Even though it’s 2017 cardio is still a taboo topic in bodybuilding. There’s always 1 or 2 ripped dudes in the gym that brag about how lean they are and have never stepped on a treadmill or an elliptical a day in their life. If they are telling you the truth, and a lot of people don’t like to admit they do cardio, they are among the genetic elite and can get away with doing little to no cardio and still maintain an amazing physique. Unfortunately for most of us this is just not possible. Love it or hate it cardio is necessary if you want to get as lean as genetically possible and look your absolute best.
Ok so we realized that we need to do some cardio to shed some fat to get lean. What type of cardio should we be doing? What is the best type of cardio for fat loss while preserving muscle mass? In this article we’re going to focus on the two main types of cardio, Low Intensity and High Intensity Interval Training. There are other forms of cardio like low intensity intervals, steady state, tabata, etc but they are really all just variations of the two main forms, low intensity and high intensity intervals.
Low Intensity Cardio
Low intensity cardio is believed by many to be one of the best forms of cardio to achieve maximum fat loss while preserving as much muscle mass as possible. Low intensity cardio is performed at between 40 and 60 percent of your maximum heart rate. Calculate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. Multiplying that number by 0.4 and 0.6 will give you the end points for your low-intensity cardio range.
It’s important to understand that if you’re going to be performing low intensity cardio, you’re going to have to spend more time doing it than a higher intensity workout. The reason is that it takes your body approximately 20-25 minutes to enter the fat burning zone while performing low intensity cardio. So this means that for the first 20 minutes, you’re literally just warming up. Once you’ve hit the fat burning zone you’ll want to be there for at least 10 minutes. So any low intensity routine should really be at least 35 minutes. Aim to get in at least 35-60 minutes 3x a week depending on your fat loss goals. It is also important to understand that the calories and fat burned are limited to the current session only. Once you are done with your session there is no after burn effect.
High Intensity Interval Training
High intensity interval training is a great way to burn a lot of calories in a shorter amount of time. High Intensity Interval training is performed at 70-90 percent of your maximum heart rate. Calculate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. Multiplying that number by 0.4 and 0.6 will give you the end points for your low-intensity cardio range.
An example of this type of cardio would be sprinting really fast for 30 seconds followed by 1 minute of walking. You would then repeat this for a maximum of 20 minutes.
So how is this beneficial for fat loss? What makes HIIT training so effective as a fat burner is that it produces excess post-oxygen consumption, a.k.a. EPOC. A study performed by Jeffrey W. King of East Tennessee State University showed that HIIT increases the resting metabolic rate for the following 24 hours. HIIT, High-Intensity Interval Training, mobilizes or breaks down a lot of fat from adipose tissue stores. It can also cause some micro tears in your fast twitch muscle fibers which means your body will spend more time recovering from this type of workout. This leads to the afterburn effect where you are essentially going to be burning more calories throughout the rest of the day because your body is going to be using energy to repair itself.
Another study by M. Sanchez Pacheco found that rats which performed high-intensity exercises lost more fat than the rats which performed low-intensity exercise. The rats which exercised at 80-90% of their maximum heart rate lost a significant amount of body fat compared to the rats which exercised at 60-70% of their maximum heart rate.
Many research studies found that long endurance activities like marathon running can cause muscle catabolism, or the breakdown of muscle tissue. Muscle catabolism can sometimes last up to 7 days after the endurance activity takes place.
HIIT training on the other hand, can help increase speed, power, endurance and metabolic rate, helping you burn fat faster. Professional athletes incorporate HIIT into their workout routines because it has been proven to improve athletic performance.
So Which Form Of Cardio Is Really The Best For Fat Loss?
HIIT, High-Intensity Interval Training, mobilizes or breaks down a lot of fat from adipose tissue stores. It’s super effective in this regard, but the thing is, just because fat is mobilized and enters the bloodstream doesn’t mean that it gets burned.
Low intensity cardio isn’t nearly as effective as HIIT at mobilizing fat from fat stores, but it’s really effective at burning those triglycerides that are floating around the bloodstream as a result of high-intensity intervals.
So in my humble opinion, combining the two would be the best strategy for rapid fat loss. For the first 20 minutes perform HIIT and then follow that up by 20-40 minutes of low intensity cardio. This way you are guaranteed the best of both worlds. Your body will break down the fat and put it into the bloodstream and then low intensity can come in and finish it off.
Since this type of cardio is especially demanding, I wouldn’t recommend doing this more than 2-3 times a week. If you’re going to combine the two make sure you give a least a day’s rest in between sessions to let your body recover. If you would like to do cardio on those in between days stick to low intensity cardio.
Any form of cardio is good cardio. Not only will it help you look better, it will help you feel better as well. Cardio is great for overall health and longevity. To keep things interesting, try to switch it up and use different machines and different times spent on those machines. Raise and lower the intensity. Have a great playlist on deck. Try to not look at it as a chore but as a tool to help you achieve your best possible physique you can. Cheers!