The Ultimate Fat Loss Workout for Athletes

As an athlete, you are probably not fat, but are you athletic lean? Do you have an optimal body fat percentage to be the best you can be at your sport? When you strip dead weight off your body, your speed, agility, vertical jump and conditioning improve. When you get leaner, everything gets better.

However, if you want to get lean, you can't just follow mainstream fitness advice. You are an athlete, and you need a high-performance fat loss workout that will get you to your optimal athletic body composition goal while improving your athletic performance.

What you really need to get athletic lean

Much mainstream fitness info comes from traditions in bodybuilding and endurance sports, neither of which is appropriate for fat loss workouts if you are a strength/power or team sport athlete. In the same way your sports performance training needs to be specific to the demands of your sport, your fat loss workout should also be sport-specific.

Address your diet first

Nutrition is the single most important thing for effective fat loss. As an athlete, you are already doing a lot of physical activity. You probably don't have time or energy to add more activity. Cleaning up your diet is the most important secret to getting athletic lean.

Mainstream fitness diets tend to be low-calorie, low-carbohydrate and excessively restrictive. Although they may work for sedentary office workers, these diets will not fuel high-performance training, facilitate recovery or preserve lean muscle.

Athlete-specific nutrition starts with getting rid of all the junk you already know you should not be eating and replacing it with whole, natural, single-ingredient foods. Once you've made these changes, you can use an app or online nutrition tracker to tweak total calories, protein, fats and carbohydrates to meet your specific needs.

RELATED: Athlete Nutrition

Preserve muscle size, strength and power

Of course, when you lose fat, you should also try to hold on to muscle. Muscle keeps your metabolism high. Strength and power training not only enhance your athletic performance, they teach your body to expend energy.

Manage fatigue

Much mainstream fitness simply prescribes creative ways to make you tired. As an athlete, your goal should never be to get smoked, but to get better. Sure, proper training is hard work, and there will be some fatigue; but if you are constantly exhausted, you will not be able to express your athleticism and skill.

RELATED: 7 Strategies for Faster Workout Recovery

Stay injury-free

As an athlete, you will sometimes put it all on the line when you are competing at a high level. However, you cannot afford to get hurt in the weight room. Many of today's mainstream fitness programs involve a deadly combination of exhaustion and complex movements. Sure, this can be effective for fat loss, but it also puts you are a higher risk for injury. In addition, practicing hundreds of sloppy reps can detract from your movement quality. You need to make sure the intense metabolic training done in your fat loss workout is done with low-risk exercises.

Be time-efficient

The single most important thing you can do as an athlete to get better at your sport is to practice your sport. When you combine practices, games, travel, school, work, eating, sleeping and having a life, you are left with little time for training. Mainstream fitness and physique sports have many inefficient traditions such as: body part splits, ab days, excessive isolation exercises and endless hours of steady-state cardio. As a busy athlete, you want to get in, crank up your metabolic rate, get out and get on with the rest of your busy life.

Do the right type of cardio

Most fitness folks still rely on cardio for fat loss. This is better than sitting on the coach, but traditional forms of cardio are inappropriate for athletes. Think of a typical runner. While he or she may be lean compared to the average person, by athlete standards, he or she is skinny-fat. Traditional cardio lowers your metabolism, wastes away muscle, decreases your speed and power and increases your risk for overuse injuries. Don't make the mistake many athletes make of adding extra treadmill time for fat loss. Short, intense interval training is more effective, more sport-specific and way more time-efficient.

RELATED: STUDY: Will Cardio Ruin Your Strength Workouts?

Sample fat loss workout for athletes

When I work with an athlete who needs to get leaner fast, my go-to fat loss workout is a 4-day, whole-body, non-linear periodization program. Non-linear periodization has attracted a lot of attention over the last decade in both academia and the gym. Instead of having one single style of training for a training phase, you combine different training focuses into the same week of training. This is more refreshing both mentally and physically. The trick with non-linear programming is to have a major focus that gets more attention than other types of training. In this context, you have one day devoted to strength, one day to power and two days devoted to intense metabolically demanding fat loss training.

Day 1: Heavy Strength Day

  • 1a) Deadlift: 5-6x3*, 1 min rest
  • 1b) Incline Press: 5-6x3*, 1 min rest
  • 2a) Front Squat: 5-6x3*, 1 min rest
  • 2b) Chin-Up: 5-6x4-6, 1 min rest
  • 3) Farmer's Walk: 3x20-30meters, 1-2 min rest

* Start light and increase weight each set

Day 2: Metabolic Day 1

  • 1) Med Ball Throws back & forth*: 3 sets of 3 throws in each direction, 1 min rest
  • 2a) Kettlebell Swings: 3-4x8-10, rest 20-30 sec
  • 2b) One-Arm DB Press from ½ Kneel: 3-4x8-10, rest 20 sec between arms and the next exercise
  • 2c) Single-Leg Hip Thrust: 3-4x8-10, rest 20-30 sec
  • 2d) One-Arm DB Row: 3-4x8-10, rest 20 sec between arms and the next exercise
  • 2e) Heavy Sled Pulls**: 3-4x25-30 meters, rest 20-30 sec
  • 2f) Pallof Press: 3x8-10, rest 20s sec between sides and the next exercise
  • 3) Sprints: 4-8x 40 meters, rest 1 min

* Throw a med ball high in the air and slightly forward. Before the second bounce, sprint to get behind the ball, catch it and repeat in the other direction.

** If you do not have access to a sled, do Walking Lunges for 20 meters.

Day 3: Explosive Power Day

  • 1) Hang Power Clean: 5x3*, rest 1-2 min
  • 2) Push Press: 5x3*, rest 1-2 min
  • 3a) Medicine Ball Chest Pass: 4x5-7, rest 45 sec
  • 3b) Medicine Ball Slams: 4x5-7, rest 45 sec
  • 4a) Split Squat Jumps: 3x3 each leg, rest 1 min
  • 4b) TRX Rows**: 3x10-12, rest 45 sec

* Start light and increase weight each set

** The rows are not a power exercise; they are included for upper body structural balance.

Day 4: Metabolic Day 2

  • 1) Med Ball Underhand Throws: 3x5, 1 min rest
  • 2a) Kettlebell Swings: 3-4x8-10, rest 20-30 sec
  • 2b) Chin-Ups: 3-4x8-10, rest 20-30 sec
  • 2c) Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift*: 3-4x8-10, rest 20-30 sec
  • 2d) One-Arm DB Bench Press: 3-4x8-10, rest 20 sec between arms and the next exercise
  • 2e) Heavy Sled Pulls**: 3-4x25-30 meters, rest 20-30 sec
  • 2f) Swiss Ball or Ab-Wheel Rollouts: 3-4x8-10, rest 20-30 sec
  • 3) Sprints: 4-8x 40 meters, rest 1 min

* Hold dumbbell in the hand opposite the moving leg. Use your other hand to hold on to a sturdy object for balance.

** If you do not have access to a sled, do Walking Lunges for 15 meters.


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: BURN FAT | CARDIO | WORKOUTS | NUTRITION | FITNESS | POWER | PRESS | FAT LOSS | METABOLIC