain a continuous calorie deficit. 

A calorie deficit means you're ingesting fewer calories than your body needs to maintain general body functions. Of course, that also means you'll gain weight if you consume more calories than your body requires to function.

But it's not just a matter of calories-in, calories-out: A whole host of other factors also play a role in how your body loses weight. A personal or family history of being overweight, hormonal disorders, environmental factors, psychological well-being, and even certain prescription medications can hinder attempts to lose weight.

A calorie deficit remains one of the most significant factors impacting weight loss, and your diet is an important contributing factor. 

"Think about it: To burn 100 calories, you might need to walk for 45 minutes," said Davis. "To consume 100 calories, all you need is a few spoons of ice cream." 

However, alongside a calorie deficit, exercising can certainly help you meet your weight loss goal. Here, experts weighed in on the best exercises to help you lose weight.

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

Cardio interval training—also known as high-intensity interval training (HIIT)—is a one-two punch for exercise: Short and mega-effective. The cardio-based workout alternates between short but intense bursts of energy, followed by less intense, or resting, breaks.

"[HIIT], or cardio interval training, is the most scientifically sound way to burn more calories while exercising," explained Davis. 

Davis noted that your heart rate skyrockets in a short burst, and your temperature rises. Those two physiological variables will temporarily boost your metabolism. 

"You're disturbing your body's homeostasis during interval training," explained Davis. "In the hours after exercise, your body is working to get back there." 

According to a study published in 2013 in Physiology Reports, your calorie burn may extend past your short bursts of high-intensity exercises longer than if you had maintained a steady pace while exercising.

The best part? You don't need to sign up for a boot camp class or flail around in your apartment (and annoy your neighbors). You can apply HIIT to walking, running, indoor cycling, walking, rowing, or an elliptical machine. The list of options is virtually endless. 

According to Davis, the only important rule to HIIT training you adhere to is that you move in intervals.

"Although the optimal interval depends on the individual and their experience and comfort level with [HIIT], a good go-to is about one minute on and two minutes off to start," explained Davis. 

Additionally, Davis noted that as your endurance increases, you could move to one minute on and one minute off or even one minute on and 30 seconds off.

For example, try the following HIIT workout on a treadmill, going for one minute on and one minute off:

  1. Walk or run at a moderately intense pace for approximately one minute. An intense pace is around 75% to 85% of your maximum effort, meaning you're breathing hard but not out of breath.
  2. Retreat to a comfortable walking pace, allowing your breathing to return to normal, for one minute.
  3. Continue that pattern for 30 minutes.

Strength or Weight Training

While you won't burn the trove of calories you would in a HIIT session, with strength or weight training, a more long-term—and maybe even more sustainable—burn is at play.

According to a review published in 2018 in Metabolism, there's a strong connection between your muscle mass and resting metabolic rate. Your resting metabolic rate is how many calories you are burning at rest. 

Resting metabolic rate accounts for roughly three-quarters of your daily caloric output. So, it plays a significant role in your ability to lose weight.

In that sense, the more muscle mass you have (brought forth by resistance training), the easier you'll be able to control your weight. 

"With weight training, the more lean muscle you have, the more you'll be able to eat flexibly without seeing weight gain," noted Davis. "Simply put, you're burning more calories at rest."

And the heavier weights you lift, the better. Per a study published in 2012 in the Journal of Translational Medicine, lifting heavier weights for six or fewer repetitions at a time may result in increased calorie burn even after your workout session.

That slow burn is the key to weight loss, Norma Lowe, CPT, a trainer and certified sports nutritionist told Health.

"The magic happens in the recovery phase," said Lowe. "In other words, if you put all your effort into calorie reduction, you'll end up hitting a plateau eventually. Your resting metabolic rate will slow to a crawl."

Yoga, Pilates, and Stretching

Yoga, Pilates, and general stretching won't necessarily help you burn calories like HIIT and weight training can. But they can make you stronger and more limber, which helps execute those intense exercises with precision and confidence, explained Davis.

"Any kind of strengthening and stretching is beneficial for weight loss because it will make your body stronger and more limber," explained Davis. "This makes it possible to tackle your cardio and weight sessions with more intensity."

And while Davis noted that your caloric expenditure wouldn't be exceptionally high during a yoga session, it's still a form of resistance training. You're just using your body and gravity to supplement a lack of weight.

The Most Important Workout for Weight Loss: The One You Enjoy

While HIIT or weight training will fuel any weight loss efforts in the short term, chances are, you won't do it consistently if you aren't finding joy in your workout. And enjoyment is the most predictable factor when it comes to weight loss.

According to a study published in 2017 in Obesity, a stable, consistent exercise routine (paired with a regular healthy eating regimen) is the most substantial factor in long-term weight management.

"The workout you're going to stick to is the one you really love," said Davis. "When clients ask me what the best workout for weight loss is, I can tell them that certain workouts will burn more calories. But in the end, the best workout for losing weight is the one that makes you feel the best, and you love to do."

A Quick Review

Exercise can certainly help you healthily achieve your weight loss goals. HIIT, weight training, yoga, Pilates, stretching, and more activities are great workouts to explore and see what you enjoy. 

However, the key to successful weight loss is calorie deficit. So, pair your workouts with a healthy diet to help you achieve your personal goals. 

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  1. Sevits KJ, Melanson EL, Swibas T, et al. Total daily energy expenditure is increased following a single bout of sprint interval training. Physiol Rep. 2013;1(5):e00131.

  2. Petridou A, Siopi A, Mougios V. Exercise in the management of obesity. Metabolism. 2019;92:163-169.

  3. Paoli A, Moro T, Marcolin G, et al. High-Intensity Interval Resistance Training (Hirt) influences resting energy expenditure and respiratory ratio in non-dieting individuals. J Transl Med. 2012;10:237.

  4. Feig EH, Lowe MR. Variability in weight change early in behavioral weight loss treatment: Theoretical and clinical implications. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2017;25(9):1509-1515.

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