10 Best Exercises for Fat Loss and All-round Fitness

Updated: Oct 16


In this article I’m going to share with you 10 brilliant whole-body exercises that you can include within your training regime. These exercises have been selected because they:

Stimulate multiple muscle groups
Help to develop all-round fitness
Are dynamic, multi-dimensional and modifiable
Engage the cardiovascular system
Develop functional strength
Burn fat whilst sculpting lean musculature
Require little equipment or technical expertise


In addition to the exercise overview and tutorials, each one of which is accompanied with a quick video demonstration, I have included two circuits for you to pit yourself against.


To save suspense the 10 exercises are:

1. Kettlebell swing
2. Kettlebell single arm clean to press
3. Burpee
4. Vertical lift
5. Press-up
6. Squat jump
7. Plank
8. Medicine ball ‘power’ squat jump slam
9. Skipping
10. Squat thrust


Now, before rushing enthusiastically into the exercise tutorials, it might be worth considering your method of approach. By this I mean, it would be unwise, after one reading, to try to implement the technical points of all 10 exercises.



Each exercise is accompanied with a comparatively extensive overview as I wanted to ensure that you were adequately informed on how to perform each exercise properly. Many exercise tutorials that I’ve seen are far too parsimonious and some omit important teaching points.



I advise learning two at a time then, when you feel confident with the exercises, coming back to learn two more. This way you will be able to digest the technical points and have the time to embed the techniques before attempting to advance your repertoire.



Right, now the pleasantries are out the way, let’s get straight into it!


Best Exercise #1: Kettlebell Swing

Muscles worked: all of them! But primarily the gluteus maximus (bum), transverse abdominus (tum), latissimus dorsi (back – damn! Didn’t rhyme).



The kettlebell swing is synonymous with whole-body, functional training. And though it is arguably the best single exercise for all-round fitness it is deceptively simple – at a glance. You are, effectively, swinging a steel ball between your legs – stop tittering.



However, there’s a bit more to this exercise than meets the untrained eye. But the small investment required to master the KB swing is paid back in substantial fitness rewards. So what’re you waiting for, get mastering!


Teaching Points

  1. Stand directly over the KB feet spaced 1.5 should widths apart.

  2. Bending at the knee – not rounding at the lumbar region – grasp the bell and straighten: smoothly and under control.

  3. To initiate the movement pull the bell back and, on contracting the glutes, drive forward through the hips – remember: you are not pulling the KB up with the shoulders; you are thrusting it forward with your love-making muscles.

  4. Keep the eyes fixed on an indefinite point in the distance as this will help stabilise posture and reduce back rounding.

  5. When receiving or ‘catching’ the KB in the groin – sounds painful but it shouldn’t be (if it is you’re not doing it right!) – absorb the energy in the hips and transverse abdominus and redirect it into the next repetition.

  6. To complete the exercise return the kettlebell back to the floor the same way you picked it up: bending at the knee, no rounding of the back.

Dos

  • Keep control throughout the exercise

  • Relax during the movement

  • Make sure that your feet are evenly spaced and planted firmly before attempting the swing

  • Fix your eyes on a point roughly head height

  • Ensure the arms are slightly bent throughout

Don’ts

  • Do not bend or round your back – keep it straight or slightly concaved.

  • Do not at any point lock the legs out



Need some advice on buying a kettlebell?



Best Exercise #2: Kettlebell Single Arm Clean to Press

Muscles worked: as with the KB swing your glutes, transverse abdominuns and latissimus dorsi also get a damn good thrashing from this exercise. But because the clean to press sees the KB transition through a full cycle – bottom to top – the muscles of your quads and shoulders also get a bit of a beating too.


Teaching Points

  1. Position yourself directly over the kettlebell with a nice wide stand – about 1.5 shoulder width.

  2. Bending at the knee and keeping the back perfectly straight grasp the kettlebell.

  3. To initiate the movement ensure first that there is no slack in the arm by applying a bit of resistance – a common mistake is to ‘snatch’ the bell from the floor. Don’t do this.

  4. Smoothly pull the bell back and as you bring it forwards fire through the quads and glutes to get some momentum in it.

  5. Remember: you are not swinging the kettlebell out and pulling it into the nook of the arm. It should not drop into position with a thud. As you drive the kettlebell forward you guide it up whilst allowing it naturally to rotate into position. This should be performed smooth and sleek. No thudding or dropping or slapping.

  6. Once the kettlebell is in the halfway position you may momentarily pause for thought.

  7. From here firstly dip at the knee then fire through the quadriceps – you’re effectively using your body to put some energy into the kettlebell.

  8. As it begins its vertical trajectory we help it on its way with a push of the arm.

  9. When the KB has cleared the head we again dip at the knee and drop underneath the bell locking the arm out as we do so. At this point the kettlebell should be stationary, your arm straight and knees partially bent.

  10. Now stand up.

Congratulations! You have completed the first phase of the press. To conclude the movement:

  1. Allow the KB to obey the law of gravitation guiding it into the nook of the arm as it drops.

  2. Now this next technique might come across a touch controversial, but I’m going to describe the technique as I perform it and have seen it performed by a number of KB masters – Ivan Denisov being the most notable . . .

  3. When the KB drops from the top position back to the nook of the arm you are to absorb the shock by bending the knees whilst deflecting the KB with your arm allowing to carry on falling to the bottom position. Why do this?


Because a) it saps energy to arrest the kettlebell’s momentum at this point and it wastes more energy to ‘pop’ it back out of the nook of the arm to initiate the final stage of the exercise; b) the natural rest point is in the nook of the arm on the way up and when the bell is in the uppermost position.


Dos

  • Keep control throughout the exercise

  • Relax during the movement

  • Make sure that your feet are evenly spaced and planted firmly before attempting the exercise

Don’ts

  • Do not bend or round your back – keep it straight or slightly concaved

  • Do not at any point lock the legs out



Want to advance your repertoire of kettlebell exercises?


Best Exercise #3: Burpee

Muscles worked: primarily the quads, core and cardiac (muscle). Yes, the burpee is a superb cardiovascular antagonist and perhaps the best body-weight exercise ever conceived (in my opinion).



Not quite convinced with my over-enthusiastic assessment of this sadomasochistic soul destroyer? Master the technical mechanics outlined below and have a bash at performing 100 reps as quickly as your physicality will permit, then email which muscles were worked the most.


Teaching Points

  1. Start by standing nice and erect like the good soldier on parade.

  2. Squat all the way down until the palms of your hands are firmly planted on the floor.

  3. Shifting your body weight forward shoot both feet back simultaneously. If you’ve followed the aforementioned teaching points correctly, you should be in the start of the press-up position. This is half the burpee completed.

  4. To complete the movement push off the floor with your feet springing them back level with your hands.

  5. Stand up ensuring to jump at the top position.


When completing multiple repetitions, as you only ever should do with burpees, as you land after the jump sink straight into the next rep. This saves energy and helps to keep the momentum going.


Dos

  • Keep the body composed – limbs shouldn’t be popping and pinging out all over the place: when burpeeing the movement must be smooth and sleek like a Bolshoi Ballet performer

  • Relax during the movement

  • Make sure that your legs go out and come in together – a common mistake is to shoot out one leg first followed, of course, by the other. Don’t do this! Both appendages must remain in perfect synchronicity throughout the movement.

Don’ts

  • Do not be lazy and bend at the waist – ensure to squat all the way down

  • Do not perform partial burpees: failing to fully extend the legs from crouched into the press-up position constitutes as a partial rep


Best Exercise #4: Vertical Lift

Muscles worked: forearms, biceps and shoulders (also quads if you modify the movement into either a clean to press or clean to squat press (aka thruster)).



The vertical lift is an excellent exercise for developing upper-body physicality. And because of this it compliments any and all lower-body exercises – handy to know when you’re designing a circuit.



The perceptive reader might well question why an exercise that doesn’t stimulate the major muscle groups features in this list of best all-over body exercises. But it’s the functionality and scope of possible modification options that makes the vertical lift an absolute must.



Though typically a muscular endurance movement (low weight/high reps) you can increase the poundage thus turning it into a whole-body strength exercise. I’ve explained how you can do this in the teaching points below.


Teaching Points

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart holding two dumbbells at your side.

  2. To initiate the first phase of the movement curl the dumbbells so that they are level with your shoulders.

  3. Once in this position you’re going to rotate the dumbbells slightly so that your palms face outwards.

  4. Now for the second phase of the movement. Press the dumbbells vertically above your head ensuring that they touch at the uppermost position.

  5. To complete the vertical lift retrace your steps so that you find yourself at teaching point 1.


How to make this exercise more of a strength movement

  1. The teaching points outlined above form the foundation of, what I call, the dumbbell clean to press. The strength modification is more dynamic and it requires that we apply some Olympic lifting techniques. As you curl the dumbbells – ensuring to generate a bit of momentum by swinging the weights – you are to drop into a squat ‘catching’ the dumbbells on your shoulders as you do so.

  2. Still in the squat position from here you have two options. Option 1) you can complete the squat momentarily pausing prior to performing the press (hence: clean to press). Options 2) turn the exercise into a thruster by pressing straight out of the squat – no pause. (See accompanying video for a demonstration of both variations.)

Dos

  • Keep control throughout the movement

  • Relax when working those dumbbells: maintain ‘soft’ knees (stupid phrase I know) and keep that core tight – you don’t want a saggy back!

Don’ts

  • Do not lock-out at the elbow at the top position

  • Do not, if you are vertical lift virgin, select a heavy weight. Start off nice and light, drill the technique down and then, when you have become fully acquainted with the exercise, increase the poundage


Best Exercise #5: Press-up

Muscles worked: pectoralis major (chest), anterior deltoideus (shoulder – the front bit), triceps brachii (the curtain rail from which bingo wings flap) and transverse abdmoinus (the six pack – for those that have got one (six)).



The humble press-up is a classic callisthenic exercise that is a staple of the military training diet. And it still features as one of the mandatory fitness tests that all aspirant soldiers must pass if they wish to gain admittance into the British military.



Perhaps the reason why the press-up is so popular throughout military training is because it provides an almost instant indicator of the recruit’s upper-body strength. Also, the technical application can be explained and demonstrated in seconds and no equipment is required. Making this one of the most accessible exercises on the market.



Like so many (I hate to use the phrase) old fashioned exercises, press-ups offer more bang per invested buck. Really, the press-up is a quasi-plank which accounts for why it works the transverse abdominus and, to a lesser extent, the hip flexors and quadriceps.



And finally, we mustn’t forget that the press-up is bewilderingly versatile; there is literally hundreds of modification options. See a snippet of those modifications below:


Strict (Military) Press-up
Wide Hands Press-up
Triangle (Diamond) Press-up
Pike Press-up
Super (Hindu) Press-up
Staggered Hands Press-up
Sphinx Press-up (Triceps Extension)
Spiderman (Side Kick) Press-up
Single arm Press-up


Teaching Points

  1. Firstly adopt the pre-press-up position: hands placed on the floor spaced slightly over shoulder width and in-line with the shoulders, knees down.

  2. When you are ready to start your set raise your knees so that you are in the ‘high plank’ position.

  3. Under control lower your body until there is a 90°angel at the elbow joint (you can, of course, go lower if you wish).

  4. Pressing evenly through both arms return to the high plank.


Modification and advancements:

As I endeavoured to identify above, there are many press-up variations. In addition to the 9 listed above you can also perform plyometric – or clap-hand press-ups – which advances the dynamism of this exercise. Also, you can place a power bag under your chest and, prior to performing a press-up, drag it to your side then complete the rep.



I’ll stop there because the enormity of potential variations could comfortably consume a book.


Dos

  • Keep control throughout the movement

  • Fix your eyes on a point about 1 to 2 feet from your fingertips

Don’ts

  • Do not lock-out at the elbow at the top position

  • Do not hold your breath – this is a very common mistake and one to be avoided

  • Do not allow your back to sag in the middle: it should remain perfectly flat like a piece of wood


Best Exercise #6: Squat jump

Muscles worked: primarily those of the quadriceps, gluteus maximum (buttocks) and gastrocnemius (calf). But by including the jump many more muscles are recruited both to execute the exercise and stabilise the body on impact. And, because the jump requires greater muscular engagement, the heart (cardiac muscle) must work harder to both supply energy and recirculate metabolic waste.



Much like the press-up the squat jump is a deceptively simple exercise yet it packs a serious fitness punch. It’s perhaps for this reason why it has remained in favour amongst the fitness community for so long. For the squat jump is not only comparatively easy to master but it requires no equipment and very little room to perform.



Also, the range of possible adaptations and modifications makes it a phenomenally versatile exercise. You want examples? See below:


Squat Variations

Squat Kickback
Frog Squat
3-Way Jump Squat
Burpee Squat Hold
Squat with Side Leg Lift
Side Step Squat
Squat to press-up (aka bastod!)
Squat to jump toe touches
Squat into bunny hop
Hindu squats
Pistol (single leg squat)


Teaching Points

  1. Get yourself into position: stand with your feet a little over shoulder width apart, knees soft, arms folded across your chest.

  2. Bend at the knee.

  3. When there is a 90°angel between the hamstring and calf fire through the quads propelling your mass a foot or so above the floor.

  4. On landing ensure to: a) roll from the front to the back of the foot and b) bend the knee on impact. Applying these techniques will absorb/dissipate the shock.

  5. Whilst still remaining control of the exercise exploit the potential energy that you have just generated by sinking immediately into the next repetition.

Dos

  • Keep control throughout the movement

  • Fix your eyes on an indefinite point to your front as this helps maintain posture alignment

  • Breathe steadily during the exercise

Don’ts

  • Do not at any point lock-out at the knees

  • Do not land with a THUD! You should land softly and almost silently

  • Do not bend at the hips – the back must remain perfectly straight throughout the exercise


Best Exercise #7: Hanging Leg Raises

Muscles worked: primarily those of the rectus abdominus (six pack), forearms (from all that gripping) and rectus femoris (muscles of the quadriceps).



If you didn’t know sit-ups are currently being outlawed. Studies are showing that, over time, they can weaken – destabilise – the spine which can lead to injury. This negative effect has been attributed to the repetitive flexion and extension when performing sit-ups. Thus they should be avoided like the bubonic plague. The last thing you want to do is bugger your back up.



However, hanging leg raises do not cause the back to flex. If performed properly the back should remain perfectly straight. Also, in comparison to the sit-ups, hanging leg raises are far more dynamic, modifiable and they work a much wider range of muscles. And! And they engage the entire length of the rectus abdominus; whereas traditional sit-ups or crunches only engage either the top or bottom.



So if you want to shape and sculpt that much coveted washboard ab aesthetic, make hanging leg raises your hammer and chisel of choice.


Teaching Points

  1. Grasp a fixed bar – preferably one that is high enough so that you can dead hang without your feet touching the floor.

  2. Your hands should be spaced shoulder width apart – but they can be wider or narrower depending on personal preference.

  3. Without generating momentum by kicking back raise your legs until you form an ‘L’ shape with your legs and torso.

  4. Lower the legs to a dead hang to complete the movement.


Modification ideas

The untrained will find this exercise challenging. Not to worry! The hanging leg raise can easily be modified so as to make it more accessible. For example, instead of raising the legs straight bend them at knee. By doing this you will significantly reduce the load to be lifted. Alternatively, generate a bit of momentum by kicking back prior to contracting the abs. This will act as an ‘assist’ enabling you to complete the repetition.



To make the exercise harder raise the legs higher and higher until, eventually, you can touch the bar with your toes. Also, there is the option of gripping weights – usually a medicine ball – between the legs as means of increasing the resistance.


Dos

  • Keep control throughout the movement

  • Fix your eyes on an indefinite point to your front as this helps maintain posture alignment

  • Breathe steadily during the exercise

Don’ts

  • Do not kick or swing your legs up: muscle contraction alone must be responsible for movement



Best Exercise #8: Medicine ball ‘power’ squat jump slam

Muscles worked: all of them! (But especially the latissimus dorsi and quadriceps.)


This is my all-time favourite exercise (no it’s not: the KB swing and single arm KB press are my favourite – but the MB slam comes very close). Why? Well it’s just such a beast. Also, it's such fun smashing it into the concrete; makes you feel proper manly (if, that is, you're a man). And, more importantly, it stimulates the whole body including your cardiovascular system. Seriously, few exercise can do as much for your physicality as this one.


Teaching Points

  1. Stand over a medicine ball: your feet should be shoulder width apart and the MB in-line with your toes – or thereabouts.

  2. Bending at the knee grasp the MB and in one smooth, clean movement hoist it above your head.

  3. Now before executing the final phase of this exercise – the slam bit – you must leap up and, as you land, transfer that energy into the slamming of the MB. Of course points 2 and 3 should be one seamless movement.

  4. As the MB bounces back up catch it and immediately complete the next rep.

Dos

  • Keep control throughout the movement

  • Keep your eye on the MB as you slam it. I have had the pleasure of witnessing trainers catching it up in the kisser when taking their eye off the ball.

  • Slam the ball with all your might – like Thor bringing down his huge hammer!

  • Make sure that the surface on which you are slamming is solid

Don’ts

  • Do not fold at the waist when picking up the MB. Yes your back will round a little as you squat down to pick it up but the movement must remain one that resembles a deep squat.


Best Exercise #9: Skipping

Muscles worked: all of them but primarily the heart.



Skipping, or ‘jumping rope’, is a staple of the boxer’s daily training diet. Primarily used as a warm-up and cool-down exercise, skipping confers many physical benefits. Bruce Lee purportedly said that ‘10 minutes of skipping rope is like 30 minutes of jogging.’ Though I’ve yet to encounter any research that supports his statement, anyone who’s vigorously skipped for ten minutes will probably agree with him. So why is such a seemingly simple and, excuse the term, old fashioned exercise so stimulating?


This probably has something to do with the way skipping works the body. When performing this exercise multiple major muscle groups are simultaneously recruited; such as the quadriceps, back and shoulders and of course the heart and lungs (diaphragm).



In addition, a plethora of ‘synergist’, or stabilising, muscles are engaged to, well, stabilise the body during the movement. I suppose, in short, I could have just said that skipping in some way activates every muscle in your body. It’s no wonder then that ten minutes of jumping rope gets the blood pumping and the sweat pouring.


How to skip in 7 steps

Step 1: WARM-UP!

Step 2: Whilst holding the rope in your hands, practice double footed jumping – you are not jumping rope yet. Spend 1 to 2 minutes doing this.

Step 3: Holding the handles loosely, the rope at rest behind you, turn it over and jump the rope –JUST ONCE!

Step 4: Congratulate yourself

Step 5: Repeat Step 3

Step 6: Again, a bit of self-praise

Step 7: Now that you’ve had a little go at getting over that wily rope it’s time to start racking up personal bests: try to count as many un-broken double footed skips as possible. Every time you clip the rope or whip your arse, stop, take a 3 second count, then back into it trying each time to better your previous PB


Steps 1 to 7 should span the duration of about ten minutes. I would advise against exceeding this. Put the rope away and merrily go about with the rest of your session. Over the course of the week try to get two or three more practice sessions in. For a detailed tutorial on skipping and review on best ropes follow the links:



How to Skip


Best Skipping Ropes




Best Exercise #10: Squat Thrust

Muscles worked: primarily those of the quadriceps, core and chest/anterior shoulders.


Such a simple exercise: feet go out, feet come back . . . repeat! But, simple as it indubitably is, the squat thrust is an exceptional callisthenic exercise and one which works the whole body.



Additionally, it’s super easy to learn, requires no kit, little space and is mega modifiable. For example, you can:



  • Kick both legs out or one at a time – which is colloquially called a ‘hill climber’.

  • You can perform a press-ups when your legs are fully extended – turning the squat thrust into a quasi-bastod.

  • There is the option of bear crawling between reps.

Teaching Points

  1. Adopt the press-up position.

  2. Spring the feet forward so that they come level with your hands.

  3. Immediately spring the feet back so that your legs are once again fully straight.

  4. Repeat.

Dos

  • Keep control throughout the movement

  • Fix your eyes on a point about 1 to 2 feet from your fingertips

  • Fully extend your legs prior to initiating the next rep – a common cheat to complete partial reps: feet should come all the way in and go all the way out. No compromise!

Don’ts

  • Do not hold your breath – sounds obvious I know but you’d be surprised to learn how many people deny themselves of oxygen whilst performing resistance/body-weight exercises.



To Conclude

And there we have it: 10 of the best exercises for improving all-round fitness. By regularly including them into your exercise regime you will develop your physicality whilst also reducing excess body fat.



Also, the 10 exercises outlined above will help you forge physical functionality that consists of a healthy mix of strength, muscular endurance and cardiovascular fitness.



Below I have included a couple of ideas of how you could incorporate the 10 exercises into a training session.

Session One: Simple Circular Circuit

Warm-up with 10 minutes of skipping ensuring to vary the intensity throughout. Once sufficiently warmed set a countdown timer for 30 minutes (of course you can set it for more or less). Performing 10 repetitions on each of the first 8 exercises and 10 a second count on the final exercise, work through them as many times as physically possible in the time allotted. Tally the laps as you cycle through the circuit so that you can try and beat your total at a later date.


Training Tips

  • Try to maintain a methodical pace throughout.

  • Avoid resting if possible. If you do feel as though you need a rest take 30 seconds/1minute on completion of the plank.

  • Resist the temptation to procrastinate when transitioning between exercises. The moment you have finished your kettlebell swings go straight into the SA clean to press – etc., etc.

1. Kettlebell swing

2. Kettlebell single arm clean to press

3. Burpee

4. Vertical lift

5. Press-up

6. Squat jump

7. Medicine ball ‘power’ squat jump slam

8. Squat thrust

9. Plank

10. Skipping


Session Two: AMRAP: As Many Reps As Possible

Again warm-up with a 10 minute progressive intensity skip. When warm prepare yourself psychologically for the physical onslaught ahead. Here’s how that onslaught works: starting at the first exercise set a 3 minute countdown timer and try to complete as many repetitions as you can. Once the 3 minutes elapses make a note of the number of repetitions achieved. Take a 1 minute rest prior to progressing on to the next exercise. (Total circuit time: 40 minutes.)


Training Tips

  • If possible maximum effort for the entire 3 minutes.

  • For plank it is the number of seconds held. You will begin with 180 seconds (reps). Every time you have to rest ensure to make a mental note of how long you took. On conclusion of the 3 minutes tally up all those rest seconds and deduct from 180 total.

  • For skipping each 360°rotation constitutes as a repetition.

1. Kettlebell swing

2. Kettlebell single arm clean to press

3. Burpee

4. Vertical lift

5. Press-up

6. Squat jump

7. Medicine ball ‘power’ squat jump slam

8. Squat thrust

9. Plank

10. Skipping

For a full and comprehensive anthology of circuits follow the link


(As we are very interested in user feedback at Hungry4Fitness, I would be very grateful if you could take a few seconds out of your day to leave a comment. Thanks in advance!)

Blog Author

Adam Priest is a former Royal Marines Commando, professional personal trainer, lecturer, boxing and Thai boxing enthusiast.