When it comes to losing weight, not all exercises are equal. You can work the bench press all day long and, sure, your pecs might even pop, but the scale won’t nudge and that spare tire will likely stick around. If weight loss is your goal, you need to think about working your heart while building muscle and spreading the sweat-equity throughout the whole body. How can you tell if an exercise is good for weight loss? For one, it’s probably going to feel like wading through a swamp — hard, unpleasant, and slow-going. Also, you shouldn’t feel specific soreness (as you would in bicep curls, which will give you bigger biceps, and little else). Aim for variety (this is why we gave you 17 moves to choose from) and remember, the harder you go, the more effectively (if not faster) you shed the pounds.
Running: The Fartlek
If you’re running for weight loss, you need to rethink your slow and steady jogs. Start with fartleks, short bursts of fast running interspersed with easy jogging. During a 20-minute run around the neighborhood, do a dead sprint between every third and fourth lamppost, then easy-jog for three more.
Burpees With Push-Ups
Long live the burpee! You’d be hard-pressed to find a bodyweight movement that does so much, working the muscles, legs, lungs, heart. No matter your fitness goal, the burpee should be a go-to move. From standing, bend your knees, crouch down to the floor, place your hands on the ground, and jump your feet back so you are in an extended plank position. Do a push-up. Then jump feet forward toward your hands again, push off the floor and jump into a vertical position.
Jump Rope: Jumping Jacks
The jump rope is hands-down the fastest and easiest tool to get your heart rate cranking. It’s also boring and requires variations to motivate. Start by adding jumping jacks to your jump rope routine. With the feet together and, on the first jump, step the feet slightly apart. On the following jump, bring them back together. Continue in this pattern with each rotation of the rope.
Running: Drop Down Sprints
This one is all about timing and intensity. Start your watch and jog for 30 seconds. Mark the spot on the road where you finish. Jog back to the start. Perform 10 reps running back and forth with the goal of running each one faster than the one before.
This is one of the more explosive movements out there — great for leg strength and to jack up that heart rate. To perform this exercise, stand in front of a box or bench about 2 to 3 feet high, bend your knees and jump. Both feet should land on the box at the same time. Immediately jump back down. Repeat.
Start in a wide, bent-knee stance, feet slightly turned out to the side, your butt about knee height. Pushing through your heels, jump up in the air and twist your lower half to the right so you land with your left foot in front, while keeping your upper body facing front. From this half-twist squat, press through your feet to jumping back in the other direction, twisting your lower body to the left and landing with your right foot in front, while keeping your torso stationary. Repeat.
Running: Steady-State Explosions
Every weight loss run should include explosive movements, even if they aren’t sprints. For this, every 5 minutes, stop and do 60 seconds of one of the following: Jumping jacks, pushups, fast lunges, squat jumps.
Planks won’t get your heart pumping, but they will fire up all the essential muscles groups — from core to back to glutes to arms. Start face down, elbows beneath shoulders, legs outstretched behind you. Engage your core and raise hips off the ground, creating a straight line from your shoulders to your feet. Hold for a minute. Repeat.
Jump Rope: Side Swing
The side swing works the core and upper body, but since you’re not actually jumping over the rope, it requires far less coordination. Pull the hands together in front of your body and move the handles and rope in a figure-eight formation. You can jump or step from side to side.
Get on all fours, keeping your elbows slightly bent and your back straight. Raise your knees one inch off the ground, then bounce them one inch up and down for two minutes, aiming for 120 bounces.
Running: Hill Repeats
The beauty of hills is that they work more muscles than running at zero incline and raise your heart rate up without requiring additional pavement pounding. For this workout, find a steep-ish hill that you can sprint up for at least 10 seconds. Dash to the top and jog to the bottom. Repeat 10 times. That’s it.
Mountain Climbers. From an extended plank position, lift one foot off the floor, bending your knee and hiking the bent leg toward your chest. As you return that leg to the start position, jump your other leg forward in the same bent-knee style. “Jog” your legs back and forth for one minute. Rest 15 seconds. Repeat 3 times.
Jump Rope: Double Unders
The most common (and tough) jump rope variation is a double under, which requires the rope to pass under the feet two times for each jump. To do this, you need to bound a little higher and increase the rotational speed of the rope. Remember to maintain an upright posture, land with both feet together, and initiate the rope’s rotation with a fast flick of the wrists.
Running: Weighted Run At the gym or in your driveway, tie something heavy to the end of a long rope, and tie the other end around your waist. The weight should be at least equal to your body weight. Then, for 30 seconds, run like hell. Repeat.
Squats With Weight
Squats don’t just work the legs – from quads up to the core, the squat is an essential full-body move. If you want to make it count, you’ll have to graduate from air squats. Stand with legs slightly wider than hip width, toes pointed forward. Drive your hips back as you bend your knees to sit into a squat position. Be sure to keep your heels and toes on the ground, chest up and shoulder back. Also, keep track of your breath, inhaling before you begin the movement, holding your breath for the duration, and releasing it once you’ve returned to standing.
While we’re working with the barbell, a deadlift is another must movement that engages the core, quads, hamstrings, and so much more. For this move, you’ll want to use heavy weights and do fewer repetitions. Given that, if you’ve never been instructed on proper deadlift form, you should ask a trainer to help you with the first few moves.
Running: High-Knee Sprints
There’s a reason you see pros in all sports performing this drill in warm-ups: It gets your heart rate way up, while also engaging major muscle groups. For 20 seconds, as hard and fast as you can, sprint with your knees rising as high as you can get them with every step. Repeat.