Alongside mindful nutrition, aerobic exercise can be an effective way to shed body fat. However, not all cardio is created equally. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is increasingly popular and has its place in improving body composition through a blend of cardio and strength training, but this article specifically outlines moderate intensity workouts for fat oxidation.

“Steady-state cardio” is the common name for cardiovascular training performed at a consistent pace for a prolonged period of time, and that primarily relies on the aerobic energy system. There is a wide range of activities that you can do as a form of steady-state training, including (but not limited to) walking, jogging, rowing, swimming, and cycling. 

The key to performing cardio in a way that can aid in fat loss lies in the intensity and duration of exercise relative to your current state. Here are a few tips for training:

  1. Utilize heart rate training zones to determine the intensity of your cardio. Relative heart rates are a common mode of prescribing intensity; they’re typically referenced as “Zones” (there are 5). Steady-state cardio lives in Zone 2. Exercise that maintains your heart rate at 60-69% of your age-adjusted maximum heart rate* at a moderate intensity is the bread and butter of Zone 2. Check your heart rate regularly during your training sessions to make sure you’re on track and adjust your pace accordingly!

  2. Perform steady-state cardio in 40-80 minute bouts. This window of time is optimal for fat metabolism, as the primary energy system employed will shift from your body utilizing phosphocreatine and glycogen as energy sources to the aerobic energy system after only a few minutes. Depending on the length of your training sessions, aim for two to three steady state cardio sessions per week.

  3. Choose exercise that’s appropriate for you. One of the best parts about steady-state cardio is that it can be done in a variety of ways. Mix it up, go for walks, and listen to your body. A good way to end up with a long-term, nagging injury is to dive head-first into 100+ minutes of jogging each week when you haven’t run at all recently. Keep your cool and build up intelligently to maintain consistency and see the adaptations you’re after.

*The formula for finding max heart rate has long been updated from using 220 minus your age to calculations determining your heart rate reserve. The old formula is a good, general guideline for beginners but the newer version considers your current resting heart rate, further individualizing the recommendations above.

Zone 2 cardio is a great means to improve your overall health. Outside of burning fat, lower blood pressure, better resting heart rate, and improved mitochondrial (yep, the powerhouse of the cell) efficiency are just a few things you can look forward to.

In your pursuit of weight loss, rely on a variety of tactics like resistance training and dietary adjustments in addition to cardio workouts. This way, if you miss some training for one reason or another, you’re still on track to meeting your goals!