Why do so many people try to lose weight with cardio? On one level, it makes sense — huffing, puffing, and sweating does lead to calorie burning. It gives you a little rush too, making you think, hey, this is the stuff. But is it the most effective workout? Not if you’re in it for the long-term.
“A big misconception in fitness is that cardio is the best way to burn fat or help lose weight,” says Mathew Forzaglia, a certified personal trainer and founder of Forzag Fitness in New York City. “But after 20 to 30 minutes, your body switches from a fat-burning state to an aerobic state. If someone who just started working out for their first time does a lot of cardio, they will see a loss in weight because of the neurological adaption, but after a while they will hit a plateau.”
“The important thing to understand is what’s driving weight loss,” adds Adam Rosante, a personal trainer in New York City. “And that’s putting yourself into a caloric deficit.” Although cardio can help increase that deficit, Rosante says, strength training trumps a treadmill session when it comes to long-term weight loss.
“Muscle is metabolically active, meaning it requires more energy to maintain it,” he explains. “Just by putting more muscle on your body, your resting metabolic rate, or how many calories you burn at rest, increases.” So strength training holds the key for weight loss, and bodyweight exercises can be an effective form of strength training that builds muscle, says Rosante.
Of course, options are many when it comes to bodyweight exercises. Which ones will give you the biggest bang for your buck?
“It’s always more efficient and effective to focus on primary muscle groups and do multi-joint exercises to burn the most fat and lose weight,” says Forzaglia.
Rosante agrees. “Think: squats, lunges, pushups, and pull-ups,” he says. “For weight loss, it comes back to that energy equation of creating a caloric deficit. Those big compound movements require more energy.”
To give your weight loss goals a head start, try these bodyweight exercises for weight loss.
The Best Bodyweight Workout For Weight Loss
The Move: Inchworm
Why you should do it: “This is a great exercise because as the reps add up, they become very cardiovascular,” says Forzaglia. “At the same time, you’re building upper body strength (arms, chest, shoulder, core) and targeting the hamstrings for flexibility.”
How to: Start from a neutral standing position. Bend at the waist and reach your hands toward the floor, allowing knees to slightly bend if necessary. Once hands touch the floor, walk them forward until hands are below shoulders in an extended pushups position. Keeping arms and back straight, begin to walk your feet up toward your hands until they are just touching. Roll up through your spine to standing position. Repeat.
How many: 10 x 3 sets
The Move: Plank
Why you should do it: This staple bodyweight exercise engages your core, quads, glutes and back muscles all at once.
How to: Get down on all fours. Extend your legs behind you in a straight line, feet shoulder-width apart. Lower yourself down onto your elbows, which should be placed directly below your shoulders. Maintaining a straight line from your head to your feet, hold this position for 60 seconds.
How many: 3 x 60 seconds
The Move: Squats
Why you should do it: “Any time you are focusing on a lower body exercise, you are exerting the most energy,” says Forzaglia. “Your legs are the biggest muscle group on your body, so challenging them will produce a big caloric burn, and when doing high reps you will increase the heart rate.”
How to: Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, toes slightly turned out. Bending your arms for balance, allow your butt to lower towards the floor. Keep your back straight and lower until your knees are over your toes. Straighten. Repeat.
How many: 12-15 x 3 sets
The Move: Pull-ups
Why you should do it: While many bodyweight exercises target to large muscles in your lower body, pull-ups use the resistance of gravity to work upper body muscles like your shoulders, traps, pecs, and biceps/triceps.
How to: Stand below a pull-up bar. Reach up and grab the bar with an overhand grip, hands wider than shoulder-width. Pull shoulder blades down while bending arms and hoisting your chin above the bar. Straighten arms and relax back to the start. Repeat.
How many: 5-8 x 3 sets
The Move: Push-ups
Why you should do it: “You’re targeting your upper body, but in the push part, you are in a plank position — therefore using your whole body to perform the movements getting the most out of it,” says Forzaglia.
How to: Get into an extended plank position, hands below shoulders, body in one long line. Keeping your arms close to your body, bend elbows back and lower your chest until it is two inches above the floor. Straighten arms back to start. Repeat.
How many: 10 x 3 sets
The Move: Hollow hold
Why you should do it: “In the hollow hold, your whole entire body is in an isometric contraction,” Forzaglia says. “You are focusing on keeping the lower back flat on the floor, the rib cage engaged, and the glutes and thighs tight.”
How to: Lie on your back, legs straight, arms straight and overhead. Contract your abdominal muscles and think of pulling your belly button toward your spine. Keeping your arms straight, raise them off the floor about six inches. Keeping legs straight, lift them off the floor about six inches. Adjust the height of your legs and arms until your find the midpoint where you can balance. Keeping a hollowed out midsection (your upper back will be slightly rounded) hold this position for 30 seconds.
How many: 30 seconds x 3 sets
The Move: Mountain climber
Why you should do it: “This exercise focuses on an isometric upper body stimulus while we create dynamic lower body and core movement,” Forzaglia says. “It not only is strength but cardio at the same time, targeting the full body.”
How to: Get into an extended plank position, arms and legs straight. Lift your right foot off the floor. Bend right knee and raise it toward your chest. Return right foot to floor, leg straight, and lift left foot off floor. Bend left knee and bring it toward your chest. Return left foot to floor, leg straight. Repeat.
How many: 60 seconds x 2 sets
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