Last Updated on March 18, 2021

The Best Cardio for Weight Loss (and Routines to Try)

The Best Cardio for Weight Loss (and Routines to Try)

When people think of cardio, usually a boring treadmill, elliptical machine, or other mundane activity comes to mind, but that doesn’t have to be the case. The best cardio for weight loss is much more dynamic and interesting.

When you’re short on time or easily distracted, there are a variety of fat-burning cardio alternatives that will increase your body’s metabolism, boost weight loss, and keep you interested.

Here’s a list of different types of cardio workouts:

  • Steady State (Burns less fat, but isn’t as demanding on the body)
  • Interval Training (Burns more fat)
  • HIIT
  • Spinning
  • Stairs
  • Weight Training (Supersets) short rest periods
  • Weight Training (Compound Sets) short rest periods
  • Machine Circuit Training

We’ll discuss each of the best cardio workouts in detail so that you can decide which is best for you and your weight loss goals.

1. Steady State

Among the best cardio for weight loss, steady state cardio involves working at a low to moderate intensity—around 65 to 75 percent of your maximum heart rate, for a sustained period of time. This type of cardio doesn’t burn a huge number of calories, but it does burn a high percentage of fat tissue for fuel, and it isn’t too draining[1].

characteristics of steady state cardio

    An example of steady state cardio would be a long outdoor walk or a jog at a moderate pace. Steady state exercises test your mental stamina just as much as your physical stamina, as it requires you to sustain exercise for longer periods.

    Moreover, one study[2] found that HIIT workouts and steady state cardio both showed similar results over 8 weeks of training, meaning that the best cardio workouts are really a matter of personal preference and what you’re willing to stick to in the long run for results.

    2. Interval Training

    Similar to HIIT but with exercises that are slightly longer in duration, interval training alternates levels of intensity. For example, if you enjoy running, you would run or sprint for 30 seconds, then bring down your heart rate and walk for two minutes.

    Pick two intensities per interval, usually one at 85 percent of your maximum heart rate and the other at 60 percent, and alternate between them. I find that 85% for 30 seconds and 60% for one minute not only burns more calories but increases my energy level as well.


    Another example would be jumping rope. Jump rope for two minutes, and rest for one minute. Begin again, this time jumping rope for one minute and resting for one minute. On the third and final round, jump rope for 30 seconds and rest for 30 seconds. Repeat five sets of this routine for a good cardio workout.

    3. HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)

    If you have a busy schedule, 15 or 20 minutes of the best cardio for weight loss a few times a week is all you need. HIIT is an extremely popular workout because it can be done quickly, burn calories in a short amount of time, and can even be done in your home or during a lunch break at work. And the best part is that you don’t need any equipment.

    With the use of your body weight, HIIT is typically 20 seconds of high intensity exercise followed by 10 seconds of active rest, which means your heart rate remains elevated for the entire 15-minute workout.

    You can check out some of the best HIIT exercises here.

    4. Spinning

    Spinning is a great way to get your heart up and keep it up in a 45-minute spin class. Our thighs and back are our largest muscles, and they work the hardest when spinning on stationary bikes.

    To get the most out of spinning, try to stay out of the saddle throughout an entire spin class. That way, you are forced to hold up your body weight, which burns more calories and increases intensity.

    It’s also great for stabilizing and building strong core muscles, versus cycling outdoors, where most of the time you are sitting in the saddle and going for distance (steady state cardio). They can both be considered among the best cardio exercises, especially if you’re looking to lose weight, but spinning will give you an edge if you’re looking to burn body fat.

    5. Stairs

    One of my favorite places to get out of the gym for cardio and trim fat from my thighs and butt is the Santa Monica Stairs, near California’s most popular beach. Climbing 170 steps a few times builds the glutes, leans the thighs, strengthens the calves, and builds endurance. Stairs can definitely be used for some of the best cardio for weight loss.

    If the gym is not your scene, and you love the outdoors, climbing stairs is a great alternative. Find a place with multiple steps, do six or seven rounds, and you’ve easily burned around 600 calories.

    6. Supersets

    A superset is two exercises that work opposing muscle groups, such as biceps and triceps, quadriceps and hamstrings, or different body parts, such as the lower and upper body, with little to no recovery between sets.


    The superset may include two to five sets of 8 to 15 repetitions of each exercise or more.[3]

    If you love to workout with weight-training but aren’t really feeling cardio, supersets with no more than 30-second rest periods between exercises will keep your heart rate up. Not only will you build muscle, but you will burn fat!

    For example, if you are doing a leg workout, five sets of exercises with high reps and low weight is all it takes to turn your weight-training into a cardio workout.

    Here is a great leg training and cardio workout:

    Dumbbell Step-ups (4×15, each leg)

    How to Do a Weighted Step-Up: Techniques, Benefits, Variations
      Front Squat (4×15)

      Why the Front Squat is Your Best Friend: Part 1 — Human Performance Blog · Volt Athletics
        Wide Stance Dumbbell Goblet (4×15)

        Dumbbell Goblet Squat: 11 Benefits, Form Tips, Variations, and More
          Leg Extension (4×15)

          This Strength Move Will Take Your Legs To The Next Level | Women's Health
            Leg Curl (4×15)

            RS-1408 Prone Leg Curl – HOIST Fitness

              7. Compound Sets

              Compound exercises are exercises that recruit muscles in the entire body, such as pull-ups, squats, bench press, etc., putting them among the best cardio for weight loss. However, a compound set simply means to “compound” the number of different exercises into a series of sets with little or no recovery between, similar to supersets.


              This may be accomplished by performing four to five exercises for the same muscle group, opposing muscle groups, or total body exercises performed in succession, such as full body extensions, followed by squat/cleans, and complete the compound set of compound exercises with lunges with biceps curls.

              Compound sets put stress on the body and are great for expending additional calories while strength-training as part of good cardio workouts.

              Here is a great example of a compound set routine for your shoulders, traps, and abs:

              Standing Military Press (5×10)

              Dumbbell Shoulder Press GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY
                Lateral Raise (4×12)

                How to Do a Side Lateral Raise: Techniques, Benefits, Variations
                  Barbell Shrug (5×20)

                  The Barbell Shrug | Form, Benefits and Variations for Stronger Traps!
                    Hanging Knee Raise (3×10)

                    How To Do Hanging Knee Raises: Exercise Guide and Instructions -
                      Landmine Rotation (4×12)

                      Dryland Training for Swimmers: Part 2 — Volt Blog

                        8. Machine Weight Training Circuit

                        Like compound exercises, a machine circuit workout targets the entire body, upper body, lower body, or core. The difference is, with the use of machines instead of free weights, muscle strength is increased by making your muscles work against weight.[4] By limiting rest periods between exercises to 30 seconds, your metabolism will go into overdrive!

                        Here’s a machine circuit training example for your back and biceps:


                        Cable Row (4×10)

                        This Machine Will Help You Sculpt Your Sexiest Back Ever | Women's Health
                          Cable Hammer Curls (3×10)

                          This Move Will Help You Build Your Strongest Biceps EVER | Women's Health
                            Machine Pullover (3×10)

                            Machines —
                              Lat Pulldown (4×10)

                              Best Lat Pulldown GIFs | Gfycat

                                The Bottom Line

                                The above-mentioned workouts should be completed within 30 minutes, unless you’re taking a class, which is typically 45 to 60 minutes, giving you time to get on with the rest of your day.

                                By keeping your rest periods to a minimum between exercises, your heart rate will stay elevated, and you will burn more calories, get lean, and have more energy with the best cardio for weight loss.

                                Don’t be a gym rat, as spending unnecessary time doing lengthy workouts that give you minimum results. For efficient weight loss, perform these workouts three times a week, and watch the fat melt away while achieving your fitness goals.

                                More Resources About Weight Loss

                                Featured photo credit: Coen van de Broek via


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                                Terri West

                                Certified Fitness Trainer & Nutrition Specialist

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                                Last Updated on October 4, 2021

                                5 Best Exercises for Weight Loss at Home

                                5 Best Exercises for Weight Loss at Home

                                With the lines of work and home becoming increasingly blurry, it’s no wonder why we struggle to find the time to prioritize our health. Particularly with weight loss, it’s often difficult to manage the ever-present constraints around work, children, time to exercise, and the feeling of exhaustion at the end of the day.

                                Taking the effects of stress and the rise of remote work and work-from-home situations, we need to be far more tactical in our weight loss pursuits. Quite often, these exercises for weight loss at home aren’t even fitness-related.

                                Firstly, let’s look at a standard day in the life of a busy professional or parent to really understand the battlefield in which we need to operate.

                                We all have 24 hours in a day to work with. Knowing how we spend that 24 hours is crucial when learning where time will be best spent for our weight loss journey. Setting unrealistic expectations can be a quick way to end up back at square one.

                                • Sleep: 8 hours (parents, if you’re lucky)
                                • Work: 8 hours (sometimes more)
                                • Children: 2 to 4 hours (includes pickups, drop-offs, and play)
                                • Meal Preparation: 1 hour (at a minimum)
                                • Household Activities: 1 to 2 hours (because someone’s got to do it, right?)
                                • Total: 20 to 22 hours

                                Taking into account that switching between tasks takes time and cognitive space, we can start to understand why people just want to sit and scroll through social media at the end of a day. We also haven’t factored in the work commute if you have to report to the office.

                                Just realized you now have minimal time to yourself? This might start to explain why you struggle to gain momentum in your weight loss journey. Let’s work out how to take back the initiative:

                                • Automate – Are there any tasks you can automate? If you’re fortunate enough to be gainfully employed, maybe it’s time to hire a cleaner or have ready-made meals delivered to your door. It doesn’t have to happen every night, but removing the decision of “what’s for dinner?” can be a great way to reduce stress and free up brain space and time.
                                • Optimize – If you’re time-poor with kids, it’s time to optimize your activities. Turn screen time into playtime outdoors, and get them to join in on your activities. If your children are old enough, it might be time to start offering pocket money for chores and meal preparation. This strategy helped me stay fit as a single parent. By getting out and active with my son, I doubled my return on investment by staying fit and enhancing my relationship.
                                • Eliminate – We’re only human. Sometimes, we simply have too much on our plate due to our high expectations. Take a look through your daily tasks and work out what can be removed.

                                Now, go through this exercise yourself. What potential spare time do you have to work with? If the answer is none, you might want to keep reading.


                                Exercise Selection: It’s Not All About the Burn

                                No equipment? No problem.

                                So, we’re finally tracking the elements that matter. It’s time to start leveraging exercise to accelerate our weight loss journey. Alongside focusing on individual exercises that help with weight loss at home or caloric expenditure, we’re going to focus on another method to help keep you consistent and accountable for the long term: interest.

                                Interest has been linked as one of the key motivating factors to maintain consistency towards a goal. By choosing a form of exercise that your body and mind can enjoy, your chances of weight loss success are far greater.

                                Here’re the 5 best exercises for weight loss at home:

                                1. Low-Intensity Interval Training (LIIT)

                                Maybe the body isn’t what it used to be, and intense forms of training simply just aren’t safe anymore. Also considering the body’s response to stress, it might be in our very best interest to choose low-intensity activities that we can repeat daily.

                                Mobility and movement flows have risen in popularity in recent years. This form of exercise focuses on restoring range of motion (ROM), improving stability, and returning people to activity. Some exercise options include:

                                • Quadruped Rocks
                                • Frog Stretch
                                • Hip Prying
                                • Scapula Push-ups
                                • Hindu push-ups

                                Below is a 10minute warm-up flow that shows you how to put all of this together:


                                2. Yoga

                                Yoga is another perfect example of LIIT methodology that can be advanced as your ability improves. Focusing on mobility, stability, and range of movement using only your body weight, it’s a perfect entry-level activity for those that may have lost their way on their weight loss journey.

                                3. Calisthenics

                                Strength training at home can be difficult when you lack equipment or experience. An obvious path to building strength at home is calisthenics. Starting with just the following basic bodyweight movements:

                                You can begin your journey with no equipment and build to quite an advanced level. Here are five movements you can look to master over time are:

                                Depending on your ability, choose movements that allow you to progress safely over time. There is also gymnastics-based training you can move towards if your body is ready for a more demanding form of training.

                                4. Aerobic Exercise

                                Another underrepresented form of exercise, aerobic exercise is often overlooked for its sexier counterparts like strength and HIIT. With the prevalence of obesity nearly tripling between 1975 and 2016 and the major cause in adults being cardiovascular disease, it makes sense to focus on activities that improve cardiovascular or heart health.

                                Another benefit is that it can be as simple as getting your steps in, going for a swim, or going for an easy ride or run. Phil Maffetone pioneered the Maximum Aerobic Function (MAF) Method that almost anyone can adopt regardless of fitness level and experience.[1]

                                Here’s a 30-minute session of aerobic exercises you can try:


                                5. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

                                High-intensity interval training is a great way to elevate the heart rate and get the endorphins flowing. It can also be super time-effective, giving you a great bang for your buck. Try sequencing some of the movements and exercises above together with minimal rest to keep your heart rate elevated. Be sure to select movements that suit your current level of fitness and ability.

                                Here’s a HIIT workout that takes little time and is suited for any level:

                                Chipper 60

                                Complete all reps of every exercise for time. Exercises can be done in any order and repetitions to complete the workout.

                                If you can’t do jump squats, regress to normal squats, and don’t be afraid to change the leg raises to a 60-second plank if you need to. Finish up with some light stretching or foam rolling.

                                What Also Matters: Sleep, Stress, and Stimulants

                                Sleep, stress, and stimulants, also known as the hamster wheel of death. Tracking these elements gives us the power to finally stop relying on our ever-depleted stores of discipline and motivation to get the job done. It will also highlight the self-destructive habits that sabotage your weight loss journey.

                                Simply put, stress affects stimulants, sleep affects stress, and the vicious cycle continues.


                                Are you getting enough sleep? It’s well documented that sleep is an important factor in weight loss and recovery.


                                “Restricted sleep and poor sleep quality may lead to metabolic disorders, weight gain, and an increased risk of obesity and other chronic health conditions.”[2]

                                Start this journey by tracking how much sleep you’re getting. Certain wearables can also track the amount of movement and time you spend awake or in lighter sleep cycles. Getting enough time in REM or deep sleep is critical for weight loss.


                                We don’t need to be fancy. A simple daily measurement out of ten indicates how much stress we think we are under. Using this number, we can observe the effects that sleep, stimulants, and exercise have on our stress levels, allowing us to deploy the right strategy for our weight loss goals.


                                Stimulants can be classified as anything we put in our mouths. Tracking calories, alcohol, and caffeine is a great way to observe, predict, and avoid trends or at-risk periods of overeating and destructive behaviors. Tracking this is aligned with how well we sleep, and our stress response gives us enough information to start forming better weight loss habits.

                                Work to identify the trigger, observe the response, and then look to adjust.

                                Final Thoughts

                                Whether you’re fighting fit or returning to activity, the best exercises for weight loss at home are the ones that you can do day in day out that you enjoy. Think of exercise for weight loss as we do for compound interest. Consistently and regularly making deposits may not show immediately, but with time, they give you the momentum you need to reach your goals.

                                Featured photo credit: Olivia Bauso via



                                [1] PhilMaffetone: Maximum Aerobic Function
                                [2] Why is sleep so important to weight loss?

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