Exercises to burn fat

Michelle Drielsma
Monday, March 14, 2011
Exercise physiologist Michelle Drielsma shares the best exercises for reducing your derièrre, pins and love handles.

What's a simple, easy, effective work-out for the biggest fat-loss effects? For years they used to recommend uber-long sessions of cardio. You'll still see many women (and men) in the gym today slogging it out for hours on treadmills, bikes or cross-trainers with the intense desire to lose that stubborn weight that has hardly shifted since commencing their cardio program.

Why isn't cardio the most effective exercise for fat loss and the maintenance of fat loss?

  1. Aerobic exercise raises your metabolism for up to 12 hours after exercise. High-intensity sprints or resistance exercise (using weights) raise the metabolism for up to 48 hours. Really intense weightlifting raises the metabolism for up to 72 hours.
  2. The body becomes really energy-efficient with lower-intensity aerobic exercise, so you end up burning fewer kilojoules next time you do that exact same 5km on the treadmill.
  3. Loads of aerobic exercise stimulates the production of stress hormones, which break down tissue. So distance runners are skinny, but have more body fat and less muscle mass than a sprinter as the stress hormones break down muscle as well as fat. You're still leaner than if you did no exercise at all, but in comparison to a sprint athlete, you're a skinny-fat person!

The results of the exercise science study
I was involved in an exercise science study at the University of Sydney where we compared the difference between intermittent sprinting and continuous exercise at a lower intensity. We came up with the following observations:

  • There was three times more bodyweight loss for the sprint group, while performing only around half the total amount of exercise.
  • Higher intensity sprint training results in greater oxygen consumption (during and after exercise), greater heart-rate response, higher levels of circulating catecholamines (adrenaline), burns more energy per unit time, raises metabolism for longer and recruits a higher percentage of muscle fibres within the working muscle.
  • For the same amount of external work completed by both study groups, sprint training came out as energy-inefficient in comparison, which here is a good thing!

Mix a bit of sprint training with weight training to burn off the fat. More muscles are correlated with a higher metabolism, and they also look good. Personal instruction is highly recommended for the following exercises.

Fave fat-burning work-out — outdoor

Interval sprints: Do one or two sets of interval sprints on grass or soft sand. Have a 20-second sprint followed by a 10-second rest. Repeat eight times. It's insanely harder than you think and one set is usually enough.

Rest three to five minutes.

Sandbag throws: Fill up a sandbag with about a quarter to a third of your own bodyweight (men can start heavier). Place your feet just wider than hip-width close to the bag. Squat down, tilt forward from your hips, grab the bag and clean it up to catch it under your forearms, keeping your back straight and chest lifted. This action should come from your legs and your hips driving forward.

Once caught under your forearms, immediately toss the bag over one shoulder (watch here). Run around and repeat on the other side. Toss eight in total with four on each side.

Rest for three minutes.

You may wish to do another set of throws.

Fave fat burning work-out — in the gym

Deadlift — sumo squat stance: Choose a weight that you can lift four to six times with good technique (this will be heavy) and perform three sets of four to six reps. Warm up with lighter weights until you get to your chosen weight.

Overhead squat press: Holding a dumbbell or a barbell just wider than the width of your shoulders, use the momentum (upward action) of a squat to lift the weights or barbell overhead. Keep your torso straight (don't lean back at the lower back) and abdominals braced. Choose a weight heavier than what you could normally lift without the squat. Do three sets of three to eight reps.

Torso rotation: Use either a cable machine horizontally, a barbell rested upright against the corner of a wall or a Torsonator for this exercise. Hold your arms outstretched with elbows slightly bent, draw in and brace with the abdominals as you rotate from the torso using the obliques.

For the cable machine you'll be initiating the rotation from your torso and generally keeping your hips where they are to isolate the midsection. Keep the knees slightly bent throughout.

For the barbell, the movement starts as a resisted lowering action as you slowly guide the top of the barbell to your upper thighs. Make sure you rotate your hips with this one! You'll need to use a hip drive to push the barbell back up to the start position. Perform two or three sets of five or six reps on each side.

These work-outs will not take you a long time to complete but they are intense so avoid overdoing it!

For fat-loss your nutrition and stress management is paramount. Stress sources can be anything from finances to digestion to food chemicals to how well you're sleeping. Cortisol production is a major factor in making your body horde that fat, but we'll get into that in another article.

Get an assessment by an exercise professional before commencing any high-intensity or advanced weight training programs. This includes the exercises suggested above!

  • Choose full-body movements and keep the weights heavy (under supervision).
  • Change your program every four to six weeks. This could even be as simple as changing from a wide to a narrow squat stance, or changing the tempo of your lift, etc. The body gets efficient so keep changing the stimulus to avoid plateaus.

  • ThinkstockPick a rival to improve your running performance: study ThinkstockExercise can prevent flu ThinkstockInactivity changes the brain 10 essential six-pack tips

    What's your BMI?


    Body Mass Index (BMI)The BMI is an indirect measure of body composition, based on your height and weight. Find out yours. MEASURE YOUR BMI Burn BarometerHow many kilojoules do you burn? Calorie CounterHow many do you consume? Energy EstimatorJust how much food should you be eating just to make you through each day? Due Date CalculatorFind out when your baby is due.