We’re all looking to streamline our workout. Everyone’s crunched for time these days, and we want to get the biggest bang for our workout buck.
So I’m always looking to see which exercises will let me burn a lot of calories, use a ton of muscles and not cost me a fortune.
With that in mind, I scoured the earth (OK, not really, but I did talk to some qualified fitness experts) to find you 3 high-priority exercises to help you lose weight.
Walk into any gym across the country, and you’ll see rows and rows of folks sweating it out on the treadmill. And chances are, if you return to the gym a few months later, you’ll see the same people … looking about the same way.
That’s because aerobic activity, such as walking, running and cycling, can be an effective way to burn calories and shed weight, but most people don’t spend the time needed, nor do they power up intensely enough, to burn off all the food they’re eating each day.
If you really want to rev up your calorie burn and move past your weight-loss plateau, add intervals to your fitness routine.
That’s where you alternate short bursts of intense exertion with short periods of recovery. In other words, you go as hard as you can for a short time, and then at an easy pace for a bit, alternating intense bursts with recovery bursts.
Not only will you burn calories while you’re working out, you’ll also burn calories afterwards.
One 1994 study at Laval University in Quebec, Canada, found high-intensity interval training (HIIT) was 9 times more effective for losing fat than steady-state cardio.1 One reason may be what experts call EPOC, or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. In other words, the “afterburn effect,” in which the metabolism remains elevated for hours after an intense workout.
We’ve talked about HIIT before, and it’s important to note that there’s no single right or wrong way to do it. Here’s 1 way you can get a challenging interval workout:
- Begin warming up by walking or biking at a moderate pace for 5 minutes to get the blood pumping throughout your body. If you’re on a treadmill, increase the incline; if you are biking, switch to low gear for more resistance.
- Next, lower your resistance (drop the treadmill incline to 0 or switch to high gear for easier pedaling) and sprint for a minute, going as hard as you can while running or biking.
- Back off the pace and recover for 2 to 3 minutes. For your recovery intervals, you want to slow down enough to catch your breath, but keep moving. For even more calorie-torching, try adding 1 set of 10–15 squats during your recovery interval.
- By the end of your recovery interval, you should be ready for another high-intensity interval. Keep the resistance low and sprint for 30 seconds to 1 minute. To recover, decrease your speed and walk or pedal easily for 1 minute. Then, add in 1 set of 10–15 overhead dumbbell presses during this recovery period.
- Keep going, alternating high-intensity and recovery intervals for a total of 20 minutes.
You’re probably doing crunch after crunch after crunch to try to get flat abs. But crunches are so ’80s. They only work the muscles on the front and sides of the abdomen and don’t effectively activate the rest of the core muscles.
Planks, on the other hand, provide a 3-dimensional activation of the core to strengthen and stabilize all the muscles in the area. As an added bonus, planks strengthen the shoulders and hips, and help build muscles to stabilize the spine.
And, because planks work more muscles, you’ll burn more calories than you will with crunches.
How to do a plank correctly?
- Lie on your stomach, resting on your forearms. Place the elbows directly beneath your shoulders. You can opt for open palms or closed fists.
- Curl your back toes under, engage your core, and lift your body off the ground, so your weight is resting on your elbows and toes.
- Keeping your abs tight, maintain a straight line from your head to your heels.
- Hold for 10–15 seconds at first, increasing the hold by 5 seconds each time until you’ve eventually reached a full minute.
For variation, instead of resting on your forearms, push yourself up onto your hands, making sure your hands are placed directly beneath your shoulders.
If you want more of a challenge, lift 1 leg off the ground and hold for 5 seconds, then switch to lift and hold the opposite leg, continuing to make the switch every 5 seconds until you complete your cycle.
Um, excuse me? You read that right … burpees. They’re like a combo of squats and push-ups, working every single muscle in the body, from your shoulders to your hamstrings.
And if you do them quickly, you’ll burn a whole lot of calories.
They also boost endurance and require no equipment.
Ready to try?
- Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Drop to a squat position — while your hips go back and downwards, your hands should reach to the ground in front of you.
- Transfer the weight into your hands and kick your feet back into a push-up position, then drop your chest to the ground.
- Push yourself back up to push-up position, then return your feet to the squat position.
- Jump back up into the air.
If you are just beginning your fitness regimen, start with 5 burpees as a warm-up set before your walk, run or cycle. Finish with another set afterwards. As you shape up, add 1 set of 5 burpees during the recovery phases of your interval training. You eventually will want to work up to 15 burpees as 1 set and include at least 2–3 sets as part of your regular fitness regimen.
As always, before you start any exercise program, especially high-intensity interval training, be sure you get a thumbs up from your doctor.
Personally, my favorite is HIIT. What’s yours?
Steven Sisskind, M.D.
1. Tremblay A, Simoneau JA, Bouchard C. Impact of exercise intensity on body fatness and skeletal muscle metabolism. Metabolism. 1994;43(7):814-818. PMID: 8028502.