Weight loss has rules. Legit rules. They’re mathematical in nature and we’re beholden to them whether we like it or not. You can’t just break the rules because you don’t like them or because you hope they don’t apply to you. This is where many dieters fail.
A few of these principles relate to food intake and a few relate to what types of exercise you should do, which is what we’re going to focus on here.
There are many opinions on the subject, of course.
I want to start by making an important distinction.
So far, we’ve been talking “weight loss.”
Instead, we need to focus on fat loss, and here’s why…
Why You Don’t Want to Merely “Lose Weight”
What do millions of people resolve to do every January?
Lose weight, right?
That’s the wrong way of looking at it, though. What they really want to do is lose fat.
I’m not being pedantic, either–there’s a big difference between those two goals.
Strictly speaking, weight loss refers to reducing a number on a scale.
Well, you don’t know what you’re doing, you can lose plenty of weight… and wind up skinny fat.
If you want a simple demonstration of this, just follow one of the many popular weight loss diets and exercise programs that go something like this:
And as you can guess, muscle loss is the major concern here because the more you lose, the worse you look, even with a relatively low body fat percentage.
This is how you ruin your body composition.
How to ruin your body composition by chasing ‘weight loss’:
If you go about it differently, though, and focus on losing fat while preserving muscle, the upshot is very different.
You may lose less weight but you’ll be better for it because you’ll have retained (or even gained) muscle, which means you’ll be much happier with what you see in the mirror.
So, you came into this article wanting to know more about “weight loss.”
I want you to start thinking “fat (and not muscle) loss,” though, because that’s what I want for you.
Use this workout and flexible dieting program to lose up to 10 pounds of fat and build muscle in just 30 days…without starving yourself or living in the gym.
What kind of exercises do most people think they should do lose belly fat?
Ab exercises, of course.
What about thigh fat?
Squats are supposed to burn away that blight, aren’t they?
And so the list goes…
Exercises burn calories, which aids in fat loss, and while research shows that training a muscle increases blood flow and lipolysis in the area, the effects are too small to matter.
That is, you can’t do crunches to get a six pack or hip thrusts to shrink your butt.
Ironically, if you want a certain area of your body to be leaner or “slimmer,” training the muscles without also reducing your body fat percentage will create the opposite effect.
It will simply end up looking bigger.
(This, by the way, is why many women mistakenly believe that weightlifting will make them “bulky.”)
The reason for this is fat loss is a whole-body process. You can’t selectively lose (or gain) fat in one region of your body or another.
Yes, all of us tend to store our fat differently, but the basic mechanism is the same–when we gain fat, we gain it everywhere, and when we lose it, we see a reduction in total-body fat mass.
What this means is you can use diet and exercise to get leaner, but some areas will lose inches faster than others.
(And unfortunately, the fat we want to lose the most is also usually the hardest to lose, but that’s another discussion.)
What Are the Best Exercises for Weight Loss, Then?
The best exercises for weight loss meet several criteria:
Now, what most people don’t know is the “secret” to getting ripped isn’t doing a handful of “special” exercises like air squats, planks, butt raises, or anything else.
It’s doing the right type of exercise.
(The truth is there is no “secret,” really, but some approaches certainly work better than others.)
In other words, it’s not so much about the individual exercises that you do as the style of exercise.
Let’s break this down.
Is Cardio the Best Type of Exercise to Lose Weight?
If you ask someone that wants to lose weight what they need to do, what will they say?
“Diet and exercise,” right?
And if you ask them what type of exercise, what will the likely answer be?
You know, walking, jogging, swimming, biking, and so forth.
Unfortunately, this guarantees little in the way of weight loss (even when you do quite a bit).
In fact, research shows that you can just wind up fatter as a result, mainly by negating its already meager weight loss benefits by unconsciously eating too much and/or reducing other forms of physical activity.
Hence the throngs of overweight people in your gym crowding the treadmills, wondering why they’re still not losing weight.
There are two reasons why your traditional cardio workout is a mediocre (at best) weight loss tool.
Cardio doesn’t burn all that much energy.
If you’re like most people, running vigorously for 30 minutes is pretty exhausting.
Guess how much energy it burns, though?
Anywhere from 400 to 600 calories, depending on your speed and body weight.
If that sounds like a lot to you, consider that it’s the amount of energy in…
Cardio workouts don’t burn as much energy as we wish they did, making it very easy to eat back all the calories burned (and more).
The same could be said of many other types of workouts as well, by the way.
This is why people that say you just need to “move more” to lose weight are missing the forest for the trees.
Increased physical activity can help, of course, but if you don’t know what you’re doing with your diet, no amount of exercise is going to be enough to keep the needle moving.
Your body “learns” to burn less energy.
You probably know that an energy deficit is required to lose fat.
And you probably know that in almost all cases, a “weight loss plateau” boils down to eating too much.
What you may not know, though, is when in a calorie deficit, your body works to diminish it through moving less and promoting overeating.
It does this because its goal is to maintain homeostasis. It doesn’t want to be in a calorie deficit.
One of these adaptations is an increase in energy efficiency.
The net effect of this is, over time, your body burns fewer and fewer calories doing the same workouts (it becomes more energy efficient in doing them).
This shrinks your calorie deficit, which slows down your weight loss.
When this happens, many people don’t understand what’s going on and try to fight fire with fire.
They resolve to “move more” (do more cardio) and while this increases energy expenditure (and thus fat loss), it can also accelerate muscle loss and metabolic slowdown.
They often reduce caloric intake to near-starvation levels as well, which only makes matters worse.
All this is why I generally recommend that people keep cardio to a minimum when dieting to lose fat.
Yes, you read that correctly.
If we’re just talking body composition, the less cardio you can do when cutting, the better.
What does all that mean specifically, though?
What qualifies as the “right” amount (and type) of cardio?
The Best Type of Cardio for Weight Loss
There are two types of cardio that I believe are best for losing weight:
1. High-intensity interval training (HIIT)
That probably sounds contradictory to you.
How could the hardest and easiest forms of cardio both be the “best” for fat loss?
Well, it’s precisely because of their opposite positions on the “exertion” spectrum.
Let me explain.
Why HIIT is Best for Rapid Fat Loss
High-intensity interval training, or HIIT for short, is a style of exercising where you alternate between periods of (almost) all-out and low effort.
Hence, the name.
The high-intensity intervals push your body toward its metabolic limits (basically as hard as you can go) and the low-intensity intervals allow it to recover (catching your breath).
HIIT is fantastic for weight loss because it burns a large amount of energy in a relatively short period of time (and has semi-significant “afterburn” effects as well).
A study conducted by scientists at The University of Western Ontario shows just how effective it really is.
Researchers had 10 men and 10 women train 3 times per week, with one group doing 4 to 6 30-second treadmill sprints (with 4 to 6 minutes of rest in between each), and the other group doing 30 to 60 minutes of steady-state cardio (jogging at about 65% of VO2 max).
After 6 weeks of training, the subjects doing the intervals had lost significantly more fat.
Yes, 4 to 6 30-second sprints burn more fat than 60 minutes of jogging.
This isn’t just better for your social life–it’s better for your muscles, too.
You see, research shows that cardio workouts can directly impair strength and muscle hypertrophy gains.
These effects are compounded and magnified when you’re in a calorie deficit, which is why doing too much cardio while cutting can cause a considerable amount of muscle loss.
Well, with HIIT, you can have the best of both worlds: relatively short workouts that burn a considerable amount of fat and minimally impact muscle.
So, if you’re sold on HIIT, you probably have a few questions, such as…
Walking: The Easiest Way to Lose Fat Faster
When viewed in terms of fat burning, walking is no HIIT, but it deserves more attention than it gets.
You see, it’s not nearly as effective for maximizing fat loss, but it’s definitely the easiest way to increase energy expenditure and lose weight faster.
Case in point:
A study conducted by scientists at California State University with college-aged men and women found that subjects that ran a 10-minute mile burned about 190 calories.
Subjects that walked a 19-minute mile burned fewer calories, of course, but it’s not as few as you might think–about 111 calories.
If you walked a few hours per week, then, you could augment your energy expenditure by anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 calories, which could translate to an additional 1 to 2 pounds of fat loss per month.
Not too shabby.
Research shows that this is enough to significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and all-cause mortality (death from any cause), as well.
Furthermore, studies show that walking can counteract the effects of stress and reduce cortisol levels.
This is significant because managing stress (and thus cortisol) levels is an important part of minimizing
muscle loss while restricting calories to lose fat.
You do this primarily by managing how much you eat and exercise, and this is where many people go astray.
They eat far too little and exercise far too much, and this can cause a whole slew of problems ranging from depression to muscle loss to low energy to food cravings and more.
Well, walking is great in this regard because, unlike more intense forms of exercise, it places very little stress on the body.
That means that you can “safely” add several hours of weekly walking on top an already rigorous exercise schedule without risking overtraining.
Weightlifting: the Unsung Hero of Weight Loss
Most people mistakenly associate weightlifting with “bulking up” and not “slimming down.”
That’s probably because, as we discussed earlier, they’re too focused on weight as opposed to body composition.
You see, weightlifting isn’t a good way to lose weight because it causes muscle gain, which makes you heavier…but research shows that it’s an extremely effective way to speed up fat loss.
For example, let’s review a study conducted by scientists at Duke University.
196 men and women ranging from 18 to 70 years old were separated into three groups:
1. Resistance training (RT)
This group did three 60-minute resistance training workouts per week that consisted of 24 sets of machine exercises.
2. Aerobic training (AT)
This group jogged three days per week for about 45 minutes per workout.
3. Aerobic and resistance training (AT/RT)
This group did both of the workouts above, which summed up to about 5 hours of exercise per week.
Which group do you think lost the most weight?
Well, after eight months, scientists found at the aerobic training group topped the weight loss charts.
They also lost the most muscle.
Guess who lost the most fat (and gained muscle to boot)?
You got it–the aerobic and resistance training group.
These “recomp” effects have been seen in several other studies as well.
The bottom line is this:
If you want to lose fat as quickly as possible while preserving or even building muscle, then you want to do both resistance and aerobic training.
What Type of Weightlifting Is Best for Weight Loss?
The weightlifting best for losing fat would do two things:
1. Burn a significant amount of energy without over-stressing the body.
2. Overload the muscles to stimulate muscle growth.
Well, there happens to be a weightlifting workout that fits that bill perfectly: One that emphasizes heavy compound lifting.
By “heavy,” I mean handling weights that are 70%+ of your one-rep max (and ideally closer to 80 to 85%).
The reason for this is simple: it burns a lot of energy.
A study published by scientists at Democritus University of Thrace (Greece) found that training with weights in the range of 80 to 85% of 1RM significantly increases metabolic rate over the following three days, burning hundreds more calories than training with lighter weights (45 to 65% of 1RM).
Similar effects were seen in a study conducted by researchers at Gama Filho University (Brazil) as well.
By “compound,” I mean focusing on compound exercises, which are those that train multiple major muscle groups (like the squat, deadlift, and bench and overhead press).
To nobody’s surprise, research shows that compound exercises burn more energy during and after training than isolation exercises (which isolate one major muscle group, like the biceps curl).
For example, just four heavy sets of deadlifts can burn over 100 calories, and that’s not taking into account the additional energy expenditure burned due to the “afterburn effect.”
As luck would have it, this style of weightlifting is also best for building muscle and strength, which serves our purposes perfectly.
That’s why thousands of people have used workout programs like mine to successfully build muscle and lose fat at the same time.
The “Best” Weight Loss Exercise Routine?
If you want to see all this in action, do the following: