Fitmodo: These Are The Most Time-Efficient Fat-Burning Exercises

Gizmodo speaks with an Australian sports science and fitness expert to uncover which exercises provide most bang for buck. Perfect for making the most out of your lunch hour. The elliptical? Rowing? Or is there a better option? Here are the facts.

Welcome back to Fitmodo powered by the new Fitbit Charge HR activity wristband -- now with continuous heart rate tracking -- and the Fitbit Surge fitness super watch. Heart rate, calories, steps and sport tracking with long battery life, call and text notifications, auto sleep monitoring and more.

Running picture from Shutterstock

Fitting exercise into a busy schedule can be hard but most of us could grab 30 minutes a day before or after work, or even during a lunch break. Every workout is different, but if you want to burn as many calories as you can in a limited time then a few stand out above the rest.

To get the full story from an expert in fitness, we spoke to Adrian Holdsworth, the National Product Manager at Fitness First. It turns out the professionals recommend High Intensity Training as the best way to burn fat. HIIT is a form of interval training, which combines short but very high intensity bouts of anaerobic exercise, with less intense recovery periods.

According to Adrian, one of the key advantages of HIIT over traditional workouts such as running is motivation. While you can do your own program, typically HIIT workouts are run by a trainer with a group of participants. This brings a social factor into play -- you are much more likely to actually turn up to your class rather than hitting the snooze button.

HIIT workout picture from Shutterstock

Adrian also said that HIIT builds more lean muscle mass than traditional workouts and boosts your metabolic rate. This has a flow on effect after you have finished exercising – your body keeps using higher levels of energy after you are done, increasing weight loss.

HIIT training makes it hard to calculate calorie use, as it can incorporate many different activities. It also impacts people of different weights a lot more than other workouts, as your body is often used as resistance.

Push yourself hard and you can burn up to 700 calories in a 30 minute HIIT workout – even more than our other options. It's even better than one of the most energy intensive activities we could find - working as an axe wielding lumberjack, with only burns 695 calories in 30 minutes.

How We Calculated Calories Burnt

Calories burnt were taken from the My Fitness Pal and Fitbit websites. Unless otherwise stated, intensity level was set to 'vigorous'.

These numbers were based on the average Australian male and female according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Sorry girls, but with more body mass and typically more muscle, guys will burn more fat with the same length workout.

Male and Female picture from Shutterstock

Average Male Height: 175.6cm Height: 85.9 KG

Average Female Height: 161.8cm Weight: 71.1kg

These stats tell an interesting story – since 1995 men have gotten 0.8cm taller, and women 0.4cm taller. But we do need to hit the gym, as on average we have put on an extra 3.9 kg for men and 4.1kg for women.

We assumed a short but intense 30 minute workout. No dawdling here, it is maximum effort for the entire time. Swimming is also a great choice but isn’t so great for a quick workout.

The Simple Maths Of Losing Weight

We recently put together some Fitmodo advice on the maths behind food tracking and weight loss.

Regardless of what you are or aren't eating, there’s a fundamental formula at the heart of weight loss: you need to burn more energy than you consume. Calorie deficit. Conversely, if we take in more calories than our bodies use, the spare energy is stored as fat.

Next equation: A 7500 calorie deficit in a week equals 1kg weight loss. If you’re under about 100kg, it’s generally considered that 0.5kg per week is a healthy target for weight loss (1kg should really be your maximum). I can’t stress enough that it depends on your individual situation and health. If you’re unsure, check with your doctor or nutritionist.

Get Your Burn On

Turning fat into energy isn't some magical process that can be short-cut. If you want to lose more, then you need to work harder. Some types of exercise burn more calories than others, but it’s not some magical secret. Really, some types of exercise simply works your body harder in the desired time-frame, which equals more weight lost.

Below are our top picks for calorie munching exercise, ranked from most intense to least.

Treadmill Running

Break out your running shoes, because jogging helps burn those calories fast. While you can hit the streets for some fresh air, it’s just as easy to jump on a treadmill at your local gym.

Make sure you push yourself – you need to maintain 11 km/h to burn the calories below. If you want a harder workout then up the incline and really work up a sweat.

Treadmill picture from Shutterstock

Male Calories

Fitbit -- 527

My Fitness Pal -- 494

Female Calories

Fitbit -- 411

My Fitness Pal -- 409

Elliptical Trainer

Also called a cross trainer, this stationary workout simulates running or stair climbing without any extra pressure on your joints. This is great if you are prone to impact damage or are recovering from an injury.

The elliptical trainer works out your upper and lower body for an intense overall workout.

Elliptical picture from Shutterstock

Male Calories

Fitbit -- 452

My Fitness Pal -- 387

Female Calories

Fitbit -- 353

My Fitness Pal -- 320

Stationary Bicycle

Riding a bike indoors without actually moving might seem weird, but it’s great exercise. Its low impact and you can easily scale from a light to heavy workout.

To really burn the calories though you will need to push yourself and aim for close to 30 km/h.

Stationary bike picture from Shutterstock

Male Calories

Fitbit -- 452

My Fitness Pal -- 451

Female Calories

Fitbit -- 353

My Fitness Pal -- 373


Want to work out all your muscle groups without needing any equipment? Callisthenics are a combinations of exercises such as sit-ups, jumping jacks and various gymnastics. They also help improve your balance, agility and co-ordination.

Callisthenics from Shutterstock

Male Calories

My Fitness Pal -- 344

Fitbit -- 301

Female Calories

My Fitness Pal -- 284

Fitbit -- 253


An often overlooked and undervalued workout, rowing works all the major muscle groups. It’s also very low impact and easy to work your arms or legs harder, depending on your routine.

Stationary rowing picture from Shutterstock

Male Calories

Fitbit -- 320

My Fitness Pal -- 365

Female Calories

Fitbit -- 250

My Fitness Pal -- 302

Ultimate Frisbee

Don’t have a gym near your house or work? Frisbee Ultimate is a fun way to burn some calories in your lunch break. You don’t need much equipment either. Check your local area as there are often groups who play pick-up games every day.

Frisbee picture from Shutterstock

Male Calories

Fitbit -- 301

My Fitness Pal -- 344

Female Calories

Fitbit -- 235

My Fitness Pal -- 284

Out of the Box Fitness

Think your Wii fit can compete with HIIT training? Even at high intensity it falls well behind your gym workout.

Wii Fit picture from Shutterstock

Wii Fit Exercise High Intensity

30 minutes

Male Calories -- 150

Female Calories -- 124

WATCH MORE: Science & Health News


    Surely theres a couple of sneaky calories escaping in the average daily poo. How do these figure into the "if we take in more calories than our bodies use, the spare energy is stored as fat" statement?

    Commuting on a bike lets me squeeze a workout in without costing any extra time (cars are slower at peak times here). 2 hours at an average of 25kmh a day on a mountain bike is plenty, and makes 30kmh on a stationary look like a cakewalk.

    As far as reward vs effort goes, it comes out pretty well too!

    As interesting as this is, my actual data tells me that on a 30 minute ride while maintaining minimum 30 km/h that I will burn closer to 500 calories than the 452 calories calculated. While runnning for 30 minutes I will only burn around 350-400 calories versus the 500 (approximate) calories calculated.

      Maybe you need to run faster? Running is much harder than riding and uses a lot more muscles.

    I think they all work differently for everyone. I lost a fair bit of weight last year (115-120kg down to 85-90kg) I'm 6"3 so never really looked big, but once I lost it, there was a massive difference! Anyway what worked for me was more-than-usual-regular'ish exercise (maybe one big 8k+ run and a walk or two) a week and mostly eating that little bit better, and less, but more often.

    Instead of ordering that 500g rump steak with chips and veg, ill have the 350g (with chips and veg.) Entree and dessert? Never both in a meal anymore, pick one instead of both. 4 pieces of toast in the morning for breaky? How about 2 pieces and a banana/yoghurt. 2 coffees a day for work? Have one, make your second one a green tea if you need a drink.

    Subtle but better choices in your diet can make a huge difference along with a 'little' more activeness, it worked for me anyway!

      That's not been my experience. I used to travel a lot with my job. I'd be away for up to 6 weeks at a time - living in 5 star hotels, being taken out to a big lunch every day, then dinner and a dozen or more beers EVERY night with no daily exercise whatsoever. Then I'd be home for a month, not drinking at all and eating very small meals - a banana and a glass of orange juice for breakfast, a pie or a roll for lunch and a small meal at dinner time ( a 200g steak is normal for me). And when I was home I rode my bicycle every day but do you know what? Mo matter where or when I weighed myself, I was always 112kg.

      When I was in my 20s, my weight was always proportional to how much I drank but now that I'm in my 50s, my weight seems determined purely by my genes. It is completely independent of how much I eat, drink or exercise.

        When I was in my 20s, my weight was always proportional to how much I drank but now that I'm in my 50s, my weight seems determined purely by my genes. It is completely independent of how much I eat, drink or exercise.

        Whilst it may seem that way it doesn't work like that. If you have a 500cal or 2000j deficit each day - you will loose weight. The body is fantastic at adapting. If you're doing the same exercise day in day out for years it will loose it's effectiveness (numerous studies on it).

        People should actually try to gain some muscle - its probably the easiest way to loose fat. More muscle == more cals burnt == easier to get a deficit without changing your diet (assuming you don't eat fastfood for breakfast, lunch and dinner).

        Just start taking some protein powder and start a resistance program such as Stronglift5x5 once you've gained some muscle mass cut the powder, deload weights - increase reps and alternate light cardio every other week. It's pretty easy to loose weight (regardless of age) with this.

        Can't stress enough the importance of resistance training when your older either. It's very important to bone density\strength.

          i agree with someidiot. i have lost 37kg over the last18 months and now i have been stuck on 82 kg for 6 months, i can train extra hard, drop to 1000 Cal a day, no matter what my body has hit a hard weight of 82kg..i have tried IF(intermittent fasting), more cheat meals, etc.....nothing works...

    I would like to contest the claim about no pressure on joints with elliptical trainers. I have tried one, and it caused much pain in my ankles, especially my right one, which never truly recovered from an injury.

    I'm a fan of the cross trainer because it is so much better for your joints even if you don't have an injury. Why bash your joints if you don't need to? You're going to need them later in life.
    Plus it gives you the upper body workout too which leads me believe(no proof here) that it's actually better than a treadmill for a hit session.

    Last edited 14/03/15 1:37 pm

    "there’s a fundamental formula at the heart of weight loss: you need to burn more energy than you consume"
    Wow...who'd of thought...I find it so amazing that people simply cant grasp that simplistic idea, your body is no different to a car, you fill the gas tank, you'd better do the miles to empty it.

    Last edited 14/03/15 5:17 pm

    Cool gadget, it seems like it would really help with tracking workouts and staying consistent. If you're going to invest this much in a workout tracker, you might as well invest in a good workout program too. I decided to invest my money in this program:

    though nothing mentioned about weight lifting? Granted I am still somewhat skeptical about the claims that it leads to greater fat loss by creating more metabolically active tissue in the form of muscle.

    Also, how long were the exercise sessions listed above - 30 minutes? An hour?

      Increasing muscle mass is a great way to get a calorie deficit without changing your diet that much (just change the amount of suplements). It works and in my experiance works very well. Not to mention that resistance training is great for your health - especially if youre older.

    I just went to the gym and had my fitbit on, it didn't calculate any movement when I was on the rower. Is there a trick to where it is positioned, I had it on my singlet near my chest.

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