The Best Cardio Workouts to Burn Fat (That Don’t Totally Suck)

cardio workouts sand sprints jamin thompson

Let’s face it, cardio sucks.

I hate it.

It’s boring, it hurts, and it can often do more harm that good when used incorrectly.

“More harm than good? But Jamin, how can you say that?”

Here are a few issues I have with traditional cardio:

-It’s boring.
-It’s time consuming.
-It can boost cortisol levels (can cause muscle/strength loss & bodyfat storage).
-It can cause overuse injuries to your joints.
-Can I list boring twice?

But even though cardio totally sucks, it should still be included in your workout plan.

I know there are a lot of experts who say you “don’t need to do cardio” for reasons X, Y, and Z, or whatever… but when used correctly, cardio has a place in every workout program.

You see, cardio is good for cardiovascular health, it can help increase your aerobic capacity and conditioning, and it can help you burn more fat.

So if you want to live longer, get into better shape, and eventually get laid you’ve got to do some cardio.

Yes, I said it.

GET LAID.

Come on bro let’s be honest…

We all know that’s the main reason you’re reading this article and hitting the gym 4-5 days a week: to get in sick shape so that hot chick you’re in love with on Instagram will finally notice you, follow you back, slide into your DMs, and then you know…

Still with me?

Ok good.

“So what type of cardio should I be doing to get in sick shape? And which types don’t totally suck?”

Say no more fam. I got you.

Speaking from personal experience, I like to do cardio that is interesting and challenging – so instead of doing boring cardio (aka traditional cardio) I prefer to do manly things like sled pulls, tire flips, and kettlebell slams.

I also like to punch and kick things (preferably my sparring partners, but sometimes I also beat up the heavy bag).

I’ve found that this type of training is a lot more fun (and a lot more effective) than the traditional ways of doing cardio.

Also, training like this means I don’t have to slog around on a boring cardio machine for 60 minutes… and I can get a killer cardio workout in that not only boosts my anabolic hormone levels, but also doesn’t take all day to get it done.

Below, I have put together a list of my favorite forms of cardio, and trust me, I’m using the term “favorite” very loosely here.

I actually don’t have a favorite form of cardio because every form of cardio pretty much sucks to do.

These are just the forms of cardio that that suck less than the other ones suck 🙂

The Best Cardio Workouts to Burn Fat

1. Sled Pushes and Pulls

If you want to get bigger, faster, and more explosive you’ve got to develop your posterior chain, and nothing does this quite as well as sled drags.

You see, the muscles of the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, and lower back) are the biggest factors in forward propulsion, and with such a huge role in human performance, posterior chain development should never be taken lightly.

Here are a few benefits to doing sled work:
1. Helps develop the posterior chain and prevents & reverses saggy ass syndrome (i.e. Miley Cyrus).
2. Helps build your conditioning and endurance.
3. Increased hypertrophy, fat burning, and injury resistance.
4. The chicks at your gym will think you’re a badass.
5. Sled work will also help you develop a nice ass… which should also help you out with the main reason you’re still reading: see #7 below.

There aren’t a ton of conditioning exercises out there that are quite as challenging (or as effective) as pushing/pulling a sled.

Sled work delivers a full body workout that will help improve your conditioning, increase strength, and help you lean out all at the same time.

You can check out one of my sled workouts in the video below:

Here’s a beginner sled workout to get you started:
1) Forward Sled Drag- 5 x 90ft x 60 sec. rest
2) Backward Sled Drag- 5 x 90ft x 60 sec. rest

Note: Forward drags help develop the glutes and backwards drags help develop the quads.

Pro Tip: The sled pretty much eliminates the eccentric component so you can do this type of cardio at a higher volume/frequency (2-3 times per week) without getting sore or running the risk or losing your hard earned muscle and strength gains. You can also alternate between heavy and light sessions. I typically do these as a workout finisher (I will discuss workout finishers in more detail below).

Note: if you don’t have access to a sled you can put a 45 pound plate on a piece of cardboard and push that on the floor. Add more weight as needed if 45 pounds is too easy (varies by surface).

2. Tire Flips

Arguably the manliest exercise of all time, tire flips will help you build massive strength and increase your conditioning to an elite level.

Unfortunately, many people never get the pleasure of trying these because they think it’s too hard to get their hands on a 300+ pound tire… but it’s honestly A LOT easier than most people think.

Give your local tire company a call and ask if they have any extra-large tires lying around that they want to get rid of. Most of the time they are more than happy to help when someone takes one off their hands… and it won’t even cost you a dime.

cardio workouts tire flips jamin thompson

Note: getting your newly acquired massive tire to the place where you want to perform your tire flipping workout is another story altogether. You’re on your own there.

3. Running Stairs

Most top athletes and strength coaches all agree: running stairs is one of the best cardio workouts of all time.

As a former athlete, I have probably run hundreds of thousands of stairs in my lifetime, and I will never forget those brutal workouts at Clemson where we had to sprint up and down the stairs in the 90,000 seat stadium of Death Valley to get in shape for the season in 100 degree heat. It totally sucked, but it was a great way to get into phenomenal shape very quickly. 

Running stairs isn’t anything new, it has been around for years. Unfortunately, it is one of the least used forms of cardio out there and it’s largely underrated as an elite training method. It’s not fancy, but it is very effective.

Strength, power, flexibility, supreme conditioning, and fat loss are all attainable with stairs. Even better, you don’t need a gym membership. Stairs are literally everywhere and FREE to use.

Pro Tip: if you want to get started with stair workouts, download these free stair workouts, and check out the three free PDF’s on this post.

4. Hill Sprints

When it comes to cardio you won’t find many methods that are more effective than hill sprints.

Not only do hill sprints build explosive strength and power, but they will also help you build slabs of muscle in your quads, hamstrings, calves, and glutes. As an added bonus you’ll also get into amazing cardiovascular shape becuase your lung capacity and conditioning will increase exponentially.

My college team used to run hill sprints all the time and they were killer. I honestly don’t think there is a faster or more efficient way to get back into playing shape after the offseason.

If you don’t believe me, just check out Jerry Rice (arguably the greatest wide receiver of all time) as he discusses how doing hill sprints helped him become the best conditioned player in the NFL.

Here’s a sample hill sprint workout to try:

1a. 50 Yard Hill Sprint- 3 x 1 x :15-30 seconds rest
1b. Squat Thrust- 3 x 10 x :15-30 seconds rest
1c. Walk Back Down- N/A
1d. 50 Yard Hill Sprint- 3 x 1 x :15-30 seconds rest
1e. Grasshopper- 5 x 10 x :15-30 seconds rest
1f. Walk Back Down- N/A
1g. Gate Swing- 3 x 10 x :15-30 seconds rest

Pro Tip: Once you reach an advanced conditioning level, try doing hill sprints while wearing a weight vest or carrying a heavy sandbag.

5. Jumping Rope

Jumping rope is old school… but just like running hill sprints and stairs nobody really does it anymore. In my opinion, this is a shame because jumping rope is one of the greatest conditioning tools ever invented. 

Personally, I like to throw in a jump rope sesh once or twice a week to keep my athleticism and conditioning up.

Here’s a basic jump rope workout to try: go as hard and as fast as you can for 30-60 seconds then jump normally for 30-60 seconds. Do this for 10-15 minutes. Blasting Rocky music while jumping = optional.

If you’re advanced and think you’re ready for the big time, try this finisher:

1a. Jump Rope- 2 x :30 seconds on x :0 seconds rest
1b. Heavy Bag or Shadow Boxing- 2 x :30 seconds on x :0 seconds rest
1c. Muhammad Ali Shuffle- 2 x :30 seconds x :0 seconds rest
1d. KB Thruster- 2 x :30 seconds on x :0 seconds rest
1e. Heavy Bag or Shadow Boxing- 2 x :30 seconds on x :0 seconds rest
1f. Medicine Ball Prone Toe Touch- 2 x :30 seconds on x :60-120 seconds rest

6. Deadmill Sprints

A Deadmill sprint is basically just a treadmill sprint at max effort with the treadmill power off. All movement of the treadmill is generated purely by your own effort.

Here’s a beginner deadmill workout to try: deadmill sprint at max effort for 30-60 seconds. Drop to the floor and do 20 pushups or crunches. Rest for 30-60 seconds. Repeat for 10 rounds.

7. Sex

Do you like to sprint or you more of a slow steady pace kind of cardio person? Regardless of your preferred style, you’re still going to break a sweat, burn calories, and have fun with this one. Try to have sex three times per week, minimum. Preferably with hot chicks.

8. Kettlebell Slams

Kettlebell slams are one of my favorite exercises to do, period. Not only do I get to take out all of my frustrations out on the weight and de-stress every time I slam the weight into the ground, but I also get an excellent conditioning workout in at the same time.

If you’ve never tried these, add them into your rotation ASAP. You can thank me later.

Check out this video of me doing kettlebell slams below:

9. Sledgehammer Slams

If you’ve gotten his far you’ve probably noticed I prefer badass, violent cardio methods where you push, throw, punch, and slam things over long, boring cardio where you run in place or ride a stationary bike at a super slow pace.

That said, sledgehammer slams are also tops on my ‘best cardio to burn fat’ list.

I think the name ‘Sledgehammer Slams’ pretty much tells you all you need to know about this exercise so here’s what you need to do to get started: (1) head over to your local Home Depot and buy an 8 pound sledgehammer; (2) next, hit up your local junkyard and procure a large old tire; (3) next, head to your local park (or use your backyard) and smash the tire with the sledgehammer for 3-5 rounds.

Watch the video below to see how I add sledgehammer slams into my workouts:

Each round can last from 20-60 seconds with a brief rest in between sets. If you’re a stud you can even mix in some bodyweight and/or kettlebell work between sets.

Note: Sledgehammer slams will help strengthen your core and build six pack abs –  when you do these, you should wake up the next day with super sore abs and forearms.

Pro Tip: You’ll want to hit an object that will absorb the blow but not fall apart after a few hits. I suggest using a large tire (minus the rim) or a large bale of hay. Don’t use something that will cause the sledgehammer to bounce back and hit you in the face or go right through the object and hit you in the shin. Ask me how I know.

10. Battling Ropes

Battling ropes are a great conditioning exercise for people who can’t do many of the exercises listed above due to chronic joint pain.

This exercise usually doesn’t cause any pain (especially in your joints), so you should be able to use it to get a great conditioning session in even if you have knee, back, and/or elbow pain without risking further injury.

cardio workouts battling ropes jamin thompson

Here’s a sample battling rope workout:
1a. Alternate Battling Ropes- 4 x :20 seconds on x :20-40 seconds rest
1b. Rope Slams- 4 x :20 seconds on x :20-40 seconds rest
1c. Grapplers Throw Battling Ropes- 4 x :20 seconds on x :20-40 seconds rest

11. Heavy Bag Work

Beating up the heavy bag is probably my favorite type of cardio. Not only do I get to beat the hell out of the bag with punches and kicks (it’s a helluva stress reliever), but heavy bag work is probably one of the most effective (and fun) forms of cardio you can do.

Sometimes I’ll also throw in some jump rope or bodyweight exercises to spice things up a bit.

Here’s a sample heavy bag workout to try:
1. Heavy Bag upper body strikes :60 seconds (0-15 second rest)
2. Heavy Bag kicks & knees both sides :60 seconds (0-15 second rest)
3. Hindu Pushups :30 seconds (0-15 second rest)
4. Speed Rope :60 seconds

*Rest for :60 seconds after completing 1 through 4 and continue the full circuit for 10-15 minutes*

Pro Tip: be sure to always wear open fingered MMA gloves so you don’t tear your knuckles up on the bag. (Ask me how I know).

cardio workouts kickboxing punching bag jamin thompson

12. Shadow Boxing

This is a very effective exercise to complement or substitute for the heavy bag. The best part about shadow boxing is that it’s a badass exercise (that most people never do) and you don’t need any equipment to do it.

Of course, it may take a bit of practice before you look like a legit boxer, so you may want to start off doing this exercise at home if you’re afraid of embarrassing yourself at your local gym.

13. Finishers 

workout finisher (also called a metabolic finisher) is an intense exercise or series of quick (10-30 minute) high-intensity exercises (i.e. various combos of sprints, fighting rounds, weightlifting, bodyweight exercises, etc) that are typically performed at the end of a workout.

Workout finishers are designed to ensure you push yourself to the limit, and burn every last drop of gas that’s remaining in your tank.

They aren’t easy, but they will help you build muscle and shred fat… and also help improve your strength, speed, endurance, power, and mental toughness.

Pro Tip: You don’t always have to do ‘finishers’ at the end of a strength training workout, you can also do them as a separate workout on their own. 

Here is a sample Workout Finisher: 

Flip a large tire 5-10 times, and after every 5-10 flips do one of the following for :30 to :60 seconds: push-ups, speedrope, burpees, shadowbox, knee jumps, split jumps, sledgehammer slams, medicine ball slams, crunches, etc. Repeat until you have flipped the tire 50-100 times.

14. HIIT

High intensity interval training (HIIT) is a very popular (and researched backed) strategy for burning fat, increasing endurance, and building a healthy, muscular physique.

A HIIT workout alternates between short, high intensity work intervals (typically at a 70 to 90 percent max heart rate) and low intensity recovery/rest periods (50 to 65% max heart rate).

HIIT typically burns more calories than traditional cardio, and one of its primary benefits is that is also burns more calories after the workout as well. The bursts of increased intensity will help you burn more calories, thus allowing you to burn more total calories both during and after your workout, leading to more fat loss.

Here’s a sample hiit workout for you to try:

1a. Goblet Squats :30 seconds
1b. Kettlebell Toss *1 throw as far as you can, then sprint to the spot*
1c. 1-Arm Kettlebell Slams 10 on each arm
Rest for :30 to :60 seconds, repeat for 3 total sets.

2a. Broad Jump :30 seconds
2b. Overhead Double Hand Kettlebell Slam :30 seconds
2c. Sandbag Ground n’ Pound :30 seconds
Rest for :30 to :60 seconds, repeat for 3 total sets.

3a. Sandbag Squat Jumps :30 seconds
3b. Sandbag Over The Shoulder Slams :30 seconds
3c. Sandbag Carries :30 seconds
Rest for :30 to :60 seconds, repeat for 3 total sets.

Pro Tip: To complete this workout you will need a sandbag and a kettlebell.

15. Track Workouts

Arguably one of the greatest fat shredding exercises of all time, sprinting is an excellent way to burn a ton of calories, fat, and increase your overall endurance level.

With the added benefit of building muscle along with increasing overall speed, running sprints will help you build and define your quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, and abs, while at the same time burning off a ton of stubborn body fat.

Here’s a sample track workout for you to try:

1. Head to your local track and run one mile for time. Advanced athletes, try to finish in 6:00 minutes or less. Intermediate athletes, try to finish in 8:00 minutes or less. Beginners should set a goal of finishing in 10:00 minutes or less. Record your time so you can try to beat it the next time you try this workout.

2. Sprint four 400s as fast as you can. Try to finish each one in less than :75 seconds. Rest for :60 to :90 seconds between sprints. Be sure to record your time so you can try to beat it in your next workout.

cardio workouts track sprints jamin thompson

16. Walking

Walking is an often overlooked and underrated method of burning fat, and despite the fact that it may be “traditional boring cardio” it’s actually a really great way to burn stubborn body fat.

Not only is walking the easiest way to improve your physique without reducing gains or performance, but it is arguably the best complement to an intense, weekly weight lifting routine.

Walking typically burns a ton of fat and very little muscle. It also assists with training recovery, and it doesn’t add any additional training stress (like HIIT does, for example).

The only downside to walking is that it can be really time consuming, and in order to burn a significant amount of fat you’ll need to walk a minimum of three hours per week, but I would recommend five to six hours.

To get started with steady-state-walking, you can give this a try: using an 8 to 10 incline on a treadmill and a 2 to 3 pace, walk for three to six hours a week. Each session, walk for 30 to 60 minutes, use a very intense pace, and aim to burn 300-500 calories.

Pro Tip: When I walk, I usually try to pass the time by watching TV, listening to podcasts, lectures, or audiobooks while I’m lumbering along on the treadmill.

Click Here to get your hands on 52 more fully detailed, fat blasting cardio workouts that will help take your conditioning to the next level. Also, you can download all of my workout routines and meal plans to help you get shredded here

Now it’s your turn: What forms of cardio are you currently using to burn fat right now? Do you know of any great tips I may have missed? If you’ve been using a certain type of cardio for a while, what hacks or mods have you used that have worked well for you? Drop a comment below and share your thoughts, I’d love to hear from you.

Jamin Thompson
Over the past 10 years, Jamin Thompson – actor, sport & fitness model, and former world ranked tennis player – has appeared in or on publications such as Men's Health, Men’s Fitness, Muscle & Fitness, Inside Fitness, Bodybuilding.com; as well as worked as a sponsored athlete for and/or been featured in commercials and print ads for Nike, Under Armour, Reebok, ESPN, Wilson Sporting Goods, Powertec Fitness, Gifted Nutrition and more. Using his real world, in the trenches experience, writes to help others dominate in the gym, on the field, and in life. His book, The 6 Pack Secret, has been sold in over 50 countries and has helped thousands of folks from all walks of life get cut and jacked the healthy way.
Jamin Thompson

@jaminthompson

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