Best Fat Burning Workouts
As I am writing this I am giddy because we are about to debunk one of the most frustrating fitness myths out there: that there are magical workouts that specifically "burn fat". Now if you're reading this, it's likely because the title caught your attention. You probably have a desire to lose some body fat and you're looking for the secret sauce to making it happen. So before you get too discouraged about the fact that "fat burning workouts" don't actually exist, I can promise you I will still be outlining the secret sauce of fat loss. So stick around.
If you're wondering who the heck I am to be throwing out these outlandish claims, my name is Bradee! I am a Certified Personal Trainer with 8 years of experience training clients both one-on-one, in a group setting, and managing a fitness studio. I now run my own fitness business (Fit for Hiking Guides) and you better believe that over the years I have confronted every fitness myth possible. I've made it my mission to study up on all things fitness and have obsessively done just that for the purpose of debunking these myths that keep people spinning their wheels, obsessing over the wrong things, and ultimately having a negative relationship with exercise/their bodies. So let's cut straight through the BS today.
The Myth: You can do fat-burning exercises to blast body fat!
The Reality: No exercise "burns fat". Fat loss comes down to energy balance through a calorie deficit and remaining active.
So to simplify, I am going to break down the hierarchy of importance when it comes to fat loss. And it really is fairly simple. So focus on nailing these basics *consistently*, rather than overcomplicating things and trying a million methods that aren't actually affective.
This means that you are taking in less calories than the amount your body needs to maintain your weight. Each of us has a different maintenance point. While we can plus our age, weight, height, gender, etc into a calculator to tell us our Basal Metabolic Rate/maintenance calories, these generators are rarely ever accurate. The BEST way to figure out your unique maintenance calories is to actually track every little thing you eat for a full week. Don't alter how you typically eat, just observe and diligently keep track. At the end of the week, calculate what your average daily calorie intake is. Boom. There it is. You now have your customized maintenance calories. Now if you're trying to lose fat, you'll need to shave off a few hundred calories off of your maintenance calories each day. A modest deficit is best because you'll likely be more compliant over time. Anyone can drastically slash calories for a week, but then we all know how that turns out. It's simply not sustainable. I recommend going no more than 300 calories below your maintenance each day. If you go this route, your progress will be slower, but you'll be FAR more likely to not gain it all back ultimately.
Creating a calorie deficit is the ONLY way to lose fat. Often times people will say things like:
-I lost weight because I went low-carb
-I lost weight because of a juice cleanse
-I lost weight because I started fasting
Or another hundred other varieties. When the reality is, they lost weight because they were eating in a deficit while doing "x" diet. It had nothing to do with juice, cutting carbs, or what times of day they were eating. It always comes down to calories. Which is actually quite freeing! This means you don't need to stress about:
Eating late at night
Eating processed foods sometimes
Eating 3 meals per day
Eating 6 meals per day
HOW, WHAT, and WHEN you eat will simply dictate how you FEEL! It doesn't have an affect on your ability to lose fat AS LONG AS you're still in a calorie deficit. Studies have actually been done to show that an individual lost a LOT of weight while eating nothing but McDonalds every day, 3 meals a day for a month. All because.....wait for it....his calories were below his maintenance thus creating a calorie deficit. This shouldn't encourage you to gorge yourself on fast food 3 meals per day, but rather it demonstrates that it really is a numbers game at the end of the day. Think about it like this:
How much you eat = fat loss or fat gain
What kinds of foods you eat, how often you eat, macronutrient ratios (carbs, fats, proteins) = health, satiety (how full you feel) + how you feel in general
This means there's no need to cut out food groups, restrict, cut out all sugars or processed foods 100% of the time, or eat because the clock tells you it's meal time. That's great news and makes losing fat a whole lot easier/less stressful! I find that I am way more successful with losing fat when I still allow myself to have the occasional dairy queen blizzard, burger, chocolate, or [insert your favorite not-so-healthy foods].
I eat in a calorie deficit, eat only when I am actually hungry (usually 2 meals per day because I feel best this way), and eat healthy foods about 80% of the time. It really doesn't have to be too complicated, see!?
2. Strength Training
Your second priority when it comes to working towards a leaner physique is strength training! And when I say strength training, I mean heavy, slow compound lifting with a goal of building muscle. You may think "Okay but I don't want to build muscle, I just want to tone". I've heard this one a LOT and I used to fall prey to marketing scams built around the word "toning". Toning = becoming lean enough (calorie deficit) to uncover muscle (strength training). There actually is no way to "tone" a muscle. It either grows or shrinks. If you want the "toned" look, you need to focus on building muscle. People often blame their bigger arms or legs on lifting weights, when really it's because they haven't achieved the leanness required to achieve the "toned" took. That's why the calorie deficit and lifting of weights need to go hand in hand for fat loss. Another reason why lifting weights is so crucial is because the more lean mass (muscle) you have on your frame, the higher your metabolic rate will be at rest. This means you can burn more calories doing literally nothing than someone with less muscle mass. This is why lean people have an easier time staying lean when they've taken the time to build muscle. Their bodies are more efficient at maintaining a lower body fat. And the third reason why strength training is so effective for favorable body composition is because it will actually shape your body in a way that no other types of training can do. Having defined legs, arms, abs, or a juicy booty simply won't happen from an elliptical.
I recommend lifting weights at least 2x weekly.
3. Daily Movement
The third priority for fat loss is living an active lifestyle. Too often we prioritize all the exercise but we neglect getting ANY movement in throughout the day outside of our 40 minute workout. Technically, even if you workout 7 days per week for 1 hour per day, yet you don't move around at all outside of your workout, you are still considered to be sedentary. YIKES. So basically, getting those steps in every day shouldn't be an afterthought. We need to actively look for ways to move around more each day. Here are a few ways you can do this:
Take a daily walk
Walk to the store, work, wherever you need to go as often as possible
Pace while you're on the phone
Take the stairs instead of the elevator/escalator
Clean the house
Play with your kids/dogs
Find active hobbies you enjoy
Take bike rides
I once heard a celebrity trainer who trained big names like Hallie Berry and Jessica Simpson give a talk about how to effectively change ones physique. He said that he wouldn't even train his clients until they got their 10,000 steps that day. It's that important.
I recommend shooting for 8,000- 10,000 steps daily.
The next item of important for fat loss is conditioning training. This can look like a lot of different things, and should be based on your performance goals more than anything else. So think for a second- do you have a goal of running fast? Running far? Summiting a mountain? Or just getting in great all-around shape? Here are the main types of conditioning I recommend:
Circuit training with weights (NOT the same as strength training). This would be done with smaller weights, with less rest time.
HIIT (high intensity interval training)
Aerobic cardio (running, incline walking, hiking, cycling, stair-master, elliptical)
As you can see, this type of training is LESS crucial for fat loss even though it may FEEL more effective. Don't let the sweat or wind-sucking fool you! Strength training is still #1 with a calorie deficit are still #1. However, I love adding in conditioning workouts to my schedule because they help me stay in good shape for the activities I love. And I genuinely enjoy these activities.
I recommend at least 1-2 conditioning workouts per week (more if you are training for a specific performance goal).
5. Protein + Veggie Consumption
The final piece of the puzzle is getting your protein and veggie consumption on track. The reason this matters so much for fat loss specifically, is for satiety purposes (getting full). While we already covered that calorie AMOUNT matters most for fat loss, not all food is created equal when it comes to what actually fills us up. This is why it's extremely easy to eat 800 calories of ice cream, but eating 800 calories of grilled chicken isn't so easy. Protein is the most satiating macronutrient and thus, very important for fat loss. Another reason why it aids in fat loss is that it helps preserve your lean mass (muscle), as you're in a calorie deficit. This ensures that you don't lose too much muscle as you're losing fat. Thus preserving your metabolic health, and giving you the "toned look". A general rule of thumb is to aim for 1G of protein per your GOAL weight in lbs. So if your goal weight is 130 lbs, you're aiming for 130 G of protein. You may be thinking "Um WHAT?! There's no way". Depending on how much protein you're currently consuming, this may feel daunting. I recommend seeing where you typically fall with protein consumption, and then gradually increasing. If you've been chronically under-eating protein, shooting for 80-100 G is a great place to start!
Vegetables are also extremely helpful when it comes to fat loss, and not just because they're healthy and nutrient-dense. Due to their fiber content, they are also extremely filling for minimal calories. When you're eating in a calorie deficit, finding foods that provide good volume without high calories is gold. This is where veggies win out compared to every other food. Minimal calories- high volume. PLUS they're amazing for your body. I recommend looking for veggies you enjoy eating and finding different ways to prepare them that feel good in your belly. I recommend trying to eat veggies at least 2 times daily.
Okay- you made it to the end! Put all 5 of these steps together (starting at the top) and you will see success. But don't expect overnight results. Focus on habit formation instead of just seeing quick changes. Be consistent for months, and you will get there! If you need some guidance and you're looking to get started on a program that covers all your bases, be sure to look into my Fit for Hiking Guides and take the quiz to see which program is best for you!
I am rooting for you, and I cannot wait to see your progress. Send me a note if you're starting your fitness journey so I can cheer you on!
PS- If you're looking for a step-by-step checklist for a healthy day, click below for my FREE Healthiest Day Roadmap!