Some Is Better Than None
For the average Jane or Joe trying to cut back on fast food and incorporate a little exercise into their life, just merely getting into a gym and stepping on a treadmill - regardless of the speed or incline - is a great first step! For those above average Joe's and Jane's who are trying to take their "stepping on the treadmill" strategy up a couple of notches, it would be a good idea to sit down and decide on a specific number of sessions that they will commit to each week in order to get them closer to their goals.
Likewise, for the over the top Joe's and Jane's that are preparing for a bodybuilding show or fitness/figure competition, it may be necessary to experiment with different intensities, length of sessions and/or cardio equipment to help them achieve their goals.
So how long and how hard should your cardio sessions be? The debate over high and moderate intensity is a difficult one to solve with a blanket answer. In my opinion, for those who are overweight and just trying to get into shape, the moderate intensity cardio performed at longer lengths of time seem to be more beneficial. This could be attributed to two reasons. First, the more moderate, longer sessions are less intimidating and allow for a higher degree of certainty than extremely high intensity type of cardio sessions.
If you are new to the gym and trying to lose a few pounds and get in better overall health, it is probably very important to you to have certainty that what you are doing with your time in the gym will work towards your goals. It is a proven fact that burning calories on a regular basis WILL assist your body in burning fat. Now, other factors like a good diet and weight training can further your efforts, but by just getting to the gym to do your cardio will for sure get you closer to your goals than if you just didn't go at all. On this note, the longer sessions of 40-60 minutes per session will probably be a good place for you to start. By moderate intensity, I mean any intensity that you can perform and still be able to read a magazine or talk to your friends.
How Much, How Often?
Now, say you've been going to the gym for a couple of months and you definitely feel better about yourself, and you kind of like the gym scene, and you have even dropped some weight! You are happy with that, but you would still like to see more improvement in your physique. You would like to be able to incorporate weight training in your program and hopefully be able to see your abs and the lines in your legs at some point in time. So what do you do about your cardio training? You've been doing about 35 minutes on the treadmill whenever you can make it to the gym during the week and maybe one day on the weekends. How can you make this more effective?
It's probably time for you to commit to a weekly cardio training plan. For example, you know that you can go to the gym after work on Monday and Wednesday for sure. You can also fit it in on Thursday, although you may have to miss your favorite TV show, but it can be done. And you can go on both Saturday and Sunday mornings. So there's your plan. You will be doing moderate intensity cardio training 5 days a week for 35 minutes. And even better, you decide that you will alternate between the ever faithful treadmill and the step mill machines.
So now it's been several months on that program and you are quite proud of yourself that you have been so dedicated to stick to the plan and have only missed a few cardio sessions. You like how your new smaller clothes are fitting and you are pleased with the admiring looks you are starting to get on the street and in the gym. But you still would like to see a little more of the muscle you are trying to build in your newly added weight training program. You think you should be able to see more definition in your legs and your arms and maybe even your shoulders! So now what do you do? What's the next level?
You have 2 options. First, you can add more sessions to your plan. For example, you could go from 5 to 7 sessions per week. Or you could go for a more intense approach to your cardio training. Intensifying each session - in my opinion - is the better option. The added intensity effectively jacks up your metabolism so that you are hitting it hard each time you are on the treadmill, step mill, (whatever your chosen torture device may be). By "hard," I mean you are really working. None of this laze faire, talk to my friends, read my Glamour/ Maxim magazine, while I casually peddle the bike at 35 RPM's. No, you want to work! You are going to sit on the bike and go as fast as you can at the highest intensity that you can muster.
To give you an idea, when I do cardio, I get on the recumbent bike, set the gauge at level 15-17 (out of 20) and GO! I'm going at about 90-100 RPM's and by minute 11, I'm pretty drenched. I go like that for 20 minutes and then I back off to about level 10 for another 10 minutes. And that's it for my cardio session. Believe me, it is effective. Now, there are a lot of different types of bikes out there, so your gauges may differ from mine. Likewise, if you are using the treadmill or step mill, you will have to find the level and resistance that is right for you. Just make sure you are working as hard as you possibly can if you opt for the high intensity route.
High Intensity Baby!
Okay, so finally you are in fabulous shape! You can almost see your abs, you are seeing lots of lines where you used to see smoothness and you have decided that you are going to take your stellar physique and see how it stands up on the competitive stage. So here, cardio takes on a whole different meaning to you. It's not only about burning body fat, but you must also now concern yourself with holding onto the muscle that you build during your weight training. So now what?? What could the answer possibly be? How do you hold onto your muscle, while still burning off the little body fat you have left?
You have one answer. Assuming you don't have a ton of muscle yet, and you really do need to hold onto every little bit of muscle you have, you really need and must stick to this high intensity, shortened length of time approach to cardio. For a personal example, I will tell you of a hard lesson I hard to learn this contest season. I came back from the holidays, thinking I would have plenty of time to whip myself into shape for a show in California in May. So I started upping my cardio until I was doing 2 sessions per day of 40-60 minutes a day. Every day. So what happened? Well, yes, I burned body fat and I trimmed down. But pretty soon, because I didn't have massive amounts of muscle on my physique, I soon began getting increasingly lean on my upper body (likely burning muscle from my arms/shoulders/chest), but I was holding body fat on my hips and thighs. Yes, it's a scary thought, but I was now a pear. I didn't know what was going on.
Why in the world would I not be burning fat all over??? The explanation is that I had so conditioned my body to go at this slow, moderate intensity, longer duration approach to cardio that it was no longer responding. After a mild break down, I kicked it into high gear and decreased the number of cardio sessions I was doing per week and upped the intensity of each and every session. This jacked up my metabolism and my body began burning body fat where it needed to and my physique's proportions began to even out.
This was a painful lesson for me, so please learn from it. Yes, there are lots of choices to make when you are contemplating starting a cardio plan. Some cardio is better than none for sure, but there are also more efficient/effective ways to make the most of your time and also help you achieve the specific goals you are trying to accomplish. Good luck!
Desire is YOUR Fire,