3 essential exercises for every weight loss training plan

We all want that one magic product or all-conquering exercise that will deliver instant weight loss results.

Sadly, there are no magic moves, powders, pill or exercise aids that have the power to incinerate calories in just three minutes a day, especially if your diet isn’t right… so don’t believe the hype.

There are, however, a handful of exercises that deliver better results than others.

This means that if they’re not part of your fat-loss and weight-loss repertoire then you’re missing out on the potential to boost the effectiveness of your training.

To help you get the most from your time in the gym, here are fitness magazine’s top three essential exercises for optimal weight loss.

#1. The squat

When it comes to weight-based exercise there is one movement that stands head and shoulders above all the others for its ability to burn calories, build shapely muscle, improve strength, and enhance mobility, and that’s the squat.

Why is works

The squat is a fundamental movement that is essential to everything we do in life. If you sit down in a chair and get up again, you’ve performed a squat.

In a nutshell, the squat includes the basic ability to raise and lower your centre of mass. Couple that with its ability to boost strength and flexibility and you have an incredibly functional and intense movement.

The benefits of squatting are manifold:

  • It helps increase bone density,
  • It strengthens core muscles,
  • It allows you to move large loads quickly which has a massive metabolic effect,
  • It prompts a strong neuroendocrine response that releases powerful hormones essential to muscle growth, enhanced strength and accelerated fat loss. This is where squatting delivers its greatest fat-burning effect.

Safe progression

For those who may not be acquainted with the squat rack just yet there are few important guidelines to follow before adding this exercise to your programme.

  1. Learn proper technique.
  2. Make sure you can perform a proper body weight squat before executing it under load.
  3. Master the back squat first.

Start by perfecting the body-weight squat. Make sure you keep your knees from buckling and use your hips to develop the necessary power to stand back up. Train your midsection and spinal stabilisers to maintain an upright posture throughout the movement.

It is also important to note that hip and ankle flexibility are important for the safe and proper execution of this movement. It may therefore be necessary to improve mobility in these areas before engaging in any form of squatting.

#2. The kettlebell swing

Kettlebells, work all muscles together, and no exercise does so as effectively as the kettlebell swing.

Why it works

The kettlebell swing is a highly effective exercise for anyone who wants to achieve functional strength and fitness as the movement teaches you to generate power from the core outward, generating force from the hips, legs, back and core stabilisers. It also works to improve mobility, and delivers a full-body workout.

More importantly, it has the potential to significantly boost calorie expenditure. Research conducted by scientists at the University of Wisconsin, and funded by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), found that the kettlebell’s ability to burn calories is “off the charts”.

After only a 20-minute kettlebell workout research subjects burned an average of 272 calories. Researchers stated this was “equivalent to running a 6-minute mile (1.6km) pace”.

And, in another ACE study, researchers determined that participants were burning at least 20.2 calories per minute, which works out to a staggering 1,200 calories per hour. This makes it one of the most effective exercises, minute for minute, when it comes to burning calories. This response was attributed to the fact that kettlebell training incorporates multiple muscle groups in every exercise.

The kettlebell basics

The kettlebell, also known as a girya, is a cast iron weight that looks like a cannonball with a handle. This unique design means that the kettlebell functions differently than a standard dumbbell, as it’s centre of mass is extended beyond the hand, which enabling users to swing it.

This activates more muscle groups as they are incorporated into each movement to assist in stabilisation and control. Core muscles are also activated to ensure stability. Different sized kettlebells are available, ranging from 2.2kg to 48kg.


The last exercise that we’re confident in suggesting will deliver the fat-loss results you’re after is running, in all its various forms. That’s because it is the one movement the human body was specifically designed to do.

Why it works

Running is the most effective way to improve general fitness, including your heart and lung function. It reduces stress, improves your mood, and can make you more efficient at almost everything you do.

It is also one of the most efficient and effective forms of cardiovascular exercise there is in terms of calories burnt per hour.

Running at an average pace of just under 5min/km can burn up to 900 calories in one hour, depending on your weight, the type of route you are running and other environmental factors. When it is performed at the right intensity, for the right duration, and in ideal conditions, it also has the power to incinerate body fat.

Getting started

Before you head out on the road there are a few basic guidelines to consider. Firstly, running is a high impact sport. This means that anyone with an existing injury or a predisposition to joint problems should seek medical advice and help before taking up the sport.

Secondly, many people take up running as a means to deal with their sedentary, inactive lifestyle, which has probably also resulted in any number of lifestyle diseases. It is therefore advisable that you visit your GP for a general check up. Tell your GP that you intend to start running and would like to get the all-clear before you get going.

Your next stop should be to a biokineticist or physiotherapist to identify any postural issues, muscle imbalances or immobile joint structures or pelvic dysfunction – all common conditions in modern humans who spend up to 10 hour sitting each day. They can address these issues directly and can also advise on a suitable prehabilitation programme to reduce your risk of injury.

Adequate and cautious progression is also vitally important to limit the likelihood of injury, particularly if you are overweight. It is best to start with walking, either indoors on a treadmill or outside, and then slowly progress in terms of the distance you can cover comfortably. Once you reach a specific milestone, such as walking 5km without stopping, then you can start to work on increasing your walking speed in a progressive manner. Eventually you can start to intersperse brisk walking intervals with short bursts of jogging. Then you can start to increase your running intervals, until you’re eventually able to cover the full distance without any walks. From there you’re ready to start your journey to longer, more challenging runs.

Author: Pedro van Gaalen

When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

When he's not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He's worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *