Whenever I talk to beginner exercises or people who are coming back after a long break and want to lose weight, they say to me, “I’m just going to start with cardio and once I lose weight I’ll begin strength training.”  I totally understand that the idea of doing it all at once can be overwhelming, but strength training is not only a huge part of losing weight and feeling healthy—it’s the KEY. Best of all, it’s easier than you might think, and often requires just your own bodyweight.

4 Strength Training Exercises for Weight Loss

Don’t get me wrong … I’m a huge fan of cardio! I love the way it makes me feel and I love the satisfaction of seeing how many calories I’ve burned, how many steps I’ve taken and what zone I’ve been training in. But when it comes to long-term weight loss and definition: STRENGTH TRAINING RULES! Muscle is more metabolically active than body fat.  In other words, muscle burns more calories per day at a resting heart rate than body fat. Thus, the more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns daily.

In addition, muscle is more compact (dense) than body fat, and helps to give your body that sculpted, toned look.No matter what your goals are, strength training is an important component of your exercise program, and it’s never too late to start. First things first: utilize your own bodyweight! These four strength training exercises are some of the most effective bodyweight moves around and require ZERO equipment. They’ll help you build muscle, lose weight, and feel better than ever. Here they are:

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# 1: Push-Ups

Why you should do ‘em: Push-ups are one of the best bodyweight exercises ever invented, they require zero equipment, build strength in all of the right places, have many variations to keep things fresh, and are easy to modify and track progress. You can burn calories working multiple muscle groups and shape your body at the same time.

How to do a push up: When it comes to push-ups, your form is crucial. Each push-up needs to be a full range of motion. If you only go half way down or push your butt up in the air for several reps, you shouldn’t count them. Sounds harsh? Well, cheating never gets you ahead. Here’s how to do a proper push-up:

Set your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, hands facing forward.

Set your feet directly behind you at a comfortable position (together or slightly separated). The further apart your feet are, the more stable you will be until you are able to build your balance up enough to put your feet together.

Make your body into on straight line from the top of your head down through your heels. Your butt should stay in line with your legs and back, never up in the air. Your abs engaged and your shoulders over your wrists. (Basically a full body plank position.) Keep your neck neutral, don’t drop your head or crank it back.

With your arms straight, glutes and abs contracted, slowly lower your body until your chest touches the ground, or arms are at approx. a 90-degree angle, and push yourself back into your starting position. Try to keep your core body steady. Don’t sag through the low back or push your butt way up in the air.

#2: Squats

Why you should do ’em: Be proud of your buns! When women ask me the best way to firm their butts and tone their legs… I tell them to: Get their Squats On! You need those glute muscles to do lots of everyday activities. Squats also improve the mobility in your hips, legs and upper back. And as you get older, the strength and stability you develop from squats can help you out of a chair, reach for something on the floor, or simply prevent injury.

A fitness trainer doing squats

Squat Form

Drop and squat. Take an athletic, wide stance, point your toes outward slightly and sit back. Your butt should protrude out like you are sitting down in an invisible chair. Stay steady and strong as you squat deeper and try to keep your heels on the ground. The wider you put your feet the more it works your glutes and hamstrings (the back of your legs) and the easier it will be for you to stay stable. If your feet are a little closer, you will work your quadriceps a little more intensely (the front part of your thighs).

Make sure your knees track over your toes. Don’t let your knees cave in to the center, engage your inner thighs and quads.

Keep your chest lifted, shoulders down, abs tight. Make sure your spine is in proper alignment. Make sure you aren’t arching your back or scrunching your shoulders up around your neck. Pull your belly to your spine and contract your abs.

Don’t round your neck. Look straight ahead or find a point of focus in line with your eyes. You don’t want to round your neck or look down at the ground.

Get deep. Depending on your hip flexibility, you may be able to squat pretty low – try for quads parallel with the floor.   If your flexibility isn’t yet to that level, that’s okay. Just remember that flexibility is something you can work on to improve. Aim for parallel which will deeply engage your thighs, hips and glutes.

#3: Lunges

Why you should do ’em: You can lunge anytime, anywhere! They firm up your backside, give you a shapelier bottom (who doesn’t want that?) and they also strengthen your glutes, hamstrings, quads and calves. The lunge is also a great conditioning exercise for many sports and activities. Get ready to see the results in your bottom half.

How to do a basic forward lunge: With your chest lifted, chin up and abs contracted take a big step forward with your left foot.  Sink straight down so your front left knee tracks over the top of your shoe and your back right  knee points down toward the floor.  You are on your back right toe.  Push back to the starting position. Repeat on the right leg. Keep alternating. A good place to start is with 10-12 lunges on each leg and work your way up to 3 sets.

Keep your knees aligned, front knee over your shoe and back knee pointing down.

Watch yourself lunge with a side view mirror.  Make sure you aren’t leaning too far forward or back or rounding your spine.

Keep your knees, hips and shoulders all facing in same direction, forward.

Think about how you are distributing your body weight.  Don’t force your weight into your kneecaps but rather use them as a hinge. Engage your quads, hamstrings and glutes.

#4: Full Body Roll Ups

Why you should do ’em: I call the Full Body Roll Up the mother of mat Pilates exercises. It has been said that one Pilates Full Body Roll Up is equal to six sit-ups and way more effective than a bunch of mindless crunches.

Lie flat on your back with your arms extended overhead.

FullBodyOne

Full Body Roll Up

Inhale arms to the sky, exhale and slowly roll up into a “C” curve reaching for your toes. (Think about threading your belly button to your spine, and activate your transverse abdominus.)

Full Body Roll Up

Full Body Roll Up

Inhale and start to slowly go back in a C curve.

Full Body Roll Up

Full Body Roll Up

Exhale as you uncurl your body one vertebra at a time back into the mat.

Full Body Roll Up

Full Body Roll Up

The key is to keep your feet on the ground. Use your abs and back to gracefully articulate down to the mat and avoid using your hip flexors and glutes. If you have trouble keeping your feet on the ground, have someone hold your feet or use a resistance band around your feet and hold the handles in your hand. Or bend your knees as you come up. It’s always okay to modify!

Start with three to five and see if you can add a couple more each day.

Watch me demonstrate these four must-do exercises for weight loss in the quick video below!

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