By Lisa Hampton
In my last article I wrote about improving body composition as a healthier approach to weight loss. You can improve your body composition with a combination of strength training to gain lean muscle mass, cardio training to help lose unwanted fat, and eating a balanced diet that supports both. In this article, I’ll be explaining cardio training for fat loss.
Cardio is one of the most misunderstood (and therefore disliked and skipped) parts of fitness. But, if you’re skipping cardio training you’re not only slowing down fat loss, you’re also not conditioning your heart, lungs and circulatory system to be healthier, stronger and able to handle more workloads during your strength training. Conversely, doing 60+ mins of cardio will put you in a catabolic state. This catabolic state shifts your energy utilization from fat and carbs to protein and you will lose muscle weight in the process.
The key to cardio is finding an activity you enjoy and do it for the right amount of time at the right intensity. You don’t need long, boring, sessions of over-exertion locked in repetitive motion on a treadmill like a hamster on a wheel. Cardio can actually be a fun part of fitness because there are a wide variety of activities you can do at home, outside or at the gym. When you find your favorite activity and do it with a purpose, the benefits of cardiovascular exercise can be achieved in as little as 20 minutes about 3 times a week.
What is Cardio?
If you’re confused by all the information about what cardio is the best and acronyms like LISS or HIIT and wondering which one is right for you, all you need to know is there are two types of physical training: aerobic and anaerobic.
Aerobic training requires oxygen to produce energy. Endurance exercise, which is any activity you can do at a steady pace for an extended period of time, trains your muscles and cardiovascular system to endure. When you start to breathe harder during exercise, your heart, lungs and circulatory system speed up to more efficiently provide oxygen to your muscle cells where carbohydrates and fats burn to produce energy (oxidation). As you exert yourself in endurance exercise you increase this metabolic process and burn more calories over a longer period of time. This type of training is often called “steady state” where sustainability is more important than speed. You can cardio train at a low intensity steady state (LISS) or moderate intensity steady state (MISS), depending on your fitness level.
Anaerobic training is the opposite of aerobic and does not require the presence of oxygen to produce energy. Anaerobic training taps into stored cellular energy and specifically
challenges your body’s muscular power and strength. When you sprint or lift heavy weights in an all out effort, you may be breathing and working hard, but you can only exert yourself this way for short periods of time before your body forces you to stop from exhaustion and burning in your muscles. This is because cellular energy is limited and requires time to recycle, it also produces metabolic waste called lactic acid which is the burning sensation you feel. This type of training is often called “high intensity” where speed is more important than sustainability. You can cardio train at high intensity, but only in short bursts which are sometimes called intervals, otherwise known as high intensity interval training (HIIT).
So, which is better for fat loss, aerobic steady state or anaerobic HIIT?
There’s a time and place for both aerobic and anaerobic training and it all depends on your personal fitness level, goals, and training schedule.
Beginners can start with long, low intensity, low impact workouts like rowing or elliptical for 30-40 minutes 4-6 times a week. Do an activity you enjoy at an intensity that’s challenging enough to not get bored, but no so difficult you get discouraged or injured and quit altogether.
As you progress and your body adapts, you need to gradually increase the intensity of your steady state training. A simple and accurate way to know how intense an exercise is for you is to monitor your breathing, otherwise known as “The Talk Test”. If you’re able to breathe and talk easily, your intensity is low. If you’re breathing hard enough that you have to pause to talk, your intensity is moderate. If you’re breathing so hard you can barely talk, then your intensity is high.
You can also measure intensity with heart rate zones by using the following formula.
220 minus your age = your theoretical maximum heart rate (MHR).
Take your MHR and multiply it times .6 for 60%; .65 for 65%; .7 for 70% and so on.
Example for a 30 year old: 220 - 30 = 190 (MHR)
60% = 190 X .6 = 114
65% = 190 X .65 = 123.5
70% = 190 X .7 = 133
75% = 190 X .75 = 142.5
80% = 190 X .8 = 152
85% = 190 X .85 = 161.5
A low-intensity workout would equate to working at 45-55% of your MHR. A moderate
workout would be at 55-75% of your MHR and high-intensity workouts reach 75-90% of your MHR.
While low to moderate steady state cardio is still effective at burning fat, recent studies show that high intensity interval training (HIIT) can lead to greater fat loss in a shorter period of time. Because higher intensity exercise taps into the anaerobic energy pathway and challenges the power and strength of your muscles, it creates an “After-Burn Effect” where your body continues to oxidize fat and burn calories for hours after your workout.
How Do You Train With HIIT?
A HIIT workout consists of cycles of short intervals of intense exercise balanced by intervals of low intensity or rest. The work to rest ratio depends on your fitness ability and the length of your workout. The high-intensity part of the interval should only add up to a total of 15-20 minutes of exercise, when you start with a 5 minute warm up and end with a 5 minute cool down your total workout time is 30-40 minutes. Beginners should start with high intensity intervals that total 10-15 minutes of exercise and build up to a full 20 minutes.
While HIIT has been scientifically been proven to burn fat quickly, it’s not for everyone all of the time. Because your body needs rest and recovery, only do HIIT on non-consecutive days and starting with 1-2 times per week. To give you an idea, the following are examples of a weekly training schedule for a beginner and intermediate individual.
Beginner 5 Day Training Schedule:
2 Days resistance training
1 Day HIIT training
2 Days steady state cardio
Intermediate 5-6 Day Training Schedule:
2-3 Days resistance training
2 Days HIIT training
1 Day steady state cardio
While this article is focused on how cardio burns fat, boosts the metabolism, and makes it
easier to control ones weight, the benefits of cardio training are many. Regular cardio activity is important for everyone because it promotes heart and circulatory health, controls cholesterol and lowers blood pressure. People who do cardio regularly have less stress and anxiety and are less likely to have sleep-related issues.
Helpful tips and tricks to make your cardio more regular and enjoyable.
• Plan your cardio for the week
• Use The Ten Minute Rule: bargain with yourself by starting cardio for 10 minutes, chances are you’ll continue for 20-30 more minutes
• Go outside for a change of scenery, sunshine and fresh air
• Join a friend or a class
• Make the time go faster by enjoying a TV show, podcast or audiobook
• Break free from equipment. Bodyweight activities like jumping jacks, air squats, and push ups can be forms of cardio you can do anytime, anywhere
How We Can Help You More With Cardio
If you’re a Life Adapted member, use your member benefit 25 minute coaching sessions to get a cardio program that’s individualized for you. Members can also find beginner and advanced HIIT workouts designed by me on the Life Adapted Workout App. Members and non-members can also book separate HIIT sessions with me for only $40.
My name is Lisa Hampton, I’m a Certified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist at Life Adapted Fitness in Brookside where our goal is to help make fitness a comfortable extension of your life. Please reach out to me to schedule an appointment for your member benefits, personal training and nutrition plans.