One of the most commonly asked questions from new and experienced gym-goers is “What is the best way to burn fat in the belly?”. It's understandable since we all want to lose fat especially around the stomach, but there really isn't a way to target fat loss in a specific area. My advice is always the same: eat healthy, track your macros, and exercise regularly. But I wanted to do a little extra work for you guys and do some research on workouts that burn fat.
So today I want to share with you some of my thoughts and research that I found about the effects of cardio on fat loss, the best time to do it, plus, a list of the best fat-burning cardio workouts.
Effect of cardio on weight loss
The mechanism by which regular cardio leads to weight loss is not at all burning fat or calories, but in developing the body's ability to form reserves of available energy for exercise. Such energy is taken from carbohydrates and stored in glycogen.
To make the body use fat as fuel, it is necessary first to empty the carbohydrate reserves stored in the muscles in the form of glycogen. That is why cardio for weight loss should be either long (at least 30-40 minutes), or should be performed immediately after strength training.
The most effective cardio for fat burning is long sessions with moderate intensity. Preferably fast walking on the treadmill or an ellipsoid, exercise bike, rowing machine or swimming.
In this case, fat burning and accompanying weight loss are part of the recovery period after exercise, achieved exclusively in the case of a general lack of calories in the diet. That is why proper nutrition and diet always take first place in the fight for an athletic body.
When is the best time to do cardio for fat loss?
So when is the most effective time to do it, morning or night, before or after weight training? There really is no right answer! It really depends on what your fitness goals are, whether you’re trying to focus on fat loss or gaining muscle, or both!
Cardio before strength training
If your primary goal is to lose body fat or increase your aerobic endurance then get your cardio done before strength training or first thing in the morning. Long sessions (30-40 minutes) with moderate intensity on an empty stomach is the most effective for fat burning. Then use your remaining energy to lift weights.
If you don't have time to workout in the morning then an evening cardio session before lifting weights is still a great option!
Cardio after strength training
If your main goal is to increase muscular strength then stick to doing cardio after your workout. Usually the body can’t burn fat and build muscles at the same time - an exception is moderate cardio after lifting weights. Low blood sugar (all glycogen was used by the muscles) and an elevated testosterone level literally causes the fat to melt. The duration of this should only be 10-15 minutes - this is enough to activate the fat burning process.
Cardio after workouts would work great for those who are trying to improve overall - make their muscles more defined and get rid of belly fat and love handles.
As you can see, it really depends on your fitness goals. Once your goals are established then it’s time to find the best cardio for fat burn!
Workouts that burn fat
Some of you guys may know already, but if you don’t… I absolutely hate cardio! But I know I need to do it for the health benefits and if my focus is to lose fat. Personally I think you should find a cardiovascular activity that you like the most. There are two types: high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and low-intensity steady state(LISS). But which one is the best for fat loss? HIIT is typically more effective, but LISS can still help you burn fat and it’s better for beginners.
I’ve made a list of the best cardio for fat loss, it includes high intensity and low intensity, so you can find the most effective, and enjoyable type of cardio for you!
Running at a steady and moderate pace is an efficient way to lose body fat and improve cardiorespiratory fitness. The intensity is sufficiently high enough to burn a good amount of calories, while stimulating the metabolic rate for a long period afterward. You can also substitute running for jogging. Jogging is great for those who do 30-40 minute cardio sessions because the intensity is slightly lower, but you’re still burning a sufficient amount of calories.
Running is great if your main focus is to burn fat. If your main goal is to build muscle then running isn’t the best because it can potentially break down muscle.
Best way to burn fat while running:
- If you’re running on a treadmill, increase the incline by 2-3%. This will increase it to a higher intensity workout to help you burn more calories, and it’s easier on the knees.
The stair climber is one of the best cardio fat burning machines! The stair climber requires you to use more muscles than walking or running because you are lifting your legs to climb the stairs. It’s a great workout to strengthen your legs and burn fat. The downside of the stair climber is that it can put a lot of weight on your joints. So if you have bad knees, avoid using this machine.
Best way to burn fat on the stair climber:
- Use the stair climber for about 10-15 minutes, but at high intensity. Go at about 90% effort for a minute, go at a level that really elevates your heart rate. Then have a one to two minute active recovery, so decrease the level enough to catch your breath.
- For those who prefer steady state cardio, but still want to burn fat, do a 30-40 minute session at a moderate pace.
Cycling is a great option for those who hate running because it involves the same muscles, but it’s considered low impact. But you must be willing to give it your max effort! Don’t just pedal while scrolling on your phone, really give it your all. Another great thing about cycling is that a lot of gyms have indoor cycling classes. Usually, the instructors motivate you to push really push yourself so you’re guaranteed to get your heart rate pumping!
Best way to burn fat while cycling:
- Use the stationary bike and incorporate intervals. Increase the intensity for a few minutes, 3-5, then decrease for a1-2 min. to catch your breath. Continue these intervals for as long as you can to maximize fat burning!
I know that not everyone has a pool or has access to one, but I had to add this one to the list! Swimming is one of the best types of cardio because it’s a total-body workout. Your muscles are working extra hard to keep you afloat, it’s also low impact, and burns a high number of calories.
I definitely recommend trying out swimming if you have access to a pool. Doing a variety of strokes will help you change the intensity and help you target different muscle groups.
Best way to burn fat while swimming:
- Try different strokes like the butterfly stroke. It’s slightly more intense than the normal breaststroke.
- If you are new to swimming and only comfortable doing the breaststroke then try interval training. So swim as fast as you can for as long as possible, then decrease the intensity for one lap.
Rowing, just like swimming, provides an excellent total body workout. It works all the main muscles, lower impact than running, and burns more calories per hour than any other common aerobic exercise. The main downside of rowing is that not every gym has rowing machines. But if your gym does, then I’d definitely suggest trying it out!
Best way to burn fat while rowing:
- Rowing is already a high intensity, full body workout, so you’ll burn fat no matter how you do it. To burn the most calories I suggest using your entire body when rowing, and don’t forget to keep your chest up!
- Incorporate intervals to maximize fat burn. Row really fast for 250 meters, then slow down, and repeat.
HIIT - High Intensity Interval Training
What is HIIT? HIIT is a short, but highly effective full body workout. It incorporates high intensity aerobic work with a very high intensity component that provides maximal fat burning.
People love HIIT because it requires less time than average cardio workouts, and it burns a ton of fat and calories. It also increases your metabolic rate for over 24 hours after training. Another awesome thing about HIIT is that you can create your own plan! I also include some great fat burning HIIT workouts on my Fit With Iulia App 😉
Best HIIT workout routine for fat burn:
- Any, just make sure you’re giving it your max effort! You can create your own, join a class at your gym, or use my app to follow along my fat burning HIIT workouts!
I know, I know, I already have running on the list. But trust me, sprinting is a high intensity cardio workout you need to try! Sprinting is simple, requires no equipment, and you burn the most calories in the least amount of time.
The downside of sprinting is that it’s high impact, so it is a lot of pressure on your joints. If you have bad knees or ankles then I suggest skipping this fat burning cardio.
Best way to burn fat with sprinting:
- If you don’t have access to a treadmill or just want to workout in fresh air, then sprint for a lap then jog for a lap and repeat. Sprint up bleachers, and jog back down, then repeat.
- If you prefer the treadmill then do an all-out sprint for 30 seconds, then jog for a minute, and repeat.
There are so many cardio workouts, but these are the top ones I recommend to add to your workout routine. I also would recommend taking Bcaa’s before or while you workout to minimize muscle loss.
I hope you find this information helpful and have learned something new! But remember - 70% of the result is your diet!
P.S. My Fit With Iulia App has specific goals to help you lose body fat - for gym and home workouts! My Lose Body Fat At The Gym and Lose Weight At Home programs are updated every week. So every week my subscribers receive a new workout plan that specifically targets fat loss. The exercises are a mix of lifting weights, cardio, and HIIT.