It’s March, and that means Spring Break ‘17 is just around the corner.

Many have already begun flocking to their gym to burn off belly fat before posing on the beach with their friends

#springbreak17 #beachlife #duckface

Some take a hardcore approach to their fat loss by sprinting, doing high-rep Olympic lifting/box jumps, and burpeeing (is burpeeing a word? Looks like bur-peeing…) until their heart is bursting and muscles scream “mercy!”

Pop quiz: if you want to get lean and sexy, which of these is better?

  1. Sprinting, jumping on plyo boxes, and doing 100-burpee workouts as fast as possible to burn fat, or
  2. Weight training with reasonable intensity in a caloric deficit?

At first glance, you might have an answer. I have one too: It depends

“It depends” is that phrase that answers literally every single question you have about fitness and nutrition:

“Should I squat?”

“Should I go Paleo?”

“Cardio or weights first?”

“Is Andy single?”

That last one is a joke to see if my wife reads my work. Are you a brunette and into squats? Then the answer is….

Just kidding.

Which approach is better? Which would get you lean and sexy the fastest?

It depends: for many, (a) sprinting, burpees, and jumping over plyo boxes seems like the obvious answer for their fat-loss needs because they’re high intensity and burn a lot of calories, which is good for fat loss.

The second answer (b) is boring but equally as difficult: counting calories is a pain in the ass. First, it’s difficult to know how many calories I’m supposed to be eating to be in a deficit. Second, measuring by tablespoons and cups seems borderline neurotic. Third, we’re not entirely sure that our portion sizes are measured correctly. And fourth, not all tracking apps are accurate.

Eating is also tied to socioeconomic, psychological, and emotional health. In other words, telling someone to “just eat less” is equally as effective as telling a depressed person to “just be happy.”

So when trying to answer the above question, “which is easier, box jumps or counting calories?” most would go with answer (a).

Both approaches work, provided you’re in a caloric deficit, and you know what you’re doing in the weight room. (You cannot, under any circumstances, “hack” your fat loss without addressing caloric intake)

Here’s the problem with (a): while all forms of physical activity come with some injury risk, exercises like sprints, box jumps, and high-rep Olympic lifting (snatches and cleans) pose a greater risk than other, more traditional exercises like squats and push-ups. That’s because these movements are fast, have a high degree of difficulty, and are often performed under fatigue, increasing injury risk as time goes on.

If you’re hurt, you can’t train; if you can’t train, you’re not burning calories; if you’re not burning calories, you’re not getting as lean as you’d like.

In the game of fat loss, longevity is king.

For me the answer is (b): take a reasonable approach to training intensity while focusing on slowly reducing my calorie intake; start waaaaaay back in January so I’m ready in March (or March to be ready by summer), and I’ll be fine without ever having to burpee my joints into oblivion.

Instead of blitzing and bombarding your body into fat-burning submission, I’m going to give you my five favorite low-impact fat loss exercises that I use with both my in-person and online clients to make them super-sexy by summer.

Bear Crawling

Because you’ve never seen a “gym fail” video involving bear crawls.

At first glance, bear crawls aren’t nearly as sexy as burpees. Burpees are often performed for high reps and when fatigue sets in, technique goes out the window: hips and knees smack the floor; spines twist like bendy straws; and hands violently “catch” a falling body, increasing risk of injury.

With bear crawling, on the other hand, you never leave the ground: there is very little impact to joints, and not only do you burn a lot of calories doing them, but they will smoke your shoulders, triceps, abs, and thighs when you’re doing them, which is great for those #beachpics

Give them a try in your next workout like this:

Novice: 3×10 yrds

Intermediate: 3×20 yrds

Advanced: 3×40 yrds

Counterintuitively, the slower you move the more challenging the exercise, and you’re far less likely to get hurt.

Incline Walking

As a lacrosse player in college I loved to sprint. I’ve always been fast, and being able to hit the turf and smoke the competition made me feel awesome. Last night, I played lacrosse for the first time in seven years, and I probably haven’t sprinted since those days. And you know what? I’m dying today.

I’m sore in more places than I can count. What gives? I used to be good at them.

Specificity, baby. Specificity means that if you train for strength, you’ll be strong; if you run long distances, you’ll get better at running long distances; if you run sprints, you’ll be faster. Since I don’t sprint, I’m not good at sprinting, and my body is telling me how bad I am at it.

So before you go trying to break your old high school 40-yard dash time, maybe you ought to earn your right to sprint before attempting it again.

Lastly, because of the speed and impact of your body striking the ground, sprinting is hard on your joints. The impact per step is far greater than when walking.

Instead, try incline walking: you’ll burn more calories than if you walk on a flat surface, and because you’re walking uphill, the impact is much lighter on your joints.

Try 20-30 minutes of incline walking on your “off” days or just after your regular lift. Vary the speed and the incline (5-10 degrees) to keep the stimulus new and challenging every time.

Weighted Carry

Are you that person who tries to grab every single grocery bag, so you don’t have to make another trip out to the car? Is there any other way? 

Then you’ve done a weighted carry, also known as a Farmer’s Walk

Very simply, you grab a pair of heavy dumbbells or kettlebells and walk for distance or time, turn around and come back again. While it may seem too simple, they’re actually really hard: weighted carries build muscle and burn fat without a ton of impact on your body.

Plus there’s no skill involved: while other, more advanced exercises like cleans and snatches look cool, they’re incredibly difficult to master, and even less appropriate for high reps under fatigue. Weighted carries, on the other hand, are too simple to screw up, with the added benefit that if your grip strength fails, you can just drop the weights to the floor.

Try this: grab ¼ to ½ your body weight in dumbbells next time you’re at the gym, one in each hand. Walk for 30-40 yards, turn around, and come back again. See how winded you are when you return. Take a short break, maybe 30-60 seconds, and do it again. Try three sets of 40-50 yards with minimal rest between sets.

Or try a 1-arm “suitcase carry,” for extra killer ab work:

Turkish Get-up

The Turkish get-up (TGU) is one of my favorite kettlebell movements because it’s a beautiful display of mobility, stability, and grace rolled into one total body movement.

It’s like breakdancing, but with weights.

Admittedly this exercise requires a little more skill and far more patience than sprinting or burpees, but I would argue that’s exactly why they’re better.

You don’t have to do too many TGU’s in a row to feel how impactful it is on your entire body. One rep and you’ll feel muscles you didn’t know you had and wonder how your heart is pounding so fast already.

The key to this exercise is to own every single position. This isn’t a race. There’s no prize for doing a TGU super fast. And let me point out the obvious: there’s a weight directly over your pretty face. Don’t go so fast you can’t control where that thing is going and wind up at the dentist with busted out teeth.

Own the movement. Do it slowly for a couple reps per side, and then rest. Try 5 sets of 2/side the next time you’re at the gym.

KB Swings

Box jumps are cool when used appropriately. That last part, “used appropriately” is where most go wrong: high reps under fatigue is a recipe for missing the box and scraping your shins raw on the way back down.

Knee-high socks to hide your scrapes and bruises isn’t a good look for anyone.

Instead, try Kettlebell Swings, which are the most “ballistic” exercise on my list, but I would argue is still far less impactful than burpees and box jumps, with the added benefit of building an amazing ass.

I think it was George Washington who said “I cannot tell a lie…I like big butts”

Or was that Sir Mix-A-Lot?

Kettlebell swings are intense but because your body never leaves the ground, far less impactful than those other exercises. You’ll burn a ton of calories, sweat like crazy, and build a strong and sexy pair of glutes. Sounds like a winner to me.

Try one of these workouts:

5×10, with 60s rest between sets, OR

Accumulate 100 reps after your regular lift, resting as needed


Wrapping up

As a coach, my job is to keep you safe, first and foremost. My second job is to get you to your goals. While the above exercises won’t get you Instagram-famous, they’ll certainly help you burn fat safely and effectively, which is the whole point: for effective fat loss to happen, you’ve gotta take a smart and safe approach to your training and nutrition.

Injuries suck. Don’t let social media (or a bad coach) pressure you into reckless workouts with reckless exercises. Choose the boring but powerful approach: train hard and with purpose, slowly drop your caloric intake, and be slim and sexy by summer


Andy Van Grinsven

About Andy Van Grinsven

One Response to “Be Better than the Burpee: Low-impact Exercises for Faster Fat Loss”

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