Author: Mike Perrozzi
The Best Way to Burn Fat Doing Cardio
Hello again Anytime Fitness readers! Mike here again, to tell you all about the best way to get the most out of the dreaded slog that is “cardio”. It may be no secret to those who have worked with me that I am not a large proponent of long winded hours spent on hamster wheels or revolving stairs. I much prefer a more efficient approach, such as a steady strength training routine matched with a balanced diet that puts you in a small caloric deficit (read SMALL, like a couple hundred calories, not a thousand) interspersed with some HIIT style movements during each session (more info on the benefits of HIIT and what it is in a previous blog of mine). This is the perfect recipe for someone both trying to lose fat and gain muscle without going through a bulking and cutting cycle (which really only applies to those starting off very lean). Even if you are overweight and just trying to shed pounds, you will still want to build muscle to help give all those calories you’re ingesting a reason to not be stored as fat.
However, what if HIIT just isn’t in the cards for me? Many of these regiments require some sort of athletic movement, plyometric, or at the very least an all out effort that requires a lot of mental fortitude that a newbie in the gym may not have developed yet (don’t feel bad as many intermediate gym goers have not developed this either). So we return to what are usually located in the front end of the gym: the various treadmills, stair climbers, bikes, and ellipticals that make up the “cardio” section. These machines do have their merits and can be used moderately efficiently with some planning. But first let’s address the number one way to burn fat and not rack up the miles on your joints: walking. Good old fashioned walking will always reign king when it comes to non exercise exertion and will burn a decent amount of calories (pretty much all from fat) and is not very difficult/requires no equipment to do. Everyone should focus on at least walking for thirty minutes a day in addition to their strength training regiment if they are trying to lose fat quickly and recover from those pesky leg workouts.
But let’s up the ante: walking on an incline treadmill is my personal favorite for continuing the fat burn and building solid glutes as well. You’ll also find that this mode of walking is much more difficult, burning almost twice the calories for the same amount of time. The number one mistake people make here however, is when they hold onto the railings which effectively negates the incline. Think about it: you’re pulling yourself with your arms up the hill you’re supposed to be climbing with your legs in order to exert more force, so you may as well just put the incline down and walk on the regular flat surface. My advice is to put the incline all the way up, or at level 10 at least, and adjust your speed to the difficulty. Even a 1.5 MPH pace on a high incline trumps regular walking.
However, for those that don’t mind a little extra force on their joints and don’t feel like setting aside thirty minutes for their conditioning, I always suggest interval training. This does not have to be sprints, which are a highly technical movement that requires adequate muscular balance and spot on form to avoid pulling any muscles (like your forty year old friend who tries to play in a pick up game after not having shot a basketball since high school). Intervals can even be done while still in a quick walk: simply start the speed at more than manageable pace, choose a time limit, then adjust the speed or the incline (even both) at the end of the time limit. Then after you’ve ramped up sufficiently and have hit the max speed you can handle during that session, drop back down maybe halfway or to the initial speed and catch your breath before cranking it back up again and repeating. I typically keep a 1:1 or a 1:1.5 ratio between working and resting; this means that if you ramp up for a minute, have your rest period either equal to or at a minute and a half if you’re a little more deconditioned. This “rest” period still involves you moving so the minutes will add up quickly. If you do this on and off for five to six rounds, you should be done around fifteen minutes (with adequate ramp up and cooldown).
This interval approach is great when using the bike or the stairs as well. With a spin bike you can even jump up out of the seat during ramp up periods and sit during rest. Just be sure to adjust your resistance level accordingly (you get more torque when you take your butt out of the saddle); otherwise, you can stay seated and keep the resistance level the same and just peddle much harder during your hard portions. Most stairmasters can be adjusted to go faster to suit your ramp up needs as well, however, the elliptical is the only cardio piece that falls short when it comes to giving solid intervals. I’m not a fan of this particular piece of equipment for multiple reasons, and this just adds to it. The intervals work best for fat loss because you can help control your heart rate with the rest periods while simultaneously challenging it during your ramp ups. This keeps you out of the red (85-90% max heart rate) the entire time like most standard cardio, but still provides more of a challenge than just staying at 50% or below and gives you something to improve upon (try different speed or rest combinations, add extra rounds, etc). The biggest plus is you can get a lot more done in a much shorter time and spares your joints the anguish of slapping against the belt of a treadmill for five plus miles. I hope this has changed some of your minds on how you view “cardio”, but always remember: weight training and diet always come first!
Thanks for reading, see you next time.