If you’re like many people trying to lose weight, you’re probably looking for ways to start working out. Unfortunately, a quick search on google for “how to workout to lose weight” returns some pretty lousy advice.
The problem is that most of them just give you a list of exercises but don’t give any usable advice on how to build an exercise routine for weight loss.
Doing random exercises every day without structure is a surefire way to get injured and make you hate exercise. I mean, who likes doing endless burpees and running for miles to the point of exhaustion?
That’s why we decided to create this guide on working out for weight loss!
How To Start Working Out
The hardest part is starting, and the best way to make it easy is to focus on small incremental goals.
The worst thing you can do is push yourself to your max on day one. Instead, start simple! If you’re brand new to exercise, the best way to start is just to increase your overall daily activity!
Walking may sound easy, but if you don’t currently get any exercise at all, this may be your best bet. Whenever possible, get up and go for a short walk. This includes walking to work instead of driving, walking somewhere for lunch instead of ordering food, and getting up every hour to take a lap around the office. Next thing you know, you’ve put in 2-3 miles in a day and barely even realized it.
Not only is walking a good start, but it’s also a habit you can keep as you evolve into a more challenging exercise routine. As you get used to more activity throughout the day, you can increase the challenge by walking longer distances or walking up more stairs.
What About The Calories?
You might be wondering, “does walking burn a lot of calories”? After all, all the other articles on exercise for weight loss tell you to do high-intensity cardio to burn calories.
The answer is yes. Walking does burn a significant amount of calories. The thing to remember is you have all day! You don’t have to try to kill yourself at the gym for 30 minutes.
If you just walk an extra two or three miles throughout a day, you’ll probably burn more than a 30 minute HIIT workout without even feeling like you’re exercising. You’re also building a solid base of fitness to move on to more challenging things.
Calories burned from basic activities throughout the day is known as Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT).
NEAT consists of calories you burn from any activity that isn’t purposeful exercise. Things like walking, climbing stairs, fidgeting, fighting gravity at your desk, or any type of manual labor contribute to NEAT.
On average, NEAT accounts for about 15% of your total daily calories burned. Compared to exercise, aka Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (EAT), at only 5%, this becomes more important from a weight loss perspective.
It’s also the easiest to increase. All you have to do is move more throughout the day. You can easily burn an extra 300 - 500 calories a day with little effort.
TDEE = Total Daily Energy Expenditure
EAT = Exercise Activity Thermogenesis
NEAT = Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis
BMR = Basal Metabolic Rate
NREE = Non-Resting Energy Expenditure
REE = Resting Energy Expenditure
Ok, now that you understand NEAT, we’ll get back to working out.
After you’ve built up a solid base from a few weeks of increased activity, or if you were already active but want to take things to the next level, strength training might be your best bet.
Most people want to lose weight to improve their appearance aside from improving health. That’s why adding in some strength training is important.
Not only does lifting weights add to your total calories burned in a day, but it builds muscle to give you a more fit appearance.
Just as we talked about with walking, start with basic movements and light weights a few times a week.
It’s also a good idea to repeat the same lifts each week. Repetition allows you to practice and improve your technique, reducing the risk of injury and allowing you to increase weight over time.
For example, say you start doing split squats. You might begin with 5 lbs in each hand; just to get used to doing the movement. Each week you can add weight to make it more challenging. Eventually, you’ll feel more comfortable with split squats, and you’ll be able to do a lot more weight!
Ok, now that we’ve talked about NEAT and strength training, it’s time to get on to cardio. If you asked people what type of exercise is best to lose weight, most would say some form of cardio. However, that isn’t necessarily true.
Cardio is a great way to improve fitness and DOES add to your daily calorie expenditure, but it’s also a great way to get hurt and give up on exercise if done poorly.
Everyone seems to know someone who started running and ended up with painful knees and ankles and had to stop. That’s because running itself is a sport that requires a lot of training to do well. You wouldn’t start exercising for the first time by doing a gymnastics routine or entering a tennis tournament, would you?
You’d have to spend a lot of time building the strength and skill to do either one of those sports well. The same goes for running.
Instead, opt for something with less impact, such as the rowing machine or elliptical, along with basic strength training. Then, after a few weeks to months, you can start introducing things like running or HIIT workouts.
How To Progress Your Workout Routine
Ok, so you’ve spent the last few months increasing your activity, building a foundation strength, and dropping a few pounds.
You feel like you’re ready to start challenging yourself in the gym.
What do you do?
Well, the first thing is to ask yourself what you’ve enjoyed doing thus far. For example, did you like lifting weights more than cardio? Also, what’s your goal?
Once you know what you like to do, focus on doing that!
If you enjoy the feeling of cardio, start doing things that build around that. For example, you could start with short one-mile runs two days a week and spend another two days a week in the gym doing some basic strength training. Each week add a bit more distance to your runs. Then as it becomes easier, add a third day of running.
If more intense interval training was more your style, you could start doing row machine or bike intervals a few days a week. Record your times so you can try to improve every week.
If you enjoy lifting weights, start doing more! Maybe if your lifting two days a week, add a third! Try to find a training program designed for a specific goal, such as strength or muscle gain.
The key to exercising for weight loss is finding things that you enjoy doing. If you like the exercises, you’re more likely to stick to them for the long term!
Above all, listen to your body. Exercising for weight loss is a long-term process. If you start feeling worn out or experience pain, back off for a week so you can recover!
When it comes to exercising for weight loss, staying consistent is more important than doing specific exercises.
Start slow to avoid injury and burnout and build up over time. Find what you enjoy doing and focus on that!
Maintaining high overall daily activity and having good eating habits is also arguably more important for weight loss than exercise. Think of exercise as more of a bonus to improve your overall health and appearance while burning a few extra calories each day.