fat burning for explosive athletes

For an explosive athlete finding an effective fat burning strategy can be difficult as long cardio sessions tend to decrease muscular power. In this article I will discuss how you can still burn fat and maintain power.

lean athletes jump higher

What do long jumpers, triple jumpers, high jumpers, and pretty much all pro dunkers have in common? They are all very lean. In fact most are downright skinny. Why? Simply put having a high power to weight ratio is one of the key determinants in having a big vertical jump. 

Fat doesn't contribute to your power, only to your weight. Fat burning therefore is a must if you want to maximize your vertical. 

Vince Carter Olympics dunkVince Carter: Not much Body Fat. Can Jump High!

The benefits of reducing your body fat aren't just limited to higher jumping either. It also means a reduction of impact every time you land. This decreases injuries, increases durability, and reduces recovery time from workouts. And this is only the start. There is a whole host of other health related benefits that come with a concerted fat burning effort.

The conundrum of this for the vertical jump training athlete is that traditional fat burning methods often call for long duration, moderate to low intensity workouts. Jumping is a very quick, very high intensity action. Long slow training will therefore negatively impact your vertical. So how do you shed the extra pounds without sacrificing your explosiveness? Read on to find out.

1. diet

First thing you can do to reduce body fat is to look at your diet. The obvious thing here is that by reducing your food intake and eating healthier options, you reduce your total calorie intake to below maintenance levels. This causes your body to eat into its fat stores and consequently you will lose weight. This, in a nutshell, is the basic premise of ALL dieting and applies to anyone trying to lose weight.

healthy foodStep 1: Eat more healthy food. Duh!

The topic of diet is a pretty broad one. There are obviously thousands of diet books available and I can't cover everything in this article. However the general principles of eating for fat loss are that you should look to eat more nutrient dense foods. 

This might be boring but it is worth repeating - the more natural, unprocessed foods you eat the better your diet. This means if your diet contains more lean meats, poultry, fish, fruits, vegetables, and good fats in moderation from sources such as nuts, and avocados versus processed foods such as soft drinks, friends foods (french fries, fried chicken), sugary sweets, etc, you are probably on the right track.

Nutrient dense foods tend to leave you feeling more full than processed foods so you can eat more of them and often still get less calories in. A good rule of thumb to follow when looking at your diet is this

If you can leave it in you fridge for more than a few days and it doesn't go off than it is probably not a great choice. There are exceptions to this of course such as some tinned and frozen foods such as fruits, vegetables, tuna etc which aren't too bad.

Conversely some foods like bread will go off but that is a processed food and too much of that can hinder your fat burning efforts as well.

When it comes to getting lean your diet doesn't have to be perfect 100% of the time but if you are serious about fat burning it does need to be be good most of the time.

2. high intensity cardio (HIIT)

When you are trying to become a more explosive athlete the last thing you want to do is de-train your fast twitch muscle fibres by doing long duration cardio. You need to be moving hard and fast.  

Basically doing long duration - medium to low intensity, cardiovascular activity is a huge no-no when it comes to vertical jump training. You want to train your muscles to contract with maximum force in minimum time. This does not involve going for a 40 minute jog, a 1.5km swim, or any other form of activity that is sub maximal for extended periods. You most definitely do not want your muscles learning how to go slow at less than 100% effort. So what is the answer?

Allow us to introduce High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT for short. There is some debate about what is the best method of exercise for fat burning, whether it be long duration slow intensity, moderate intensity, weights, or HIIT. This debate however isn't focused on the needs of explosive athletes. 

HIIT may not be as 100% effective as low intensity-high duration cardio, but what it does do is ensure that fat is burnt in a manner that is in alignment with the explosive athletes training goals.

So what is HIIT? Well simply put, HIIT involves picking a cardio activity of your choice, then after doing a warm up of 5 minutes or so, proceeding to do 15 - 20 minutes of that activity using bursts of very high intensity for approximately 10 - 30 seconds interspersed with rest periods of anywhere between 20 and 90 seconds.

An example of a HIIT session performed on an exercise bike:

Warm up - 2 minutes low intensity

30 seconds Max Effort Sprint/90 seconds low intensity recovery

Repeat 8 times

Cool down - 2 minutes low intensity

fat burningPhoto: Getty Images

HIIT training not only burns fat in a manner that is more better for maintaining your explosiveness than lower intensity cardio training, but it also:

1) Burns more total calories per pound of body weight.

2) Boosts growth hormone levels.

3) Elevates the body's metabolism throughout the entire day.

A word of warning before you do this though. High intensity training is very taxing. Like ALL forms of training you should build up. If you are fairly new to athletic training you should keep your high intensity bursts shorter, use less resistance, and also pedal at a lower cadence. As you get fitter and faster, then slowly build up these three intensity variables.

If you feel light headed, dizzy etc at all whilst performing this type of activity (or any type of activity for that matter) you should stop immediately.

The best exercise to use for this method in terms of fat burning potential is sprint training however if you are a little heavy it is also harder on your joints than the bike option outlined here.

The other forms of activity that I highly recommend for HIIT work are skipping with a jump rope and kettlebell swings. Bruce Lee claimed that 10 minutes of skipping was better than a 30 minute jog. Whilst the factuality of this statement might be debatable, what isn't doubted is how great skipping is.

Jumping rope is not only a fantastic fat burning exercise, but it also helps improve your co-ordination, and it will help make you very light and springy on your feet. The best way to use a jump rope for fat burning is to concentrate on speed. Go as fast as you can!

HIIT using a skipping rope can be performed with longer training intervals due to the relatively short ground contact time. A good workout involves intervals of 20 -30 seconds on, followed by 30-40 seconds rest. Provided your diet is ok, and depending on how much fat you have to lose, 3 or 4 sessions of 10-20 minute interval work a week will have you well on the way to being ripped.

Bruce LeeBruce Lee: Liked Skipping. Very Lean. Also Ate Very Clean

3. weight training

One of the most effective methods of fat burning is weight training. Luckily for you, a vital ingredient to maximizing your vertical jump is in fact a solid weights program. The nature of the lifting required for vertical jump development isn't necessarily that great for fat loss though.

You should be focusing on training the muscles involved in jumping, and you should generally speaking, be lifting as explosively as possible for low reps (1-6) to stimulate muscular power improvements not hypertrophy. These topics are discussed in more detail at our upper body training and strength training articles.

Fit CoupleWeight Training: Fat Burning for Guys AND Girls

The moral of the story is that lifting weights in the explosive, low rep manner described above won't put your body into the same sort of anabolic, fat burning zone as hypertrophy focused lifting. However, it will still burn fat, build muscle, and most importantly, help you develop incredible jumping capabilities.

Oh, and help you look good naked.

4. walking

This might go against the advice given in the HIIT section but walking is actually a GREAT way to lose burn fat if you are an explosive athlete. Walking is low impact on the joints, good stress relief, and is at a low enough intensity that it doesn't have much of a training effect so doesn't really de-train your fast twitch muscles like regular cardio does. 

The only real downside to walking is that it is time consuming. You can often burn in one 20 minute HIIT session more calories than you could doing an hour walking.

One way to make things a little harder is to use a weight vest or walk up and down hills but much like HIIT, doing too much of this can eat into your recovery. None the less if you are overweight going for a nice long walk 1-2 times per week can be a nice change from killing yourself with HIIT sessions.

the best jump training methods

Focusing on fat burning and getting lean will no doubt help improve the weight side of the your power to weight ratios, and therefore help increase your vertical jump. But once you are lean enough you will need to focus on the training methods that build your ability to generate more power. And if you are after the absolutely BEST training methods for developing muscular power and a huge vertical jump you need to read Game Changers: The Most Powerful Jump Training Methods Known to Man.

This book contains jump training methods that blow the doors of all other jump training techniques. To find out more click the link or the image below and be prepared to blown away.



Fat burning is a great way to improve your power to weight ratio. If you look at some of the truly outlandish jumpers such as Kadour Ziani, Vince Carter, Spud Webb, a young Michael Jordan, they are all pretty lean.

Reducing your body fat is one of the immediate things you can do to increase your vertical jump. If you have a few extra pounds dragging you down, sort out your diet, do some HIIT, lift weights explosively, and your jumping gains will start to appear before you know it.

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