Cardio is an essential part of a well-balanced exercise plan. It is important for your health and also a great tool for fat loss when it is utilised correctly. Choosing the right type of cardio for your goals is crucial for getting the maximum benefits out of your training sessions. A marathon runner will have totally different needs to a bodybuilder.
Most people have really detailed plans for their weight lifting routine, taking note of sets and reps and the weight they have lifted, and then simply jump on a treadmill to do some cardio. You can have a more productive training session if you are as specific about your cardio as you are your resistance training programme. If your goal is fat loss and you want to maintain as much muscle as possible then it may be better for you to exercise smarter rather than longer!
Introduce some H.I.I.T training
High-intensity interval training is a great way to increase the effectiveness of your cardio session without increasing the time it takes to do it. Your metabolism will go through the roof and you will continue to burn extra calories hours after you finish training.
This type of training involves short periods of all-out effort followed by a period of lower intensity training and then repeating the interval for the necessary amount of times needed. H.I.T.T training is tough on the body and joints and so it is important to allow ample recovery time between sessions. It is also really important to warm up before you attempt any full-out sprints with interval training to avoid injuries.
For example, try:
✓ 30 seconds full effort > 30 seconds moderate effort for 20 minutes on a treadmill/cross trainer/stepper etc!
Consider a heart rate monitor
A heart rate monitor is a great way of keeping an eye on the intensity level that you are training at. By using a monitor, you will know when to ramp up your training or tone it down a notch.
✓ This will also allow you to structure your training sessions more effectively.
Heart rate monitors are great to keep an eye on your progress, as your fitness improves, it will be harder to increase your heart rate and the rate will also slow down faster once you finish training as your conditioning improves.
Low-Intensity Steady State cardio (LISS)
There is a place for steady state cardio as it is low intensity and useful as a tool for recovery and general conditioning. It is important to not overdo steady state cardio however as it can lead to muscle loss and thus lower your metabolic rate over time.
If you are trying to lose fat but maintain lean muscle mass:
✓ Introduce shorter sessions of steady state cardio and only increase the duration as necessary.
If you have built your metabolism up gradually through the year, you should not need to do hours of steady state cardio to lose fat.
HIIT Training with the bike
The bike can be one of the best pieces of equipment you can use to burn fat and also maintain as much lean muscle mass as possible!
✓ It is also a safe way to do H.I.T.T training in the gym as you are not as likely to fall off a bike as you might a treadmill if you are trying to go full throttle on it.
Plyometric exercises are great calorie burners and really effective if you are short on time and equipment.
✓ Jump squats and lunges are also brilliant for adding some variety to your workout and this really helps to beat the boredom that can come with a steady state so that the time flies by for you.
Take home message
You really don’t need to slog away for hours on a treadmill to achieve an optimal fat loss. Shorter but smarter workouts that rev up your metabolism can be even more effective in half the time!
Just remember to build yourself up gradually if you are a beginner, and tailor your work and rest periods to your own fitness level, you can increase the intensity as your fitness levels increase, and you can add in extra intervals as you progress in your training!