Last Updated on 2022-10-10 by bnslay
Do you want to lose weight? If so, you’ve probably heard that the best way to do it is by working out. But which muscles should you work out? That depends on your goals.
If you’re trying to lose weight, but don’t care about building muscle, then it doesn’t really matter which muscles you work out. But if you’re looking for a leaner body, then it’s important to know which muscles are responsible for burning fat and building muscle.
Right here on Buy and Slay, you are privy to a litany of relevant information on best workout to lose weight and gain muscle at home, free gym workout plan for weight loss, best cardio for weight loss at home, and so much more. Take out time to visit our catalog for more information on similar topics.
Best Muscles To Workout For Weight Loss
Many Americans tend to spend a lot of time working their peripheral muscles (like their biceps or their calves), but efficient strength training comes when you work the big muscles that make up the core axis of your body—your legs, the large muscles of your upper body (like your chest and shoulders), and your abdominals. They’re your foundation muscles.
They burn more calories than smaller muscles, and are also involved in many more movements and functions than smaller muscles—which makes any vulnerabilities or weaknesses they have more influential to your day-to-day health of wellbeing. Luckily, you don’t need any equipment to train your foundation muscles and see the benefits.
Getting fit is easy, they said. All you have to do is work out, they said.
But what am I supposed to do when I get to the gym? Do I pick up a barbell or do I run? I should just get on the treadmill, right?
There are so many questions when it comes to getting fit and working out. Did you know that there are different workout programs for different goals? Like if you want to build muscle mass, you can’t do the same program as someone whose primary goal is to lose weight.
And apparently you can’t just work out, you have to eat right, too. Nutrition is crucial when it comes to seeing the results of the work you’re putting in.
And according to US News & World Report, this is the time when a majority of people are starting to fail on their New Year’s resolutions, which often includes “exercising more.”
But breathe: It’s going to be OK. We’ve spoken to fitness experts who gave us their best tips on which workout routines to do for your specific goals. Want to lose weight? We got you. Want to build your endurance? No problem.
Workouts for weight loss
Almost half of Americans said they’ve tried to lose weight in the past 12 months, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Losing weight can be hard to do, especially with Doughnut Thursdays at the office (I’m looking at you, USA TODAY newsroom).
Austin Dotson, a certified personal trainer, says the best workout program for that is “CONSISTENCY.” Yes, he emailed this in all caps. Where can I buy that exercise routine? Do they have it at Target?
The trainer says keeping your mind focused on why you started working out in the first place is one of the most important things to weight loss. Don’t fall off when it gets tough; that’s when you need to push yourself the most.
When it comes to the physical labor, Dotson loves jumping rope for exercise.
“Jumping rope is a great cardiovascular exercise that will get the heart rate soaring through the roofs,” said Dotson. “I would also recommend mountain climbers. Great tool for getting a stronger core as well as increasing the heart rate for fat loss.”
Seymour suggests hitting the weight room to shed some extra pounds because having muscle boosts your metabolism, so the more muscles you’re building, the more calories you’re burning.
Workouts to build muscle
If you want to build muscle, you’re going to have to pick up a barbell or 10 so get comfortable with the weight room in your gym.
Osamoje Imoohi, a certified personal trainer, recommends people add weight-resistance training into their workout routines and to target each body part throughout the week.
Lunges with weights, push-ups with weights and arm raises with weights would all be good weight-resistance training.
That means focus on training your legs for one day, train your arms the next day and move on to back workouts the day after. He suggests doing this to build a balanced and complete physique.
“I would highly recommend doing compound exercises, these are exercises that work several muscle groups at the same time,” said Imoohi. “They trigger muscle growth. Bench press, squats, deadlifts and overhead presses are all examples of compound exercises.”
Workouts to tone muscle
No one really knows what “toning” means; it’s just a word that’s thrown around when people want their bodies to look like Gabrielle Union or Beyoncé.
“Frankly, ‘toning up’ is a myth we’ve been fighting against for a decade,” said Kristen Seymour, who is co-owner of fitness website Fit Bottomed Girls and a triathlon coach. “What people generally mean when they say this is that they want to get leaner and build some muscle – or that they want to look like the celebrity with the awesome arms on the cover of some magazine.”
Both Imoohi and Jennipher Walters, the other co-owner of Fit Bottomed Girls, suggest doing high-intensity interval training workouts, which consist of exercises that you do at very high intensity for a short period of time with little rest recovery as opposed to jogging on the treadmill for an hour.
Walters says that classes like CrossFit can include HIIT workouts, but not every CrossFit class will be entirely composed of HIIT exercises.
“They both offer cycles of exercises,” Walters said. “Lest anyone get bored in a class, both of these exercise styles keep it fresh and exciting by moving quickly between activities.”
Imoohi suggests running, swimming, boxing or cycling at least three times a week for 30 to 45 minutes at a time in addition to your HIIT workouts.
“In terms of choosing what kind of activity to do, it’s pretty much always a great idea to incorporate a nice mix of workouts throughout the week,” Walters said. “Some HIIT, some weights, functional mobility work and recovery. This helps you build the muscle you’re looking for while still maintaining good cardiovascular health and flexibility.”
I just want abs
Good news, according to Dotson we all already have them.
“Believe it or not, we all have abs,” Dotson said. “Abs are really determined on the percentage of body fat a person has. If you are unable to see your abs, it’s not because you can’t get them, it’s because they are hidden behind layers of fat.”
OK, wonderful, so my abs are just hidden underneath a few months’ worth of donuts (ahem Doughnut Thursdays 🙄).
In order to see your abs, it means you have to drop some body fat, which can be done with all of the exercises listed above. Dotson says you’ll have to be in a caloric deficit, so burn more calories than you consume.
“In order for a person to obtain the wash-board abs they are looking for or even to semi have them appear (everyone is different), they will need to combine a HEALTHY diet, cardio, weights, resistance training and a calorie deficit,” the trainer said in an email.
To drop body fat, it’s essential to mix in cardio like running on a treadmill, jumping rope or HIIT exercises with weight and resistance training. So do push-ups, lunges, squats and bench press with weights.
Good nutrition is key
Regardless of all the work you put in at the gym, nothing will work unless your nutrition is on point. You have to put in as much effort (if not more) into your diet as you do your workouts.
“Nutrition is fundamental. Individuals looking to lose fat and gain muscle should drink lots of water, consume protein, and avoid processed sugars/unhealthy fats,” said Imoohi.
“It doesn’t matter how much you work out, if you aren’t eating a balanced healthy diet, you will never get the results you desire,” Dotson added.
“Eighty percent of our fitness journeys will come from nutrition,” said the fitness trainer. “The other 20 percent is the effort you put into the gym. Cutting out process foods, sugar, sodium and fried fatty foods.”
You could be in the gym every day and you still won’t see the results you want if you’re not eating right.
12 Weightlifting Exercises to Help You Lose Weight
Experts agree that if you want to lose weight and build muscle, you need to strength train, aiming for at least three weightlifting workouts a week. The best weightlifting exercises for losing body fat are the ones that recruit large muscles and work multiple muscles at one time, known as compound exercises. “These exercises burn more calories because more muscles are working,” CSCS-certified trainer and registered dietitian Audra Wilson says. “There will also be a more significant afterburn than with isolation exercises.”
These moves stimulate more muscles and burn more calories per rep, which translates to more muscle gained and more fat lost, explains NASM-certified trainer Eric Bowling. And since you’re working multiple muscle groups on each move, compound moves are more time efficient, so you don’t need to spend hours in the gym, he says. With all of that in mind, we gathered up the most effective strength-training exercises for weight loss.
One note before you get started: for all of these moves, ACSM-certified personal trainer Kekua Kobashigawa recommends, “You should begin with bodyweight only to learn proper movement.” You can progress to weights after you’ve nailed the form and built up some foundational strength. This way, you’ll “develop functional strength that transfers to daily life,” Kobashigawa explains. This can also decrease your risk of injury, which is higher with compound movements because you’re using multiple muscle groups at once, Bowling notes. Remember that you can always consult a trainer to ensure your form is on point.
The squat is one of the most recommended strength-training exercises for weight loss. Weighted squats call upon all of the lower-body muscles and recruit some back and abdominal muscles for support, Wilson says. “These exercises burn more calories because more muscles are working.”
Begin with bodyweight squats, then you can add dumbbells, kettlebells, or a barbell as you progress. Here’s how to do a barbell front squat:
- Start with an unweighted or loaded barbell. Beginners should start with just the barbell, gradually adding weight as they become familiar with the movement. More advanced squatters can start with a weight they know they can comfortably handle. (Remember: You can always add more weight during the next set if it felt too easy.)
- Position your hands about shoulder-width apart on the barbell and lightly grip the bar.
- Rest the bar on your clavicle and shoulders as you lift your elbows up. Your elbows should go as high as your mobility allows.
- With your feet about hip-distance apart, lift the barbell off the rack. Take 1 to 2 steps backward.
- Shift your weight back onto your heels. Brace your abs as you begin to lower into a squat, keeping your head and back straight. Your knees should be as close to 90 degrees as possible.
- With your core still braced, drive through your heels to stand back up. Be sure to squeeze your glutes at the top of your squat.
- That’s one rep.
ACE-certified trainer Christian Koshaba, owner of Three60Fit, calls the deadlift “a fantastic, dynamic movement.” Though simple, “a deadlift engages your whole body, including all major muscle groups: glutes, hamstrings, quads, and the entire chain of back muscles,” Koshaba says. If you don’t have access to a barbell, you can do deadlifts with dumbbells or a kettlebell. Whatever weight you use, focus on form first with light weights, then gradually increase the weight as you’re ready.
- Stand with your feet hip-distance apart.
- Push your butt back as you bend your knees, grasping the barbell with your hands just outside the hips, with the shoulders slightly in front of the bar. Have both palms facing you, or if it feels more comfortable (or you’re lifting very heavy), turn one palm facing out. Keep your back straight, not curved or arched. Your chest should be parallel with the floor.
- Stand up, raising the hips and shoulders at the same time, lifting the barbell off the floor so the bar moves over the middle of both feet.
- Keep the heels down and make sure to fully extend the hips and knees to straighten the legs. That’s one rep.
ACE-certified trainer Rachel MacPherson recommends lunges to help with weight loss. You can do them in place by stepping one foot forward and then stepping back to the starting position or make it harder by doing walking lunges. “Walking lunges use unilateral training to increase your heart rate and increase metabolism for weight loss,” MacPherson says. “The continuous walking motion used for walking lunges makes them more of an efficient fat burner than regular lunges.”
- Stand upright, feet together, holding dumbbells at your side. Take a controlled step forward with your left leg, lowering your hips toward the floor by bending both knees to 90-degree angles. Your back knee should point toward but not touch the ground, and your front knee should be directly over your ankle.
- Press your left heel into the ground, and push off with your right foot to bring your right leg forward, stepping with control into a lunge on the other side.
- That’s one rep.
Different than lunges, split squats involve standing in a split position as you lower and raise the hips, really firing up the lower body.
Bowling says this is a great alternative to back squats because you’re able to target the lower body efficiently without risk of injury to the back. “When done correctly, your legs will fail before your lower back does,” Bowling says. Adding a shoulder press to the split squat works the upper body and core as well, making this a total-body exercise.
- Holding the dumbbells at your shoulders with your palms facing forward, take a big step backward with the left foot.
- Bend your knees to lower the rear knee toward the floor, making 90-degree angles with both legs.
- Straighten both legs as you press the weights up toward the ceiling.
- That’s one rep.
The kettlebell swing is a full-body movement that uses core, leg, and glute strength to create momentum and swing a kettlebell, MacPherson explains. Your heart rate will increase quickly because the motion is continuous, she adds, which will help you burn more calories.
- Stand with your feet wider than hip-width apart, toes slightly pointing out. Squat down, and pick up a kettlebell with both hands. Allow it to hang between your legs.
- With a flat back and your core engaged, inhale to bend your knees and push your butt back. Your weight should be back on your heels so your knees are in line with your toes.
- Keep your core engaged and arms straight. On an exhale, press into your feet, squeezing your legs and glutes as you aggressively explode up, extending through your hips and legs to stand, which drives the kettlebell overhead. If you have mobility issues in the shoulders or lower back or an injury, do a Russian kettlebell swing instead, where the bell only raises to shoulder height.
- Inhale, and with control, come back to the starting position, allowing the kettlebell to swing back between your legs.
- That’s one rep.
Push-ups are “great for building muscles in your arms and stabilizing your core,” says Stephanie Blozy, an exercise-science expert and the owner of the Fleet Feet store in West Hartford, CT. She suggests starting push-ups with your knees resting on the floor and moving up to a classic push-up with straight legs.
- Begin in a plank position with the arms and body straight, shoulders over the wrists. Keep the core engaged.
- Bend the elbows behind you and lower your chest to the floor. Keep your upper arms tight to your body so your elbows are against your ribs on both sides.
- Straighten the arms, coming back to plank position.
- This counts as one rep.
Pull-ups and chin-ups, the ultimate upper-body moves, will work your lats, upper back, arms, and core, Bowling says. Doing a pull-up requires you to “maintain some form of thoracic extension throughout the movement, getting the back involved,” he adds. If you can’t do a strict pull-up, use a band to assist you or do ring rows instead.
- Place a large resistance band securely around a pull-up bar. A band with more resistance will provide you with more assistance to pull yourself up.
- Stand on a stable object (such as a bench or plyo box), and grip the pull-up bar. With one hand, place the band around the arch of your shoe. Fully extend the banded leg.
- With a neutral spine and your core engaged, pull yourself up. The band will provide you with momentum to lift your body up.
- Lower back down to the starting position. That’s one rep.
Bowling calls the bench press “the king of pressing movements” because so many muscles are recruited to perform a single rep. Whether using dumbbells or a barbell, a proper bench press requires the legs to get involved. “As you press the weight away from you, your legs are actively driving the floor down as hard as possible,” Bowling explains, making this a full-body movement.
- Grab a set of dumbbells and sit on a flat workout bench.
- With one dumbbell in each hand resting on your thighs, lie back onto the bench.
- Hold the dumbbells above your chest, arms straight over shoulders, palms facing away from your face.
- Inhale and lower the dumbbells to the sides of your chest with control, creating a 90-degree angle between your upper arm and forearm.
- Exhale as you push the dumbbells up, fully extending your arms.
- That’s one rep.
Glute Bridge With Chest Press
“This is another one of those exercises that involves every single muscle in the body, mainly the glutes, pectorals (chest muscles), and core,” says ACSM-certified trainer Raquel Santos. This compound movement allows you to build muscle in your hamstrings and glutes while also targeting your chest and shoulders.
“Besides increasing your metabolic burn by being a great compound movement, the glute bridge itself is a very important movement for building strength in the posterior chain and preventing/alleviating lower-back and knee pain,” she adds.
- Start on your back with your knees bent and your feet hip-distance apart. Hold weights by your chest.
- Squeeze your glutes as you push your pelvis toward the ceiling, coming into a bridge. Keep your ribs aligned with your pelvis.
- Holding the bridge, press the weights to the ceiling directly above your shoulders.
- Lower the weights to your chest without dropping your hips. That’s one rep.
Santos is a fan of the thruster because it combines squatting and vertical pushing, using nearly every muscle to perform it correctly. “The squat alone involves every lower-body muscle from the low back to the glutes, quads, hamstrings, and even the calves,” she says. “Adding in the overhead press utilizes a bunch of upper-body muscles with a focus on the shoulders and the core.”
- Stand with your legs just slightly wider than hip-distance apart, arms raised to shoulder height with elbows bent, holding weights by your ears.
- Hinge at the hips and bend your knees as if you were sitting in a chair.
- Press into feet to straighten your legs and return to standing, using the momentum to press the dumbbells overhead, weights directly above shoulders. That’s one rep.
The renegade row is an awesome exercise that utilizes the entire core, as well as the back and biceps, Santos explains. “For beginners, I recommend starting with your knees down and light or medium weights.”
- Start in high plank with feet wider than shoulders, each hand holding onto a dumbbell that’s resting on the floor.
- Pull right elbow back, raising dumbbell toward chest, keeping right elbow close to torso, core engaged, and hips and chest facing down.
- Lower the weight and repeat on the opposite side. That’s one rep.
Dumbbell Box Step-Up
“Step-ups are another great exercise to strengthen your legs and stabilize your core and lower-back muscles,” Blozy says.
Begin with a small step, then gradually work up to a 20- or 30-inch box. When you’re ready, intensify the move by adding weight. Hold a dumbbell in each hand by your side or a kettlebell or two at your chest. “Not only will your quads burn, but your heart rate will also accelerate and sweat will pour,” Blozy says.
- Find a sturdy bench, wooden box, or chair that allows your knee to be at about a 90-degree angle or larger when you place your foot squarely on it.
- Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand by your side (or, for a more advanced version, in the front rack position at your shoulders).
- Step your right foot onto the box, then your left, so both feet are on top of the box.
- Softly step the right foot back to the ground, then the left.
- That’s one rep. Repeat leading with the opposite side.
Ultimately, weight-loss occurs due to a combination of factors—sleep, nutrition, mindset and physical activity all play key rolls in initiating and maintaining weight-loss. Be sure to check in with a physician before jumping into a weight-training regimen and don’t be afraid of failure. Failure is the point at which growth and change occur. Aim for three total-body, circuit-training workouts a week. If you decide to split your workouts, try to do two workouts focusing on your upper body, two workouts focusing on your lower body, and one total-body workout per week. Remember, these workouts can be as little as 20 to 30 minutes—the key is keeping the intensity high.