Shorter, higher intensity cardio sessions are most effective for fat loss and preserving muscle. HIIT (high intensity interval training) also increases your cardiovascular fitness very quickly, so this is a great way to get fit fast.
Many people get stuck in the mindset of simply burning calories. Yes cardio burns calories, but you want to be efficient with your time spent doing cardio. You also don’t want to be burning the muscle you are working hard to build. Too much steady state cardio can also raise cortisol levels as it stresses the body. This doesn’t help with fat loss! In fact, it can actually make your body store fat.
If you opt for shorter more intense cardio sessions you will burn more calories overall anyway, as you continue to burn fat long after your have finished your session. There is also the added benefit of it taking less time, leaving you with more time for other things. Training is enjoyable, but you don’t necessarily want or need to be spending hours doing it to get results. Work smarter not harder! I mean work smarter AND harder…
2-3 HIT cardio sessions per week should be enough. Then the rest of your training should be made up with weight training. Weight training is excellent for burning calories as well, and builds the lean muscle you want to make you look good. Also, the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn while at rest.
It is best to keep cardio and weight training as far from each other as possible, and HIIT cardio is best done on a completely different day to weight training.
Currently I do 3x HIIT sessions each week. I usually like to do these after work on Mon, Wed and Fri. I prefer to do weights early in the morning so I usually do a weights session on Tues and Thurs mornings before work, and on the weekend. This way I get to sleep in on Monday mornings, and also have one HIIT ticked off early in the week. If you have a routine, and work your training in to your lifestyle you’ll I find it’s a lot easier to stick to.
My HIIT sessions are usually sprints on the treadmill. This way I have a timer, and can easily set the speed to what I like. Plus I like running a lot more if it’s short and at a higher intensity:
5 min walk to warm up, then 5x 3 min rounds of the following:
Jog at about half your sprint speed for 2 min 30 sec
Sprint for 30 sec – total 15 mins (5x 3 min rounds)
(Then 5 min fast walk to cool down at the end) All up it will take less than half an hour.
When I started off I was sprinting at 16kmph. Now I am sprinting at 18, 19 and 20kmph! I jog at 8.5kmph and have kept this speed the same as this gives me enough time to recover in between having to sprint.
And it should be a sprint too, not a run or a jog. Its only short, 30 seconds so make it count!
There are a number of other things you can do for a HIIT session if running isn’t your cup of tea. The idea is to get your heart rate up high, for a short amount of time, then recover. I sometimes use the rowing machine for something different, and would use a ratio of 2 mins steady/slower pace, and 1 min of going all out (I tried the 2:30 and 30 split but found this much too easy) plus the same 5 min warm up and cool down either side.
Another one I like is tabata on a stationary bike. Tabata is a Japanese style of interval training, and uses the time split of 20 seconds work, 10 seconds rest and usually 4 min rounds (so 8x work/rest cycles in each round) This is also common for circuit style training, so you would be on one exercise for a 4 min round (e.g. jump squats / lunges etc) and then change to the next one for the next 4 mins.
If I do tabata for my HIIT cardio, I complete 18-20 mins using the 20/10 split. 10 seconds is not a lot of rest. Its hard, but 18 mins is not a long time. I do the same 5 min warm up, and cool down either side. All up 28-30 mins.
The more you do HIIT cardio, the easier it gets because you simply get fitter. It is great for cardiovascular fitness, and is the most effective way to burn fat.
It’s also easy enough to do something at home without any equipment. Tabata work outs using simple body weight exercises are a great way to get your heart rate up (those jump squats I mentioned, push ups, lunges, I would say burpees but I think they’re horrible so I never do them, star jumps, skipping etc)
Anything that gets your heart rate up, its only for a short time so suck it up and remember the pain is only temporary, it will subside! Plus you’ll feel and look great afterwards.
Instead of doing hours of boring steady state cardio, switch to a couple of short HIIT sessions a week and see what a difference it makes!