The best exercise for weight loss – the one that burns the most calories in the shortest time, without killing you from over-exertion – is one of the Holy Grails of exercise. All exercise is good for you, so long as you are sensible and don't injure yourself by overreaching. But not all workouts are created equal when it comes to the number of calories burned per hour.
The exercise that comes out on top when it comes to calorie burning is one that most people can do. Sure you could cycle up Everest and burn a lot more calories… but most people can't do that (or would rather not, thanks).
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With everyone stuck at home thanks to Lockdown 2.0, many people have already started seeing the result of a sedentary lifestyle: weight gain. And although we are still allowed to go outside to exercise, given the awful weather and the fact that it's getting dark sooner, we all wonder: what's the best type of exercise for quick weight loss?
It's not like we don't like exercising. But when it comes to weight loss, we want to do it as quickly as possible. No one likes prolonged periods of starvation or going on special diets such as the keto diet or intermittent fasting – good though they are if you put the effort in.
So what is the workout that burns the most calories per minute? AKA, at least in theory, the best exercise for weight loss…
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Luckily, you have no need to guess as someone already did the math for us. In a recent study, Ocean Finance used research from Harvard University to compile 'The Most Time-Efficient Exercises for Losing Lockdown Pounds (opens in new tab)' and concluded that there is One Exercise That Rules Them All.
Without further ado, here is the chart that reveals THE best workout for weight loss.*
(*Subject to certain caveats that we will move on to after)
The chart above details how long it takes to burn one pound of body fat when doing various popular gym and home workouts.
Needless to say, the results are to be viewed as guidelines only and not as gospel truth. First and foremost, the research assumes that "it takes an average of 3,500 calories burned to lose a single pound." This is at best a dated approach – it's based on a 1958 study by Max Wishnofsky. Admittedly that estimate has not been debunked over the 62 years since then, but it has certainly been challenged.
Also, even if the '3,500/pound of fat' model is correct, it is worth noting that everyone burns fat differently – depending on their biological sex, their age and numerous other factors.
It's also true to say that you can do the top 3 exercises in the chart for 3 hours every day, and you still won't lose weight, if you are eating more calories than you burn. Although you will become either extremely fit, assuming you don't end up in hospital.
However, what we can say is that for most people, doing the exercises higher up this list will burn more calories than the ones lower down. And that means they burn more fat, meaning eventually – in conjunction with good diet – you will lose more weight.
The best exercises to lose weight – breaking down the top 5
- Treadmill (10 mph): this activity will burn 495 calories in half an hour if you weigh around 9 stones, 614 calories if you are 11 stones and 733 calories if you are 13 stones. Admittedly, 10 mph is a moderate effort run for joggers and a high effort activity for more sedentary people.
- Treadmill (7.5 mph): a slower pace on the treadmill will burn 375 calories in half an hour if you weigh around 9 stones, 465 calories if you are 11 stones and 555 calories if you are 13 stones. Not quite as good as running at 10 mph but still pretty decent.
- Elliptical trainer (moderate): a surprise entry, using the elliptical at a 'moderate pace' will burn 315 calories in half an hour if you weigh around 9 stones, 391 calories if you are 11 stones and 466 calories if you are 13 stones. Using the elliptical trainer is probably a better option for heavier and older people as it is a more joint-friendly activity than running, even on a treadmill.
- Exercise bike (vigorous): an even more surprising claim is that vigorous exercise bike sessions will burn less calories than moderate workouts on the elliptical. This activity will burn 300 calories in half an hour if you weigh around 9 stones, 372 calories if you are 11 stones and 444 calories if you are 13 stones.
- Step aerobics (high impact): This activity will burn 285 calories in half an hour if you weigh around 9 stones, 353 calories if you are 11 stones and 422 calories if you are 13 stones.
Evidently, when it comes to fat loss and calories burned, nothing beats moderate to fast sessions on the treadmill! No wonder all the best treadmills sold out pretty much straight away when the OG lockdown started.
Surprisingly, the second best thing to do is to jump on an elliptical trainer and exercise bikes are a close third. This is good news since the best exercise bikes and the best ellipticals are still somewhat available to buy, especially if you know where to look.
Looking for an even cheaper way to work out? Calisthenics and circuit training (aka HIIT) are not far down the list and both can be performed using little to no home gym equipment. If you are up to the challenge, check out the Mike Tyson bodyweight workout or start with the best bodyweight workout for beginners.
One more thing we wanted to mention is the last entry on the list, weightlifting (moderate). Although it may not burn an awful lot of calories, compared to using a treadmill, resistance training is still a great way to lose weight and keep it off. A 2010 study called "Strength training and weight loss (opens in new tab)" concluded, "strength training can actually help weight loss as an excellent complement to aerobic exercise training and diet.
"The mechanisms that govern this process are (a) increasing or maintaining their resting metabolic rate, (b) increase in total energy expenditure considering their own strength activity and (c) also the effects related to excessive oxygen consumption after exercise."
So now you know…