You either love it or you hate it! Either way cardio is an important part of any fitness plan. What is cardio? Cardiovascular exercise is any activity that increases your heart rate aerobically such as running, jogging, jumping, swimming, hiking, biking etc. People always ask me ‘will zumba help me lose weight?’, or will (insert cardio exercise here) help me lose weight?’. The answer is YES. Any cardiovascular activity that increases your heart rate and challenges you, will help you to lose weight so long as you are in a calorie deficit and you enjoy it enough to continue doing it. In today’s blog post I am going to answer the most commonly asked questions when it comes to cardio. First off lets look at some of the benefits of cardio besides weight-loss.
- Improved heart health
- Increased metabolism
- Improved recovery ability
- Reduced stress
- Increased bone density
- Relief from depression and anxiety
- More energy
- Protects against disease like diabetes and osteoporosis
- Increases lung capacity
- Reduced risk of heart attack, high cholesterol and high blood pressure
- Helps you to sleep better
How much cardio should I do?
I usually recommend between 30-60 minutes 3-6x per week depending on your goals. If you are a beginner I would suggest starting out with 30 minutes 3x per week and building up from there. I do not recommend performing cardio exercise for more than 60 minutes. After 60 minutes of cardio your cortisol levels start to rise causing your body to preserve fat and breakdown muscle, slowing down your metabolism and making long-term sustained weight-loss difficult. How? Because the slower your metabolism, the less calories your body needs and the less you are able to eat without gaining weight. This also goes for low calorie diets.
If you are training for a marathon, triathlon or the like, I recommend having some form of carbohydrate like an energy drink or banana every 60 minutes while exercising.
How often should I change my routine?
In order to prevent a plateau and to keep your body guessing, you will need to change up your exercise routine and/or intensity every 4-6 weeks to avoid adaptation. If you have been walking, add in jogging. If you have been jogging, add in sprints. If you want a change, try out a new exercise class or DVD. Just make sure you change it up!
What about cardio and strength training? Which do I do first?
If you are performing strength training and cardio in the same session you always want to do strength training first. The first 30 minutes of exercise your body is burning carbohydrates. After 30 minutes of exercise you start to tap into your fat stores, therefore you want to save your higher calorie burn exercise (cardio) until last so you can use it to burn more fat. You also want to make sure that you don’t tire yourself out with cardio first leaving you no energy to strength train. If you are doing cardio in the morning on an empty stomach then I recommend doing strength training later in the day as usual.
Which cardio is best for fat burn?
This is a commonly asked question and it is going to vary for everyone. The three types of cardio I recommend for fat loss are:
1. Fasted cardio
Fasted cardio is usually done first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. The theory behind it is that your body has been in a fasted state for the past 7-10 hours while you sleep using up your carbohydrate stores leaving only fat to be burnt when you perform cardio. This type of exercise should be performed at low intensity, between 60-65% of your maximum heart rate, and for most people that is between 120-130bpm. I have found this type of cardio to be the most successful for fat loss for myself and others.
Be aware that you will also be losing some muscle doing this type of cardio. In order to help prevent muscle loss from fasted cardio you can take a intra-workout drink containing BCAAs like Scivation Xtend.
High intensity interval training, otherwise known as HIIT, is one of the most effective methods for fat loss. It allows you to burn more fat in less time which is perfect if you are short on time.
HIIT is high intensity cardio performed for a short period of time, followed by an active rest period. For example you will perform 20 seconds of sprints followed by 30 seconds of active rest like walking on the spot to allow your heart rate to come down safely.
When performing your 20 seconds of high intensity cardio, you need to go all out – push yourself to your max. Once you have finished you should be out of breath, if not, then you need to push yourself harder.
During the high intensity interval you want to aim to get your heart rate up to around 85% of your maximum, and let your heart rate come down to at least 70% of your maximum before beginning the next high intensity interval.
3. Low-Moderate intensity cardio performed after weight training
This is another type of cardio that is beneficial if you are wanting to lose body fat. After you have finished your weight training session (assuming you trained for at least 30 minutes to deplete your carbohydrate stores) performing low-moderate intensity cardio is great for extra fat loss. You want to have your heart rate between 60-75% of your maximum for at least 20 minutes. This type of cardio will also have a slight catabolic effect like fasted cardio, so remember to take an intra-workout drink or BCAAs after your weight training session.
How do I work out a % of my maximum heart rate?
As you would have noticed above I have given a % of your maximum heart rate to describe the intensity of the exercises. In order to work out your maximum heart rate % you take 220 and minus your age.
If I want to perform low intensity cardio, I will need to calculate 60-65% of my maximum heart rate.
196 x .60=118
196 x .65=128
When I perform low intensity cardio I want my heart rate to be between 118 and 128 beats per minute. If you don’t own a heart rate monitor you can easily take your pulse while you exercise for 10 seconds and then times that number by 6 to get your beats per minute.
Should I eat something after I workout?
Yes, definitely! Post workout nutrition is extremely important. Eating a mix of carbohydrates and protein (like a banana & a protein shake) within 30 minutes of working out will help to replenish muscle glycogen that was depleted during your workout, reduce the chance of muscle breakdown caused by exercise, reduce muscle soreness and fatigue and reduce cortisol levels.
Below I have included a workout planning sheet for you to track and/or plan your workouts ahead of time to help you stay on track! Print it out and schedule your workouts in so you don’t make excuses not to do it!
Want to see more? Sign up for updates… IT’S FREE!