As a former gym owner and personal trainer for 35 years, I’ve helped hundreds of women achieve their fat-burning goals. Over the years, I’ve also seen many women choosing exercises for fat burning that are ineffective at best and dangerous at worst.
This article, which combines my own experience with the latest research on the topic, presents the best cardio and strength training fat-burning exercises for women.
5 Best Cardiovascular Fat Burning Exercises for Women
Cardiovascular, or aerobic exercise, increases your heart rate and improves the efficiency of your heart, lungs, and circulatory system. Cardio is the best form of exercise to burn calories and lose body fat.
Here’s an overview of five of the most popular forms of cardio exercise for fat burning:
Jogging / Running
Jogging involves running at a pace between 4-6 miles per hour, while a speed of more than 6 miles per hour is considered running. They are considered high-impact exercises because of the stress impact on your joints with every step.
Running on grass will reduce joint impact. Treadmill running is also easier on your joints because these machines have built-in cushioning.
Jogging and running can be done on a treadmill or outdoors. Outdoor running will burn slightly more calories because your body must deal with wind resistance and undulating terrain. The running belt on a treadmill also helps with leg turnover, making the exercise slightly easier.
A 140-pound (65 kg) woman will burn 10.8 calories per minute from jogging. Running will increase the calorie expenditure to 13.2 calories per minute. 
Check out our Calories Burned Running Calculator to determine how many calories you can burn in a minute.
Both jogging and running are effective for fat burning. A 2017 study compared the fat-burning effects of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and moderate-intensity training comparable to jogging.
Both groups experienced comparable significant reductions in total fat mass. The findings suggest that lower-intensity and higher-intensity running are effective for fat loss. 
Cycling is another form of cardio popular for its fat-burning benefits. It is a low-impact workout that is gentle on the joints and can be done inside or outside.
Cycling is an enjoyable activity that increases your cardiovascular fitness and burns calories. This is a non-weight-bearing exercise that is easier on your joints than running.
A 140-pound woman will burn approximately 6.4 calories per minute, cycling at a speed of 10 miles per hour. 
Check Out: Calories Burned Cycling Calculator
Walking is the most accessible form of cardio as all able-bodied people can do it, and it doesn’t require any equipment apart from a pair of walking shoes. It’s also a low-impact form of exercise, placing minimal stress on the joints.
A 140-pound woman will burn approximately 7.3 calories per minute when walking at a 3-mile-per-hour pace. 
A 2014 study looked at the calorie-burning effects of moderate-paced walking on obese women. The study participants lost significant amounts of body fat over the 12-week study. The study concluded that adding walking to their lifestyle will help obese women to safely and effectively lose body fat. 
Swimming is a low-impact exercise that is easy on the joints. It’s also a great way to improve cardiovascular fitness.
A 140-pound woman will burn nine calories per minute from swimming. 
Research shows that the type of swimming stroke affects calorie burn. A 2006 study compared the total energy expenditure of four competitive swimming strokes and found that breaststroke consistently resulted in significantly higher energy expenditure at various velocities than backstroke, freestyle, and butterfly. 
Check Out: Calories Burned Swimming Calculator
Rowing is another excellent form of cardio for fat loss. It is a low-impact exercise that is easy on the joints and is a great way to improve cardiovascular fitness.
Unlike most cardio workouts, which are limited to the lower body, rowing also works on the upper body. Specifically, it activates your back muscles (latissimus dorsi), shoulders, and arms.
Rowing is a closed-chain exercise. That means your feet do not come off the platform during the movement, resulting in minimal joint stress.
A 140-pound woman will burn approximately seven calories per minute, rowing moderately. 
Check Out: Calories Burned Rowing Calculator
All of these cardio exercises are effective for fat loss, but it is important to note that the most effective form of fat loss is the one you enjoy the most. That is the one you will most likely stay consistent with. And its consistency, rather than the difference in calorie burn between exercises, is the key to fat-burning success.
Weight-Training For Fat Loss
Weight training is usually associated with training for muscle and strength gains. However, it also supports fat loss.
The more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism will be. That is because muscle tissue is very dense, requiring more energy to maintain it.
So, the more muscle you add to your frame, the more calories you’ll burn, even when you’re not exercising.
Weight training also helps to increase muscle tone and definition, which can help you look leaner. This is because muscle takes up less space than fat, so even if a person does not lose a significant amount of weight, they can still look leaner by adding muscle tissue.
4 Best Weight-Training Fat Burning Exercises for Women
The best weight-training fat-burning exercises for women are compound exercises involving movement through more than one joint and using multiple muscle groups. These exercises will burn the most calories while also supporting muscle building.
The four best weight training exercises for fat burning are:
The squat is a compound exercise that mainly works the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and core. Besides being an effective strength and muscle builder, it also places considerable demand on your heart and lungs. This requires a lot of energy in the form of calories.
Squats also produce an afterburn effect. The high energy demands of squatting deplete oxygen levels. After the workout, your body continues to burn calories at a higher rate as it restores oxygen levels.
- Stand before a loaded barbell in a squat rack with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Position yourself under the bar set at shoulder height.
- Step back and assume a shoulder-wide stance; turn your toes slightly outward.
- Keeping your chest up, push your hips back and lower your body as if sitting in a chair.
- Go down until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor.
- Drive through your heels to return to the start position.
- Repeat for recommended reps.
Best Reps & Sets for Fat Burning
Use a relatively high rep scheme to promote calorie burn. Use a moderate weight and complete four sets of 12-20 reps. Increase the weight on every set and keep your rest between sets to less than a minute.
The deadlift is another compound exercise that is effective for fat burning. This exercise engages the back, glutes, hamstrings, core, and forearms. For these muscle groups to work together requires quite a considerable calorie burn.
Deadlifts also produce the afterburn effect or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). This leads to an increased calorie burn after the workout as your body works to restore oxygen levels and repair muscle tissue.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and the bar on the floor against your shins and over your midfoot.
- Stand tall with your chest out and abs braced.
- Push your hips back to lower the bar, maintaining a neutral spine
- Grab the bar with a shoulder-width mixed grip.
- Looking straight ahead, drive your feet through the floor, squeeze your glutes, and pull the bar up to a standing position.
- Lower and repeat.
Best Reps & Sets for Fat Burning
You should use a relatively high deadlift rep scheme to promote maximum fat burn. I have found that working in the 12-20 rep range works best for my female personal training clients.
I recommend doing four sets, starting with 20 reps and then increasing the weight slightly as you reduce the reps on each succeeding set. As with squats, keep your rest between sets to less than a minute.
The kettlebell swing is another effective weight-training exercise for fat burning. This exercise engages the glutes, hamstrings, shoulders, and core. Besides burning plenty of calories, this exercise increases your heart rate to provide cardiovascular benefits.
The kettlebell swing involves a hip hinge, a fundamental human movement pattern. This helps to improve your functional fitness.
Kettlebell swings work well as part of a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout. HIIT workouts have been shown to optimize the afterburn effect for greater overall calorie burn.
A 2015 study compared the caloric expenditure of different exercises with the same duration when performed in HIIT form compared with steady-state training. High-intensity interval training was found to increase caloric expenditure significantly.
The study concluded that people can burn more calories in a shorter time with HIIT, making it a time-efficient option for those seeking combined resistance and cardiovascular training benefits. 
- Stand with feet hip-width apart and hold a kettlebell in front of your hips with both hands.
- Hinge at the hips and bend your knees slightly to lower your torso while keeping your back straight.
- Explosively extend your hips and straighten your legs, swinging the kettlebell forward and up to chest height.
- Allow the kettlebell to fall back down between your legs, and repeat the movement.
- Keep your core tight throughout the exercise, your back straight, and your gaze forward.
Best Reps & Sets for Fat Burning
I recommend doing kettlebell swings as part of a HIIT workout for the best fat-burning results. Here’s my favorite HIIT kettlebell workout for women’s fat-burning:
- Warm-up: 2 minutes of low-intensity cardio
- Kettlebell Swings: 30 seconds at high-intensity
- Rest: 15 seconds
- Kettlebell Swings: 30 seconds at high-intensity
- Rest: 15 seconds
- Continue until you have completed eight rounds.
Dumbbell thrusters combine a squat with an overhead press, recruiting the upper and lower body. This makes it a full-body exercise that requires quite a lot of energy to perform.
The combination of squatting and pressing movements will quickly elevate your heart rate to provide cardiovascular benefits. It also stimulates a significant metabolic response, so your body burns calories after the workout.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with a dumbbell in each hand, held at shoulder level with your palms in a neutral position.
- Drop into a squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Keep the weight on your shoulders with elbows pointed forward.
- Keep your back neutral, press through your heels, and extend your hips and legs to return to a standing position.
- Perform a shoulder press and lockout the dumbbells overhead.
- Reverse the motion to return to the starting position. Repeat for the required number of reps.
Best Reps & Sets for Fat Burning
For the maximum calorie burn, you should keep your reps within the 12-20 range on this exercise. My female personal training clients have experienced good results with three sets of 20 reps with a 60-second rest between sets.
3 Best Bodyweight Fat Burning Exercises for Women
Compound bodyweight exercises that include an explosive movement are excellent calorie burners. Here are my three favorites:
Burpee push-ups combine a squat, a push-up, and an explosive vertical jump. So, it’s no wonder this old-school favorite churns through the calories while boosting your heart rate.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hands clasped in front of your body.
- Drop down into the high plank position with your hands on the ground at shoulder width and your legs extended behind you.
- Do a standard push-up.
- Jump your feet back towards your hands, landing in the squat position.
- Quickly jump up as high as you can, extending your arms overhead.
- Land softly back in the starting position and repeat steps two to seven.
Jump squats are a powerful lower-body exercise that enhances strength and endurance while incorporating explosive movements. This makes them an effective calorie burner.
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, toes slightly pointed outward, and arms by your sides.
- Hinge at the hips to drop down into a parallel squat position.
- Explode out of the body position to jump directly into the air.
- Land on your toes.
Jumping lunges are a powerful lower-body exercise that enhances strength and endurance while incorporating explosive movements. This contributes to increased calorie burn and improved fat loss.
- Stand with your feet together and arms at your sides.
- Jump your feet apart and bring your arms up overhead. Clap your hands at the top.
- Reverse to return to the start position.
- Perform this exercise with a fast cadence, doing 50 reps.
Understanding Fat Burning
There is probably no other topic on this planet that people find more confusing and frustrating than body fat or, more specifically, how to get rid of it.
We all need a specific amount of energy to function optimally and maintain a healthy weight. If the energy we take in consistently exceeds that amount, the extra is stored as body fat.
If the amount of energy is consistently lower than the required level, body fat will be tapped into to make up the shortfall, and we will lose weight.
This is known as the law of energy balance.
The energy we consume is the critical variable in the law of energy balance. And that is something that each of us has total control over. You are the master of what goes into your mouth, which gives you the power to control your energy balance.
You are also in control of energy expended and can increase the amount of energy expended through exercise.
The Fallacy of Spot Reduction
Walk into any gym, and you will see people pounding out rep after rep of abdominal exercises like crunches or leg raises. This is often done because they think that doing a lot of exercises targeting the abs will help them lose weight in that area of the body.
This is known as “spot fat reduction.” However, spot fat reduction is not possible.
You cannot lose fat from any targeted area of your body, be it your abdominals, thighs, or upper arms. You can only lose fat as a whole-body process. You do not get to choose which part of the body it comes from. That means that while repping out on crunches will strengthen your abs, it will not eliminate the layer of fat covering them.
A 2022 meta-analysis of 13 high-quality studies involving 1,158 participants found that localized muscle training did not result in significant spot reduction of localized fat depots.
The conclusion stated that there is no evidence supporting spot reduction through localized exercise, suggesting that the widespread belief in spot reduction may be fueled by wishful thinking and marketing strategies rather than scientific evidence. 
The best fat-burning exercises for women are those that provide the most incredible calorie burn. This article has described the 12 best cardio, strength training, and bodyweight exercises to do exactly that.
For the best fat-burning results, I recommend performing your chosen cardiovascular exercise thrice a week on alternate days. On two other days, combine the four given strength training moves into a separate workout.
If you don’t have access to a gym, perform the three bodyweight exercises as a workout twice weekly along with your chosen form of cardio.
- Ramirez-Campillo, R., Andrade, D. C., Clemente, F. M., Afonso, J., & et al. (2022). A proposed model to test the hypothesis of exercise-induced localized fat reduction (spot reduction), including a systematic review with meta-analysis. Human Movement, 23(3), 1-14. DOI:10.5114/hm.2022.110373
- Zhang, H., Tong, T. K., Qiu, W., Zhang, X., Zhou, S., Liu, Y., & He, Y. (2017). Comparable Effects of High-Intensity Interval Training and Prolonged Continuous Exercise Training on Abdominal Visceral Fat Reduction in Obese Young Women. Journal of Diabetes Research, 2017, 5071740.
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- Falcone PH, Tai CY, Carson LR, Joy JM, Mosman MM, McCann TR, Crona KP, Kim MP, Moon JR. Caloric expenditure of aerobic, resistance, or combined high-intensity interval training using a hydraulic resistance system in healthy men. J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Mar;29(3):779-85. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000661. PMID: 25162652.