Cardiovascular Exercise Basics

In order for aerobic exercise to be effective, it needs to be performed within the fat burning zone. Read right here to get some of the best fat burning cardio activities.

Aerobic training such as walking or running on a stationary bike is a good way to accelerate the fat burning process, as long as it is not overdone and as long as it is used only in addition to a good weight training program. It should never be used as a substitute for weight training since it does not permanently increase your metabolism and since it does not has the ability to re-shape your body.

The Fat Burning Zone

In order for aerobic exercise to be effective, it needs to be performed within the fat burning zone. The fat burning zone is the zone at which you are doing enough work to burn fat. Your pulse (how fast your heart is beating per minute) determines this zone.

The fat burning zone formula is the following:

The result of your formula will give you an approximate value of how fast your heart should be beating per minute. For example, a 20-year-old would need to reach a pulse in the neighborhood of 150 beats per minute in order to be in the fat burning zone. It is important to remember that this is not an absolute figure, this is an approximation.

So as long as you are plus or minus 10 beats from the number that the formula provides you with, then you can rest assured that you will be burning fat.

Aerobic Timing

Another important point that needs to be raised is that in order for aerobic exercise to be an effective fat burner it needs to be performed at the appropriate times. There are only two times that aerobic exercise is effective in burning fat.

In The Morning

      The first time is first thing in the morning on an empty stomach after drinking 16 to 24oz of


      in order to prevent dehydration.

When performed at this time you burn 300% more body fat that at any other time in the day because your body does not have any glycogen (stored carbohydrates-sugar) in the system to burn.

Therefore, it has to go directly into the fat stores in order to get the energy necessary to complete the activity.

After Weight Training

      The other time where aerobic exercise is effective is immediately after the weight training session. The reason for this is that when exercise is not performed first thing in the morning it takes your body approximately anywhere between 20 to 30 minutes to start burning fat.

This is because that is how long it takes the body to deplete its glycogen stores and switch to a fat burning environment.

Therefore, it would not be efficient to perform aerobic exercise by itself at any other time during the day because you would need to perform it for 20-30 minutes just to get to the fat burning stage and for an additional 20 minutes just so that you burn fat.

This would give a grand total of 50 minutes a day and in my opinion, I don't think that aerobic exercise should be performed for more than 45 minutes at a time since this would put you at risk of losing muscle mass. Remember that more is not always better and this is especially true when it comes to aerobic exercise.

Forms Of Aerobic Exercise

Good forms of aerobic exercise are:

  • Stationary bike
  • Jogging (this can also be done on a treadmill)
  • Fast walking (also can be done on a treadmill)
  • Stair stepper
  • Fitness rider
  • Rowing machine
  • Sets of sprinting
  • Any other form of cardiovascular activity that would raise your heartbeat to the fat burning zone.

Frequency Of Aerobic Exercise


      As far as frequency is concerned, I feel comfortable recommending 2 to 4 sessions of 20-30 minutes each for male bodybuilders in the off-season. If a contest is approaching, then I would gradually increase the activity to no more than two sessions per day, 7 days a week of 45 minutes each on the worst case.

Remember, it is those long hours in the bike that cause bodybuilders to look like POWs on the stage the day of the show so if you are doing 2 sessions of 45 minutes every day make sure that you take plenty of glutamine (15-30 grams per day) in addition to having at least 7 meals per day.


      For women, due to their higher concentrations of estrogen in the blood and due to the fact that they have less muscle mass than males, more frequent aerobic activity is beneficial.

Therefore, I recommend an off season plan of 4 sessions of 20-40 minutes and if a contest approaches, I would gradually increase the activity to no more than two sessions per day, 7 days a week of 45 minutes each on the worst case.

Cycling Of Aerobic Activity

During the off-season, you may choose to cycle your aerobic activity in the following manner in order to prevent your body from adjusting to a specific pattern:

  1. Change the type of aerobic activity.

  2. Cycle the duration of the activity.

    For Example:
    A male bodybuilder that performs 3 sessions a week may do 20 minutes of aerobics on weeks 1 & 2, 25 minutes on weeks 3 & 4, and finally 30 minutes on weeks 5 & 6.

    A female bodybuilder can use the same pattern as well (e.g. 4 sessions performed for 20 minutes on weeks 1& 2, 30 minutes on weeks 3 & 4, and finally 40 minutes on weeks 5 & 6).

    This form of cycling will not only keep the workouts interesting but it will also prevent the body from permanently adjusting to a given length of the activity. Remember, that as soon as the body adapts, it will be tougher to reach the fat burning zone and therefore it will be harder to use aerobic exercise as weapon against fat.

HIT Cardio

High Intensity Cardio or HIT for short, has been proven in many studies to be more effective in burning body fat than traditional, less intense, cardio. Reason for this is because according to studies, HIT elevates your metabolism for hours as opposed to more traditional cardio, which only elevates it during the actual workout.

While you mostly burn glycogen (stored carbohydrates) when you do HIT, you end up burning more body fat at the end at the day due to the fact that the metabolism has been revved up longer. In addition, the shorter duration of the activity is more conductive to keeping muscle mass in caloric deprived situations (such as when you are dieting).

Implementing A HIT Workout

      There are many ways to implement a HIT workout. For instance, I like to sit on the recumbent bike and warm up for 5-minutes. After my warm up I then execute a hard minute sprint and then rest for 2-minutes going at a slower but challenging pace.

I perform 5 sets of the 1-minute/2-minute combo (total of 15 minutes) and then I'm done. However, there are many other ways you can play around.

For instance, you can do 10 sets of 20 seconds hard and 40 seconds slow. If you notice, I like to perform the active rest for twice the amount of time it takes to perform the sprint part.

If on a treadmill you can run, and then walk, or alternatively you can play with the elevation as well. Use your imagination and have fun.

HIT vs. Traditional Cardio

      In my opinion, HIT is better suited for more advanced trainees as it can really cause soreness and even injury if your body is not conditioned enough for it.

Therefore, I always recommend people start with more traditional cardio. Once you have spent a couple of months steadily doing your cardio and working out then you can start venturing into HIT.

Personal Hybrid

      If you are wondering which version of cardio I practice, I do a hybrid. I typically do my cardio for 30-45 minutes. I enjoy doing cardio traditionally but a tad above the Fat Burning Zone (

around 80% as opposed to 75%

      ) as it makes me feel good and allows me to relax and meditate, but I also like the challenge of a tough HIT session.

Therefore, if my session calls for 30 minutes, the first 15 minutes I perform at 80% of my heart rate and the remainder I perform implementing HIT. If the session calls for 45 minutes, then 30 I perform traditionally and the rest through HIT. In this manner, I get the best of both worlds.

Final Tips To Enjoy Your Cardio & Get The Most Out Of It

I get my best performance (in terms of calories burned or distance covered) when I have good music on my headset.

I just close my eyes and go for it. For me the music that does the trick is Techno.

For you, it may be something else.

But whatever that is, pick a good CD and put your headset on as performing cardio to your favorite music will increase your performance, and thus the calories burned, in addition to making the session go faster and more enjoyable.


So there you have it. Now whenever you think about aerobic exercise, you no longer have to fear two hour sessions in a machine or losing muscle mass provided you follow the basics of aerobic training.

About The Author

Hugo Rivera is an ISSA Certified Personal Trainer, Sports Nutrition Specialist and Computer Engineer graduate from the University of South Florida. Hugo is owner of, an informational, free fitness and nutrition website.

Hugo is author of a self published bodybuilding e-book called Body Re-Engineering geared towards the natural bodybuilder and co-author of one of the most popular Men's Health book in the country (according to Barnes and Noble) called "The Body Sculpting Bible for Men" and the very popular "The Body Sculpting Bible for Women".

Hugo also just released his new book called The Hardgainer's Bodybuilding Handbook in March 2005 and also serves as a nutrition consultant to several professional football players and other elite athletes. Hugo serves as business consultant to many personal training studios as well and offers personalized diet and training programs through his website.

Hugo continues to publish several articles on the subject of health and nutrition in several magazines and websites, appears on several radio talk shows and has been with Prolab Nutrition for over three years. Hugo competes as drug free NPC athlete at the National Level and his core supplementation has always consisted of Prolab products.