If you’re trying to lose weight, mixing some cardio into your workout plan can certainly help things along.
Cardio can be one of the best ways to shed fat and boost overall fitness — if you go about it correctly. While consistency is key, so too is the intensity of the workout and the variety within your plan.
Understanding the different types of cardio training and how exactly cardio supports weight loss can help you to better craft a cardiovascular conditioning routine with an emphasis on fat burning.
Types of Cardio
There are many different types of cardio, but in this article we are going to focus on two of the most popular for losing weight:
- High Intensity Interval Training: As it’s name implies, this type of exercise involves alternating periods of all-out effort with short periods of rest/recovery. Time in high intensity interval training or “HIIT” is typically measured in seconds, not minutes, and can be performed with just about any type of activity, including running, cycling, swimming, rowing, and strength training. The most common protocol calls for a 2:1 ratio of work to rest, so you might alternately sprint for 40 seconds and jog for 20 seconds, for example.
- Low Intensity Steady State: Low intensity steady state is where you sustain an effort for longer periods of time (typically longer than 20 minutes). This is a more extended form of training that might last the better part of an hour. An example of low intensity steady state is jogging.
So which one is better for losing weight and burning fat?
HIIT Or LISS?
If you’re just starting out, HIIT might not be safe or feasible. If you do HIIT before you’re ready for it, you can increase your risk of overtraining and injury. So if you’re a beginner, start with LISS.
Once you’ve built a strong fitness foundation, HIIT is ultimately best for burning fat. And if you are someone who’s fit enough for HIIT, LISS can also help you recover between HIIT sessions and burn a few extra calories while you’re at it.
You’ll probably want to avoid doing them on the same day, but incorporating both HIIT and LISS into your training is the best way to get maximum benefit from cardiovascular activity.
Does Cardio Burn Belly Fat?
So let’s really break this down: Is any of this going to slim you waistline? The short answer: Kind of. Maybe.
The simple and unfortunate truth is that you just can’t spot reduce fat. Your body stores and loses fat where it wants to; women tend to store fat preferentially in the hips and thighs while men tend to story it in the belly area. You have absolutely no control over this. If you want to lose belly fat, you just have to start working out and eating more healthfully until you’ve lost enough fat overall that it makes a difference to your waistline.
How Much Cardio Should I Do to Lose Weight?
So how much cardio should you do?
To lose fat, you should be performing at least three challenging workouts per week. The duration and intensity of those workouts depends almost entirely on your fitness level and time constraints. For beginners, three 45-minute LISS sessions might do the trick, but more advanced exercisers might be able to get away with three 25-minute HIIT sessions.
How Should I Get Started with Cardio Workouts?
We have entire articles on Openfit detailing effective cardio workouts, but the best one for you is the one that you will do on a consistent basis. Picking something you absolutely hate is setting yourself up for failure. Chances are good that you will not be consistent doing such a routine.
Conversely, anything you enjoy — or at least can tolerate — is something you will do consistently. Fortunately, HIIT can be done with just about anything. Strength training, swimming, sprinting, cycling, rowing — virtually anything can be done as a high-intensity interval workout.
When it comes to steady state, you’re limited to activities that lend themselves to sustained exercise lasting longer than about 20 minutes (think: running, cycling, rowing, swimming, etc.). Go with the one you think you will do most consistently.
Remember, the important thing is that you do whatever you do consistently. Having one great week isn’t going to help you to lose weight. It’s having a whole lot of great weeks in a row that’s going to help trim your waistline.