Although you can lose weight by dieting alone, it’s better to combine a healthy diet with exercise. Exercise speeds up weight loss and maintains muscle mass – dieting on its own can lead to unwanted loss of muscle. Working out at home is a popular choice because it’s free, time efficient and flexible. So what are the best home workouts for weight loss?
Low intensity cardio, high intensity cardio or strength?
This is something fitness professionals don’t all agree on. Low intensity cardio was very popular in the 90s and, as happens with everything, has gone out of fashion now. But there’s still a strong case for it being the best exercise for beginners. High intensity workouts have enjoyed a lot of popularity over the past few years, although the craze is starting to cool. Some also argue that strength training is best for weight loss. Here are the pros and cons of each:
High intensity training for weight loss
The high intensity short workout craze has been with us for a few years now. Several research studies have shown that short high intensity intervals are as effective for cardio fitness as much longer low intensity workouts. Some have also investigated the effect on weight loss. These studies found that exercisers on a HIT program also lose as much body fat as those doing low intensity. However, there are two main problems with high intensity short workouts for weight loss.
1. The system is completely unsuitable for those who are unfit
High intensity workouts need you to work at maximum capacity. This is not something that people who are unfit can easily do. It requires good movement control, high levels of mental focus and an understanding of how far you can push your body, All these things gradually come with regular exercise. It’s not suitable for overweight exercisers and has a high risk of injury for unfit participants.
2. Working out at high intensity requires thorough warm up
Suggesting high intensity workouts of 10 or 15 minutes is irresponsible, because there should be a warm-up at least this long before even beginning high intensity. Every qualified exercise instructor has learned about the importance of preparing the body for exercise. When instructors recommend high intensity with no warm-up, they are ignoring fundamental principles that they learned. Read more about warm-ups.
2. Low intensity for weight loss
In the 90s the concept of the “fat burning zone” was popular. The idea of this is that if you keep your heart-beat below a certain level, your body will use fat as its main source of energy. This makes sense in theory. Carbohydrates, protein and fat can all provide energy for exercise. The energy source the body uses depends on the intensity of the exercise. In low intensity (or aerobic) exercise, plenty of oxygen is available. This means that fat can be used as an energy source. At high intensity (or anaerobic) exercise, the heart can’t deliver enough oxygen to the muscles for fat to be used.
Although working within the “fat burning zone” makes sense in theory, as mentioned above, research shows that higher intensity exercise over shorter periods can result in equivalent fat loss. This is not currently properly understood.
From a safety point of view, low intensity is better for overweight. But the problem is time commitment. In order to burn significant amounts of excess fat, you need to do a lot of hours of low intensity exercise.
Strength training for weight loss
Strength training works best for shaping the body, but what about fat burning? Like high intensity work, strength training is anaerobic, which means it can’t use fat as a source of energy. There are however wo arguments in favour of using strength training for weight loss.
1. Increased BMR
Muscle burns calories just being muscle. So if you grow your muscles, your basal metabolic rate increases. However, you would have to do some serious strength training for this to make a noticeable difference to your body’s calorie needs. Most women aren’t keen on the idea of developing their muscles to this extent.
2. Muscle rebuilding
During strength training, micro damage occurs to the muscles. Over the next 48 hours the body repairs this, making the muscles stronger. Protein from our diets is used as the raw material for the rebuilding, but the process of rebuilding uses energy which can come from fat.
So, strength training maybe can be quite effective for weight loss, but it has to be at a high enough intensity.
Conclusion: what are the best home workouts for weight loss?
Low intensity aerobic workouts are a good way to start. Examples of suitable home workouts include:
- Dance-style aerobic workouts
- Cardio circuits
- Rope skipping
- Step workouts
(Note: running and rope skipping may not be suitable if you have been inactive for several months or more, are very overweight or have joint problems).
Strength training will help to define your body and prevent muscle loss from dieting, but would need to be at high intensity to make a significant difference to weight loss. High intensity cardio training should be avoided until you have a reasonable level of fitness.