Exercises to Lose Fat and Not Bulk Up Muscle

runner sunrise
Run to build your fitness level and burn calories to help lose fat. (Image: fatchoi/iStock/Getty Images)

Getting rid of unwanted fat involves doing exercises that burn plenty of calories and eating a low-calorie yet nutritious diet. The exercises that burn the most calories are cardio exercises, which increase heart rate and tone muscle rather than building mass. Exercises that build bulk, on the other hand, are strength-training exercises that use heavy resistance -- such as free weights and weight machines. To lose fat for a lean, toned body, choose from a variety of calorie-burning cardio exercises for your routine.

How to Burn Fat

Dumbbell training in gym
Burning fat requires a daily calorie deficit. (Image: kzenon/iStock/Getty Images)

Burning fat requires a daily calorie deficit. This means burning more calories than you consume. First determine how many calories you need daily to maintain healthy energy levels. The amount varies by age, gender and activity level, among other factors. The average woman needs 2,000 calories a day to keep her weight constant, while men need about 2,500 calories. After you know what you're consuming, approximate the calories you're burning by doing regular activities like walking, sleeping and talking. Do this by calculating your basal metabolic rate, or BMR, using an online calculator. If your BMR does not exceed the calories you're eating, start your cardio. For example, if you eat 2,000 calories in a day and your BMR is 1,800, you can add in a cardio exercise that burns 200-plus calories to burn fat.

Running Your Way to a Lean Physique

Young woman running on treadmill
Running offers an excellent cardio workout that will improve your overall fitness. (Image: Estudi M6/iStock/Getty Images)

Running offers an excellent cardio workout that improves overall fitness, tones legs and burns many calories. A 125-pound person running a 12-minute mile burns approximately 240 calories in 30 minutes, while a 185-pound person burns 355 calories. Aim to run 20 minutes three to six days a week at your own pace. If you're new to exercise, take it slow. If you can't do the full 20 minutes, run as much as you can and walk the rest. Even if you're just running five minutes, stick with it. You'll quickly see an improvement, and before you know it, you'll be setting a reasonable calorie-burning goal to reach your fat-burning deficit.

Cycle and Swim the Pounds Away

Female Competitive Swimmer Doing Laps
Swim away the pounds. (Image: FogStock/Jennifer Okamoto/FogStock/Getty Images)

Cycling outdoors or indoors is another cardio-calorie-blaster. Cycle outdoors for 30 minutes at 12 to 13.9 mph and burn 240 or 355 calories if you weigh 125 or 185 pounds respectively. Hit the bike at the gym for a half hour, pedal at moderate speed and burn between 210 and 311 calories. Prefer a low-impact, full-body pool workout? Ramp up your calorie-burn with a swim. Do the breaststroke for 30 minutes and use up 300 to 444 calories or fuel your muscles with 330 to 488 calories to swim freestyle or butterfly for half an hour. Even a leisurely backstroke for 30 minutes will take 240 to 355 calories. Try to cycle or swim 20 minutes three to six days a week at your own pace; build up your time until you're comfortable and getting the calorie burn you need for your deficit.

Pick Activities You Like

Female hiker with backpack walking and smiling
Burn calories doing activities that you enjoy. (Image: Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Getty Images)

The beauty of burning calories with cardio exercises is that there is something for everyone. If you tire of one workout, switch to another or mix it up with cardio cross-training, which involves doing several types of cardio within a given time frame. The key is to pick exercises that you like and that are easy to fit into your routine so that you actually do them on a regular basis to maintain your calorie deficit. Exercising for 30 minutes, you can burn 150 to 222 calories skateboarding, 165 to 244 golfing and carrying clubs, 210 to 311 playing soccer, 300 to 444 jumping rope, 240 to 355 cross-country skiing, 180 to 266 downhill skiing, 120 to 178 doing water aerobics and 270 to 400 using the elliptical trainer at the gym.

Warm Up and Cool Down

Running at the fitness club
Be sure to warm up and cool down before and after your workout. (Image: YouraPechkin/iStock/Getty Images)

Warm up with five to 10 minutes of light cardio, like walking or doing high-knee lifts, before you start your workout. Warming up your muscles helps prevent injury and gets you going for a more efficient and enjoyable routine, and your warm-up burns calories too. That 10-minute walking warm-up should garner you at least 40 to 55 calories, and if you do a 10-minute walking cooldown, there's another 40 right there.

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