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Best Workouts for Weight Loss

What does it really take?

By

Updated June 09, 2014

If you want to know the best workout for weight loss, the answer is actually pretty easy: It's the workout you'll actually do on a regular basis. I know, that isn't necessarily the answer you're looking for. You want to know what you have to do if you really want to get results. That answer is also simple, yet hard to execute: You have to work really, really hard.

When it comes to raising the metabolism, burning fat, losing weight and increasing your afterburn, there's nothing better than good old high intensity exercise. Below you'll find some of the best high intensity workouts for weight loss.

Interval Training

Running on treadmill
Paige Waehner

What: Alternating aerobic (moderate) or anaerobic (all-out) cardio intervals with recovery intervals. Work intervals can last anywhere from 10 seconds to several minutes, depending on your fitness level and goals.
Why: Increased afterburn, enhanced ability to breakdown and use fat, increased level of fitness, shorter workouts, low boredom factor.
Who: Beginner, intermediate or advanced exercisers.
When: 1-3 times a week, depending on fitness level.
Why Not: Higher intensity exercise may increase risk of soreness, injury, burnout or misery. Often includes higher impact activities to get the heart rate up, although there are always low impact alternatives.
Intensity Level: Moderate-High
Sample Interval Training Workout: Make sure you thoroughly warm up. Walk or run at a moderate-high intensity for 3 minutes, followed by 1 minute of walking. Repeat for 20-30 minutes.

Interval Workouts and Resources:

High Intensity Interval Training

Paige Waehner

What: A more intense version of interval training that involves alternating high intensity work sets with rest intervals. With this training, you're working at a Level 8 or 9 on this perceived exertion chart for 10 seconds to 2 minutes, with rest intervals that can be shorter, the same or longer than the work sets.
Why: Increased metabolism and afterburn, increased fitness, shorter, time efficient workouts, your body becomes more efficient at burning fat.
Who: Intermediate or Advanced exercisers who don't mind working hard.
When: 1-3 times a week, depending on your fitness level.
Why not: High intensity exercise can increase risk of injury and soreness. Working this hard can be very uncomfortable.
Intensity Level: High
Sample HIIT Workout: Make sure you thoroughly warm up. Sprint for 30 seconds and walk for 1 minute, repeating for 10-20 minutes.

More HIIT Workouts and Resources

Tabata Training

Paige Waehner

What: A killer form of HIIT that involves alternating very high intensity exercise for 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated 8 times for a total 4 minutes. Intensity builds gradually, eventually taking you to a Level 9 or 10 on this perceived exertion chart by the end of the Tabata.
Why: Increased metabolism and afterburn, very short workouts, increased fitness and conditioning, lots of variety.
Who: Advanced, experienced exercisers who don't mind pain.
When: 1-3 times a week, depending on your fitness level.
Why not: This high intensity exercise is uncomfortable and increases risk of soreness, injury and hating exercise.
Intensity Level: Very High.
Sample Tabata Workout: Make sure you thoroughly warm up. Do a high intensity exercise like burpees or froggy jumps, working as hard as you can for 20 seconds. March in place for 10 seconds and repeat 8 times. You can stick with one 4-minute Tabata, but for best results, you'll want to repeat the Tabata 1 or more times for up to 20-30 minutes.

More Tabata Workouts and Resources

Metabolic Conditioning

Paige Waehner

What: A very intense sequence of exercises, typically a mix of whole body cardio and strength, each done for a certain period of time with no rests or very short rests in between. Perceived exertion should be around 9-10 during the work sets.
Why: Targets all of the energy systems of the body, increased afterburn, high level of fitness, plenty of variety.
Who: Advanced, experienced exercisers who might be slightly crazy.
When: 1-5 times a week, depending on your fitness level or what program you're following. See P90X, Insanity or Crossfit.
Why not: This is a very high intensity method of training with a high quit rate because of injuries, soreness, burnout, puking, etc. Not for beginners.
Sample MetCon Workout: Choose 10 high intensity whole body exercises, such as these compound exercises, and do each for 30 seconds, 10 seconds of rest in between.

More MetCon Workouts and Resources

High Intensity Circuit Training

Paige Waehner

What: A more intense form of circuit training that includes a mix of both cardio and resistance training exercises. The idea is to choose whole body moves and try alternating between upper and lower body moves, so one muscle group rests while another works. You do each exercise for a certain duration and then go immediately to the next exercise.
Why: The resistance training exercises involve the large muscles of the body which contributes to more fat burning. This workout can also increase metabolism and afterburn and may have a greater impact on subcutaneous fat loss, but experts aren't sure why. It could be due to a growth hormone released during and after high intensity resistance training exercise. Lots of variety, short workout and more time efficient.
Who: Intermediate and Advanced exercisers ready to get out of their comfort zone.
When: 1-3 times a week, depending on your fitness level.
Why not: This high level of intensity can be very uncomfortable and cause lots of soreness and, possibly, injury if the body isn't ready for it. You should have some exercise time under your belt and a good understanding of proper exercise form and technique before trying HICT.
Sample HICT Workout: Do each exercise for 30 seconds, 10 seconds rest in between. Jumping jacks, wall sit, pushup, ball crunches, step ups, squats, dips, planks, high knee jogs, lunges, pushups to side plank, side plank.

More HICT Workouts and Resources

Anything You'll Actually Do

Getty Images/Kane Skennar

The high intensity workouts highlighted in this article are certainly the flavor of the month in the world of fitness and weight loss. It's easy to see why when you look at the results of all that hard work. However, that hard work comes at a price. For some, it's injury or soreness. For others, it's burnout or even overtraining. And some people just can't work that hard.

High impact, high intensity exercise isn't the only way to lose weight, so you may want to avoid high intensity training for the following reasons:

  • You're a beginner or have been on a long break from exercise
  • You're in chronic pain or are dealing with an injury
  • You've never gotten out of your comfort zone with exercise
  • You hate sweating
  • You have any kind of heart condition that requires medication - It may affect your heart rate, something your doctor would want to discuss with you in terms of the intensity of your exercise

The thing is, a workout is only as good as its exerciser. No workout is going to work if you don't actually do it, so it's best to stick with a form of exercise that feels good to you. That may mean starting with a beginner program and working your way up to more intense exercise over time.

Sources:

Burgomaster K, Howarth K, Phillips S, et al. "Similar metabolic adaptations during exercise after low volume sprint interval and traditional endurance training in humans." J of Phys. 2008 Jan;586(1):151-160. Sept 1, 2013. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1113/jphysiol.2007.142109/full.

Klika B, Jordan C. "HIGH-INTENSITY CIRCUIT TRAINING USING BODY WEIGHT: Maximum Results With Minimal Investment." May/June 2013. ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal, 17(3), 8-13. Sept 3, 2013. http://journals.lww.com/acsm-healthfitness/Fulltext/2013/05000/HIGH_INTENSITY_CIRCUIT_TRAINING_USING_BODY_WEIGHT_.5.aspx.

Kravitz, Len. "The fitness professional's complete guide to circuits and intervals." IDEA Today. 1996;14(1):32-43. Sept 2, 2013. http://drlenkravitz.com/Articles/circuits.html.

Talanian,J; Galloway, S; Heigenhauser, G; et al. "Two weeks of high-intensity aerobic interval training increases the capacity for fat oxidation during exercise in women." 2007. J Appl Physiol 102: 1439-1447. Sept 5, 2013. http://jap.physiology.org/cgi/content/abstract/102/4/1439.

Tjønna A, Lee S, Rognmo Ø. "Aerobic Interval Training Versus Continuous Moderate Exercise as a Treatment for the Metabolic Syndrome." Circulation. 2008;118:346-354. Sept 1, 2013. http://circ.ahajournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/118/4/346.

Trapp EG, Chisholm DJ, Freund J, et al. "The effects of high-intensity intermittent exercise training on fat loss and fasting insulin levels of young women." Int J Obes (Lond). 2008 Apr;32(4):684-91. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18197184.

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