What is the best fat burning exercise?

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I’m often asked by people looking to lose weight…


  • ‘What is the best fat burning exercise?’
  • ‘What exercise is best for burning body fat?’
  • ‘What exercise will help me lose my belly fat?’

Generally, I find that people who ask this have a basic idea that in some way they need to move more to burn more calories and this will in turn, hopefully, burn away their body fat.

Everyone’s an expert on fat burning


What I’ve also seen on social media is an ever growing number of people who are not answering the question and instead go onto a diatribe about how

  • ‘abs are made in the kitchen’
  • ‘cardio is useless for fat burning’
  • ‘you need to eat less calories to lose weight’

I can understand why they do this, I am a gym owner and I get asked this question almost daily by members and people crashing into my DMs on social media for some advice.  It can get slightly tedious when the same thing comes up repeatedly.

I used to be one of the ranting guys that used to almost lecture people on the need for a calorie deficit and that doing slightly fast walking while drinking a full sugar Lucozade probably wouldn’t be helping their weight loss efforts.  It certainly wasn’t the best fat loss exercise.

I’m happy to say that in the last 4-5 years I’ve seen that this was not a helpful attitude.  My mission is to help 100,000 people to lose weight through nutrition and exercise. Lecturing them wasn’t going to help achieve that goal.

Graph showing brooks crossover concept

The Brooks Crossover Concept


Now I point them to this simple diagram which explains things much more helpfully and with a bit of extra information, which I’ll explain below, I find that much more people leave the conversation informed, aware and ready to take action. 

Rather than thinking, “that guy was a bit of a pompous idiot”

Well hopefully they do. 

The diagram above shows the way that your body uses fuel during exercise

Due to the way the body processes energy we tend to burn fat at low intensities and burn carbohydrates at high intensity.  This is due to the speed at which energy can be obtained from the two fuel sources.

Carbs are king for intense exercise


Carbohydrates in their base form Glucose or Glycogen (in the muscles) can be turned into ATP – which drives muscle contractions in exercise – very quickly.  This is great but you only get a very small amount of ATP (2 molecules) per glucose molecule.  Therefore you need a lot of Glucose to power explosive exercise.

Fat is the slow and dependable competitor


Fat on the other hand delivers around 18 times the ATP per fat molecule making it a much more dense source of energy however this process takes ages compared to using Glucose and therefore is useless at helping your body perform explosive exercise for very long.

Therefore, we tend to burn fat as fuel predominantly when intensity is low, which means when we are doing very slow and steady exercise such as walking.  On the other hand as intensity increases we use more carbs (Glucose) and reduce the amount of fat that is burned.

Both fuel sources work together


It’s important to know that it’s hardly ever a 100% of either fuel being used.  Even at very high intensities you will burn some fat and at very low intensities you will burn some carbs. 

Why is this important for our weight loss or fat loss efforts?  Well if you focus on ‘fat burning’ exercises then you’ll be expending very low amounts of calories.  Fat loss in the body depends NOT on fat burned in exercise but the calorie deficit that is created over the days, weeks and month. 

A calorie deficit will ultimately be the final answer on fat loss


If your body is not in a calorie deficit, in that you’ve exercised but the total food calories you have eaten are more than you’ve exercised away, then you will not lose body fat as an end result.

700 calories a day - chart showing how NEAT levels affect fat loss

If we remember this then the question of ‘what is the best fat burning exercise?’ becomes irrelevant.  What we should be asking is ‘what exercises burn the most calories?’

Burning the maximum amount of calories that you can, while still maintaining a food intake that you monitor to keep in a deficit will bring about fat loss results much faster than worrying about if you are in the ‘fat burning’ zone on the treadmill.

Do more exercise, make sure you don’t overeat as a reward for doing loads of exercise and you’ll see much more progress in your fat loss efforts. 

Thanks for reading.

To work out your calories for fat loss you can use my calorie calculator 

Check out my free guides to losing weight at Your Body Revolution my coaching site

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