I had a great question from a subscriber the other day. Like a lot of people who are trying to lose weight, he wanted to know the best type of cardio for burning fat. How intense should his sessions be, how long, how often, when should he do it, before or after weight training?
Below is my take on cardio, every trainer will have their own philosophy…but this isn’t their blog so you’ll have to settle for my opinion.
The Best Cardio For Burning Fat: The Beginner
People who are just starting out may not be in very good shape, for these people it is more beneficial for them to do low intensity cardio. Obviously people who are out of shape wouldn’t be able to sustain a high level of intensity long enough to burn many calories or get much benefit, besides it could be dangerous for some.
If I was to put together a cardiovascular conditioning routine for a beginner I would recommend that they did cardio 3-5 times a week for 40-60 minutes at 60-65% of their estimated max heart rate.
These sessions would be in addition to any resistance training sessions. If a beginner was serious about losing weight and they didn’t want to lift weights for the first few weeks, I wouldn’t be apprehensive to suggest that they do low intensity cardio 5-7 days a week. Obviously adjustments would need to be made for individuals who were not fit or healthy enough to meet these recommendations.
Once the beginner becomes more fit the intensity of the cardio sessions would increase and the duration of those sessions would decrease to 20-30 minutes. When the individual reaches this point they would need to decide which direction they are trying to go with their training.
The Best Cardio For Burning Fat: Method #1
This method is similar to techniques that have been used by bodybuilders for decades. Don’t worry moms, you can use this technique with out fear of people thinking you’re a man, you will not grow an Adams apple or a beard. This is merely an approach to cardio, so no need to stop reading.
This method is about losing fat slowly at a rate of about 1 pound or less a week, in an attempt to retain as much muscle as possible. When people crash diet or train at high intensities for long periods of time a good amount of the weight that they lose is muscle.
So if you’re trying to retain your muscle to attain a physique similar to a fitness model; long, lean well defined muscle but not a grotesque amount (or a grotesque amount if that’s your thing). Think six pack abs, sculpted arms, shoulders and back.
Another reason you might want to use this technique is if you wanted to retain your strength. By losing weight slowly you’ll lose less muscle and therefore be stronger. If you’re cutting weight for a sporting event like power lifting then this is the way to go.
This method of cardio is all about low intensity. Many people argue that low intensity cardio is the best cardio to burn fat. When you do cardio you burn calories, but where do those calories come from? It depends on the intensity. When you exercise at lower intensities a greater percentage of the calories comes from fat.
Example: Low Intensity Activity 60 Minutes = 300 Calories Burned = 180 from fat / 120 from carbs.
So even though you may not burn many calories, more of the calories you burn are from fat instead of carbohydrates or protein (muscle).
The Best Cardio For Burning Fat: Method #2
If you’re trying to lose weight and you really aren’t worried about losing some muscle or strength then this method may be a better fit for you. Instead of low intensity / long duration cardio sessions others lose weight by doing shorter more intense cardio sessions.
Aside from dropping a few pounds, this type of cardio is beneficial for those looking to improve their cardiovascular endurance, the strength of their heart and overall health. Where low intensity cardio burns more fat but fewer total calories, high intensity cardio does the opposite.
Example: High Intensity Activity 30 Minutes = 300 Calories Burned = 180 from carbs / 120 from fat.
So even though you’re not burning as many calories from fat, you’re still burning the same amount of total calories (or more) in less time. Alright lets put this all together so you have some ideas on how to implement these two methods into your workout routine.
- How Often
- 5-7 days a week if possible
- How Long
- 45-60 minutes
- 20-30 minutes if performed after weight training sessions.
- Heart Rate
- Different for everyone, but generally around 60% of estimated max heart rate.
- Maintain a steady heart rate for the entire session.
- Any type of cardio is acceptable.
- Whenever you will do it.
- I prefer first thing in the morning, but that’s just when I will do it.
- If you’re hard core, try to do 2 workouts, 1 for cardio and 1 for weights.
- How Often
- 5-7 days a week, take days off as needed.
- How Long
- 20-40 minutes
- 10-20 minutes if performed after weight training session
- Heart Rate
- 75-85% of estimated max heart rate, some highly trained individuals will be able to go higher.
- Any type of cardio is fine.
- Try different ways to spike your heart rate such as:
- High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
- Tabata Training
- Sprint Training
- Same as method #1, whenever you can.
- Before, during or after weight training.
So there you have it, my opinion on the best forms of cardio for burning fat, how to do it based on your goals, fitness level and commitment. When it comes right down to it, doing anything is always better then doing nothing. So even if you can’t follow these recommendations just do what you can, stay active and watch what you eat.