Best exercises for weight loss: Fat-burning moves for circuits and HIIT workouts

Six of the best exercises for weight loss, which will burn calories and build muscle at the same time

Some of the best exercises for weight loss
(Image credit: Christopher Campbell/Unsplash)

The best exercises for weight loss aren’t always the ones you might expect. You might expect to lose weight by running, cycling or swimming. While these exercises are brilliant for developing overall cardiovascular health and well-being, they’re also not actually the most efficient exercises to burn those calories.

The best exercises to lose weight are the ones below, and others like them, which are geared towards high-intensity interval training. These will burn lots of calories, elevate your metabolism and help achieve any weight loss goals you may have. 

Scientific research published in the journal Sports Medicine has found a combination of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and resistance training are the most effective exercises for weight loss, since they can offer both a short and long-term burn by increasing the body’s post-exercise option consumption, or EPOC. These oxygen demands burn calories sourced from your carbohydrate intake quickly, encouraging your body to use up energy from fats when it runs out. 

Resistance training also builds muscle, and muscle size significantly influences our resting or "base" metabolic rate, which refers to how many calories your body requires when it is resting. 

HIIT training and muscle-building go hand-in-hand when trying to lose weight, especially with light weights used at volume in moves such as kettlebell swings, but it's also a reminder that it isn’t a -one-size-fits-all experience when it comes to working out. Weight loss should be about self-discovery, finding out what kind of exercise you love to do, not pigeonholing yourself into going for a run if you hate running. 

How to start implementing the best exercises for weight loss

If you are looking to try the best exercises for weight loss and become stronger as you do this, then take note of the exercises below to incorporate into your next workouts. These include things like burpees, ball slams, and kettlebell swings.

It is an idea to start with, say 6-8 reps, and slowly build to more repetitions as the weeks progress. Similarly, if the move requires weights, start off light and gradually increase the load week-by-week.

Of course, not everyone is at a stage where they are confident steaming into a hectic spin class or group HIIT session, but swapping your daily jog for some kettlebell workouts, shadow boxing, skipping, burpees or traditional weights training will pay dividends over a much shorter timescale. 

We’ve collated some of the best exercises for weight loss, studying numerous books and online articles to surface those scientifically-backed moves that can easily be incorporated into your next workout for maximum calorie burn and muscle toning.

If you're serious about losing weight, you should invest in a smart device such as the best fitness watch, which can monitor calories expended, workouts, steps and loads more. And if you're really serious, you could take your home gym set-up to the max and consider investing in the best exercise machines to lose weight.

The best exercises for weight loss

Kettlebell Swings

Why is it good?

Not only will you strengthen large muscle groups, like the glutes, quads, abs, and shoulders, this multi-faceted move will also get the heart rate spiking, therefore goading the body to burn fat as an energy source. 

How to do it

Place a kettlebell (start off light) between your feet, which should be set at around hip-width apart. Bend at the hips as if you were performing a squat and grab the handle with both hands. Stand upright with core engaged, shoulders pinned back and down towards your butt with a nice, straight back. 

Now rock back slightly to create enough momentum to swing the kettlebell up and out in front of you, arms straight and fully extended. Squeeze the glutes, thrust your hips forward and brace the core to assist in this movement and drive through the heels. Now allow momentum to swing the kettlebell back through your legs, remembering to bend at the hips before repeating the movement.

This is primarily a lower body exercise, so drive with the legs and glutes. The shoulders should only really be incorporated at the top of the move, where the kettlebell hangs in the air for a brief moment before returning to its start position. Aim to perform as many swings as you can in a 30-60 second time period and repeat this for 3-4 sets for maximum fat burn.

Women exercises with a jump rope

(Image credit: Getty)

Jump Rope

Why is it good?

There’s a reason why you see boxers and MMA fighters throwing shapes with a skipping rope during training: it’s an absolute monster for elevating the heart rate, promoting cardiovascular endurance, and building cat-like levels of coordination, as well as fast, agile feet.

How to do it

It doesn’t matter your level of skipping ability, as any prolonged rope practice is great for burning fat and strengthening the upper body. Grab both ends of a rope and flick the wrist so the rope travels in front of your body and jump over to complete the motion. 

As skills increase, attempt to speed up the skipping, try single and double foot jumps, swap feet throughout, and even try some explosive “double-unders”, where the rope passes underneath you twice before the feet land. Look to skip for around 45 seconds at first and slowly increase this time as the weeks progress. Feeling confident? Try our twenty-minute jump rope workout a go.

Man demonstrating the various stages of a burpee, one of the best exercises for weight loss that you can do

(Image credit: Future)

Burpees

Why is it good?

It is the killer bodyweight exercise that many fear in any workout but this compound movement involves almost every muscle group in the body and, as a result, sees the heart rate soaring. In fact, it spikes the metabolism at such a rate that the body will even burn calories after a burpee-laden session has come to a close.

How to do it

From a standing position, drop down as if you were about to perform a press up. Explosively kick your legs backwards so your thighs are parallel with the floor and the chest, shoulders, and arms are braced to take your body weight.

Don’t pause here, but instead draw your feet back under your chest before explosively leaping into the air, keeping your arms by your sides. Repeat this immediately, without pause, for as many times as you can muster in a 30-second period. Aim to increase the reps and session time as the weeks progress.

Barbell Push Press

Why is it good?

We are straying into old school Olympic lifting techniques here but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. In essence, this compound movement targets the big-hitting muscles in the upper body, while the quads and hips offer support from the lower body. This combination of large muscle groups gets the heart pumping, while strengthening and toning the upper body at the same time. 

How to do it

Grab a barbell (start off with just the bar to perfect form), stand feet hip-width apart, and pull the barbell up while rotating it so it lays across your chest with your palms facing towards the ceiling. This is the starting position for the rest of the movement but you can negate the initial set-up by using a rack in a gym instead. 

From here, bend the knees slightly, keeping a straight back, and drive through the heels, pressing the barbell directly overhead. As the barbel passes in front of your face, engage the shoulder muscles and press the bar upwards. The bar should end up just behind your head with arms fully extended. Pause here and return the bar to your chest in a slow, controlled manner and repeat the movement for 8-10 reps. Slowly increase load over the weeks as you gain confidence. For more workouts like this, see our guide on how to deadlift with barbells.

Women uses stairs to perform the step-up exercise

(Image credit: Getty)

Step ups

Why is it good?

These single leg exercises force the glutes, quads, and calves to work extra hard in order to haul your body up onto a raised platform. On top of this, the plethora of small stabilizing muscles also have to kick into life to ensure you don’t topple from said platform. Adding a set of dumbbells to proceedings increases the load on the lower body, while improving upper body strength.

How to do it

Find a solid platform, like a stable bench, plyo box or anything sturdy that’s around knee to hip-high. Place your right foot onto the platform and drive through the heel until both feet are together on the surface and you are standing upright. Step backward with the left leg and repeat on that side, swapping legs throughout. Aim for as many reps (equal numbers on each side) in a 45 second period. 

Grabbing a set of dumbbells and holding them around waist high while you perform the step-up is a great way of gradually adding load over time to ensure the body never gets too comfortable performing an exercise. That’s when progress plateaus.

Slam Balls

Why is it good?

Repeatedly slamming something heavy against the ground is about as primal as things get but this frustration-busting exercise also incorporates the upper and lower body, while sending the heart rates soaring. Ensure the medicine or slam ball you are using is fit for purpose (and not too heavy to begin with) to avoid embarrassingly spilling stuffing all over the place.

How to do it

Stand feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent and slam ball held above your head in both hands. Try not to lock out the arms but keep a slight bend in the elbows. Now brace your core muscles, squeeze your glutes and explosively pull the ball down in front of you, slamming it into the ground.

A medicine ball will bounce back up, allowing you to catch it and raise it back above your head, then drive through the heels and reach up onto your tiptoes to slam it back down. Slam balls are not designed to bounce, so require you to adopt the correct deep squat form in order to lower the body enough to scoop the ball back up and return to a standing position. This variation will naturally work the legs muscles much harder.

Remember to keep good posture throughout this exercise, avoid letting the shoulders drift forwards, and don’t allow the back to round at any point. You should aim to keep the core muscles braced so the abs assist with the hard work. Aim to perform as many slams as you can in 30-45 seconds. 

How to perform the best exercises for weight loss

The exercises listed below will give you an overview of what each exercise does for your body, but take note of the extra attention to the form section of each. This will ensure you are targeting the correct muscle groups while avoiding any unwanted injuries. 

Essentially, we want to make exercising for weight loss as easy and effective as possible for you.

So firstly, always remember to take it easy. Some or all of these moves might be new to you. Once you feel comfortable enough with an exercise you then want to start performing each exercise in repetitions (reps). It is sensible to begin steadily with six-eight reps but this can be increased as you progress. This kind of repetition training is what science believes to be best for weight loss.

Lastly, as essential as exercise is toward weight loss it is important you are eating a clean and nutritious diet as well. There is no point exercising to burn if you then counteract this with a fatty, high processed and sugary diet.

Eating in a calorie deficit can be helpful if you enjoy eating all kinds of foods but struggle to portion control the unhealthier options. You have a greater chance of achieving lasting weight loss if you aim to have a balanced and colorful diet to ensure you can enjoy food and consume plenty of fuelling nutrients.

Leon Poultney
Leon Poultney

An automotive and technology writer by trade, Leon keeps in shape by lifting heavy objects inside and riding various machinery outside.