Rule #1: Don't do just straight cardio.
Photo: skynesher / Getty Images
If you want to lose weight, there are two questions that immediately come to mind: What should I eat? and What should my workouts look like? For those who are the "diet starts on Monday" type, figuring out the fitness part of the weight-loss equation might seem like a good place to start. Deciding on the best plan of attack is easier said than done, though, since even fitness experts aren't unanimous on how to lay out the perfect week of workouts. But there are some general guidelines that can help if you're trying to piece together your own program.
First things first: Even if you are working out to lose weight, you still want to include some weight training instead of going overboard on cardio. "When you get done with weight training, your metabolism is up for up to 24 hours afterward, which is great for losing weight," says Erin Oprea, trainer to Carrie Underwood and Kelsea Ballerini and author of The 4x4 Diet. (BTW, Oprea is referring to what's called the afterburn effect.) "But when you do cardio, it doesn't stay up as long."
The Cardio-Heavy Weight Loss Workout Plan
Oprea suggests mixing the two if you're trying to lose weight. For example, she might recommend a week with two days of full-body strength workouts, four days of cardio, and an active recovery day. On top of that, she stresses staying active outside of your workouts by getting in at least 10,000 steps a day, every day. During your full-body strength sessions, reach for the heaviest weight with which you can complete 12 to 15 reps without sacrificing form, she says.
Similarly, Autumn Calabrese, Beachbody trainer and creator of 21 Day Fix, suggests a mix of cardio and weight training for anyone trying to lose weight. "I love to use cardio strength training when the goal is weight loss, meaning you're using your weight training routine to build muscle but you're moving in a way, and you're lining your reps up in a way to allow your heart rate to stay up," she says. That way you're burning max calories while building strength—win-win.
The Total-Body Strengthening Weight Loss Workout Plan
A sample weight-loss routine from Calabrese includes full-body strength on Monday and Friday, cardio and abs on Tuesday and Saturday, legs and butt on Wednesday, and rest or active recovery on Sunday. (You might also be interested in Calabrese's body-toning dumbbell exercises.)
When it comes to deciding on your workout length, quality is more important than the duration. "You could have an hour-long routine, but you could also accomplish the same amount for 30 minutes if you have less rest time in between and you're really pushing to your max in between so you're developing those muscles out faster," says Calabrese. Oprea echoes this sentiment: "Everyone has this hour in their head, but realistically most people don't have that kind of time. So I say fit in as much as you can. If you have an hour, do an hour. Otherwise, just do a good 30-minute workout, but then still move the rest of the day." (Related: Natural Weight-Loss Tips to Help You Hit Your Goals Safely)
The beauty of creating your own plan is that you can cherry-pick the workouts you find fun, which will make you more likely to stay on track. (Exhibit A: This #GoalCrusher who lost 40 pounds after taking up hula hooping.) "A lot of the time people get bored and they stop," says Oprea. "So, find something that you can change regularly and that you love." Whether you're penciling classes or creating a gym routine plan, make sure you're choosing workouts you'll actually want to follow through with.