Fact or Fiction: Fat Burning Exercise

In a previous post from November, I explained how spot toning isn’t really possible. Here’s a snippet:

What does exercise really do? It builds muscles and burns calories. It does not “sculpt.” Increased lean muscle mass typically increases your metabolism, and if you pair consistent exercise with a healthy way of eating, your body composition will gradually transform. However, you lose fat all over your body consistently, with variables due to genetics and gender.

For example, doing lots of squats and other effective lower body exercises, under the best of circumstances, will contribute to fat loss and possibly weight loss. However, what many women find is that the “Secret Angel Leg Workout” can sometimes result in a thinner face or a smaller waistline before any transformation is visible in the thighs. This is because the rate at which you lose fat from various parts of your body is not dependent on what kind of exercise you do – the results, instead, hinge largely on genetics and where you tend to store body fat. This doesn’t mean that you won’t ever see slimmer, more muscular legs if you are consistent with your lower body exercises – it simply means that you are building muscle beneath fat that is going to take longer to disappear than fat on other parts of your body, perhaps.

However, I received lots of e-mail feedback from that article that I could summarize in one legitimate question, “If spot-toning isn’t possible, how do I lose fat all over my body, as recommended?”

This is a great question. The main purpose of the original article was to debunk silly, ineffective, targeted exercises to which women are especially vulnerable. However, I didn’t go into great detail explaining the workout that would provide real solutions. I gave some general guidelines, including healthy eating, that would help men and women transform body composition in the long haul.

I’m ready to dish more specifics this time around.

My “secret weapon” of a trim physique and fat burning exercise is sprinting.

As I often say, “The solutions to complex problems are often simple, but not easy.” This is true of sprinting as well. It is a simple answer, but it requires the person to stir the motivation to run all-out with maximum effort for at least 10 seconds at least 8-10 times in a workout.

Here is an example sprint workout on a treadmill or on the track, which I do all the time:


3 minutes: Walk (4 mph)


30-60 seconds: Sprint (8-9 mph)

30-60 seconds: Walk (4 mph)

Repeat sprints 8-10 times. 

Cool Down: 

5 minutes: Walk (2-3 mph)

Why is sprinting so effective as a fat burning exercise?

Sprinting burns fat like no other type of exercise because it encourages an increased release of natural human growth hormone (HGH). A short description of HGH’s function is that it prevents glucose from being absorbed by cells for energy, so the body uses more fat for energy instead of glucose. Want to learn more about HGH? Read this article.

For women, especially women who are extremely fit but still have areas of stubborn fat, developing higher levels of HGH in the body can help to address these hard-to-burn areas by kicking the body into a higher level of fat burn than normally accessible through typical weight training.

If it’s so simple, why isn’t it easy?

The bottom line is that most adults do not like the way sprinting feels. The all-out maximum effort causes shortness of breath, muscle burn, increase in body temperature, nausea, and general discomfort in the moment. I have had clients discontinue training when I began to incorporate sprints into their workouts, even though they would have reaped the benefits of the sprints enormously if they had stuck to them for at least six weeks.

Sprinting on a treadmill or a track is more effective than using the elliptical or the bike, because you are propelling your entire body weight forwards, not resting a large part of your body weight on a machine.

Sprinting isn’t for everyone. If you are recovering from an injury or have joint issues, you will want to check with your doctor first. However, if you are a healthy, active adult, you can begin to incorporate sprints into your workout gradually by sprinting short portions of your typical cardio workouts. If you are already extremely active, you can probably transition immediately into the sprint workout that I outlined above.


Sprints are my “secret,” but there’s nothing I would change about the original article. The bottom line is that consistent, balanced exercise and healthy eating are the keys to fat loss. Adding sprints will simply kick your overall fitness routine into overdrive, if you are already in good shape.

Finally, if you are experiencing shame or discomfort about your body and are scouring the internet for solutions for your thighs, remember that life – and exercise – involve a lot more than the size of your thighs. “Don’t miss out on 95% of life to lose 5% of your body fat,” as a great fitness quote states. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to improve your physique, but don’t let it subtract from who you are as a person. A few simple exercise habits and a healthy, balanced diet will give you the results you want, but don’t forget to live life in the meantime!


Rachel Trotta

I am a Certified Personal Trainer, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Physique and Bodybuilding Specialist, and Women's Fitness Specialist. I live in New Jersey in the NYC metro area, and I coach clients online all over the world. As a trainer and health writer, my mission is to make healthy living sustainable for the average person. I’m also a wife, mom, nature lover, runner, avid cook, weightlifting aficionado, history nerd, travel addict, and obsessive podcast listener. Get in touch!

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