When you're trying to lose weight, you want to make sure that every single workout you do helps you reach that goal. That means hand-selecting workouts based on your current fitness level, the amount of time you can dedicate to working out, and — maybe most importantly — the kinds of exercise you actually enjoy doing and will stick with consistently. With all of that on the table, it's clear that the "best" exercise for weight loss is going to depend a lot on your body and preferences; the best workout for weight loss needs to be something you want to and will actually do consistently. But when we started to ask around, there did seem to be a consensus as to what kind of workout is most effective for dropping pounds.
HIIT Might Be the Best Exercise For Weight Loss
"HIIT is the best form of training for weight loss," said Jackie Vick, NCSF, a certified personal trainer for the GOLD'S AMP app. HIIT, Vick told POPSUGAR, triggers something called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or the EPOC effect, which happens when your body pulls in elevated levels of oxygen for post-workout recovery. More oxygen in your body essentially equals more energy and more calories burned.
"High-intensity workouts seem to be the best," agreed Michael Fredericson, MD, professor and director of physical medicine and sports medicine at Stanford University. "You need something that really shakes up your system and puts it into overdrive." He added that you can do HIIT workouts with many different kinds of exercise, which means you can choose the type you like best to get the weight-loss benefits. Want to run? Try an interval running workout like this one. Classic bodyweight HIIT circuits are a great choice. You can head to a Spin class or do an interval bike workout on your own. Whatever genre you choose, Dr. Fredericson said, "I'm not aware of anything better than high-intensity workouts."
However, not every workout needs to or should be HIIT. Vick recommended doing it two or three times a week to see results, and Dr. Fredericson cautioned that it's definitely not the kind of workout you want to do every day. "Your body's not going to have a chance to recover," he explained, which could lead to overuse injuries.
That means that other kinds of workouts definitely have a place in your workout schedule. Running can help with weight loss, especially if you mix it up with intervals and runs of different lengths and speeds. Strength training is also key for seeing weight-loss results, because it builds muscle that revs up your metabolism and helps you burn calories throughout the day, even when you're not actively working out. High-intensity swimming sessions like this 30-minute swim workout are a good form of cardio to help you drop pounds. Even a low-impact workout like yoga can contribute to weight loss, both the more intense Vinyasa practices that burn calories and slower meditation-focused classes, which foster mindfulness that can carry from the studio to other weight-impacting areas of your life, like your diet.
Can Combined Workouts Help With Weight Loss?
Another effective kind of exercise for weight loss: combining multiple modalities into one workout, said exercise physiologist Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, a fitness adviser for Bowflex. "One workout can consist of steady-state cardiovascular exercise, strength training, and high-intensity interval training," Holland told POPSUGAR. With the right design, he said, such a workout can be short and sweet, no longer than 30 minutes, while still helping you lose weight. To start, try this 30-minute cardio HIIT class that also includes bodyweight strength-training moves.
If you're doing effective combined workouts like this, Holland said, you only need to do them three times a week to see results. Again, make sure to take days off in between to recover and get in other physical activity like walking, jogging, or yoga. Prefer to split up your cardio and strength training? That's fine, Holland said; in that case, "four to six workouts per week will maximize your weight-loss results."
The Best Workout For Weight Loss Is the One You Like the Most
Even when we take all of that into consideration, at a fundamental level, the best workout for weight loss is the one that you'll stick with. And if a workout isn't enjoyable, Dr. Fredericson said, you're just not going to stick with it in the long-term. To simplify and say that one more time: the best workout for weight loss is the one you actually enjoy.
That's because if you're doing workouts you can't stand, Dr. Fredericson explained, you'll fall into what might be a familiar cycle. "You'll lose the weight and then before you know it, you start to miss workouts. Then the weight starts to come back, and then you get frustrated," Dr. Fredericson said. When weight loss is the goal, it's crucial to find a workout you enjoy enough to do consistently, one that's actually fun for you and that you won't want to skip. Committing to those kinds of workouts at least three times a week, combined with a healthy diet (try this eating plan to get started), will help you reach your weight-loss goals in a way that's actually enjoyable.