What’s The Best Exercise To Lose Weight?

By JC Deen



The best exercise to lose weight is, unfortunately, non-existent because there is no single exercise that contributes to weight loss on its own.

However, by the time you get done with this article, you’ll be fully equipped to get the most out of your exercise routine to lose weight (mostly from fat) and keep it off.

In saying that, let’s go over some of the ideas for why you’re looking for the best exercise to lose weight.

Best Exercise To Lose Weight
Photo Credit: WODshop Inc..

If you’re looking for a magic pill, or one weird trick (such as a special move, or type of exercise), let me burst your bubble.

  1. No single move will give you the weight loss results you’re looking for.
  2. No single 7-minute solution exists for the illustrious 6-pack abs you might desperately long for.
  3. No single dietary maneuver will give you the weight loss results you want without some combination of proper exercise and rest.

The good news is you’re at the right place to learn all about the best ways to lose fat, build muscle, and maintain the results.

The bad news is if you’re looking for a simple, one-stop solution, I’m afraid that doesn’t exist. No one just did a squat, or began a cardio routine, or yoga and automatically lost all their excess weight.

There were a handful of changes they made to make it happen, despite what you might read in the tabloids, or some random site looking to empty your wallet by means of false hopes and empty promises.

So let’s talk about exercise first.

What’s The Best Exercise To Lose Weight?

There are generally two forms of exercise (training) most people think of when it comes to weight loss.

We have cardiovascular (aka cardio) training, and resistance training.

Best Exercise To Lose Weight
Photo Credit: TimothyJ

For cardio training, most people think of the following:

  • Long-distance running/jogging
  • Biking
  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Intervals
  • Sprinting

For resistance training, either with your own bodyweight or added resistance in the form of barbells, dumbbells kettlebells, bands, cables, sandbags, and other means, most people think of the following:

  • Body weight training
  • Olympic lifting
  • Bodybuilding
  • Strength training
  • Calisthenics
  • Powerlifting

But here’s a little secret I want you to know — especially if you’re one of those people who automatically thinks of excessive running as the best exercise to lose weight.

Lots of cardiovascular training can seem like a good idea because it burns calories. And when you think logically about this, it can make sense.

The more you do, the more calories you burn, and the more weight you lose.

But while this might sound right, it’s not the most optimal approach.

Excessive cardio training does very little for your skeletal muscle.

Sure, you’re using your muscles when you run, but you’re not overloading them. And if you don’t overload the muscles, there’s little to no chance they’ll change in size or strength.

In fact, excessive cardio exercise can actually make you lose muscle mass over time, especially if you’re on a weight loss diet (eating fewer calories than you’re burning).

How does this happen?

Two ways:

  • Excessive exercise (not only cardio) can cause your muscles to break down into glucose for fuel. When the body is low on energy, it will get glucose from wherever it can — even if that means breaking your muscles down into amino acids, and converting them to sugar (aka gluconeogenesis). You’ll essentially be using your own muscle tissue for energy at this point.
  • Lack of stimulus and load. Muscles require resistance and movement to ensure they maintain themselves. If you don’t use your muscles consistently, they atrophy. It’s the classic ‘use it or lose it’ cliché.

So while cardio is not the best exercise to lose weight, it can be helpful if done appropriately, alongside a proper resistance training program.

Why Resistance Training Is The Best Type Of Exercise To Lose Weight

To answer your question simply, resistance training is the best way to exercise if you want to lose weight and keep it off. And by weight loss, we mean fat loss.

But weight training alone doesn’t burn body fat in and of itself. This is apparent by looking at the lifting population. Some are very lean. Others have relatively normal levels of body fat, and some are considered obese, despite lots of movement.

Weight training, plus a diet that induces fat loss via a caloric deficit is what causes weight and fat loss to happen.

The primary reason this is the best type of exercise to lose weight is because when you train with resistance, you’re doing two things simultaneously.

First, you’re building muscle. Every time you train, you’re breaking down your muscle tissue, and as a result, it must rebuild and repair stronger than before. So when you have that pre-workout meal, or your post-workout meal, you’re setting up the proper environment for increasing muscle protein synthesis.

If you’re unsure about your protein intake, my article, how much protein do you need to build muscle and lose fat, will tell you exactly how much you need.

Second, you’re also exerting energy as you train. So the more calories you burn as energy, the more you increase your expenditure, and the more likely you’re able to create a relative caloric deficit.

Now, keep in mind, weight training primarily uses glycogen (sugar stored in your muscles) as an energy source to fuel your sessions, not actual body fat. So it’s a good idea to make sure you have enough carbohydrates in your diet to keep your muscles full of glycogen.

But over time, when you create a relative deficit to your expenditure (relative meaning 500-600 calories below maintenance intake), combine weight training and some extra movement into your routine, then you create the best environment to lose weight (mostly fat) via the best method of exercise (resistance training).

What Exercises Should You Do To Lose Weight?

If you want to lose weight, the best exercise option is a steady dose of weight training. Cardio training should be secondary to your weight training workout plan.

Any training routine that has you in the gym 2-5 times per week will suffice if fat loss is your goal. But not all training programs and plans are created equal.

Some exercises are better for fat loss than others. For instance, if you want to train your lower body, there are many different exercises to choose from, but compound lifts are often a better choice over isolation (single joint) movements.

Compound Movement Examples:

  • Squats (all variations: barbell back / front, hack, goblet, machine)
  • Leg presses (all variations)
  • Deadlifts / hip hinges (all variations: conventional, sumo, dumbbell, Romanian, barbell glute bridges, hip thrusts)
  • Vertical Presses (all overhead variations: barbell, dumbbell, machines, cables)
  • Vertical Pulls (Chin-ups, pull-ups, lat pulldowns, assisted chins/pull-ups)
  • Horizontal Presses (all pressing variations: barbell, dumbbell, machines, cables, bands, dips)
  • Horizontal Pulls (all row variations: barbell, dumbbell, machines, cables, bands)

Isolation (single joint) Movement Examples:

  • Leg extensions
  • Leg curls
  • Arm curls
  • Tricep extensions
  • Shoulder raises

Why Are Compound Movements Better Exercises For Weight Loss?

These movements require more muscle recruitment than single joint exercises. And because they recruit more muscles throughout your body, you’re burning more energy.

That’s the obvious point, but a more subtle reason they’re better than single joint movements is because they stress the body more, which can improve your ability to overload the muscles, which helps you build more muscle in time.

And for the most part, more muscle means you’re burning more (very slight increase, mind you) energy at rest.

Muscle is also protective of your organs. More muscle can help you move better and more efficiently. More muscle can improve your posture, and protect your joints by providing more strength for proper movement patterns.

But Don’t Forget About Isolation Movements

Just like compound movements, isolation movements have their place in a properly setup workout plan. It’s just a matter of placing emphasis on the compounds first, and adding in the single joint movements for assistance work.

If your goal is fat loss, you should place a high priority on weight training as your main mode of exercise.

What’s The Best Exercise To Lose Weight?

That’s a good question, but the better one would be ‘what’s the best type of training program for fat loss?’

I am very partial to training the entire body 2-4 times per week. This can be a full body program 2 or 3 days per week, or an upper lower split over 3-4 days per week.

To lose fat, a combination of diet, proper training, and sometimes some additional cardio is essential.

You can lose fat, and build muscle on weight training alone without cardio training.

You can lose weight and some fat on cardio exercise alone, but the benefits of regular weight training far outweigh the results you’ll get from a cardio-only program.

My best recommendation for the best exercise plans to gain muscle, lose fat (and keep it off) are as follows:

You can use my free resources to put together your own program with the following:

Free Training Resources

Beginners Workout Routine | Workout Plan Guide (2-5 day training plans) | Hypertrophy Training article with multiple training styles.

8 thoughts on “What’s The Best Exercise To Lose Weight?”

  1. Thanks so much for this article. It just reinforces my decision to chuck doing Focus T25 (Beachbody workout DVD) full-time and pick up some heavy weights to do strength training instead. I still do HIIT cardio two times a week, but my focus is now resistance training with full-body compound exercises three times a week.

  2. I’ve just recently started doing strength training at home, while attending spin classes a couple times per week. Your article helped answer my question as to which will provide faster results, and how often I should be doing each. Thanks!

  3. Thanks so much for good one advice.I m regular reader of ur article .all information provide by u r too effective .thanks

  4. Thank you for the great article! I am beginning again so it was perfect timing. You are a trusted resource and I appreciate all the free information.

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JC Deen is a nationally published fitness coach and writer from Nashville, TN. Currently living in the blistering Northeast. Follow me on X/Twitter