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In the world of fitness, there are generally two primary objectives — building muscle or burning fat. All the various gym nomenclature (bulking, cutting, getting toned, adding lean muscle) revolve around those two variables, because they are the two elements your fitness choices affect. Want to pack on some muscle and work towards some new personal records on the bench press? Increase your calorie intake and start lifting heavier. Want to slim town to show off those abs for beach season? Ramp up the cardio and watch your diet.
Of course, there are a ton of factors at play with these two health journeys, but those are the basic principles. Digging a little deeper, the types of exercises you do also affect the results. Repping 200 pounds on the bench press will definitely burn calories — and strength training has been shown to help with weight loss — but it’s a muscle-building exercise first and foremost.
But what exercise burns the most belly fat? While it’s easy to target certain muscle groups when building strength, you can’t isolate fat burning. Doing 1,000 sit-ups every day for a month might strengthen your abs, but it won’t affect your belly fat. The best fat-burning exercises are aerobic exercises like running, swimming cycling that ramp up your heart rate and burn calories at a fast rate. And if you really want to maximize the effects of all those fat-burning exercises, make sure you’re getting plenty of sleep and making smart choices in the kitchen, like cutting back on sugary foods, limiting carbohydrate intake and eating tons of protein.
In this article, we’ll delve into the potentially harmful effects of body fat, teach you the best exercises to burn belly fat and recommend some gear that will help you look great while doing it.
Types of Belly Fat
Burning fat obviously has its own aesthetic benefits, but retaining body fat can actually be pretty harmful to your health. There are two main types of belly fat:
- Subcutaneous belly fat is found under your skin, and is the soft fat that you can poke and feel in your waistline.
- Visceral belly fat is found much deeper in your body, around organs like your kidneys and liver. This harmful belly fat produces harmful inflammatory proteins, and is linked to risk of chronic disease like type 2 diabetes, liver disease and high blood pressure.
Working hard to maintain healthy levels of total body fat (not just visceral belly fat) is critical to reducing your risk of chronic disease. The following fat-burning exercises can help you achieve that.
The Best Exercises To Burn Belly Fat
1. Cardio (HIIT)
No surprise here. The facts haven’t changed — cardio of any form is effective as hell at helping you burn fat. Of course, your cardio exercise of choice will depend on a number of factors. Running (though most people dread it) is an incredible fat-burning exercise, but also comes with a lot of injury risk to your joints and feet. Cycling and swimming are a lot easier on your limbs, and still send that heart rate skyrocketing. Regardless of your preference, we recommend incorporating high intensity interval training (HIIT), where you alternate between periods of high resistance and steady state cardio. On the bike, try cranking up that difficulty for 30 seconds, then coasting at a comfortable speed for one minute. If you’re running, sprint for 30 seconds and jog for two minutes. These aren’t the only HIIT options, so check out the video below for some more inspiration.
There’s a reason burpees are a favorite among the CrossFit crowd, which high-intensity circuit training workouts that have you drenched in sweat by the hour’s end. Burpees incorporate your entire body, another surefire indication that it’s a premium fat-burning exercise. They’re great to perform on their own, or in between other exercises to really tax your body and expedite that fat-burning process.
Instruction: To perform a burpee, begin by standing up straight with your feet at a comfortable width apart. Reach down to place your hands on the ground, then kick your legs back to reach a high plank position. Lower your chest to the ground, push up, then quickly pull your legs back up toward your hands. Drive your legs and jump straight up, then finish in the starting position.
3. Kettlebell Swing
Another CrossFit favorite, the kettlebell swing is a killer leg exercise that places the emphasis on speed and intensity. Yes, squats and lunges can be intense, but those should be slower, more controlled movements. With a kettlebell swing, you’re in constant motion, targeting your quads, glutes and hips while burning fat in the process.
Instructions: Because the kettlebell swing is such a swift, intense movement, it’s easy to make mistakes along the way. Take a look at the awesome video below to ensure your form is sound, but in general, don’t sit into too deep of a squat, and make sure you keep tension in your shoulders and upper back so the kettlebell doesn’t add stress on those joints
4. Squat Jump
As you’ve probably gathered so far, the best fat-burning exercises are explosive movements, driven by your legs, that engage the entire body and require only your body weight. The squat jump is a classic choice, and essentially takes the tail half of a burpee and modifies it to incorporate your legs.
Instructions: Start with your feet shoulder-width apart. Sit back in a squatting position with your butt positioned just above the knee line. Use your arms for momentum and drive off the ground, jumping straight up into the air.
5. Jumping Jacks
Who knew your favorite childhood gym class exercise was also an incredible way to burn fat? Jumping jacks are easy to master — form-wise — and require absolutely no equipment, but still help you burn fat. For an extended HIIT challenge, try a five- or 10-minute workout where you perform jumping jacks for 45 seconds, then rest for 15 seconds. We’ll skip the instructions on this one, but in case you need a quick refresher on good technique, check out the video below.
6. Mountain Climbers
You’ve probably seen someone knocking these out at your local gym, and for good reason. You’d be hard-pressed to collect a list of the best fat-burning exercises without including this one. Mountain climbers are basically an ultra-advanced high plank movement that works your core while firing up your legs for one of the best fat-burner exercises.
Instructions: In a high plank position, drive your knees one at a time into your chest. The key here is to keep a flat black and a straight line between your head and your toes. Resist the urge to stick your butt up in the air, as this ends up pulling your shoulders away from your hands and taking the engagement away from your abs.
7. Jump Rope
Sending a trend here? Yeah, anything involving a jumping motion is guaranteed to help you burn fat. And once again, we can turn to another activity you probably did in 3rd grade P.E. class — jumping rope. This is another fat-burning exercise that relies on very little equipment, making it a great workout to knock out at home or even while traveling — all you need is a good jump rope. Jumping rope is a perfect way to get the blood flowing before a workout, and a nice choice to keep that heart rate up in between sets of any strength training exercise. If fat burning is your primary goal, you can create an entire workout that revolves around jumping rope, like the video below.
8. Medicine Ball Slams
Rounding out our list is another explosive full-body movement that engages your legs, lower back, core and arms. It’s an all-encompassing exercise that bears some resemblance to Olympic lifts like the deadlift, snatch and power clean. Try mixing this in with burpees and squat jumps for a three-exercise circuit that’s destined to decimate that belly fat you’ve been harboring.
Instructions: With a neutral spine and your feet shoulder-width apart, lifts the medicine ball from the ground to over your head, making sure to fully extend your hips and arms. Shift the momentum downward to slam the ball on the ground, catching it on the rebound to repeat the motion.
The Best Gear for Burning Belly Fat
1. Nike Metcon 7
Nike’s Metcon — both the 6 and 7 iterations — consistently top our lists of the best weightlifting and cross-training shoes. They combine stability, comfort and support in a way that makes the Metcon 7 perfect for all of your fat-burning, cross-training exercises, ones where intensity is the name of the game. These are perennially in low supply, so you might have to fiddle with color options to get one in your size, or just opt for the customization route.
2. GoxRunx Jump Rope
What’s better than one jump rope? Two jump ropes. This two-pack makes it easy to store one rope in your gym bag and another in your suitcase or car to keep the fat-burning quest going wherever life takes you. A critical feature here is the adjustable cord, which you can cut and tailor to your exact height. This really makes the difference, as an ill-fitting jump rope is just about the most frustrating inconvenience to encounter when you’re trying to get after it in the gym. GoxRunx offers a number of colors — and some mix-and-match choices, too.
3. Amazon Basics Kettlebell (20 Lbs)
Kettlebell swings are pretty tough to perform without, you know, a kettlebell. We recommend Amazon’s version, as the brand offers options at a number of different weights, making it easy to get your full collection started. This 20-pound kettlebell is a great weight for performing swings and is versatile enough to use for walking lunges and squats as well.
4. Yes4All Medicine Ball (15 Lbs)
Great for core exercises and the aforementioned, titular slams, medicine balls are a great addition to any home gym. This option from Yes4All comes in five different colors, with a textured PVC shell for easy grip and a durable shell that should last through repeated slams on the ground. Weight options range from 10-40 pounds.
5. NordicTrack Commercial 1750 Treadmill
Though the great outdoors offers plenty of natural terrain for effective cardio, sometimes the convenience of burning fat right in your home trumps all (especially for those in colder climates gearing up for winter). NordicTrack produces some of the best in-home fitness gear on the market, and this treadmill is no exception. With a 10-inch monitor and live workouts through an iFit subscription, you’ll never want the journey to end.