Train for strength, diet for fat loss.
That’s a damned good mantra that will take you most of the way on your path to achieving the body composition goal of being lean while maintaining or increasing muscle.
But as a compliment to strength training (yes I’m talking about squats and deadlifts when I say strength training), engage in burst activities that get your heart rate cranked in a rapid fashion if you are looking to boost fat loss. And if you are already lean and sporting that media-glamorized “six pack”, these 12 exercises are also great for improving general conditioning.
1. Jump rope. I’ve been jumping rope since I was a teen-ager (and that’s a long, long time ago). One of my first martial arts instructors was a huge advocate of skipping rope and it’s stuck with me ever since. I like to do intervals of 1 minute of work followed by 30 seconds of rest. But jumping rope also works great with Tabata intervals (20 seconds of work, 10 seconds of rest, repeated for 8 cycles) and traditional boxing intervals of 2 or 3 minutes of work followed by 1 minute of rest. For a true master of the jump rope, check out the video below by one of my fitness heroes, Ross Enamait:
2. Burpees. To me, burpees are one of the indispensable exercises. With the burpee you have lower body work, upper body work, and burst training that cranks the heart rate. Burpees can be done with no equipment and performed anywhere from a hotel room to a local park to a Starbucks bathroom. But truth be told, it can be a challenging exercise for those “fresh off the couch”. For a progression from beginner to advanced burpees, be sure to check out my Complete Guide To Burpees.
3. Sprints. Whether on flat ground or on hills, sprints are amazing for conditioning and fat loss training. And talk about simple! Lace up your shoes and then go run as fast as you f#@king can until your lungs burn and you see stars. Simple, but certainly not easy. Since I’ve moved back to the Ohio Valley, I’ve been hitting the steep hill sprints once per week and let me tell you, they are no joke! For a great resource, be sure to check out the recent NerdFitness article on sprint training.
4. Kettlebell Swings. The swing is the most basic of kettlebell movements, and to me it is the most important. Primarily involving the muscles of the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, and lower back), it is also a great exercise for getting the heart rate cranked. Like jump rope training, I prefer interval training with the kettlebell swing. But max reps in a designated time (10 minutes perhaps) is also a good drill.
5. Boxing Drills. Often times my fitness clients will have pre-existing knee injuries that limit deep knee bending (squats) and/or impact movements (jump rope, burpees, or anything else involving jumping). In this situation, I often test boxing drills. Let’s be clear, this is not a cure-all for those with knee issues (the twisting involved in proper punching technique can also be a potential aggravation to those with knee concerns). And boxing drills do require some base level of skill. Make sure that you have good joint alignment (from wrist to elbow to shoulder) on impact if you will be making contact with a bag or focus mitts. But shadow boxing with “air punching only” allows for a greater margin of error while still providing a great training option.
6. Sledgehammer Swings. I’m not going to lie. . . this is one of my favorite modes of training. Sometimes it just feels good to beat the shit out of something with a hammer! So get an old tire, get a sledgehammer, and get to hammering. As usual, the object here is short bursts of intense exertion followed by even shorter rest periods repeated for cycles that do not exceed 20 minutes in total time. Go hard, go fast, get it done.
7. Box Jumps. A plyo-box is a worthy investment in my mind, but not necessary. A picnic bench works just as well. Or any other sturdy structure that is at least the height of just below your knee. For fat loss and conditioning I find that erring on the side of lower heights for the box is better. The “big boxes” of 30 inches and above slow down the iteration for us mere mortals to the point that there is too much rest between jumps in my opinion. So don’t sweat it if your box is on the low end.
8. Thrusters. Oh yes! Front squat plus push press equals a good time for all! Seriously, this is a great movement for conditioning and fat loss training when done at low to moderate weight and reps are kept between 8 – 20 or so. Check out the video below for more details:
9. Man Makers. Please don’t send me any hate-mail about the gender specific nomenclature of this exercise (it will get deleted). Why this drill is called the “man maker” I cannot say for sure. I can only say that it is a great combination of pushing, pulling, squatting, and cranking the heart rate. So male or female, this is a great drill to include in your training regimen. See my video demonstration below:
10. Rowing. I’m damned near notorious for hating exercise machines. Hell I coined the phrase, “Treadmills are for gerbils.” But there are a few machines that I like and the rower (especially the Concept 2) is high on that list. My base requirements for cardio machines are that they be able to start and stop on a dime and they use both upper and lower body work. Rowing fits perfectly in those parameters.
11. Weighted Deck Squats. This might look like a sit up. . . but it is so much more. It’s hard to come up with an exercise that takes you from lying on the ground to standing up (hello turkish get-up that should probably be on this list but isn’t) that doesn’t involve the requisite intensity for conditioning and fat loss. For a great demonstration of this exercise, be sure to check out the video by Steve Maxwell (and yes I know it’s blurry as hell, but it’s Steve Maxwell!):
12. Dumbbell Power Snatch. The snatch is a very technique intensive exercise that is most often performed with a barbell and left to the domain of Olympic Weightlifters and Crossfitters. But when you use a dumbbell instead of a barbell, and you go with a “power” version of the movement over strict, it becomes much more accessible to the general fitness practitioner. You can see my video on the dumbbell snatch performed in ladder format below:
There is a consistent theme among these exercises – they will make you feel like your heart is going to explode when done properly. Of course heart explosion is not the intent. But burst activities such as the 12 exercises listed above are excellent for fat loss training and general conditioning.
Which of the exercises listed do you use in your training regimen? What other exercises do you use for fat loss and conditioning that I did not mention? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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