Cardio for Fat Loss. Image credits: CMarino
Cardio is the most popular way to lose fat. But is it the best? And should you do long duration cardio or HIIT? Empty stomach cardio or not? This article will teach you how to really lose fat with cardio
- Neglecting Strength Training. Don't try to lose fat doing cardio without strength training. Excessive cardio burns muscle, causing the skinny-fat look. You need strength training to prevent muscle loss & build muscle. Check StrongLifts 5x5, it only takes 3x45mins/week.
- Eating Unhealthy. Cardio without healthy nutrition is a waste of time. A healthy diet will make you lose fat faster. Apply the 8 nutrition rules.
Long Duration Cardio. This is cardio for 30-45mins at a steady state. On a machine or long runs outside. Pros & cons of long duration cardio:
- Burns Fat. 30mins long duration cardio burns about 500kcal. This allows you to create a caloric deficit without dropping your daily calorie intake.
- Increases Endurance. If you're out of shape, long duration cardio is the easiest way to increase your cardiovascular fitness.
- Boring & Time Consuming. For maximal fat loss you'll need 3 sessions of 30-45 mins per week. This can be boring & repetitive.
HIIT. High-intensity interval training. Example: alternate 60sec jogging with 30sec sprints for 15mins. Pros & cons of HIIT cardio:
- More Efficient. Burns more fat and increases your cardiovascular fitness more than long duration cardio does.
- More Fun, Less Time-Consuming. Takes only 15-20mins and is much more fun than 30-45mins long duration cardio.
- More Difficult. HIIT will make you puke if you're a beginner with zero endurance. HIIT can also mess with your recovery.
Long Duration Cardio or HIIT? If you're a beginner with 20-30% body fat, lose fat using long duration cardio. This is physically & mentally easier than HIIT. Couple this with strength training & healthy nutrition.
Your endurance will increase once you can Squat 1.5x your body-weight for at least 1 rep. That's 300lbs if you weigh 200lbs – with your hips going lower than your knees. When you can do that, you'r ready for HIIT.
Realize that although long duration cardio is less efficient than HIIT, it burns fat. While our body fat might not go down as fast, it will go down. And since long duration cardio is easier, you're less likely to skip workouts or quit.
How to Do Long Duration Cardio. I recommend long duration cardio if you have zero endurance. Remember: cardio without strength training & healthy nutrition is useless. Do StrongLifts 5x5 & apply the 8 nutrition rules.
- Moderate Intensity. 60-70% of your max heart rate (which is 220 - your age). So if you're 20 years old, that's between 120-140bpm.
- 3x45mins. Start with 15mins straight post workout without eating in between. Add 1min each workout until you can do 45mins.
- Elliptical trainer. Most people enjoy the elliptical trainer most. But anything works: rower, stationary bike, outdoor runs, ...
How to Do HIIT. The point with HIIT is to get out of breath. If you're doing it on a machine: choose a resistance that allows you to go as fast as you can when sprinting. But better is to go outside and have fun. Some ideas:
- Sprints. You can do these on a machine, but outside is better. Alternate 60sec jogging with 30sec sprinting. Repeat for 15mins.
- Burpees. 5 sets of 10 burpees with 30sec rest in between. Always try to beat your previous time. Build up to 10 sets of 10 burpees, then to 100 burpees in a row. Make sure you do a Push-up from the floor.
- The Bear. Do without resting 1 rep Power Clean, Front Squat, Overhead Press, Back Squat & Behind Neck Press. Repeat 4x without resting. This is your 1st set. Do 5 sets with 30sec rest in between. Build up to 8 sets of 5. When that gets easy, start adding weight (5lbs/2.5kg). Video.
When to Do Cardio. Most people don't have time to train 6x/week. Those who can often burn out physically & mentally after a few weeks.
- Post Strength Training. Harder, but you have more rest days and can do more cardio. Example: MO/WE/FR weights first, then cardio.
- On Rest Days. Include days for total recovery: 3 days on, 1 day off, 2 days on, 1 day off. Example: MO/WE/FR weights, TU/SA cardio.
What About Empty Stomach Cardio? While it can be more effective for fat loss, I don't recommend empty stomach cardio for 2 reasons:
- Time Consuming. You have to train 2/day since your Squat would suffer if you'd do cardio first. Means more driving back & forth and showering.
- Lower Back Health. Your spines hydrates at night. This makes it more prone to injuries. Your spine needs 1 hour on waking up to dehydrate. Loading & bending your lower back during that 1st hour is risky. Best is to have a solid breakfast, then do strength training and then cardio.
- I have a sedentary job. I do strength training 3x/week. No HIIT, no runs, nothing. You can follow my training log for more info.
- Last time I went for a run, I ran (not jogged) for 30 mins. Most people I know can't even handle 15mins. When I went ski-ing, endurance was never holding me back while it was with some of the other guys.
Unless you do sports that need endurance (MMA, boxing, rugby, ...) you don't need cardio. Strength training will increase your cardiovascular fitness above average. Increase your Squat and you'll see. The proof is in the pudding.