If you’re a regular gym-goer and have indulged yourself a bit too much over the festivities, you might be looking for the quickest strategies to burn off the extra layers you’ve gained around your waist.
A common question my new clients ask me at the start of each year is “what are the best workouts to lose weight and burn fat?” and, very likely, that’s something you’re wondering as well since you’re reading this article.
The reality is that there is no “one-size-fits-all” answer to this question, but there are ways to maximize the calories and fat you consume while exercising.
In this article, I’m going to explore which type of exercise consumes the most calories and why that may not matter when it comes to fat loss. I will also give you a framework of 10 activities you can do each day that will help you maximize the amount of fat you burn (yes, even belly fat).
What Exercise Burns the Most Fat?
Before getting to the meat, let me break a myth: no exercise will burn more belly fat. That’s a sad truth, I know.
Different types of exercise have a different metabolic impact on the body. This means that some types of exercises consume more calories while you’re doing them, and other types consume less.
If you’re looking for pure calorie-consumption, the science is clear: some activities burn more than others. Exercises like weight training don’t burn as much as cardio, but they have an afterburn effect. A common trick to add the afterburn effect to the most calorie-consuming cardio activities is to implement the HIIT strategy (I’ll explain how to do that for each of the activities I’m going to suggest).
Unfortunately, if you’re looking for net fat loss, you might have to take into consideration several variables in addition to what exercise you’re performing (such as sleep, rest, nutrition, and stress management).
For now, I’m going to explore the most and least calorie-consuming type of exercise, and I’ll tell you how to make them even more calorie-consuming.
1. Jumping Rope
667-990 calories/hour (if you’re jumping at 120 skips per minute)
The bonus burn:
As it turns out, this little rope is actually a big-time fat burner. Try using a weighted jump rope to engage your arms and shoulders even more.
2. Running Up Hills/Stair Sprints
The bonus burn:
You want to sprint at max effort on stairs or a hill at a pace that you can only maintain for about 20 seconds, and follow that with a recovery run at half of the intensity of the sprint and double the time. The harder you push yourself during those sprints, the greater the burn. This is a type of HIIT, a renowned type of cardio training that consumes more calories per minute than steady-state cardio.
The bonus burn:
Whether you’re kicking it on your own or in class, make sure you keep the rest periods between rounds of jabs and kicks super short. Aim for 30 seconds of rest for every 90 seconds of sparring. Once again, follow the HIIT principle.
4. Cycling Intervals
The bonus burn:
Riding at a sustained high intensity will give you a greater burn as compared to a steady-state ride at a low intensity, but adding high-intensity intervals throughout that training time will increase the afterburn even more.
566-839 calories/hour (10 min/mile)
The bonus burn:
After running at a steady pace, you’ll continue to burn extra calories over the rest of the day. To torch more during and after your workout, add short bursts of sprints into your run. I recommend keeping a 2:1 work-to-rest ratio to get the most afterburn. For example, if you run for 60 seconds, walk 30 seconds.
6. Kettlebell Circuit
The bonus burn:
A HIIT circuit using kettlebells can keep the afterburn going for 36 hours after you leave the gym. To get the best results, make sure you’re doing a fluid circuit and not stopping to rest between each move. I recommend switching between upper- and lower-body movements so you can keep exercising for a longer period of time. Try doing a set of kettlebell swings, kettlebell squats, and kettlebell push presses. Then, rest for 15 to 20 seconds after completing the three moves.
7. Stationary Bike
498-738 calories/hour (at a vigorous pace)
The bonus burn:
To get the most afterburn, start with 10 seconds of intense pedaling (100 RPMs or more) and 50 seconds of rest. Then, move to 15 seconds of sprints and 45 seconds of rest, and do 20 seconds of sprints 40 seconds of rest after that. Don’t forget to turn up the resistance as you progress.
8. Rowing Machine
481-713 calories/hour (at 150 watts, which you can check on the machine)
The bonus burn:
To get maximum calorie burn, row in fast, one-minute intervals (150 watts), and take 30- to 60-second active rest periods by alternating between squats, pushups, and planks.
452-670 calories/hour (when going 77 steps/minute)
The bonus burn:
Whether you’re working the StairMaster or running steps around town like Rocky, stair climbing provides a good mix of aerobic and anaerobic exercise. To up the ante, hold a dumbbell in each hand to get your upper body fired up, too.
10. Strength Training
The bonus burn:
You’ll increase your afterburn by working your muscles to exhaustion each set instead of stopping at an arbitrary rep range like 10 or 12. And focus on compound movements that employ more muscle groups over more joints like deadlifts and overhead presses.
Surprise surprise, weight training ranks at the bottom of the chart, and you might be wondering whether cardio is better than weight training for weight loss. Let me answer that.
Is Cardio Better Than Weight Training for Weight Loss?
And the answer is…drum roll…
Yes, if you want to see that number on the scale drop, cardio will do a better job than weight training. For example, a study from the University of Copenhagen looked at the effect of cycling to work versus hitting the gym for weight loss among overweight people.
They divided the participants into two groups: Group one was asked to cycle a 14k commute to work twice a day when group two was asked to exercise five days per week at the gym from 35 to 55 minutes per session. Surprisingly, the group that cycled was the one experiencing the highest amount of weight loss.
Does this mean that doing cardio five times each week will burn the most fat? Not necessarily.
The main issue with only focusing on cardio when trying to lose weight is that combining long sessions with a daily caloric deficit (eating fewer calories than what we consume each day), inevitably leads to muscle loss.
Having more muscle tissue has been linked to a multitude of benefits like increased thyroid function (that also boosts metabolism), improved blood sugar levels (that, in turn, help with fat loss), reduced stress levels (that contribute not just to health but also to fat loss) and improved energy (that makes you more likely not to skip training sessions or to snack on comfort food).
The big question in your mind at this point might be: how do I maximize the calories I burn without losing muscle?
The solution: combining weight training with HIIT cardio.
A new study by researchers at Wake Forest University suggests combining weight training with a low-calorie diet preserves much needed lean muscle mass that can be lost through aerobic workouts.
This evidence leads us to consider a mixed approach to exercise (that incorporates weights, HIIT, and regular cardio) as the best approach to a healthy and quick fat loss.
How Much Should I Exercise to Lose Weight?
The answer to this question is extremely personal, and it needs to take into considerations:
- Your current level of exercise
- Your schedule
- Your ability to rest and recover (dictated by sleep and stress)
- Your diet
That being said, a good idea to kickstart your fat-loss journey would be to pick one of the top 3 calorie-burning activities I’ve listed above and combine it with a few weight training sessions each week.
If you’re a beginner, start with one hour each week and build up according to how you feel. If you’re a seasoned athlete, you can probably handle anywhere from five to twelve hours of mixed cardio and weights each week.
Once again, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Experiment and find out what works best for you.
More About Losing Weight
At the start of the year, if you had asked anyone if they could do their work from home, many would have said no. They would have cited the need for team meetings, a place to be able to sit down and get on with their work, the camaraderie of the office, and being able to meet customers and clients face to face.
Almost ten months later, most of us have learned that we can do our work from home and in many ways, we have discovered working from home is a lot better than doing our work in a busy, bustling office environment where we are inundated with distractions and noise.
One of the things the 2020 pandemic has reminded us is we humans are incredibly adaptable. It is one of the strengths of our kind. Yet we have been unknowingly practicing this for years. When we move house we go through enormous upheaval.
When we change jobs, we not only change our work environment but we also change the surrounding people. Humans are adaptable and this adaptability gives us strength.
So, what are the pros and cons of working from home? Below I will share some things I have discovered since I made the change to being predominantly a person who works from home.
Pro #1: A More Relaxed Start to the Day
This one I love. When I had to be at a place of work in the past, I would always set my alarm to give me just enough time to make coffee, take a shower, and change. Mornings always felt like a rush.
Now, I can wake up a little later, make coffee and instead of rushing to get out of the door at a specific time, I can spend ten minutes writing in my journal, reviewing my plan for the day, and start the day in a more relaxed frame of mind.
When you start the day in a relaxed state, you begin more positively. You find you have more clarity and more focus and you are not wasting energy worrying about whether you will be late.
Pro #2: More Quiet, Focused Time = Increased Productivity
One of the biggest difficulties of working in an office is the noise and distractions. If a colleague or boss can see you sat at your desk, you are more approachable. It is easier for them to ask you questions or engage you in meaningless conversations.
Working from home allows you to shut the door and get on with an hour or two of quiet focused work. If you close down your Slack and Email, you avoid the risk of being disturbed and it is amazing how much work you can get done.
An experiment conducted in 2012 found that working from home increased a person’s productivity by 13%, and more recent studies also find significant increases in productivity.
When our productivity increases, the amount of time we need to perform our work decreases, and this means we can spend more time on activities that can bring us closer to our family and friends as well as improve our mental health.
Pro #3: More Control Over Your Day
Without bosses and colleagues watching over us all day, we have a lot more control over what we do. While some work will inevitably be more urgent than others, we still get a lot more choice about what we work on.
We also get more control over where we work. I remember when working in an office, we were given a fixed workstation. Some of these workstations were pleasant with a lot of natural sunlight, but other areas were less pleasant. It was often the luck of the draw whether we find ourselves in a good place to work or not.
By working from home we can choose what work to work on and whether we want to face a window or not. We can get up and move to another place, and we can move from room to room. And if you have a garden, on nice days you could spend a few hours working outside.
Pro #4: You Get to Choose Your Office Environment
While many companies will provide you with a laptop or other equipment to do your work, others will give you an allowance to purchase your equipment. But with furniture such as your chair and desk, you have a lot of freedom.
I have seen a lot of amazing home working spaces with wonderful sets up—better chairs, laptop stands that make working from a laptop much more ergonomic and therefore, better for your neck.
You can also choose your wall art and the little nick-nacks on your desk or table. With all this freedom, you can create a very personal and excellent working environment that is a pleasure to work in. When you are happy doing your work, you will inevitably do better work.
Con #1: We Move a Lot Less
When we commute to a place of work, there is movement involved. Many people commute using public transport, which means walking to the bus stop or train station. Then, there is the movement at lunchtime when we go out to buy our lunch. Working in a place of work requires us to move more.
Unfortunately, working from home naturally causes us to move less and this means we are not burning as many calories as we need to.
Moving is essential to our health and if you are working from home you need to become much more aware of your movement. To ensure you are moving enough, make sure you take your lunch breaks. Get up from your desk and move. Go outside, if you can, and take a walk. And, of course, refrain from regular trips to the refrigerator.
Con #2: Less Human Interaction
One of the nicest things about bringing a group of people together to work is the camaraderie and relationships that are built over time. Working from home takes us away from that human interaction and for many, this can cause a feeling of loss.
Humans are a social species—we need to be with other people. Without that connection, we start to feel lonely and that can lead to mental health issues.
Zoom and Microsoft Teams meeting cannot replace that interaction. Often, the interactions we get at our workplaces are spontaneous. But with video calls, there is nothing spontaneous—most of these calls are prearranged and that’s not spontaneous.
This lack of spontaneous interaction can also reduce a team’s ability to develop creative solutions—there’s just something about a group of incredibly creative people coming together in a room to thrash out ideas together that lends itself to creativity.
While video calls can be useful, they don’t match the connection between a group of people working on a solution together.
Con #3: The Cost of Buying Home Office Equipment
Not all companies are going to provide you with a nice allowance to buy expensive home office equipment. 100% remote companies such as Doist (the creators of Todoist and Twist) provide a $2,000 allowance to all their staff every two years to buy office equipment. Others are not so generous.
This can prove to be expensive for many people to create their ideal work-from-home workspace. Many people must make do with what they already have, and that could mean unsuitable chairs that damage backs and necks.
For a future that will likely involve more flexible working arrangements, companies will need to support their staff in ways that will add additional costs to an already reduced bottom line.
Con #4: Unique Distractions
Not all people have the benefit of being able to afford childcare for young children, and this means they need to balance working and taking care of their kids.
For many parents, being able to go to a workplace gives them time away from the noise and demands of a young family, so they could get on with their work. Working from home removes this and can make doing video calls almost impossible.
To overcome this, where possible, you need to set some boundaries. I know this is not always possible, but it is something you need to try. You should do whatever you can to make sure you have some boundaries between your work life and home life.
Working from home can be hugely beneficial for many people, but it can also bring serious challenges to others.
We are moving towards a new way of working. Therefore, companies need to look at both the pros and cons of working from home and be prepared to support their staff in making this transition. It will not be impossible, but a lot of thought will need to go into it.