Have you ever stopped to wonder whether the cardio you’re currently doing (or maybe not doing) is maximizing your fat burning efficacy? Have you stalled out and crash landed that elliptical or bike right back into the garage? Maybe there’s a better way to lose those unwanted pounds, one that will have you melting that fat away before spring/summer arrive.
Let’s get together and cook you up a new cardio routine; a perfect fat burning recipe that will keep you on the right track, focused, and looking forward to your next cardio workout. We all seem to put so much emphasis and energy into our diets and workout plans, yet we neglect to do the same with our cardio routines. This is somewhat understandable as we all have hectic lives; whether we’re professionals in an office, busy at home with kids, or even work in the fitness industry, it can be extremely difficult to give enough consideration to our cardio routine.
Cardiovascular activity seems to end up last on our “fitness check list,” with diet and training being at the top. What many of us fail to realize however, is that some type of aerobic exercise is not only important for helping to rid the body of unwanted adipose tissue, but also to keep our most significant muscle healthy — our heart. It’s recommended by doctors and fitness professionals alike that we all perform at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise each day. If you have plans to step on stage as a Bikini or Figure competitor, one day cardio will become your best friend.
How can each of us manage to squeeze this necessity into an already busy day? How can we get away with performing only the bare minimum amount of cardiovascular activity while still reaping all of its benefits?
The key lies in using our time wisely, constructing a well-organized cardio routine, and maximizing its effectiveness. We need to devise a plan that lets us get the most benefits in the least amount of time; create a routine focusing on simplicity, and remember to use variety to maintain our interest, keep our minds and bodies guessing, and most of all see results! The program outlined in this article follows each of the above guidelines. It consists of just three cardio sessions a week, emphasizing the quality of each session over the quantity of your aerobic activity.
The routine outlined below is comprised of Interval training (IT), Fast Paced (FP), and Continuous Low Intensity (CLI). It’s a good idea to add 4-5 minutes to the beginning and end of each cardio workout to warm up and cool down, particularly important for the IT and FP cardio days.
Sample Cardio Program 1
Monday — Interval Training — perform 8 to 10 fast 45-second intervals with 1-minute recovery periods in between.
Wednesday — Fast Paced — perform 20 minutes of continuous activity at 75-80% of your heart rate max.
Friday — Continuous Low Intensity — perform 50 minutes of continuous cardio at 60-70% of your heart rate max.
Each type of cardio included in the above plan plays its part in making this program effective for blasting away stubborn fat while keeping your cardiovascular system in shape. Let’s dissect the routine into parts to better understand each of the cardio types mentioned along with my reasons for incorporating them into the program.
Fat Melting Cardio Type 1: Interval Training (IT)
Interval training was born in the 1960’s, when a renowned exercise physiologist by the name of Per-Olaf Astrand revealed this method of aerobic training by publishing the results of his cardiovascular training experiments in a book entitled “Textbook of Work Physiology.” Since that time, interval training has been developed and used religiously, gradually becoming the basic principle incorporated in some fashion into every endurance athlete’s training routine.
Astrand discovered that introducing several short spurts of all out effort throughout an otherwise more modest aerobic workout can tremendously aid in improving cardiovascular capacity. While this is not the same as the customary anaerobic workout in a gym — a series of maximum efforts with rest taken in between to recover from muscular exhaustion, interval workouts do increase anaerobic capacity.
This benefit results from the fact that short maximum effort interval workouts not only increase the volume at which the heart pumps blood and the rate at which oxygen is consumed, but also calls upon anaerobic metabolic pathways that have the capacity to provide ATP energy immediately. Additionally, these brief bursts of short intense max effort activity recruit Type II muscle fibers (otherwise known as fast twitch or fast oxidative fibers). By doing so, intervals compliment any muscle building and strength training workouts you may be performing.
My personal favorite benefit of interval training is its effect on metabolism. IT workouts will keep your metabolism elevated for hours after the cardio workout has ended, thus fueling that “furnace” of yours and causing it to burn up calories while you’re sitting around on the La-Z-Boy recliner with your cell phone glued to your ear.
I recommend performing IT cardio workouts on an exercise bike, stepper, elliptical machine, or treadmill. You can even go walking or jogging outside and interlace bursts of full out sprints every so often during the session. There is a number of ways to perform interval cycles; I personally like to do 10 repetitions of fast sprinting, cycling or stepping for 45 seconds with a 1 minute rest period in between each all-out sprint. You may vary the time of each work period, the intensity level, the time of each rest period and the number of repetitions; however, I strongly recommend the total time spent on IT be no longer than 15-18 minutes.
Fat Melting Cardio Type 2: Fast Paced (FP)
Fast paced cardio workouts consist of those done on any piece of cardio equipment you choose, performed at the highest level of intensity you can maintain for 15-20 minutes. FP workout intensity is determined by a percentage of your maximum heart rate. An easy way to determine your maximum heart rate is to subtract your age from the number 220. The resulting number is your max heart rate.
If you consider yourself to be an extremely physically fit endurance athlete, you would perform your fast paced cardio workouts at a continuous 75-80% of your heart rate max. If you’re admittedly one of the “aerobically challenged” types, I recommend utilizing a target range of 65-75% of your heart rate max for the duration of your workout.
Just starting out? Stick to 60-65% as a target range before adjusting upward as you become able to sustain the exercise intensity.
These heart rate percentage targets correspond to your body’s individual anaerobic or lactate threshold. Commonly, this is when the rate of lactate production exceeds the rate of uptake. Lactic acid gathers, building up the blood volume and consequently leading to the onset of blood lactate accumulation.
One important factor to note is that even though your body uses both carbohydrates and fats for energy during exercise, it does so in an inverse relationship. As your heart rate approaches that of your lactate threshold, the use of fats for energy decreases while the use of carbohydrates for energy increases.
By performing this type of cardio, we’re attempting to not only burn body fat, but to also increase aerobic efficiency. While performing cardio at max aerobic levels, you’ll burn more total calories than you would if you were to exercise at a lower intensity for that same period of time. Your basic goal here is to turn your body into not just a “furnace,” but a calorie burning inferno for the duration of the exercise session.
Fast paced cardio may be done in a single, continuous session, or broken up into a few sessions through the day. Perform 5-7 repetitions of 5 minutes at your target heart rate with 1 minute of rest between sets. Are you a running enthusiast? This type of cardio is bound to be a favorite! Hate running? Just use a stationary bike, stepper, or an elliptical trainer.
Fat Melting Cardio Type 3: Continuous Low Intensity (CLI)
This is my personal favorite of the three cardio types, yet most of my clients find it the least pleasant. Whether you enjoy it or not, continuous low intensity cardio will strip any seemingly unyielding adipose tissue faster than green grass through a goose. As the name implies, CLI cardio is performed at a low intensity for a long, continuous amount of time. This is a simple, straight forward, but probably the most difficult workout to get through due to the sheer monotony of it.
You can walk, jog, bike, swim, or use any type of cardio equipment to perform CLI cardio. Be sure to find a cardio activity you truly enjoy doing, as you will spend anywhere from 45 to 75 minutes performing your chosen form of cardio in a continuous, low intensity manner.
Please remember to maintain a target heart rate of 55-65% for maximum efficacy of this cardio type. We’re after total fat annihilation with this type of cardio, not so much its cardiovascular benefits. This makes it necessary to maintain a low target heart rate range ensuring that we stay in the fat burning zone.
Continuous low intensity long duration cardio will improve your muscles’ ability to store and preserve carbohydrates, relying exclusively on adipose tissue as fuel for your cardio workout. CLI is the longest of all cardio types you will perform.
Below is an additional sample cardio workout utilizing the principles discussed. Alternating these workouts each week would be a great way to prevent boredom while maintaining the benefits of the program.
Sample Cardio Program 2:
Monday — Interval Training — perform 5 to 7 fast 1-minute intervals with 45-second recovery periods in between.
Wednesday — Fast Paced — perform 3 repetitions of 10 minutes of cardio at 75-80% of your heart rate max, resting 1 minute in between.
Friday — Continuous Low Intensity — perform 70 minutes of continuous cardio at 60-70% of your heart rate max.
Please remember that while performing medium to higher intensity cardio will result in fantastic fat loss, you may experience simultaneous muscle loss. To minimize any possibility of burning your lean body mass, be sure to keep your protein consumption high and your diet dialed in correctly. Utilizing BCAA’s and high quality protein powder will be of immense help when it comes to preserving that hard-earned muscle of yours.
While this cardio program maximizes your time and effort in the gym, it is by no means the only way (nor the best) way to annihilate fat and improve your cardiovascular fitness. Please remember to vary your training routines once they begin to feel stale and unexciting — cardio workouts included!
If you are high on enthusiasm, ready and dedicated to reach your goals, but can’t seem to find the time for daily cardio, this routine is perfect for you! All this plan requires from you is 3 days a week, your blood, sweat and tears… well maybe not your blood, but definitely some sweat, and those tears will be tears of joy after seeing some amazing results.