Starting a fitness routine can be overwhelming. Every studio, exercise class, and personal trainer out there promises you’ll see results. But when it comes to finding the best fat-burning workouts, not every fitness class or professional is going to deliver.
A fat-burning training program is more complex than the wellness industry leads you to believe. You need a combination of strength, cardio, and interval training — and while many fitness programs offer one of the above, few utilize all three.
Below, you’ll learn how to build a fat-burning workout, six fat-burning exercises to work into your routine, and why “burning fat” isn’t just done at the gym.
If you’re looking to encourage fat loss while preserving lean muscle mass, your workouts may look different than others next to you at the gym.
The best fat-burning workouts strike a balance among these three things[*]:
- Heavy weights and light volume (5-6 reps per set): To make you stronger and burn fat
- High volume and lighter weights (8-12 reps per set): To build your muscles
- High-intensity interval training (HIIT): To add cardio and burn fat
Using all three tactics allows you to challenge your body in three different ways.
For example, heavy lifting (as noted in item #1) taxes the body differently than high-volume hypertrophy/muscle building (item #2). In addition, doing plenty of cardio within a HIIT workout (item #3) may encourage weight loss, but it’s best to combine it with resistance training to prevent muscle atrophy, or a loss of muscle mass[*][*].
In other words, you’ll see results from any one of these tactics. But to see the most results — in the least amount of time — it’s best to work all three into your training program.
Here’s how these items work together within fat-burning workouts:
- Adding resistance training will help increase strength gains and preserve lean muscle mass, which helps you burn more calories, even at a resting state[*].
- Aerobic exercises (or cardio movements) will help you burn fat, particularly visceral fat around your abdomen.
- Cardio can also help you lose abdominal fat[*].
If you want to burn fat through exercise, you should consult a personal trainer to design a customized training program for your body and your goals. That said, there are plenty of exercises you can tackle on your own, which hit all three cornerstones of a fat-burning workout in one movement.
Burpees are a popular exercise among personal trainers, spiking the heart rates (and raising the eyebrows) of their clients. This bodyweight move earns quite a bit of attention because it’s a cardio exercise targeting your entire body. Combining a squat, push-up, and vertical jump all in one movement, it’s certainly a favorite within HIIT circuits.
Do it yourself:
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Lower into a standing squat, then place your palms firmly on the floor in front of you.
Kick back into a tall plank position, then lower into a push-up.
Kick your feet back in, explode into a vertical jump, and land softly with bent knees in your original squat position.
2. Walking Lunge
There are numerous lunge variations, each with unique benefits. A curtsy lunge will fire your glutes, a static lunge will burn out your quads (known as time under tension)[*], and a jumping lunge will get your heart rate moving.
A walking lunge combines strength, cardio, and balance into a single movement. You must fire your core to keep your balance, hold a pair of dumbbells to add resistance, and walk a given distance to add light cardio to the exercise.
Do it yourself:
Grab a pair of moderately heavy dumbbells, between 20-40 pounds.
Stand up straight, tucking in your pelvis with your core engaged.
Take a step forward with your right leg, lowering so your right quad is parallel with the ground and your left knee hovers a few inches above the floor.
Squeeze your right glute and push your right heel into the earth, pushing yourself back into a standing position. Repeat on your left leg.
Do 15 lunges total, rest for 10 seconds, then return to your starting line.
3. Kettlebell Swings
When you think of barbell movements — like heavy squats, deadlifts, or bench presses — you probably picture slow, controlled exercises with a goal of increasing muscle gains.
Kettlebell swings could not be more different. They are both an anaerobic (strength and power) and aerobic exercise, eliciting a “vigorous cardiovascular response” when used in interval training[*]. Don’t believe it? Just try doing three sets of 20 reps, and see how winded you really get.
Do it yourself:
Grab a moderate to heavy kettlebell, or roughly 16-20 kilograms (35-44 pounds), and place it on the ground roughly 6-12 inches in front of you.
Grip the top of the kettlebell, roll your shoulders back and down, squeeze your core, and “swing” the kettlebell back between your legs. (Mental tip: Imagine a football player spiking the ball to the quarterback.)
When the kettlebell swings back to its furthest point, squeeze your hamstrings and glutes to send the kettlebell out.
At the furthest point, your arms should be extended in front of you parallel to the ground, with your elbows slightly bent.
Before you think, “I can’t do a pull-up,” pause for one moment. Pull-ups are certainly a difficult movement that challenges your core, lats, chest, and back muscles, and many people struggle doing a single rep.
And frankly, if you’re looking to burn fat, one rep isn’t going to cut it (pun intended). So, use tools instead — such as a resistance band or TRX — to make the move more accessible.
Do it yourself:
To do an assisted pull-up, hang a TRX so that the handles are roughly 3-4 feet off the ground. (While seated, you should be able to just grip the handles with your arms fully extended above your head.)
Sit your rear directly beneath the TRX, with your legs extended out in front of you.
Then, while engaging your lats and core, pull yourself up and off the ground, until your hands (and the TRX handles) are positioned just underneath your armpits.
If you need less resistance, bring your feet in toward your glutes.
5. Battle Ropes
When it comes to the best fat-burning exercises for your lower body, you have more than enough options to choose from (case in point: the previous four moves).
But what about your upper body? Battle rope moves are some of the best fat-burning workouts to spike your heart rate while working your biceps and triceps.
Do it yourself:
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding one rope in each hand.
In a slight squat position, engage your core and raise your right arm into a curl.
Lower your right arm while you curl your left, then speed up on the movement.
Continue alternating arms at high speed for roughly 45 seconds.
6. Mountain Climbers
Many people hope for a defined core, yet many abdominal exercises consist of static holds. As you’ve already learned, for an exercise to burn body fat, it should aim to build muscle while elevating your heart rate.
So, while abdominal moves like boat pose and planks are great, they may not be the best exercises for burning belly fat.
Do it yourself:
Find a high plank position, with your palms directly underneath your shoulders.
Squeeze your abdominals, and bring your right knee in toward your chest.
Switch legs, doing the same with your left.
Speed up the movement, doing as many “climbers” as you can in a span of 30 seconds.
If you take away anything from this article, let it be this: To burn fat, you can’t just do one thing.
Running five miles every day, hitting the squat rack daily, or attending the exact same HIIT class on repeat could cause some strength gains or pounds loss. But to burn fat most effectively, you should use all three strategies together.
And the same goes for your nutrition.
A diet high in sugar and carbohydrates has been shown to cause an increase in abdominal fat[*]. In other words, your work at the gym won’t pay off if your diet is constantly spiking your blood glucose levels. Or if you’re consistently consuming more calories than you’re burning.
Also, if you want to truly increase your muscle mass (thereby burning more calories and fat even at rest), consume protein post-workout. Your muscles need the amino acids from protein in order to rebuild after a workout — a process known as muscle protein synthesis[*].
To burn fat most effectively, combine your efforts at the gym with a low-carb, keto diet that follows a moderate-to-high protein intake. You might also consider following a targeted keto diet, where you intentionally consume carbs around the time of your workout.
To burn fat, your workouts should consist of three things: HIIT training, heavy weights, and high volume. While each of these tactics have their own benefits, they are best used in conjunction with one another.
Exercises like burpees, pull-ups, and walking lunges tax your muscles while elevating your heart rate, leading to fat loss. However, even with the most efficient workouts or most strenuous exercises, you won’t see a loss in body fat without proper nutrition.
Cutting out carbs and sugar has been shown to decrease body fat while increasing your protein intake has been shown to help rebuild muscles. To see the best results, combine your fat-burning workouts with a targeted or cyclical keto diet and get ready to look and feel your best.