The Science of Shedding Pounds: 3 Characteristics of Successful Weight Loss Workouts

Cathe Friedrich in strength training her STS 2.0 Super Sets workout which is also a great weight loss workout

Exercise is an essential part of any weight-loss program. Not only does it burn calories, but it changes your physique, so you lose body fat rather than muscle. With a well-structured exercise program, you may even gain muscle while losing weight. Yet certain approaches to working out are more effective than others for reaching your weight-loss goals. Let’s look at the key characteristics of workouts that lead to weight loss.

Working Large Muscle Groups for Effective Weight Loss

Any workout that causes you to sweat is a benefit, but if you want to lose weight, focus on large muscle groups. Working large muscles burns more calories than smaller muscles, meaning you’ll be able to torch more fat during your workout.

Exercises to emphasize include squats and lunges for your glutes and thighs, push-ups and bench presses for your chest and triceps, and pull-ups and rows for your back and biceps. By incorporating these exercises into your routine, you’ll build muscle and boost your metabolism, ultimately leading to weight loss. And don’t forget to mix things up! Variety is key to keeping yourself motivated and preventing boredom.

Working large muscle groups burns more calories and is most effective for accelerating fat loss. Plus, it builds lean muscle mass, which subtly boosts resting metabolic rate. This method burns more calories when you’re exercising AND when you’re not. The more lean muscle you have, the more calories you will burn at rest.

Additionally, exercises that use large muscles boost the release of hormones such as testosterone and growth hormones, which can help increase muscle mass and burn fat. Examples of strength-training exercises that work large muscle groups include squats, lunges, push-ups, and deadlifts. Plus, plyometric workouts, running, and high-intensity interval training work large muscle groups and are major calorie burners.

Weight training reshapes metabolisms and waistlines by boosting energy expenditure and fat burning for hours after you do it. Aerobic exercise burns calories but strength training that focuses on large muscle groups improves body composition (by increasing metabolically active muscle mass). Don’t skimp on the latter!

Higher Intensity Workouts for Maximum Fat Burning

High-intensity workouts (HIIT) are calorie scorchers and fat burners. HIIT workouts include short bursts of intense exercise followed by periods of rest. High-intensity workouts are typically short, yet intense. They often use all major muscle groups, resulting in a comprehensive full-body workout.

One of the benefits of high-intensity exercise is the afterburn effect, also known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). This is the additional energy your body uses after a workout to return your body to its pre-exercise state. During exercise, oxygen consumption increases, and your metabolism speeds up. This increase in metabolism and the additional calories you burn is sustained for hours after a  workout is over.

While the exact number of additional calories burned with the afterburn effect is difficult to measure, research shows it ranges from 3-15%, depending on the intensity of the exercise. The more intense the workout and the longer the duration, the greater the afterburn and the more calories you expend even after your sweat session is over.

Not only does HIIT burn more calories than low to moderate-intensity workouts, but they also increase muscle mass over time, which leads to higher metabolism. In addition, high-intensity workouts improve cardiovascular health, as they require more oxygen to sustain the increased effort. Overall, high-intensity workouts are the most effective way to lose weight but also build a strong and healthy body.

Simultaneously Engaging Multiple Muscle Groups for Enhanced Calorie Burn

The more muscles you use, the more calories you burn. As mentioned, using large muscle groups, like those in your lower body, burn more calories than exercise that uses the smaller muscles in your upper body, like your triceps and biceps. But if you can work multiple muscle groups simultaneously, you’ll maximize the calorie burn.

For example, jumping jacks or kickboxing, where you use upper- and lower-body muscles simultaneously, burn more calories per minute than jogging in place, where you only use your lower body. Likewise, exercises like squats, push-ups, and deadlifts that work multiple muscle groups simultaneously are better calorie burners than isolation exercises, such as biceps curls and leg presses, where you work a single muscle group in isolation.

The Importance of Combining Nutrition and Exercise for Long-Term Results

As you can see, workouts that lead to weight loss have three key characteristics:

  • They work large muscles.
  • They’re higher intensity.
  • They work multiple muscle groups simultaneously.

But don’t forget about the role nutrition plays in weight loss and weight control. Nutritionists and sports trainers say weight loss is 80% what you eat and 20% how you exercise.

But do you need both? Exercise improves your body composition and is important for maintaining the weight you lose. Maintaining a healthy weight is a crucial component of overall health and well-being.

Nutrition is the foundation for any successful weight-loss program, as it determines the quantity and quality of the calories consumed. Eating a balanced diet of fresh, unprocessed ingredients will provide the energy and nutrients your body needs to feel satiated while providing the right balance of macronutrients to keep your metabolism running efficiently.

Exercise, on the other hand, helps burn fat and build muscle while providing additional health benefits. Ultimately, both nutrition and exercise are necessary for health, fat loss, and weight control.  Combining these elements can help you achieve your fitness goals and maintain a healthy weight.


  • “Exercise for weight loss: Calories burned in 1 hour – Mayo Clinic.” 07 Dec. 2021, .mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/exercise/art-20050999.
  • Jakicic JM, Marcus BH, Gallagher KI, Napolitano M, Lang W. Effect of exercise duration and intensity on weight loss in overweight, sedentary women: a randomized trial. JAMA. 2003 Sep 10;290(10):1323-30. doi: 10.1001/jama.290.10.1323. PMID: 12966123.
  • Bellicha A, van Baak MA, Battista F, Beaulieu K, Blundell JE, Busetto L, Carraça EV, Dicker D, Encantado J, Ermolao A, Farpour-Lambert N, Pramono A, Woodward E, Oppert JM. Effect of exercise training on weight loss, body composition changes, and weight maintenance in adults with overweight or obesity: An overview of 12 systematic reviews and 149 studies. Obes Rev. 2021 Jul;22 Suppl 4(Suppl 4):e13256. doi: 10.1111/obr.13256. Epub 2021 May 6. PMID: 33955140; PMCID: PMC8365736.

Related Articles By Cathe:

Is More Exercise Better for Weight Loss?

6 Surefire Ways to Reduce the Benefits of Exercise

Is Cardiovascular Exercise Really Effective for Weight Loss?

Hi, I'm Cathe

I want to help you get in the best shape of your life and stay healthy with my workout videos, DVDs and Free Weekly Newsletter. Here are several ways you can watch and work out to my exercise videos and purchase my fitness products:

Get Your Free Weekly Cathe Friedrich Newsletter

Get free weekly tips on Fitness, Health, Weight Loss and Nutrition delivered directly to your email inbox. Plus get Special Cathe Product Offers and learn about What’s New at Cathe Dot Com.

Enter your email address below to start receiving my free weekly updates. Don’t worry…I guarantee 100% privacy. Your information will not be shared and you can easily unsubscribe whenever you like. Our Privacy Policy