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The 10 Best Exercises for Burning Calories and Shedding Pounds

Whether you’re committed to an intense fitness regimen or just want to maintain a healthy lifestyle, losing weight remains one of the most popular wellness goals out there. It feels like there’s a new study every day on the latest hack or science behind shedding pounds. But ultimately, your ability to lose weight comes down to a simple balance of calories consumed vs. calories burned. Even if you incorporate some of the best exercises to lose weight into your weekly workouts, the calories you intake with food play a huge role. In short, you need to have a daily caloric deficit — burning more calories than you eat — to start losing weight.

So for as hard as you train in the gym, make sure you’re also working hard in the kitchen to maintain a healthy diet. That being said, the best exercises to lose weight are particularly adept at shaking off calories because they often involve high-intensity movements that incorporate the entire body. If your heart’s racing, that’s a good sign that your body is burning calories.

Let’s break down the types of exercises and why they’re good for losing weight.

The Best Cardio for Weight Loss

No surprise here. Cardio is any exercise that ramps up your heart rate and keeps it elevated for a prolonged period of time. The CDC says 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week can help you maintain weight over time.

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Within the realm of cardio, we have steady-state cardio, where you sustain a consistent pace for an extended period of time (like a long run or bike ride). There’s also the very popular high-intensity interval training, where you alternate between quick bursts of increased speed/difficulty and slower intervals to recover. Research suggests you can burn calories more quickly during HIIT sessions, making it one of the best exercises to lose weight.

You can perform HIIT while running, alternating sprints and jogging, or on the bike, ramping up the resistance for an interval and then cranking it back down to a steady state.

Strength Training for Weight Loss

Packing on muscle might not seem like the solution to weight loss. But, according to Healthline, weight training boosts your metabolism by burning more calories at rest, which means you’re still burning extra calories after leaving the gym. A recent study from the University of New South Wales confirmed that strength training alone can help burn fat and calories. More intense compound lifts — like squats, deadlifts, and bench presses — will burn more calories as they work multiple muscle groups simultaneously.

Circuit training is a great approach to lifting weights as well. Instead of knocking out five sets of one exercise, then moving on to the next, you can tackle multiple exercises at once, switching after each set. Try something like this:

  • Bench press (5 sets x 10 reps)
  • Jump rope (5 sets x 60 seconds)
  • Squats (5 sets x 10 reps)
  • Planks (5 sets x 60 seconds)

This really forces your body to work overtime (particularly if you’re incorporating cardio in the circuit), which will burn more calories than just knocking out bench press reps on their own.

The Best Exercises to Lose Weight

As we’ve seen so far, the best way to lose weight hinges on a combination of cardio, strength training and clean eating. We’ve picked some of the best exercises to lose weight — some cardio, some strength training — and paired them with a piece of fitness gear that’s integral to completing them.

1. Walking

Getting a weight-loss routine started can be daunting, particularly for those who loathe the idea of doing cardio. Luckily, the exercise you do every day is also one that’s great for burning calories — walking. Depending on your weight, pace, and terrain, walking for an hour can burn more than 100 calories. You can increase that figure if you walk faster or opt for an uphill terrain. Better yet, walking has also been proven to help increase brain function, reduce the risk of heart disease and improve bone strength. Walking has so few barriers to entry; all it takes is a good pair of shoes and a little determination. Try walking for at least 30 minutes per day around the neighborhood, or find a local hiking trail to make the terrain more difficult.

Walking outside isn’t always so easy, particularly in areas with blistering summers and brutal winters. A great solution is this walking treadmill from Sunny Health & Fitness, a brand to watch with a ton of great fitness machines. We reviewed the best walking treadmills, and this one took Best Overall honors thanks to its versatility and portability. Now there’s no excuse not to incorporate walking into your weight loss routine.

2. Running

You knew this one was coming. For all its joint and injury risks, running remains one of the best exercises to lose weight. According to Harvard Health, a 155-pound person burns almost 300 calories for every half-hour of jogging at a 5-mph pace, making it the OG cardio exercise. There are different ways you can approach running, but as is the case with walking, your running speed, duration, and terrain have a lot to do with how many calories you burn. Some runners prefer a leisurely jogging pace for a few miles, while endurance athletes opt for longer runs that span more than 10 miles. Running is a great way to incorporate HIIT, as you can alter between intervals of fast sprints and steady-state jogging.

If you’re hesitant to start running, maybe a little gear will convince you. There are a ton of cool accessories for running, from hats pants, and shorts to belts and other gadgets. However, it all starts with a great pair of running shoes. The best ones for you will depend on a ton of different factors, but SPY’s resident distance runner picked the Adrenaline GTS 21 from Brooks Running as the best pair of 2022. The cushioning, weight, and streamlined design all make them a great pick to get your running journey started.

3. Cycling

For those with persistent knee, ankle, or other joint problems (yours truly included), cycling offers a low-impact alternative to running and walking that still burns tons of calories. Another perk is the sheer variety of different cycling options at your disposal, from hopping on a bike and exploring the town, attending a class, or opting for any number of the indoor cycling choices, from recumbent and spin bikes to everyone’s favorite interactive cycling machine, the Peloton. Cycling at a moderate pace burns almost as many calories as running and presents an opportunity to do hill and interval training. Try ramping up the resistance and intensity for 30 seconds, then recovering with one minute of steady-state biking.

We’ll admit it — it’s tough to top the Peloton. But suppose you’re looking for an alternative. In that case, we suggest the Commercial S22i from NordicTrack, which comes with a 22-inch screen (though you can also opt for the 15-inch version), allowing you to stream classes with iFit and replicate that SoulCycle experience. The bike has 24 different resistance levels and plenty of incline options, in addition to a pair of amplified speakers with great sound quality. The 15-inch screen version has two less resistance levels and comes at a slightly more affordable price.

4. Jump Rope

Who knew one of your favorite schoolyard pastimes was also one of the best exercises to lose weight? Jumping rope, as simple as it may seem, elevates your heart rate and requires serious coordination. It’s an incredible tool to keep in your gym bag or even toss in your suitcase to stay active while traveling. You can incorporate jump rope in between sets during a strength training workout for some extra burned calories, or opt for a workout that’s solely jump rope focused, like the one below.

Several weighted jump ropes offer an extra challenge (and price tag), but the best jump rope should be simple, light, portable, and affordable. This option from SPORTBIT checks all four boxes and comes with an easily adjustable cable for all heights and a travel bag for easy transportation.

5. Burpees

The good news is the best exercises to lose weight don’t always require equipment. Burpees, a favorite of the CrossFit crowd, are a killer full-body movement that’ll wipe you out quickly and burn tons of calories, mainly because it’s a push-up, squat jump, and plank all in one. You’ll often see this sprinkled into circuit training workouts to really amp up the heart rate, but you can just as easily treat burpees as their own exercise.

Instructions: Reach down to the ground and kick your feet back, so you’re in a push-up position. Let your body fall to the ground, push up and kick your legs forward, back to the starting position, and use the momentum to jump upwards.

You can definitely perform burpees without any equipment. But the ground isn’t always the cleanest or most forgiving surface, so incorporating an exercise mat makes the exercise a little more comfortable. This extra-thick mat from Amazon comes in a variety of different colors and features a carrying strap that makes it easy to knock out burpees wherever you are, no matter how hard and dirty the ground may be.

6. Deadlift

Though you’ll often see deadlifts topping lists of the best leg and lower back exercises, the truth is deadlifts check a ton of different boxes. This includes weight loss, as the taxing compound movement incorporates your legs, core, and arms and is sure to burn a ton of calories. Like most compound movements, a lot can go wrong with the deadlift, so we highly recommend starting at a comfortable weight and nailing the technique before maxing out. Proper form is critical, so check out the video below for tips and common mistakes. Good deadlift technique is all about control and straight lines — you should maintain a neutral spine and lift the bar in a steady vertical path. Any deviation from that rigidity can throw off the entire lift and lead to injury.

As SPY’s favorite weightlifting shoe, the Nike Metcon needs little introduction. Its flat, cushioned base and unmatched stability make it the perfect shoe for knocking out deadlifts, where your foundation and ability to drive from the ground make all the difference. You can snag one of the dope available colors or customize your own to ensure no one at the gym copies your swag.

7. Squat

Much like deadlifts, squats are most often sequestered to leg day but engaging your entire body is a great way to burn calories. It’s one of the most popular compound lifts and a favorite among powerlifters and bodybuilders. Another thing the squat has in common with deadlifts is form — any deviation from perfection can lead to serious injury and place unnecessary stress on your knees and back. We’re a big fan of fitness YouTuber Jeff Nippard, who has an excellent demonstration of performing squats.

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that setting up a home gym doesn’t have to be tough. SPY’s own Taylor Galla built her own power rack at home and recommends this cage from Fitness Reality as the perfect starting point. It’s a great foundation for a home gym and allows you to tack on some other gear, like a lat pulldown attachment or bench. Of course, you’ll still need a good barbell and plates, but this power cage gets your home squatting journey started in a big way.

8. Bench Press

The bench press is another compound lift and a hallmark of any strength training or bodybuilding workout. It’s easy to get caught up in trying to max out your bench press and hit a new personal record, but this new Bowflex product has everything we’re looking for in a home workout bench, full stop. The 5.1s Stowable Bench has a commercial-gym quality steel frame that can hold up to 600 pounds, and it’s the perfect companion to Bowflex’s popular SelectTech adjustable dumbbells. This weight bench also offers six different adjustment angles: 30, 45, 60, 90, flat, and -20 degrees (decline). Best of all, this bench was designed to fold up and for vertical storage, making it a great space-saving option if you don’t have a lot of space in your garage or home gym. Yes, it’s more expensive than most of the options below, but even among the best adjustable weight benches, it’s the clear winner. (For a more affordable bench with many of the same features, check out the 4.1s Stowable Bench below, also from Bowflex.)

The bench press incorporates your chest, shoulders, arms, and grip strength and can be performed either with dumbbells or a classic barbell. Not to beat a dead horse here, but once again, form makes all the difference and helps protect your precious elbow and shoulder joints. Try jumping rope for 60 seconds between sets to really get the heart rate going and help fuel your weight loss goals.

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Trying to bench press without a good bench is … well … complicated. You need a quality foundation to help tackle the movement and ensure you’re sturdy and safe to ramp up the weight. This option from Bowflex is the best weight bench, in our opinion, thanks to its steel frame that can hold up to 600 pounds and multiple adjustment angles — 30, 45, 60, 90, flat, and -20 degrees (decline). It also folds up for convenient storage, making it a perfect choice for your home gym.

9. Boxing

Lists are fun because they let us get a little bit niche. If you’ve done some kind of boxing or martial art previously, you’ll know just how physically demanding it is. Most sparring bouts are essentially short bursts of HIIT, and you can recreate some of that feeling of that at home with a good punching bag. In terms of what you should do, just ensure you’re being very careful to keep your wrists straight. If in doubt, always keep your gloves on and your wrists wrapped, and don’t do this one if you’re not confident you can through a punch without breaking something.

While hanging bags are nice, it’s generally less stressful to get a decent standing one. This standing bag has an array of suction pads on the bottom to make sure it stays upright as you hit it, is a decent height, and has four big old springs to help it absorb shock and stay in place. It’s a great way to burn off some calories and some stress.

10. Under Desk Exercises

If your mind went anywhere other than an under-desk elliptical machine or some other device, then you need to keep it clean. All of the above are wonderful if you can dedicate time to commit to them, and exercise is about making time, not finding it, because you’ll never find it if you don’t put the effort in. However, some days you’re not going to be able to get away from work, and you’re still going to want to get something done. Doing little things often is how most people not only lose weight and stay fit but actually keep it off, and that’s where an under-desk exercise device comes in.

You’re unlikely to end up sweating using something like this, but the Cubii JR2+ is a great little machine that can help you keep moving as you’re sat down, and that’s a huge boon for a lot of us. Things like standing desks are nice if you have the space, but every little helps with fitness.

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