Conventional wisdom in a fat-burning program is that plenty of long, slow cardio sessions combined with strength training and moderate muscle gain gives the best results. There’s nothing wrong with that program, and it does work; it just doesn’t work very quickly, and not everyone has time for 45 to 60-minute cardio sessions multiple times per week.
If you’re too pressed for time to dedicate half of your week to the gym, there’s good news – high-intensity training at brief intervals has been shown to not only burn more calories in less time than conventional workout activities, but also burn more fat during the recovery cycle! It also has the benefit of being an excellent workout for heart health.
The key word here, however, is “intensity.” You’re doing short exercises, but you’re going all out while doing them. You’re also looking for compound movements – exercises that engage more than one joint in their motions and work multiple muscle groups simultaneously. If you’re prepared to kick it up a notch, here are 10 proven fat burning exercises to consider working into your routine.
Squats are the king of all exercises. No program should be without them. Squats primarily engage the major leg muscle groups, but their intensity also has overall benefit in fat burning as they quickly push the body into the anaerobic state. They will also tone your butt and abs in addition to working your legs.
The key to squats is doing them properly; it’s easy to do them wrong, and when done wrong they can wear down and damage joints. At the very least, watch several videos of certified fitness professionals performing them to make sure you have the form correct, and practice in front of a full-length mirror. Correct form will have your feet shoulder-width apart and your butt sticking out as you begin, and driving through your heels with the knees pointed slightly out and without lifting any part of your foot off the ground as you come back up. If you’re feeling uncomfortable or like joints are being strained, consider a session with a personal trainer to ensure you learn the correct form.
Squats don’t require any equipment, but you can add weight to your shoulders (using a squat rack for safety) for exceptionally efficient full-body muscle building. If you’re just starting out with squats, however, do air squats for several weeks to ensure you have the form perfect before attempting to add any weight. Since they are so intense, it is also best to limit squats to 1x to 2x per week.
2. Mountain Climbers
Mountain Climbers are another activity that work most of the body’s major muscle groups while also providing cardiovascular benefit. And they don’t require any equipment either! Mountain Climbers also increase in intensity the higher your body weight is. They burn roughly one to two calories, depending upon your weight. That may not sound like much, but each one also only takes one to two seconds. Three sets of 20 with minimal rest in between can be accomplished in under two minutes, burning 60 or more calories in that time! By comparison, typical cardio would take closer to 10 minutes to provide that much of a calorie burn.
Burpees are another full-body exercise that also provide cardio benefit and require no equipment whatsoever. The focus is on the legs, but you’ll feel it in your arms, chest and abs as well. Burpees are performed like a squat thrust, but with a powerful leap at the end that really increases the fat-burning potential of the activity. Burpees are another activity whose intensity is upped by your body weight, and hover around the 10 calories per minute mark.
The humble pushup is actually an excellent strength-building exercise when done consistently. They quickly build core and upper body muscle, which will burn more fat over time maintaining itself. If you find that pushups strain your wrists or forearms, try investing in the pushup bars that look like curved bicycle handles. Try mixing them up in rapid succession with squats, alternating back and forth between the two without resting in between for a serious fat blaster.
5. Kettlebell Swings
A kettlebell is a fairly inexpensive yet versatile piece of workout equipment. Kettlebell swings are probably the best overall exercise you can do with them; they’re an intense combination of core, upper body and cardiovascular workout. If you go shopping for a kettlebell, be sure to find one with a wide enough handle for you, as well as one that won’t rough up your hands during intense motions. You aren’t likely to stick with the routine if your palms are getting ground up and cut! When done at a high intensity, kettlebell swings can burn a whopping 200 calories in 10 minutes.
6. Jump Rope, Jumping Jacks, or just Jump
Don’t underestimate the power of simple, sustained jumping as a high-intensity exercise. Like the other exercises here, they increase in intensity with your body weight, and have the potential to burn 80 to 150 calories per ten minutes. Jumping jacks are also great for jumpstarting the body into anaerobic mode in only a minute. Consider opening your routine with them before immediately moving to an intense muscle-building exercise.
Planks might just be the ultimate exercise for your core, but they also engage other muscle groups throughout the body, increasing their fat-burning potential. Planks don’t look like much when you see a fitness guru doing them in a video, but try one for yourself and you’ll soon see how challenging it is to stabilize (and why they’re so great for the core.)
Running isn’t a bad idea in a high-intensity workout if you do it really, really fast. Take a trip back to the high school athletic field and try “suicides” once or twice a week. Suicides burn about 10 calories per minute, but you’ll also see a major metabolic spike and increased weight loss during the recovery period from them.
9. Bicycle Crunches
The bicycle crunch might be the ultimate abs exercise. You get into a crunch position, but instead of pulling yourself forward and potentially straining your back, you perform a motion similar to pedalling a bicycle. Bicycle crunches particularly work the obliques, the side abdominal muscles that traditional sit-ups don’t engage very well.
10. Roman Chair (Wall Sit)
The wall sit makes for a good contrast to mix in with the other explosive compound exercises listed here. It primarily engages the quadriceps, as you sit with your back against the wall and hold position with your knees at right angles. Though skiers and hockey players swear by it, the strain it potentially puts on the knee joint is a matter of contention among fitness experts, so you may want to leave this one out if you have existing knee problems.
The downside of these exercises is that they require a higher level of commitment and self-discipline to stick with due to their intensity; it’s a lot harder to make yourself do burpees, planks and sprints multiple times a week than it is to walk or sit on a bike. If you can hack it, though, the potential rewards are fantastic. These high-intensity exercises can be mixed into a circuit to suit your needs, and in 1/5 of the time of a traditional workout you can experience an equal or greater amount of fat loss.