Depending on who you ask, and which blog or book you consult, the answer to the question what’s the best exercise to lose weight? will vary widely. For example, according to one leading exercise and fitness publication, one of the best exercises to lose weight is running.
However, the authors of Physiology of Sport and Exercise advance a different answer to the question of the best exercise to lose weight. They identify cross-country skiing as the most effective weight-loss exercise. But then this should come as no surprise since cross-country skiing is essentially running in sub-zero temperatures with planks of wood strapped to your feet.
But what’s the best exercise to lose weight
Martial arts legend and fitness fanatic Bruce Lee loved skipping. Of all the exercises that he included in his workouts and training routine, he believed skipping to be one of the best. Apparently, Bruce claimed that 10-minutes of skipping was equivalent to 30-minutes of running.
Though I’m yet to find any research supporting this claim, I think it could be logically arrived at independently of scientific studies. After all, skipping does engage a wider range of muscles than running.
Whereas running activates primarily the muscles of the legs – calves, hamstrings, quads, and glutes – and the cardio-respiratory system, skipping involves all these muscles and many more besides. For example, skipping stimulates the muscles of the upper back, shoulders, and arms.
Related: This article will teach you How to Skip in 7 Steps
So, is skipping the best exercise to lose weight?
No, cross-country skiing is probably the best exercise to lose weight. As we've established, running in the freezing cold with two-by-fours tethered to your feet while plying the white stuff with a pair of chopsticks burns more calories than any other exercise.
Brilliant at burning the blob though cross-country skiing is, for most people, it’s a bit impractical. You could say that there are lots of barriers to entry. Besides all the gear, garb, and training required to ski competently (I can’t speak for you, but my skiing skills are dreadful), you also need an abundance of snow. So, unless you live well north of the equator, cross-country skiing is probably off the menu.
Skipping, in contrast, is both accessible and an effective exercise to lose weight. A good skipping rope costs as little as £10, will last for years and can be taken anywhere. You want to toast a few extra calories on your lunch break? Fine, pack your skipping rope along with your healthy plant-based lunch. You want to keep trim while on your hols? No problem, just make sure you slip your rope in your case along with your swimsuit.
Health and fitness benefits of skipping
One of the best exercises to lose weight
Improves cardio fitness
Enhances muscle endurance in the lower and upper body
Increases muscle definition
Develops a wide range of components of fitness – cardio, muscle endurance, agility, coordination
Are there any other candidates for best exercise to lose weight?
In the brilliant book Exercised, professor of Biological Sciences Daniel Liberman dedicates a chapter to answering exercise-related questions. The first question he deals with, unsurprising, is obesity. Before tackling the question of how much and what kinds of exercise are best to lose weight, Liberman attempts to untangle a few misconceptions concerning obesity.
First, he questions the classification of obesity as a disease. The move by the medical institution to ‘classify obesity as a disease was intended to send a clear warning about its manifold health risks.’ This makes sense considering obesity is linked to a wide range of diseases including type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and various different types of cancer.
However, as Liberman goes on to say, ‘despite these laudable goals, the classification remains contentions. While obesity is a risk factor for many diseases, not all obese people suffer from ill health,’ (Exercised – p301).
With that said, Liberman makes it clear that, though being obese does not guarantee death by disease, ‘if you must choose between being fit and fat or unfit and lean, the evidence overwhelmingly indicates you should gamble on being unfit and lean.’
Best exercise to lose weight according to Liberman
To the question How much and what kind of exercise are best [to lose weight]? Liberman is unequivocal. ‘This one,’ he tells us, ‘is easy: cardio is better than weights for obesity,’ (Exercised – p304). To those that aren’t so keen on cardio, this may come as a bit of bad news. But if your objective is to lose weight, then you must prioritise aerobic training over resistance.
Research into the impacts of different exercises on obesity support cardio’s fat-fighting superiority. One study sought to compare the effectiveness of weights and cardio on overweight and obese adults. The outcome was clear-cut. ‘Individuals prescribed just weights barely lost any body fat but those prescribed twelve miles a week of running lost substantial amounts of fat, especially harmful organ fat,’ (Exercised – p304).
Related: discover more benefits of running
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do any weight training whatsoever. Resistance exercises can ‘help counteract some of the metabolic consequences of obesity.’ However, weights are just not as effective as cardio, which, as Liberman points out, ‘is better for preventing and reversing excess weight.’
Liberman’s best exercise to lose weight is . . .
It might come as a disappointment to those looking for that one best exercise to lose weight, but on this point Liberman is moot. He gives us a detailed outline of the ‘metabolic consequences’ of different training methodologies and an insight into the ‘randomised control studies’ that compare the relative effectiveness of cardio and weights. But no best exercise.
Perhaps it could be taken from this that all cardio exercises are equally as beneficial at burning fat (except cross-country skiing). Maybe it’s not so much about which cardio exercise you do but how often you do it. On this point, Liberman has something to say.
‘Although individuals vary widely in their responses, higher-intensity activities generally burn more calories than lower-intensity activities.’ Thus, the cardio exercise isn’t as important as the intensity at which you train. That’s all well and good but for many people, it is both unsafe and unpleasant to train regularly at high intensities.
Liberman recognises this when he tells us that high-intensity activities ‘are also harder to maintain for long and thus sometimes end up consuming less total energy,’ (my italics). The key factor in losing weight with exercise is not the exercise or the intensity but the ‘cumulative dose’. That is, maintaining training consistency week on week ensuring to mix low-, medium-, and high-intensity sessions while also including different training methodologies – cardio, resistance, circuits, fartlek, HIIT, and so on.
Essential reading: Science of Running
Weight loss FAQ
Which weight loss program is best?
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How to transform your diet so that it promotes weight loss while improving health
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Methods of identifying barriers to success and maintaining motivation
The importance of exercise
How to craft and tailor an exercise programme to suit your needs
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28 healthy recipes for every occasion
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How lose weight without exercise?
The best way to lose weight without exercise is by changing your dietary habits and being more active. Few people seem to understand this, but diet is a far more effective weight loss intervention than exercise.
When you think about it this is really quite obvious. In just 10-minutes you could consume a day’s worth of calories in a single sitting. Some fast-food ‘meals’ contain between 1500 and 2000 calories. Yet, to ‘burn’ off those calories you’d have to run for around 4-hours, which is a little under the average time for a marathon.
With that said, if you want to lose weight without sweating, start with what you eat. By far the best guide to help you shape a weight-loss diet is the international bestseller Forks Over Knives.
Another way to lose weight without exercise is by maintaining high levels of activity. Exercise and being active are often confused as one and the same. But they are different and thus should be treated as such. Being active is moving more at lower intensities. For example, taking the stairs instead of the escalator, walking to the shops instead of driving, or working in the upright position as opposed to being plonked on your derriere.
Staying active is so important we wrote an entire blog on the subject. If you want to discover some simple ways to stay active, follow the link: 7 Super-Simple Ways to Stay Active.
How to lose weight cardio?
First, you’ve got to find a cardio exercise that you enjoy doing – or that is the least torturous.
Second, you need to boundary an hour in the day and designate it as your cardio training and exercise hour.
Third, you need to ensure that you complete your cardio workout every day during that prespecified time. Of course, you don’t have to do cardio for the full hour. The first 10-minutes are for warming up and the remaining 10- to 15-minutes are for cooling down and stretching.
Need to brush up on the principles of training?
How to warm up properly
How to cool-down correctly
Daily stretching regime
Fourth, once you have established your cardio training regime, stick to it!
How to lose weight without dieting?
Any argument concerning how to lose weight without dieting will directly contradict what I wrote in the second FAQ. The truth is diet plays the single largest part in any weight-loss campaign. Whenever I work with a client who wants to lose weight, the first thing I do is assess their diet and suggest changes that will help them achieve their weight-loss goals.
However, in saying that, you don’t have to diet to lose weight. That is, you can lose weight by making a few simple modifications to your current eating habits. For example, assuming that you observe an omnivorous diet, you could look to trim the fat by transitioning to a vegetarian or, better still, a plant-based diet. Reducing meat consumption is a sure-fire way to cut down the number of calories you are consuming each day.
Also, another way to lose weight without dieting is by avoiding processed food. As I’m sure you’re aware, processed food typically contains unhealthy levels of saturated fat. In addition, processed foods are high in refined carbohydrates. Both nutrients – saturated fat and refined carbs – are known drivers of obesity.
Making these positive alterations to your eating habits technically isn’t dieting. Dieting is where we observe a prescriptive set of eating practices for a pre-specified period. In most cases, such diets are not sustainable because they are too restrictive or induce a semi-state of starvation. Consequently, the vast majority of people quit the diet and fall back on their old eating habits. And so the cycle begins.
But by making simple – sustainable – changes to your eating habits, as outlined above, you will be able to have the foods you love without causing weight gain. Basically, this way enables you to have your cake (apple) and eat it. Start making positive changes with these healthy meals for weight loss.