Cardio exercise, although widely used by the average gym member looking to lose fat, is one of the most misunderstood and misused aspects of exercise. Whenever you talk abut cardio exercise it's important to understand why you are doing cardio. There are two reasons why you would use cardio:
- Burn extra calories.
- Increase cardiovascular fitness (be able to run longer and farther).
Since most of you are not interested in becoming marathon runners over the course of the next ten weeks I'll show you how to structure your cardio program for optimal fat loss.
You Can't Out Train Your Diet
You can't train off bad eating. The first thing you must do before starting your cardio program is master healthy eating. Don't think, "I cheated on my diet and had a huge piece of chocolate cake last night so I better do an extra 1/2 hour on the treadmill to make up for it."
Trying to out train your diet is like trying to outrun a bear. You might be able to run from the bear at first if you run really hard and really fast, but eventually that bear is going to catch you.
Same thing with our diet—you might be able to do extra cardio at first and still lose weight but eventually your diet is going to catch up with you. To get optimal results from your training you must be eating smart.
So dial in your diet first, then start adding you cardio.
Less Is More
The more cardio you do the less effective it becomes. If you do 20 minutes on the treadmill today at 5 mph, then do 20 minutes on the treadmill next week you are burning less calories in the second session than in the first.
This happens because of process called "training effect." Your body becomes more efficient at doing cardio exercise and in turn expends less energy doing that movement. Your heart and lungs become better conditioned. This means the more cardio you do the less effective it becomes. In order to burn the same amount of calories you did last week you have to add more time or more sessions.
Keep it progressive. In order for your cardio to continue to be effective you have to keep adding more to make up for the training effect. If you're not adding more cardio each week you are burning less calories each session.
Start small. The most fat you can lose each week is 2 pounds. Your liver can simply not metabolize more than that in a week. Begin your cardio at a rate and time duration that will give that two pounds of fat each week. If it's only 20 minutes 2 times per week start with that and at cardio only as needed.
If you start out with 30 minutes 5 times per week you will have no room to add cardio to make up for training effect. Remember the most you can lose is 2 pounds per week so do only the minimum amount of cardio you need to do to loose that 2 pounds per week. When you are no longer losing 2 pounds per week it's time to add more cardio.
Intensity Is The Key
The most effective form of cardio for burning fat is HIIT (high intensity interval training). If you step on the treadmill and you feel like you didn't even break a sweat you're not doing your cardio hard enough. Your shirt should be soaked and your lungs should be burning.
What makes HIIT cardio training so effective is that you're not only burning calories while you are doing it but it also helps to raise EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption). Which means your body is burning more calories 24-48 hours after you workout.
Sample HIIT Cardio
The levels are based on a scale of 1-10. 1 being equal to walking down the street. 10 being equal to a navy seal training. As hard as you can work without passing out.
Cardio Plan A:
- 1 minute level 9, 2 minutes level 6-7 = 1 round
- Start with 5 rounds and 3x a week a 1 round to each session each week.
Cardio Plan B:
- 20 seconds level 6-7 10 seconds level 9 = 1 round
- Start with 8 rounds 3x week add two rounds per session per week.
Remember you have to be working hard for your cardio to be burning calories and inducing EPOC. Make sure you are at a level 6 not a level one when your doing your interval training.
Take Home Message
So there you have it folks ... the smart way to do cardio. In the words of Ronnie Coleman, former Mr. Olympia, "If you always do what you've always done, you're going to get what you always got." So if your current cardio program isn't shedding the pounds for you, it's time to change it up.