You may be scratching your head at the moment thinking, "what is cardio for fat loss and how is it different from any other cardiovascular exercise I've heard of?"
Well, just bear with me for a few minutes and I will do my best to explain the difference.
When most of us think of cardiovascular exercise (exercises that strengthen the heart muscle....cardio for short), we think of long runs, bicycling for miles and miles or any repetitive exercise done for 30, 45 or even 60 minutes or more. Think distance runners. Now there are benefits to doing cardio; stronger heart muscle, better endurance (especially if you are out of shape); burns calories. The problem is that this type of cardio will not be as effective by itself. In fact, you may end up burning muscle for energy (how many muscular marathoners do you see?). You will need to couple it with a good nutrition program and strength training to make it a life-style changing activity. I will explain this further below.
When I talk about doing cardio for fat loss, this simply refers to using cardio as either an add-on to your weight training routine or inclusive of your weight training program (my preference).
Let's differentiate between the two....
In this usage of cardio, you would have separate weight training workouts and cardiovascular workouts as part of your fitness program. This can definitely work. In fact, while cardio alone will help you lose weight, the combining of weight training with it will make both types of exercise more effective and more interesting.
For add-on cardio to be effective, you will need 30-45 minutes at a steady state heart rate at least 3 times per week. Don't forget, you still need to make time for your weight training to really burn fat and lose the right kind of weight.
Contrast that with the following example.
In this variation, your cardiovascular exercise in built into your weight training program. There are several ways to accomplish this. Two of my favorites are as follows.
1. Shorter Rest Periods - When performing strength training, the goal is to build muscle; a process known physiologically as hypertrophy. The most effective/efficient way to do this is to stress your muscles, in a good way, to the point where they can't complete another movement (known as "reps to failure"). It's the best way to grow muscle mass. The down side is that it takes more rest between sets so that you have the energy to do it again. It's not uncommon for 2-3 minute rest periods. This has the added effect of slowing your breathing and heart rate, thereby losing a lot of the aerobic impact of your workout.
Using shorter rest periods requires you to drop the amount of weight you are lifting in each exercise; not to the point of making it easy, but just enough to catch your breath and hit it again. We are talking 15 second rest periods. This keeps up your heart rate and optimizes fat burning during the workout.
2. HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) - With HIIT, it is somewhat similar to what I talked about with shorter rest periods above. The key to HIIT is the words "high intensity." Not that you shouldn't be intense when training anyway to get the best results, but high intensity takes it to a whole new level.
With HIIT, your workout is comprised of periods with moderate activity followed by a period of 100% effort followed again by moderate activity. It's not for the novice or faint of heart, but it is very effective. Click here and here for more info on HIIT. It's best to do this with a workout partner.
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