Weight loss is a simple formula: You lose weight by reducing fat, and you reduce fat by burning more energy (calories) than you consume. Even though it’s as simple (notice we didn’t say easy) as that, there are ways to work out that will help you burn fat and gain muscle more efficiently.
Your personal weight-loss fitness plan should be, well, personal. To stay safe, avoid injury, and get fit, you need to know where you’re starting from. In addition to your age and current weight, factor in any injuries or limitations you may have, what your goals are, and your baseline fitness level.
Here’s what you need to know in order to get your body where you want it to be:
- Get (and keep) your heart rate up.
It’s helpful to understand that fat is expelled from our body through sweat and respiration; therefore, the best workout routines for weight loss are those that keep your heart rate elevated for sustained periods. For most people, reaching a heart rate of 60% or 70% of their max rate is optimal for burning fat and increasing heart health. The amount of exercise and time it takes to get to this targeted zone is different for everyone.
To maximize your heart rate throughout your workout, change your movements according to your body’s fatigue levels — but don’t stop entirely. Instead of taking five when you get fatigued from jumping jacks, switch to some floor work like sit-ups that work a different muscle group. Instead of taking a breather after a set of star jumps that work your calves and quads, move into a side plank that engages your core.
Remember that the key word in workout is “work,” so it’s crucial to stay on task and maintain a consistent heart rate. That persistence will pay off in terms of results in fitness and weight loss.
To determine your max heart rate, subtract your age from 220. For example, if you’re 40 years old, your max heart rate would be 180. Of course, other factors can come into play, including medication, so always check with your doctor before starting a fitness program.
- Befriend aerobic exercise.
Get your heart rate up and keep it there through aerobic exercises, which provide cardiovascular conditioning and that force you to breathe faster and more deeply, sending oxygen to circulate through your blood, improving blood flow to your muscles, and providing you with endorphins that increase your feeling of well-being. Your body’s adaptation to this activity makes it stronger and increases the body’s cardiovascular system and endurance. Alongside improved heart health, it confers a host of other benefits, including increased stamina, a stronger immune system, improved prevention and management of chronic illness, and weight loss.
To increase your aerobic exercise, add at least 30 minutes of cardio exercises to your daily routine. That doesn’t have to mean high-impact options like running. Examples of weight loss-promoting aerobic workout options include walking, dancing, skipping, and jumping rope, plus moves like jumping jacks, mountain climbers, burpees, bear crawls, high knees, and donkey kicks. These aerobic exercises will help you burn calories not just during your workout, but also will create an afterburn effect, known formally as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. This requires the body to work at a higher rate and therefore continues to burn calories, contributing to weight loss.
The weekly activity target for adults, according to the advice of the World Health Organization, is at least two and a half to five hours of moderate or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise. Keep in mind that you may need more physical activity than that in order to reach specific fitness goals or lose weight. Don’t let those numbers scare you away, because you don’t have to do it all at once. To start getting fit, build in extra 10-minute exercise bursts during the day.
- HIIT it.
High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, is sometimes described as 1 minute or 30 seconds of maximum effort followed by a shorter “rest” period of lower-intensity activity. But HIIT shouldn’t be measured by pre-timed intervals. Instead, HIIT requires a high-intensity period of all-out effort, in which you hit 80% to 90% of your maximum heart rate, that lasts until you can’t maintain that intensity any longer. Then, the rest period should be dialing back the activity until heart rate and respiration returns to normal range. Then it’s time to return to maximum effort and intensity. Take that pattern and repeat for the desired number of sets.
HIIT has been shown to be a good workout routine for weight loss. A recent study found that interval exercisers lost 28.5% more weight than those taking a continuous exercise approach. And research shows that more intense workouts promote the afterburn effect, helping your body keep burning calories even after your workout is finished.
- Embrace resistance.
Resistance exercises — or those that have your muscles contract against an opposing force — are beneficial to your routine because they help build muscle and improve strength and stability. For this type of training, resistance can come in the form of dumbbells and free weights, weight machines, heavy objects like medicine balls, other people, or your own body weight. Resistance training works because it causes microscopic damage to the muscle fiber — a breakdown process called catabolism — that’s followed by a repair and regeneration process called anabolism that makes your muscles stronger.
This increase in muscle boosts your metabolism, as muscle burns more calories at rest than fat. For example, 10 pounds of muscle will expend 50 calories per at-rest day, while the same amount of fat will burn only 20 calories. Therefore, pumping up those muscles through strength training will create the kind of burn that powers any weight-loss effort.
For both health and weight loss, combine strength training along with aerobic exercise. Your best workout routine for weight loss will include 12 to 15 repetitions, using weights or resistance levels, for each major muscle group at least twice per week. Along with helping adjust your body fat percentage, weight training builds muscle, which is key to increasing the number of calories you burn even when you’re not exercising.
- Keep it creative.
Stay healthy, fit, and motivated by mixing up your workout routines in a creative way. Creating a fun mix of aerobics, strength training, and flexibility work like stretches will keep you from developing a lopsided routine that could lead to injury or from adapting to certain exercises and plateauing in terms of fitness gains.
To stay motivated and engaged, set new challenges and try new exercises that switch up the muscles used or that incorporate multiple muscles into the routine. For example, try a kettlebell exercise that will incorporate both strength training for multiple muscle groups and some aerobic challenge. One example is a hand-to-hand kettlebell swing that targets your abs, upper back, shoulders, glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps. This provides a challenge and keeps your body engaged from head to toe.
- Get out of balance.
Don’t forget that one of the primary benefits of a workout is to build functional fitness, or your readiness for real-life movements and activities such as squatting to pick keys off the floor, carrying groceries, pulling open a heavy door, or reaching for a high-up object. To improve your everyday function and train for everyday life, it’s important to create intentional instability, which activates dormant muscles and teaches different joints and muscle groups to work together.
To throw yourself off-balance intentionally, try holding a kettlebell in one hand and lifting the opposite leg. Other examples include multidirectional lunges, which mimic the motions needed for some household chores, or standing bicep curls, which engage not only biceps and forearms, but also the shoulders and back. Practicing these motions increases strength and stability and helps avert injury in everyday activities. Functional fitness also safeguards training long-term and allows the body to move more freely, which helps calories burn more efficiently, therefore, pounds to drop.
As you start your fitness plan, you’ll build your strength and stamina in incremental steps. While increasing exercise increases the benefits to your health, adding even small amounts of exercise makes a difference to your overall well-being.
Have questions about losing weight or fitness in general? Sworkit’s certified fitness trainers are more than happy to answer them. In your Sworkit app’s main menu, navigate to the Help Center, then click on the “Ask a Trainer” link to get one-on-one advice from a real trainer.