Short, sharp effort? Long-term goal? Whatever your fat loss timeframe, the way you achieve it doesn’t need to be complicated. Changing your habits and smartening up your training will get it done, so here are 101 expert tips from Coach’s sister publication Men’s Fitness.
By focusing your efforts on fat loss, you’ll shed flab in less time.
1. Have Fun
Hitting a heavy bag is one of the more fun ways of reducing yourself to a big sweaty mess. You feel great, you lose weight and, thankfully, they don’t hit back. Punch the bag with alternating hands as hard and fast as you can for 15 all-out seconds, then move around the bag for 90 seconds, shadowboxing at an easy pace. Do this routine at least three times. For a tougher session, go for six.
RECOMMENDED: Punching-Bag Workouts
2. Go Big
This isn’t the time for biceps curls. The more muscle groups you can involve in your workout, the more work you’ll do. Kettlebell swings hit almost every muscle: do three sets of 25 at the end of any session to finish on a fat-loss high.
3. Get Strong
It’s tempting to put the deadlifts on hold – that’s time you could be spending on a treadmill, right? – but the more weight you can lift, the more fuel you’ll burn. Spend some of your training time getting stronger and you’ll be able to do your other work at a higher level.
4. Be Inefficient
Expertise is overrated. “The more efficient you get at a movement, the less energy you’ll expend doing it,” says strength coach Dan John. Don’t just stick to one form of cardio finisher: rotate between the bike, rower and treadmill.
RECOMMENDED: Rowing Machine Workouts
5. Move Fast
Sprinting’s one of the simplest forms of high-intensity exercise, but don’t overdo it. “It puts your body through a ton of stress,” says trainer Zoran Dubaic. “Keep it simple and build up gradually.” Start with six 50m sprints with a 30-second recovery, and up it when you’re ready.
RECOMMENDED: Interval Training For Runners
6. Go Uphill
Hill sprints automatically force you into good running form – and they’re nastier than doing it on the flat. “Find a good 30-50m hill and aim for five sprints up – you can walk back down,” says trainer and author Mike Campbell. “It’ll force every muscle in your body to work, leaving you burning fat for hours.”
7. Hold On
Complexes – multi-move sets where you don’t put the weight down until you’ve finished all the moves – will jack up your metabolism so you keep burning fat long afterwards. Got a kettlebell? Do six cleans, six swings and six overhead presses with each arm.
RECOMMENDED: Try This Barbell Complex
8. Pair Your Moves
To do more work in less time, pair an upper-body exercise with a lower-body move: a press-up with a squat, or a curl with a lunge. It’ll up your heart rate without forcing you to stop when your arms or legs get tired.
9. Keep Rests Short
“The main difference between a muscle-building workout and a fat-loss one is often just your rests,” says Campbell. “Shorten them and keep them strict.” Stay between 30 and 60 seconds.
10. Finish Strong
Even if you’re focusing on muscle, you can keep your metabolism high with a burst of all-out effort to end your workout. A 500m row is perfect: short, nasty and low-impact. Sub-1min 40sec is the goal.
Up The Effort
With the basics covered, it’s time to be inventive. Coach-approved PTs explain their secret weapons.
11. Speed Up Cardio
Long, slow distance work is the enemy – it’s inefficient, and it’s hard on the joints. “Intense cardio is a much more effective way of losing fat,” says trainer Tom Eastham. “Hit the bike or the rowing machine for ten one-minute bursts of effort, giving yourself a 45-second recovery period between each effort. Be strict!”
RECOMMENDED: Exercise Bike Workouts
12. Get A Stopwatch
“It’s the easiest investment you can make,” says Nomad Way founder Andrew Tracey. “Having it in front of you forces you to keep rests strict.” And minimises the chance of a dropped dumbbell taking out your smartphone.
13. Get Up, Get Down
“Getting down and then up off the floor adds a metabolic effect you won’t expect,” says John. Do ten press-ups and ten kettlebell swings, then nine press-ups and ten swings and so on until you’ve hit one press-up and 100 swings total.
14. Carry On
“Loaded carries are among the best fat burners you can do,” says Results Inc founder Joe Lightfoot. “They’ll use every muscle in your body.” Finish your session with 200m of farmer’s walks, using the heaviest dumbbells you can.
15. Hit The Mill
One-speed treadmill plodding isn’t cutting it. “Change the resistance and incline for treadmill sessions,” says Barry’s Bootcamp London co-owner Sandy Macaskill. “Do 6, 7, 8km/h bursts of effort at a 3% incline, then drop the gradient and up the pace.”
16. Stick on 15
Less time can sometimes mean more effort. “I like a 15/45 work/rest split,” says Roko Health club trainer Rachael Atkinson. “Do as many chest-to-floor burpees as possible in 15 seconds, then rest for a full 45 seconds.”
Embrace (Weird) Science
Who are gastrophysicists? They’re the experts who study “multisensory perception”, or how environment and non-taste senses affect your perception of food. Harness their research to stay off the pies.
17. Eat Off Blue Plates
Scientists theorise that it’s because your mind doesn’t associate the colour with food. It genuinely seems to work – in a study carried out by Swiss researchers, subjects eating from blue tableware ate 40% less than a control group.
18. Keep It Upbeat
In a study from the Cornell Brand and Food lab, people who watched Solaris ate 55% more popcorn than people watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Goggling while dining is usually bad – it distracts you from how much you’re eating – but if you must, pick a nice bromance.
19. Take A Seat
Even if you’re grabbing a Pret lunch, get a table or a park bench rather than eating that Swedish meatball wrap (the only sane option) on the go. People who sit down to eat consume fewer calories than on-the-go eaters, according to a University of Toronto study.
20. …But Not At Your Desk
According to a University of Bristol study, eating lunch while you browse online will leave you distracted, less full, and more likely to snack in the afternoon.
21. Get Nicer Cutlery
Or at least, make it heavy. According to research by food scientist Charles Spence, it gives food higher perceived quality – yogurt, for instance, tastes creamier – and increases feelings of fullness so you eat less.
22. Eat With Friends
It’s the exception to the no-distractions rule – a spirited chat/row will give your brain time to register that your stomach is full, according to the Journal Of Physiological Behaviour.
23. Chew Slower
A University of Birmingham study found that focusing on the texture and flavour of food reduces hunger later. But taking the time to liquefy your food inside your mouth also aids digestion.
24. Hit Rewind
Tempted by the biscuit aisle? Think back to what you had for lunch. Psychologists at the University of Birmingham found that thinking about what you’ve eaten earlier in the day can reduce the urge to snack.
Change Your Routine
There are 168 hours in a week – if you spend four in the gym, you’ve still got 164 left to work.
25. Sleep Tight
Skimping on sleep messes with your brain’s ability to make decisions and exercise impulse control, and revs up reward-seeking behaviour. According to a study published in the American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition, it increases high-carb snacking. Aim for eight hours a night.
26. Get Outside
Research suggests that exercising in sunlight boosts fat-burning potential by 20% by increasing your production of leptin, the hormone that controls your body’s fat stores. In the summer, it’ll also boost vitamin D.
27. Keep Water Handy
It regulates your body’s functions, helps appetite and improves your liver’s ability to metabolise fat. “Keep a glass within arm’s reach at all times,” says Brian Wansink, former president of the US Society for Nutrition Education and Behaviour. “You want to make hydration automatic.”
28. Get On Your Feet
You call it a lunchtime stroll; trainers call it low-intensity steady-state cardio, or LISS. Either way, it burns a handful of calories and helps to regulate stress while keeping fat-storing cortisol low.
29. Calm Down
Stress messes with tissue repair, leads to fat storage, ruins sleep and plays havoc with immunity. If it’s all getting too much, take a deep breath and blow it out slowly: it’ll activate your body’s parasympathetic nervous system.
30. Shop Hard
“Think of shopping as your week’s most important workout,” says nutrition coach Josh Hillis. “Take an hour on Sunday to get it done.” Automate healthy choices by saving a shopping list on your phone or online, and keep the processed stuff off it.
31. Stay Busy
Not every fat-burning session has to be intense. “Active recovery is a nice way of burning calories without thinking about your diet or the gym. It could be a casual kickabout in the park – it’s better than lying on the sofa,” says Eastham.
32. Prep If You Can
If your weeknights get hectic, they’re not the time to chop veg. Chop onions and cube carrots while you’re listening to a podcast on Sunday: they’ll keep until at least Wednesday.
33. Change Your Patterns
If you’re used to stopping in Starbucks for a morning frapp, change your route to work. You “outsource” much of your behaviour to your environment, so making better associations will help.
34. Get Help
Partnering up will boost the chances of sticking to your resolutions, according to research from the University of Leeds. Friends not interested in fat loss? Sign up to stickk.com to commit to the process.
Lift Big To Get Lean
In a 2013 study, high-intensity resistance training – or HIRT – beat traditional lifting by 450% for post-workout calorie burn. Use these rep/set schemes, and you’ll burn as you gain.
It’s a classic bodybuilding technique making a comeback. “Pick a weight you could lift for ten reps and do eight reps,” says Motus Strength coach Bruce Butler. “Rest 20 seconds and do as many reps as possible, then rest another 20 seconds and repeat.” Bench presses, rows, squats and overhead presses all work well.
RECOMMENDED: Muscle-Building Rest-Pause Training
36. Back-Off Sets
These “groove” your technique while taxing your muscles less than a rest-pause set. When you’ve finished your last set of bench presses, immediately strip 50% of the weight off the bar and do as many reps with the remaining weight as you can: 20 is the goal.
37. Cluster Sets
Cluster sets let you add volume with big weights. “Let’s say you can get four reps at 90% of your one-rep max weight,” says strength coach Ben Coker. “If you ‘cluster’ those sets by taking ten seconds’ rest after each rep, it’s likely you could manage six reps total. Across several sets that’ll make a huge difference.” This works better on moves with minimal set-up time – think deadlifts.
38. Drop Sets
In drop sets, you go until “technical” failure (the point at which you can no longer do the move with good form), reduce the weight, then get some more reps. Dumbbell moves are easiest, because using the rack lets you switch weights quickly.
39. 50-Rep Challenge Sets
“At the end of a leg day put 40% of your max on the bar and monster out as many squat reps as you can, resting at the top if you need to,” suggests Campbell. “Shoot for at least 50 reps in as few sets as possible.” Walking might be challenging, but you’ll be able to rest in the knowledge that you’re a fat furnace.
HIIT It Like You Mean It
Yes, it works – in a study from the journal Metabolism, a group doing 20 weeks of HIIT training lost nine times as much fat as a group doing traditional endurance. The catch? You need to do it right.
40. Ease In
Whatever you’ve heard, HIIT isn’t for beginners. If you’re unused to training, an aerobic session with intervals sprinkled in will offer bigger benefits with less stress. Do 20 minutes on the rower or bike, with three or four 30-second bursts of effort.
41. Warm Up
You can’t hit top speed by skipping all the lower gears. Spend five to ten minutes warming up at low intensity – either by doing the cardio move you’re going to use in your workout, or on a general warm-up like skipping, jogging on the spot or low-intensity burpees.
If you’re sprinting it’s crucial; for most other things, it’s highly recommended. The slo-mo burpee is your ideal all-purpose dynamic stretch: from a press-up position, bring one knee as high as possible (ideally by your hand), then bring up the other to get into a low squat. Stand up, then reverse the movement into the next rep.
43. Cool Down
Flopping straight back on the couch post-workout won’t help recovery. After you’ve hit your intervals, spend five or ten minutes moving around to keep your blood circulating, cutting down on lactate build-up and minimising soreness for your next session.
Your Home Bootcamp
Having a kit-free go-to means you can lose fat anywhere, anytime. Trainer and Jimbag founder Anthony Bingham has your prescription: do each move for 30 seconds, rest for a minute, and repeat five times.
44. Narrow-To-Wide Jump Squat
“Alternate between narrow and wide stance, to a depth of 90°. Explode out of each squat with feet off the floor.”
45. Plank Pike
“Get into a low plank on your forearms. Lower your hips to the floor, then crunch your abs to move the hips as high as possible in a pike position.”
46. Tuck Burpee
“Go chest to floor. On the jumping section drive your knees up in a tucking motion. Use your hands as a measure to keep consistency of tuck height and really push your limits!”
Retrain Your Brain
Adopt better thought processes and you’ll make fat loss automatic. Here’s how it’s done:
47. Remember It’s 80/20
“The general rule is that for a fat loss-focused exercise plan, only 20% is down to exercise, with 80% down to diet, sleep and stress,” says trainer Sean Lerwill. “The way to see results is to come to the mindset that neglecting the non-workout stuff undoes all your hard work in the gym.”
48. Don’t Use Willpower
“Each of us makes more than two hundred near-subconscious food choices a day,” says Wansink. “And most of our environment nudges us to eat too much.” Don’t rely on willpower.
49. Focus On The ‘wills’
Focusing on what you aren’t going to do can lead to a “behavioural ironic rebound” – in studies, participants asked not to think about a Coke ad tended to dwell for longer than a control group. Instead of negatives, focus on positives.
50. Pride, Not Shame
In studies at USC Marshall School of Business, volunteers who focused on the pride they’d feel from sticking to resolutions reported less desire to break them than a group focusing on how ashamed they’d be to fail. Always think of the upside.
51. Not Now, But Later
It’s called “postponement strategy”. When you’re tempted by cake, promise yourself you’ll have it later in the week – it’s unlikely you’ll cave at some unspecified future time when the craving passes.
Start In The Kitchen
You might be able to out-train your worst habits – but why bother? Fixing your diet makes everything easier.
52. Be Inclusive
Instead of concentrating on what you’re going to stop eating, focus on adding foods to your diet. Gradually, the good stuff will push the bad stuff out.
53. Keep A Food Diary
…but only for a week. You might be surprised by how much sugar there is in innocuous-seeming foods, or how little protein you’re eating. Use MyFitnessPal to track everything you eat for seven days, then you’ll be ready to wing it.
RECOMMENDED: Healthy Eating Apps
54. Eat green
Vegetables should be the foundation of your diet – eat a wide range of colours with as many meals as possible. Apart from being packed with antioxidants and essential vitamins and minerals, they’re fibrous and filling.
55. Eat More Protein
It’s filling, so you’ll get hungry less, and it also has a mild thermogenic (fat-burning) effect. Eat protein-rich foods like meat, fish or eggs at every meal, aiming for roughly 2g per kilo of your target bodyweight per day.
56. …And More Fat
Counter-intuitive, but dietary fat’s not the enemy. “Increase your fat levels and drop your sugar intake by eating fish, avocado, oils, nuts and seeds,” says trainer Tom Eastham. “This’ll help to ‘teach’ your body to use its fat stores as fuel.”
57. Be Smart With Carbs
“Don’t overcomplicate things,” says strength coach Chris Burgess. “On non-training days, keep the carbs low – 60g or less – while upping your fat intake so that you’re getting enough calories to recover. On strength training or sprinting days, you can eat more carbs to help your recovery.”
58. Go For Taste
Eat more taste-intensive foods and you’ll need less of them to feel full. Dark chocolate, aged cheese and extra virgin olive oil all pack a flavour wallop.
59. Aim For Fibre
It aids digestion, improves gut bacteria and makes you feel full for longer. Vegetables are the best source.
RECOMMENDED: High-Fibre Foods
60. Eat For Your Bacteria
Fermented foods like natural yogurt, kefir and sauerkraut improve your microbiome – the makeup of bacteria in your gut that help to digest food and use it better. Eat a variety.
61. Don’t Drink Calories
It’s too easy to overdo it with sugary drinks. For serious fat loss, stick to black coffee, tea and water with lemon or lime. They can be acquired tastes – but they’re worth acquiring.
Fat Loss In A Glass
No more sugary shop-bought smoothies – this has everything you need:
“As well as containing less sugar and more protein than yogurt, it’s packed with probiotics that aid digestion,” says nutritionist Christine Bailey. “That means better nutrient absorption and fewer hunger pangs.” How much? 250ml
“It provides alkalising greens,” says Bailey. Swedish research also suggests that its leafy membranes can curb cravings. How much? 50g
64. Pineapple Chunks
“It contains a digestive enzyme called bromelain, which eases digestion.” It’s also an excellent source of vitamin B6. How much? 75g
Go underripe if you can – the resistant starch has a positive effect on body fat levels by helping to metabolise fats after eating. How much? Half a banana
66. Chia Seeds
“They add fibre to kick-start your digestive system in the morning.” And they’re the best plant source of omega 3s. How much? 1tsp
67 Lemon Juice
It helps stabilise blood-glucose levels, killing cravings, and it’s also a good source of vitamin C. How much? 1tbsp
Rethink Your Spice Rack
Apart from making your food more exciting, the right combinations will jolt your metabolism into overdrive.
It regulates blood sugar, though sprinkling it on your morning latte still doesn’t justify a muffin. It also reduces total cholesterol levels and triglycerides – helpful for health as well as fat loss.
69. Black Pepper
A substance called piperine in pepper blocks the formation of new fat cells. Bonus: it also increases the bioavailability of other nutrients, making the rest of your meal more worthwhile.
Curcumin, turmeric’s active ingredient, reduces the formation of fat tissue by suppressing the blood vessels needed to form it. It’s more effective in the presence of fat, so cook your curry with ghee.
71. Cayenne Pepper
Capsaicin, the compound that gives peppers their heat, triggers fight-or-flight hormones including adrenaline and norepinephrine, helping to regulate your heartbeat and breathing, and mobilising fat for your body to use.
It’s been used as a digestive aid for centuries, with good reason: it steadies over-active stomach contractions, and aids protein digestion. Fresh is better, but dried still works. Use it in dressings, tea or smoothies.
In a three-month trial, volunteers at Iran’s Shahid Sadoughi University dropped three times as much body fat as a control group by eating 1tsp a day mixed into yogurt – and also lowered “bad” LDL cholesterol. Add it to roasted veg, or put a dash in hummus or guacamole.
It’s been used in Indian cookery for centuries, and recent studies suggest that it’s a potent thermogenic. Smash the pods in a mortar (or a coffee grinder) and throw the result in curries and stews.
75. Mustard Seeds
Cook with the seeds, not the sauce. A study in the Asian Journal Of Clinical Nutrition found that eating them concentrated in oil lowered visceral fat in rats. Blitz them in a food processor with chilies for a paste that’ll add kick to your curries.
Supp Your Game
Time to streamline your supplement cupboard – you don’t need much.
76. Vitamin D
In a University of Minnesota study, subjects with adequate D levels lost weight faster than people who were deficient, even eating the same calories. The researchers theorised that it releases hunger-regulation hormone leptin – and you almost certainly aren’t getting enough. Supplement with a spray.
77. Fish Oil
Anecdotally, it’s worked forever, but now scientists are working out why: a 2015 study on mice suggest that it increased calorie-burning brown fat in the little chaps, as well as regulating their insulin and fasting glucose levels.
It’s the back-up generator for muscle and lets you push harder in short, high-intensity efforts. Take the monohydrate kind – in studies, it’s performed better at increasing the body’s stores. The dose is 5g a day: it’s less grainy in hot water, so have it with green tea.
A naturally occurring fatty acid, CLA diverts calories you eat away from fat storage and into muscle tissue, reducing body fat and increasing the amount of fat used for energy. It’s non-stimulant-based, so won’t make you as jittery as other supps that claim to burn fat.
Research suggests it helps your body to mobilise fat stores as fuel, but there’s also evidence to suggest that it improves insulin sensitivity. Supplement with 500-2,000mg a day.
It improves sleep and insulin sensitivity – both helpful for fat loss – but a study published in Cardiovascular Drugs Therapy also suggests that it has huge benefits to aerobic activity, letting you train for longer.
They may not torch fat stores, but a quality multivitamin will fill in any gaps in your eating plan, keeping your bodily functions online and helping your sleep, stress and training.
RECOMMENDED: The Best Supplements
Burn Fat Like A Pro
Forget needlessly complicated multi-stage recipes – for fat loss, all you need is to make simple foods taste better. With an MSc in nutrition science, cordon bleu chef Toral Shah has the recipe:
It’s low-calorie and high in iron and potassium. “Spiralise it or cube it and roast it,” says Shah. “You can eat it raw, but you just need to take the edge off. A bit of thyme works well.”
RECOMMENDED: It’s Official, Beetroot Juice Can Improve Your Endurance
“It’s much more versatile than you think. Stir fry it with chili, garlic, cumin seeds and lemon.” It’s low in starch, high in fibre: you can also blast it in the food processor and sub it in for rice.
“They can be really flavourless in the winter, when they’re out of season and get hothoused or imported. Slow-roast them at 160˚ for about 40 minutes to concentrate the flavour – do a load at once and you can use them in recipes through the week.” Cooking also releases more cancer-protective lycopene.
“Roast up a whole bunch at a time, and keep them in a jar to use throughout the week,” says Shah. Try to eat red, green and yellow for an improved array of antioxidants.
“It’s so underrated. Slice up some Savoy or Asian Red in the food processor and stir-fry it for an Asian-style slaw.”
“Long before it was fashionable it used to be a British staple. Massaging it really does work: a bit of good-quality olive oil and lemon juice does the job, and it keeps as a salad for a couple of days.” Throw in some red onions and pine nuts if you’re feeling ambitious.
“Chop it into 2cm cubes and roast it for about an hour with some olive oil, salt and pepper. It’ll add bulk to anything.”
“You don’t need much. Buy less, buy good-quality – grass-fed is much better for your health – and bulk it out with lots of veg.”
91. Olive Oil
“It’s great, but if you’re trying to lose fat it’s easy to load up on calories. Buy the good-quality extra virgin stuff – you’ll be able to get away with using less, because the flavour’s so intense with even a little bit.”
Fat Loss Swaps
Clean out the cupboards – make these simple changes and you’ll switch fat loss to autopilot.
92. Swap Black Tea For Green Tea
The green stuff has two thermogenic compounds – caffeine and catechins – and in a 2009 study, it also reduced cravings in subjects on a calorie-restricted diet. Add a dash of lemon for improved insulin regulation.
93. Swap Salad Dressing For Apple Cider Vinegar
It’s ultra-low in calories by comparison, but also aids satiety and helps keep blood sugar under control. Mix it with extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and an optional dash of honey for an easy vinaigrette.
94. Swap Soft Drinks For Lime And Soda
Even “diet” drinks will trigger an insulin response thanks to their sweet taste, and can make you hungry by messing with your body’s perceived energy levels. Lime will keep your blood sugar in check, while fizzy water has a mild alkalising effect on your body.
95. Swap Cereal For Eggs
Heat the pan, add a dab of butter, crack the eggs, swirl them around until they’re nearly done, and take them off the heat for the last bit of stirring. It’s 60 seconds, tops, and gives you a hit of protein and omega 3s – plus feeling full until lunch.
RECOMMENDED: Healthy Breakfasts
96. Swap Peanuts For Brazil Nuts
They’re packed with magnesium and selenium, which aid the metabolising of fat. Have a handful with a piece of fruit for a mid-morning snack.
97. Swap Oranges For Kiwis
They’re lighter on fructose, but just as packed with vitamin C – 500mg a day will help you burn fat during workouts.
98. Swap Milk Chocolate For Dark Chocolate
Low in sugar, high in fibre and antioxidants, it’s also less moreish than your Dairy Milk, thanks to the intense taste. Cocoa solids at 85% or more is the golden rule: if it’s too bitter, a dash of salt (really) takes the edge off.
99. Swap Beer For Red Wine
There’s evidence from a Washington University study that resveratrol – a fruit polyphenol also thought to have anti-ageing effects – can improve the oxidation of fat by turning white fat to beige, which is involved in heat regulation.
100. Swap Muesli For Oats
They’re high in soluble fibre and help fill you up, and they’re also digested slowly to keep blood sugar under control. Cook them with almond milk, and throw in a scoop of protein powder to control hunger until lunch.
RECOMMENDED: Healthy Porridge Recipes
101. Swap Biscuits For Granny Smiths
All apples contain pectin, which regulate blood sugar so you’re less hungry. There’s also evidence that Granny Smiths specifically improve obesity-regulating gut bacteria.