What Exercises Are Best For Fat Loss?

A couple weeks back, I wrote about how diet was more important for fat loss than exercise. I didn’t say exercise was irrelevant, but when you compare the two, nutrition seems to have a greater effect on body composition than exercise alone.

I also mentioned why strength training is a vital piece of the fat loss puzzle. When losing weight, it’s extremely important to maintain muscle mass. That way most of the weight you lose comes from fat.

With this article, I want to dig a little deeper into the strength training side of the equation and talk about what exercises are best for fat loss.

Before we get into that, let’s talk briefly about cardiovascular exercise like jogging, cycling, stair stepping, etc.

Most people tend to use this as their main form of exercise while attempting to lose weight. The problem is, it’s not very effective at maintaining muscle mass.

One study done in 2012 showed us this (1).

The researchers took 196 participants and divided them into 3 different groups. The first group did cardio training only. The second did resistance training only. The third did a combination of cardiovascular and resistance training.

Each group completed 3 days per week of training for 8 months. And what were the results? The aerobic group actually lost the most weight.

You may be thinking that’s a good thing, but hold on. Where did that weight loss come from? Of the weight they lost, 0.10kg was muscle mass. That’s not a good thing.

The other two groups actually gained muscle mass. And that’s why lifting weights is important. Cardiovascular exercise doesn’t create enough of a stimulus in the muscles to preserve or gain mass.

And when you lose muscle mass, your metabolism slows down and you decrease the amount of calories burned each day. This makes the results you achieve, hard to sustain in the long run.

So, the point of all this is to show you that resistance training trumps cardio for fat loss. It should be the primary point of emphasis in any fat loss program. But what types of exercises are best?

There are two main categories of exercises, single-joint and multi-joint. These two are exactly what they sound like.

Single-joint exercises use one joint. A biceps curl for example, takes place at the elbow joint. Multi-joint exercises span across many joints. In a squat, the ankles, knees, hips, upper back, shoulders, and elbows are all involved.

An effective exercise that melts fat is one that burns a lot of calories. Since you use multiple muscles in multi-joint exercises, you will obviously burn more calories than if you were using single-joint exercises.  So, a program that uses multi-joint exercises will be superior for fat loss.

The great thing about these types of exercises is that they can be broken down into patterns. The main movement patterns are:

  • Squat
  • Hinge
  • Lunge
  • Push
  • Pull
  • Locomotion

Using that as our guide, you can categorize exercises based on what type of pattern they use. Here are some examples.

Squat: Goblet squat, zercher squat, barbell front squat, barbell back squat, box squat

Hinge: Deadlift, Romanian deadlift (RDL), single leg RDL, barbell hip thrust, barbell glute bridge, kettlebell swing

Lunge: Split squat, reverse lunge, forward lunge, lateral lunge, step ups

Push: Push up, dumbbell bench press, barbell bench press, dumbbell overhead press, barbell overhead press

Pull: Rows, pull ups, chin ups

Locomotion: Farmer’s carry, suitcase carry, bear crawl, inchworm

These types of exercises offer more bang for your buck than biceps curls and leg extensions. They use a lot of muscle mass in a very short time, so they are great time savers too.

If your goal is lose body fat, include a minimum of one exercise from each category 2-3 times per week. Perform anywhere from 2-4 sets for 6-12 reps.

Any strength training program geared toward fat loss, should be centered around these staple exercises. Not only will they produce superior results, but they won’t bore you to death as most cardiovascular or machine based programs do. Include them in your training, and you will undoubtedly be impressed with the results.


1. Willis LH. et al.  Effects of aerobic and/or resistance training on body mass and fat mass in overweight or obese adults. J Appl Physiol. 2012 Dec;113(12):1831-7.


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