If you want to lose weight, it’s important to not put all your hope in exercise because you’ll be disappointed. The best way to drop pounds and reduce belly fat is to lower your calorie intake with a healthy diet and combine those efforts with a smart workout program.
“One thing that people hate to hear is that you really can’t out-train a bad diet,” says Lauren Powell, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and performance coach at Future, an app for remote fitness coaching. “However, fitness training increases your muscle mass, which elevates your body’s metabolism. That means you’ll be burning more calories at rest.”
In essence, while creating a calorie deficit through diet is critical to weight loss, choosing the right exercises to perform can make dropping pounds quicker and easier too, Powell says.
Before we get to Powell’s top exercises for weight loss, she recommends first figuring out your body’s energy needs. Use an online energy needs calculator like this one at Baylor College of Medicine that’s based on your height, weight, age, sex, and activity level. It calculates the number of calories you need to maintain your current weight, so bringing your total daily calories below that number will result in weight loss.
“Your eating should match with your training so that you are consuming enough calories to fuel your workouts while still burning more calories than you are taking in each day,” says Powell, who is currently studying for a doctorate in health and human performance. She also recommends making sure you eat enough protein to increase lean muscle mass during strength training. “Finally, be patient,” she says. “Body recomposition is not an overnight affair.”
Keep reading to see Powell’s 5 best exercises for weight loss. And for more, don’t miss The One Diet That Will Slim Down Your Waistline.
Powell says the best weight-loss exercises are “compound” moves that “work through multiple joints” and stress several muscle groups at the same time. For example, the squat works the hip, knee, and ankle joints and stresses the muscles that extend those joints: your calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, and glutes. “That way, you get more calorie burn for your buck,” Powell says.
Doing compound exercises also can make for a more time-efficient workout. To further shorten your workout sessions while increasing calorie burn, organize your exercises in a circuit by performing the exercises one after the other with minimal rest between each.
After a three-minute warmup, perform the following weight loss exercises recommended by Powell as a circuit three times a week (with at least a day of rest in between).
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Hold a pair of dumbbells so that your palms are facing each other, and rest one of the heads of the dumbbell on the top of each shoulder. Stand with feet slightly more than shoulder-width apart. Brace your core and push your butt back as if sitting in a chair. Lower your body until your upper thighs are parallel with the floor. Press your heels into the floor and straighten your legs to rise to the starting position. Do 12 repetitions.
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Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and a pair of heavy dumbbells on the floor in front of your toes. Bend your knees and grab the dumbbells with palms facing your body. With your chest up and your back flat, slowly pull the dumbbells off the floor by standing up as you thrust your hips forward. Pause, lower the dumbbells to the floor, and repeat. Perform 12.
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Grab a dumbbell in each hand, then lie flat on a bench with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Position the dumbbells along the sides of your chest, elbows pointing toward the floor. Turn the dumbbells so that your palms face toward your feet. Keeping your back flat on the bench, push the dumbbells up until your arms are fully extended above your chest, but don’t lock your elbows. Pause, then lower the dumbbells to your chest and repeat. Perform 12.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, and a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing in. Keeping your back flat, bend forward at your waist until your torso is almost parallel to the floor. Your arms should extend straight down below you. Now, without moving your upper body, pull the dumbbells up to the sides of your torso and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Pause, lower the dumbbells to the starting position, and repeat. Do 12.
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Add one of the following high-intensity movements to your workout to help get your heart rate up while still building strength, Powell advises.
Stand with your feet a bit wider than shoulder-width apart, toes turned slightly out. Squat down, butt back, with your weight in your heels, and chest up. Swing your arms behind you when you reach the end of your squat. Now, squeeze your butt tight and push hard through your feet to launch yourself straight up while swinging your arms above your head. Land softly, then use the momentum to go right into your next squat. Perform 12.
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Stand in front of a stair step and place your right foot firmly on the step. Press your heel into the step and push your body up until your right leg is straight. Pause for a second, then lower your body until your left foot touches the floor. Then repeat. Do six reps, then switch feet to step with your left foot. To make the move more challenging, hold a dumbbell in each hand at your sides.
In this move, you’ll jump laterally from side to side as quickly as possible while maintaining balance and control. Start with your feet hip-width apart in a half-squat position. Now propel yourself to the right by jumping off your left foot and landing on your right. As soon as your right foot hits the floor, bend into a half squat, tap your left toes to the floor to balance, then propel yourself back to the left as far as you can by pushing off your right foot. That’s one rep. Do 12.
And you’re done!
For more, check out This 15-Minute Workout Can Add Years to Your Life.