For some, the idea of a rigorous workout routine sounds better than cutting out their favorite foods to lose weight. Workouts can contribute to weight loss; however, the best exercise program for rapid weight loss is one that's done in tandem with a nutritious, calorie-controlled diet.
Workouts and Weight Loss
If you're looking for rapid weight loss, workouts are only one half of the equation. The Cleveland Clinic says that it's not a good idea to simply do quick weight-loss workouts without paying attention to your diet at the same time. In order to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you eat or consume fewer calories than your body uses through physical activity each day. Even the most rigorous workout routine won't cause weight loss if you're eating too much food every single day.
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This school of thought is backed up by research. A review published in January 2015 in Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases concluded that people with obesity participating in aerobic exercise consistent with physical activity recommendations — that is, 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity cardio, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) — promotes only weight loss of about 2 kilograms, or 4.4 pounds, but clinically significant weight loss is unlikely.
Additionally, research published in August 2017 in Diabetes Spectrum from the American Diabetes Association noted that there's no firmly established evidence that exercise contributes significantly to weight loss. However, the research on populations with obesity did note that exceeding the 150-minute-per-week recommendation is more likely to contribute to weight loss and weight maintenance.
That's in line with the recommendations from HHS, which say that you can get additional health benefits from doing 300 minutes or more of exercise each week. Therefore, to get the most weight-loss benefits, aim to exercise at least 60 minutes a day, five days a week.
Workout Plan for Weight Loss
None of the research means that you shouldn't work out — it just means that you shouldn't rely on a fast weight-loss exercise plan alone. However, if you want to get your workout done faster rather than slower, try out high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
Rather than doing 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity cardiovascular activity, the recommendations from HHS allow for 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity cardio exercise — and HIIT fits the bill perfectly.
HIIT refers to repeated bouts of high-intensity effort followed by a recovery time of low-intensity work, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. The high-intensity portion of the workout, which is done at between 80 percent and 95 percent of a person's estimated max heart rate, can last from between five seconds and eight minutes, while the recovery period lasts just as long and is done at between 40 percent to 50 percent of max heart rate.
A real-world example: One minute of sprinting, followed by one minute of walking, either on the treadmill or on a safe path outside. You can also do HIIT on a bike or elliptical machine by cycling quickly or upping the resistance on the machine for a short period of time and then slowing down to recover.
Read more: The Truth Behind 5 Common Myths About HIIT
It might seem counter-intuitive to exercise for a shorter period of time when you're trying to lose weight. However, a small study published in January 2016 in the Journal of Diabetes Research found that moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT) didn't have any advantages over HIIT. Additionally, both types of exercise led to significant reductions of fat mass — but HIIT takes less time than MICT.
Just be sure not to do too much high-intensity exercise too many days in a row. The Cleveland Clinic notes that you should only do this type of workout two to three days per week and allow your body time to recover between sweat sessions.
Building muscle mass is also an important component of weight loss. According to the Mayo Clinic, people who have more muscle burn more calories, even when they're at rest. This is because, the Mayo Clinic says, muscle tissue uses more energy, therefore burning more calories, than fat tissue.
The physical activity recommendations from HHS call for muscle-strengthening activities for all major muscle groups on two or more days a week. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) recommends building muscle through circuit training, which is a series of exercises that are done in a row and repeated multiple times. For example, ACE suggests a circuit training workout that consists of:
- One circuit of squats and curls (3 sets of 8 to 12 reps), push-ups (3 sets of 15 reps) and dumbbell rows and flies (3 sets of 8 to 12 reps), done 3 times through.
- Another circuit of bench step-ups (3 sets of 12 on each leg), lunges and front raises (3 sets of 12 on each leg) and renegade rows (3 sets of 12), done 3 times through.
- A third circuit of incline dumbbell presses (3 sets of 8 to 12 reps), bench dips (3 sets of 15 reps) and plank shoulder touches (3 sets of 12 on each side), done 3 times through.
This circuit works both your upper and lower body. ACE says to move quickly between exercises, stopping to rest for just a minute at the end of each round.
Beware of Fast Weight Loss
While you might want to drop pounds quickly for a special event coming up, it's not advisable to lose a lot of weight fast, according to the Mayo Clinic, who says that the efforts that you typically need to take for fast weight loss are likely unhealthy and can't be sustained permanently. Additionally, when you lose weight very quickly, you're more likely to lose water weight or lean tissue rather than the fat tissue that you're trying to get rid of.
Instead, it's best to aim to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week — you're more likely to keep that weight off for the long-term. In order to do that, Mayo Clinic says, you need to burn 500 to 1,000 more calories than you eat per day through a combination of diet and exercise. That adds up to 3,500 to 7,000 calories, or the equivalent of 1 to 2 pounds.
- American Council on Exercise: "Weight Lifting for Weight Loss"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Weight Loss: Can You Do It With Exercise Alone?"
- Diabetes Spectrum: "The Role of Physical Activity for Weight Loss and Weight Maintenance"
- Progress in Cardiovascular Disease: "The Role of Exercise and Physical Activity in Weight Loss and Maintenance"
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans"
- American Council of Sports Medicine: "ACSM Information on...High Intensity Interval Training"
- Mayo Clinic: "Why Do Doctors Recommend a Slow Rate of Weight Loss? What's Wrong With Fast Weight Loss?"
- Cleveland Clinic: "The 10 Worst Ways to Lose 10 Pounds"
- Mayo Clinic: "Metabolism and Weight Loss: How You Burn Calories"
- Journal of Diabetes Research: "Comparable Effects of High-Intensity Interval Training and Prolonged Continuous Exercise Training on Abdominal Visceral Fat Reduction in Obese Young Women"