If your goal is to lose weight, what is the best way to do so?
Well, if you are like most people you will turn to adding some form of cardio exercise to your current lifestyle. It could be walking, biking, swimming, group exercise aerobic classes, or even using one of the cardio machines at the gym.
I think one of the reasons we are so quick to turn to cardio is that we see an immediate visible product from our workout efforts: sweating.
Unfortunately, the amount you sweat is not a good measurement tool for determining the effectiveness of your workout or the amount of fat you are burning. Sweating is simply a safety mechanism of the body to cool itself off when it becomes too hot. Yes, when you sweat a lot you will lose a lot of weight initially. But this weight loss does not equate to fat loss. Because once you rehydrate yourself, the weight will come back on.
I’m not saying that you won’t lose weight by adding cardio to your routine. Far from it. It’s just that the 2 pounds you lost between yesterday and today are not 2 pounds of fat loss. It’s most likely a combination of fat loss and water loss.
What kind of cardio should I do?
Frequently I’m asked what kind of cardio exercise people should be doing. And generally I first respond with the question, “What kind of cardio do you enjoy?” Because it doesn’t matter how effective the exercise is if you won’t do it.
The second question I ask is, “Where will you be doing it?” Personally I like to run, hike, and do 30-45 minute interval cardio programs at home. I enjoy the outdoors and live in a great area with great weather so outside exercise is an option for me. But we also have busy lives with 3 kids so driving to a local mountain for a hike is often a 2-3 activity, and I don’t always have the time. So at-home fitness has become a staple of my routine. I can use a DVD or a workout on my iPad and follow along minimizing the time needed to get my workout in.
Frequency, Duration, and Intensity: The other cardio factors
How often you incorporate cardio into your routine depends a lot based on your current goals. Generally I would say three times a week is a good maintenance or starting point. Your workout program shouldn’t consist entirely of steady state cardio (walking, elliptical, treadmill, etc) because alone it will limit your ability to reshape your body and burn body fat.
As your body becomes more conditioned you can increase the frequency of cardio to help accelerate your fat loss efforts. If you were adding cardio six days a week to your schedule and burning an extra 600 calories per workout you would be doubling your efforts of cardio compared to just keeping with three day a week. And in the long run this increase will definitely speed up your results.
It’s expected that the intensity and duration will be inversely related to each other during exercise. Obviously, the harder you work the more calories you will burn. But the problem is you won’t last very long. So the trick is to find the sweat spot for maximizing calorie burn to accelerate fat loss. If you know your maximum heart rate (MHR), I would recommend trying to keep within a range of 70%-85%. You can calculate your MHR here. This will push your body to burn a lot of calories to keep moving, but should be at a sustainable level so you can last for more than a few minutes.
My secret to combining higher intensity with longer duration
The way I am able to maximize fat loss with greater intensity of my cardio while still being able to continue for 30 minutes is by incorporating high-intensity interval training (HIIT) into my workouts. My workouts have me working a level much closer to my MHR, but with 10 to 30 seconds of rest in between intervals I am able to catch my breath and continue on for a longer total amount of time.
Personally, my favorite workout program for HIIT training is Insanity Max30. It’s a refined version of Shaun T’s original Insanity workouts. The workouts are only 30 minutes long, require no equipment, and can be done in almost any location. Another benefit of this program is that there is a modifier option as well. This is low impact and at a slower pace for people just starting on their fitness journey or who have some limitations. On our last family vacation, Danielle and I did our Max30 workouts in our hotel room and ran the workouts from our iPad. It was a great way to get our cardio in before having fun at the pool or going out for a day of adventure with the kids.
A final note on HIIT is that working at a higher intensity will keep your metabolism elevated for a period of time after the exercise is completed causing an “afterburn effect”. Researchers call this “afterburn” excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) and it literally means that your body will still be burning extra calories long after you completed your workout.
If the goal of cardio is to create a larger daily calorie deficit for increased fat loss, you bet I want my body burning as many calories as possible every day. A study conducted at Appalachian State University measured HIIT participants as having an increase of their metabolism for over 12 hours post exercise. This translated to almost 200 extra calories burned! Simply adding in HIIT training five days a week instead of steady state cardio could mean losing an extra pound of body fat or more each month.
Hopefully this gives you some great ideas for accelerating your body transformation and fat loss through the use of cardio. Please email me at [email protected] or send me a message through our Facebook page if you have any questions or would like assistance reaching your personal weightloss and fitness goals.
I’m about ready to get my morning cardio in as I conclude this post, so until next time, stay active!