The “Big 3” Exercises for Fat Loss

kettlebellsI spent the weekend at my parents’ house in Northern Vermont just relaxing, enjoying the sunshine and good company. The gorgeous weather got me thinking about how many people are scrambling to get “beach ready” now that it’s nice outside.

And that got me thinking that when I design exercise programs for fat loss, I only rely on a couple simple exercises to get it done. Much like building strength centers around the “Big 3” of powerlifting (squat, bench and deadlift), I have a “Big 3” for helping people get shredded. Fat loss programs don’t need to be fancy or complicated. Pick a few tried-and-true exercises, get your nutrition dialed in and work your ass off.

Before we go any further, please, please, PLEASE realize that no fat loss program is going to succeed or get optimal results without proper nutrition. You can have the greatest exercise program, best equipment and smartest coaches in the world, but if you eat like garbage, you’ll get garbage results. Moving on…

Here are my “Big 3” exercises for fat loss:


Run as fast as you can. Rest. Repeat. Bro hug in the surf.

Interval training (i.e. repeated bouts of high-intensity exercise interspersed with periods of rest or lower-intensity exercise) is the most effective approach for burning fat. Sprints are a simple way to implement interval training into your workouts.

Intensity always beats duration for time-efficient fat loss. But wait a second, you say. Doesn’t slow cardio burn nothing but fat? And doesn’t sprinting burn all carbs? All things considered, interval training beats steady state cardio (e.g. walking or jogging) for fat loss because high-intensity exercise:

  • Increases energy demand, which…
  • Increases oxygen consumption, but…
  • Energy demand outpaces the body’s ability to consume oxygen, so…
  • Anaerobic metabolism kicks in, and…
  • You burn through your body’s stored up carbs, and…
  • Lactate production increases, and…
  • More fast twitch muscles fibers are recruited, and…
  • Once you stop exercising, your oxygen consumption stays elevated for…
  • A few hours, until lactate drops and energy stores are restored, so…
  • Even though steady state cardio burns a higher percentage of fat…
  • Intervals burn more calories overall, so…
  • Intervals burn more fat overall!

Physiology lesson over.

I love hill sprints or Prowler sprints the most. Flat ground sprints are great because you can do them almost anywhere with no equipment, while hills or sled pushes are a little lower impact because of the reduced speed and range of motion.

Choose grass or turf over cement to spare the shock on your knees and ankles. Start slower with shorter distances and build up intensity over time. I love build-up sprints for beginners, where you start at a jog and pick up speed until you’re all-out sprinting for the last half of the sprint. This reduces the chance of injury as you get used to the physical demands of sprinting.

Here’s a simple 8-week sprinting program:

Week 1: 20 yards x 6 reps, 30 sec rest
Week 2: 20 yards x 8 reps, 30 sec rest
Week 3: 30 yards x 6 reps, 25 sec rest
Week 4: 30 yards x 8 reps, 25 sec rest
Week 5: 40 yards x 8 reps, 20 sec rest
Week 6: 40 yards x 10 reps, 20 sec rest
Week 7: 50 yards x 8 reps, 20 sec rest
Week 8: 50 yards x 10 reps, 20 sec rest

Perform each workout twice per week. The key here is gradually building up the distance while dropping the rest periods over the course of several weeks.


Combine intervals with a weighted hip hinge pattern that targets the hamstrings and glutes and you’ve got the ultimate tool for shedding fat and building muscle in all the right places.

Kettlebell movements are highly technical and take years of practice to master. But if you simplify the swing enough, almost anyone can learn to do it safely in a short amount of time. After a few training sessions of practice, most people can swing well enough to use swings with a high-rep, high-intensity fat loss approach.

For optimal safety, I like to make the swing movement short and simple. With the arms hanging and the kettlebell at hip height, perform a quick hip hinge and forcefully reverse directions, extending the hips explosively to blast the kettlebell forward. Let your momentum propel your arms and the kettlebell to chest height (I like to tell people that the swing is 80 percent hips, 20 percent arms). As the kettlebell returns to the bottom position, imagine throwing the kettlebell “at your zipper”. This is a great cue I picked up from Jason Ferruggia that prevents the kettlebell from going too far between your legs, which can cause your back to round too much.

And of course, keep your chin down, shoulders back and abs tight the whole time. I said it was simple, right? It sounds like a lot, but words don’t do it justice. Check out this video by Tony Gentilcore for some awesome form tips:

I like to use swings as a finisher at the end of a upper- or lower-body lifting session. You can do them for reps or time, paired with other lower-intensity exercises, or do them as a totally separate workout. Try this finisher for quick fat loss:

FINISHER (perform at the end of a lifting session)

KB Swings  x 45 sec
Front Plank x 20 sec
KB Swing x 45 sec
Side Plank x 20 sec
KB Swing x 45 sec
Side Plank (other side) x 20 sec
KB Swing x 45 sec

Do as many swings as possible during each 45-second interval. Perform 3-5 rounds, resting 60 sec between rounds


Maybe it’s freezing cold and snowing outside. Maybe you don’t have enough space for sprints. Maybe you don’t have a Prowler or kettlebells. Well, you’re in luck, because exercise bikes are another tool well-suited for interval training.

The infamous Tabata protocol (20 seconds max effort, 10 seconds rest on and off for 4 minutes) originated on an exercise bike, because only on a bike can you work at super-high intensities for an extended period of time without crashing and burning.

Bike intervals are the perfect choice for people who can’t sprint effectively. There’s no pounding on joints even if you push yourself to the brink of maximal intensity. My dad’s in his mid-50s, has had multiple knee surgeries and has a toolbox full of screws in one of his feet, and he still crushes sprints on his Airdyne bike multiple times a week.

Here’s a simple progression I often use with new clients for the first 4 weeks they train with me:

Week 1: 15 seconds at 9/10 effort, 45 seconds at 4/10 effort (minimum 80 RPM) for 5 reps
Week 2: 20 seconds at 9/10 effort, 40 seconds at 4/10 effort (minimum 80 RPM) for 5 reps
Week 3: 15 seconds at 9/10 effort, 45 seconds at 4/10 effort (minimum 80 RPM) for 6 reps
Week 4: 20 seconds at 9/10 effort, 40 seconds at 4/10 effort (minimum 80 RPM) for 5 reps

Perform each workout twice per week. Warm up for 2 minutes at 4/10 effort and cool down for at least 2 minutes at 2/10 effort.

After that, you can add seconds to the work interval, subtract seconds from the rest interval or add more total reps. A slow and steady progression will help you sustain fat loss efforts and hold off plateaus. The key here is going just short of completely balls-out for the work interval and providing incomplete recovery in between sprints.


My simple advice: Sprint, swing and bike fast and hard for the most fat loss in the shortest amount of time. Long, slow cardio simply doesn’t get the job done fast enough for most of us who are crunched for time and want the most bang for our buck. Give these sample workouts a try to torch some flab before beach season is over.

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3 comments on “The “Big 3” Exercises for Fat Loss
  1. […] swings can do it all. Strength, power, insane conditioning (they’re an essential part of my Big 3 of Fat Loss), beard growth… you name it, swings can do […]

  2. […] #5 – THE “BIG 3″ EXERCISES FOR FAT LOSS […]

  3. […] love kettlebell swings. This is not breaking news. I’ve written about them before (here and here) and I wrote about them […]

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