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Home » SCIENCE AND NATURE in CT » CONNECTICUT (all topics) » A Healthier You
Sprinting is Excellent for High Intensity Interval Training
A Healthier You

What Type of Cardio is Best for Fat Loss?

By Jim Cipriani | July 19, 2011

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You wanna lose fat. And you want to do it FAST! To burn of that fat, you’ve got to burn calories. There’s no way around it.

Walking is Great Low Intensity Cardio

To that end, the most common piece of advice you’ll hear is “do more cardio.” Easier said than done. Especially when you consider that there is so much conflicting information out there. Some people say you need to do hours on end of cardio.   Yet others say that long bouts of cardio are a waste of time. Instead what you need is HIIT cardio (High Intensity Interval Training).

So who’s right!? And more importantly, what should YOU do so you can start burning off that fat faster than ever before? Here’s the skinny (sorry, no pun intended).

The main purpose of cardio in any training/fat loss program is to expend extra calories once you’ve already established a caloric deficit from diet - and are on a sound weight-lifting program.   So in the end, the mission is to burn enough calories to create enough of a deficit that you’ll lose weight.

Both low-intensity and high-intensity cardio can do that.

The trade off is time and efficiency. With low-intensity cardio (like walking) you have to do more of it to burn a decent amount of calories.   This is why most recommendations for low-intensity cardio are between 45-60 minutes.

Some Treadmills Have Built in Programs for High Intensity Interval Training

On the other hand, high-intensity cardio burns the same amount of calories in half the time (usually).   So with just 20-30 minutes of intense interval training, you can burn the same number of calories as you do with 45-60 minutes of low-intensity steady state cardio.

Whenever you perform high intensity activity, your major fuel source is stored glycogen (aka - glucose). When performing longer duration/low-moderate intensity cardio, your body will rely more on stored body fat as your fuel source.   So at first glance, you may say “high intensity interval training isn’t for me then - I want to burn fat!”

Not so fast, Sherlock!

You must also take into account when doing lower intensity/longer duration cardio, it takes about fifteen minutes for your body to kick into “using body fat as your primary energy source” mode.   The first quarter to a third of your session will be used burning glycogen anyway as your fuel source. If you do your cardio after your weight training, your body will switch modes much faster.

Shake It Up And Head Outdoors

Also (and this is one of the most important elements) while both sources of cardio are great calorie burners, the higher intensity cardio session will create a much greater post-workout metabolic state.   While you can continue to burn more calories up to 30-60 minutes after a bout of lower intensity cardio, with the high intensity versions your metabolism can remain amped up for another twenty-four hours!

That said, too much of a good thing (on either end) is never a good thing.   So the best advice? Mix it up.

Do maybe one to two high intensity sessions coupled with one to two lower-intensity sessions a week (for a combined minimum of three sessions a week). If you still need more cardio than that, then add in maybe one or two extra bouts of low-intensity cardio.

The only caveat here is that you want to do this gradually. So, if you’re severely out of shape, start by only doing low-intensity cardio.   Once you’ve lost a bit of weight and have improved your cardiovascular system, then start adding in one intense cardio session a week.   Then build to two.

By mixing things up this way, you’re reducing the chances of overuse injury. And, you ward off over-training (five high intensity cardio sessions a week plus weight training is overkill!)

So there you have it - cardio demystified!

Start small. Then build up. Then mix in both HIIT type workouts with low-intensity workouts and you’ll see your fat loss speed up.   And remember, especially at this time of year, you don't need to be in the gym to do your cardio!

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