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What's The Best Exercise For Weight Loss?

Question: what type of exercise is the best for weight loss?

This is a question I hear A LOT from my clients. And the answer might surprise you!

While you might think it’s cardio that’s going to help you achieve weight loss, I’m about to drop a truth bomb...

Fun Fact: Cardio AND Strength Training are both an important part of a balanced fitness plan. Each carries its own set of health and wellness benefits and both can increase longevity and improve your quality of life, helping you feel and function your best today and tomorrow!

BUT when it comes to fat loss, strength training is where it's at. Strength building exercises are what help you build fat burning muscle, whereas cardio is where you'll support a healthy heart and bone density.

Add interval training to the mix (a combo of strength and cardio) and you'll reap the benefits of both PLUS stoke your metabolism, shed fat, and tone and shape your body!

the best exercise for weight loss

Now, before you go about changing your exercise routine, it's important to consider both your short and long term goals.

Ask yourself the 5 following questions to help you choose the best exercise approach for your goals:

  • Do I want to lose fat?

  • Am I wanting to gain / build muscle?

  • Do I want to boost strength, endurance and stamina?

  • Am I looking to improve balance, coordination and flexibility?

  • Do I want to tone and shape areas of my body?

Maybe you want to boost your cardio endurance to hike, bike, or jog further, or maybe you're hoping to shed those first (or last) 10 pounds. Either way, you can use a combination of exercise modalities to help get you there.

But as I often tell my clients, you can't outrun your fork. The most powerful road to healthy AND sustainable weight loss is through balanced food and fitness habits.

Now, onto explore the benefits and differences of steady state versus high intensity exercise.

Steady state exercise

Typically considered any aerobic or cardiorespiratory activity that is performed for 30 to 60 minutes at a consistent level of intensity. For example, jogging at a steady pace for 5 miles or going for a high mileage bike ride. Activities that tend to fall into this category are biking, jogging, long walks, hiking, rowing, and using cardio machines like the elliptical, recumbent bike or stair master at a steady pace for at least 30 minutes. This type of training is key for long distance runners, cyclers, swimmers and rowers by helping them to improve their cardio health and endurance.

Steady State Cardiorespiratory Exercise

Benefits of steady state exercise:

  • Builds aerobic endurance

  • Supports heart health

  • Ideal for fitness beginners

  • Requires less recovery time

  • Low risk for overall sedentary lifestyles

  • Provides calorie burn relative to the level of intensity (low, moderate, or high) while doing the activity

  • Utilizes less energy from muscle groups

  • Activities can typically be performed more frequently, up to 5 days a week

  • Promotes a higher level of retention when you choose an activity you enjoy


  • Increased risk to overuse injuries

  • Can take longer to achieve weight loss goals

  • Minimal if any “after burn” effects

  • Working at too low of an intensity level has not been shown to build endurance and can stand in the way of long term weight loss and/or maintenance goals

  • Doing the same activity at the same rate day in and day out does not challenge the body

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

This type of fitness training uses physical activities that are broken into segments of high intensity bursts of exertion followed by a lower intensity recovery period. For example, a 30 second all out sprint followed by a 1 minute slow jog (or fast paced walk). Intervals are often used in cardio and strength combo workouts, such as doing a series of squat, bicep curls and rows followed by a higher intensity cardio event like 30 seconds of jump squats, burpees, or speed skaters. This type of training is excellent conditioning for individuals who play or compete in sports like football, baseball, soccer, and short distance track events by helping them improve strength, speed and agility. Over the past few years, these types of workouts have become increasingly popular for their ability to burn fat, tone and shape the body in less time than conventional aerobic based workouts.

High Intensity Interval Training


  • It takes less time to achieve high calorie burn

  • Muscles are able to use fat as fuel

  • Increases aerobic and anaerobic fitness

  • Promotes abdominal fat loss while maintaining and building muscle

  • Supports heart health

  • Boosts strength and speed

  • Enhances overall athletic performance

  • Offers a recognized “after burn," burning calories up to 36 hours post exercise


  • Requires greater recovery time

  • Utilizes a high amount of energy from multiple muscle groups

  • Should not be done more than 2 - 3 times a week (for beginners, no more than 1 time a week)

  • Not ideal for fitness beginners

  • Can carry an increased risk for potential injury

Considerations of HIIT

Bottom line - there are benefits for both cardio and strength training exercises as well as steady state and higher intensity workouts. The key is to start by considering your goals and then choosing activities you enjoy and complement your lifestyle. If you're just beginning a fitness program, beginning with steady state cardio can be a great place to start, then gradually adding in moderate to higher intensity elements. As I always remind my clients, start where you are, then slowly work up from there!

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