There’s nothing worse than weighing yourself at the end of a hard week only to realize all your yoga classes, jogs around the block, and healthy eating didn’t budge the scale like you’d hoped.
Before you open that pint of ice cream and throw in the towel, you should know that exercise in any form is great for your mind and body, but not all exercise is equal when it comes to losing weight.
When you’re finally ready to say adios to the extra LBs you’ve been unhappily lugging around, you’ll want an exercise plan that delivers results ASAP.
FYI: No single exercise routine will magically eliminate all of your belly fat at once. But there are better options you can gravitate towards to shed pounds faster and look leaner.
From cardio to strength training, we’ll go over what you need to know to lose weight the right way.
Start to Feel the Cardio Afterburn
Cardio is amazing for torching calories and keeping our hearts in shape. But it’s also stellar for weight loss thanks to its “afterburn” effect.
No, this isn’t a rash you develop from running in the heat.
Basically, when you’re in the middle of a cardio sweat-sesh, your heart should be pumping like crazy. Your body starts to raise its metabolic rate, or the rate at which your body burns calories, to keep up with your vigorous activity.
“Any time you elevate your heart rate into the top end of your target zone, the extra fuel (aka calories) you burn up continues in order to bring your heart rate and muscle activity back to normal and to metabolize the lactic acid you have created,” Michele Olson, PhD, professor of exercise science at Auburn University, explains for Health.com.
Intense cardio has been shown to raise your metabolic rate for up to 24 hours after your workout. This means you’ll be burning calories long after you hobble off your machine and even while you Facebook before bedtime.
Here’s how to harness the power of cardio to lose weight fast:
Make Intervals Your New BFF with HIIT
Take advantage of high intensity interval training (HIIT) to boost your fat-burning no matter which cardio activities you choose.
Interval training incorporates periods of intense activity with periods of moderate movement. You’ll alternate between these two types of exercise to rev up your metabolism and kick it into high gear, which in turn burns more calories during and post-workout.
So for example, let’s say you typically walk on the treadmill for 30 minutes. Working out with intervals, you would walk at a normal pace for 3 minutes and then try running or walking up a steep incline for 1 minute. Then you repeat the process for the duration of your workout.
As Michael Matthews tells Muscle for Life, “The high-intensity intervals push your body toward its metabolic limits (basically as hard as you can go) and the low-intensity intervals allow it to recover (catching your breath).”
The more intense your activity, the higher the afterburn effect will be.
Plus, as Craig Ballantyne of TurbulenceTraining.com points out to Livestrong, HIIT increases both your growth hormone and your adrenaline. These two fat-burning hormones also help suppress your appetite for all-around weight loss nirvana.
Swimming Works Out Your Whole Body at Once
If you’re looking for a low-impact workout that doesn’t place pressure or stress on your knees, ankles, or joints, consider moving your workouts to the pool.
Swimming for just one hour could help you burn up to 700 calories!
The more muscle groups you use during your workouts, the more calories your body will burn. Swim a few laps in the pool and work out all your major muscles at the same time—arms, legs, back, core—all without getting gross and sweaty.
You can even incorporate intervals in your swim regime by alternating treading water in the deep end with swimming laps, or swimming with hand weights for a lap or two.
Cycling is a Serious Calorie Torcher
Cycling is an easy, fun, low-impact way to engage all the big muscle groups.
As research from the Harvard Medical School states, during pedaling, your glutes, quads, calves, and hamstrings take the brunt of all the work, but your core and ab muscles help you balance and stay upright, while your arms and shoulder muscles have to hold the handlebars and steer.
It’s no wonder you can torch up to 600 calories per hour cycling!
Whether you choose to bike indoors or out, don’t forget your intervals.
According to one study of overweight women, those who “did around eight seconds of sprinting on a bike, followed by 12 seconds of exercising lightly for twenty minutes, lost three times as much fat” as the women who only exercised at a continuous, regular pace for 40 minutes.
Now, the downside of cardio is that too much of it can cause you to lose muscle instead of fat. That’s why no cardio regime is complete without a strength training plan.
Kettlebell Workouts Combine Two Kinds of Exercises
Kettlebell training combines the calorie-burning of cardio with the muscle-building of strength training to give you a serious butt kicking.
When it was studied by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), they discovered that kettlebell training burns at least 20.2 calories per minute—which are numbers only seen when people run a 6-minute mile!
During a 20-minute kettlebell workout, the average exerciser burns 272 calories and builds lean muscle simultaneously.
“This is good news for people who are looking for a very good resistance-training workout that will also help them lose weight,” notes Chad Schnettler, M.S., in the ACE study. “For people who might not have a lot of time, and need to get in a good workout as quickly as possible, kettlebells definitely provide that.”
Don’t let this old school Russian dumbbell from the early 1700s intimidate you; kettlebells range in size so you can start out small and work your way up.
Check out these awesome kettlebell exercises to see what it’s like.
Strength Training Builds Muscle (which burns more calories at rest than fat does)
Many newbies shy away from strength training out of fear of “bulking up” and adding weight to their frames when they’re trying so hard to get thin.
Here’s the good news: "Body weight often goes up with strength training, but dress size goes down one or two sizes," Holly Perkins, CSCS, assures Fitness magazine readers.
That’s because your body will appear smaller and leaner when more of your weight comes from muscle—as opposed to fat—because muscle is tight and fat is flabby.
Building lean muscle gives your body the shape and definition you’re really after when you say you want to lose weight.
“If you put someone on a walking program, it will take time before they perceive their body is changing,” explains Jeffrey A. Katula, PhD, associate professor of health and exercise science at Wake Forest University. “But with strength training, you can feel a difference in your muscles even after one session.”
Strength training is one of the best forms of exercise for those who want to lose weight because every time you create more muscle, that muscle burns calories every minute of every day.
“More calories are used to make and maintain muscle than fat, and in fact, strength training can boost your metabolism by 15 percent,” Chris Iliades, MD, highlights for Everyday Health.
Take this advice from Dr. Axe if you want to start strength training and seeing results:
Strength training can be done with a simple set of weights, weight machines at the gym, or even using your own bodyweight for resistance.
Losing weight boils down to a stupid simple math equation: It takes a deficit of 3,500 calories to lose one pound.
So you need to create a 500 calorie deficit each day in order to bank 3,500 each week. Since most of us don’t like the feeling of starving ourselves, exercise is a great way to reach your daily deficit goals.
If you’ve been struggling to achieve Instagram-worthy results, you probably haven’t been combining cardio and strength training.
Choosing just one of these exercise types severely limits your fat-burning potential.
As we’ve learned today, HIIT and cardio activities will get your heart rate up, sizzle away an insane amount of calories, and give you the major afterburn effects you never knew you desperately needed.
Strength training builds new muscle out of your plumpness to create a more lean and well-defined body in a crazy short amount of time.
Now that you have a few options, it’s time to make a schedule for yourself and stick with it!