As much as I dislike cardio, I have found ways to make it super fun in the past few months. Knowing there is escaping from it, if you looking to seriously lose fat in a short period of time, CARDIO!
Cardio does work very differently on the body from weight training, and though you cannot flex cardio gains (fitness joke ;/), it is actually as important as weight training. When I dropped my fat % from 32% to 21%, all the cardio I did was a 5km run every Saturday morning (very religiously), and 10 minutes pre and post workout on most (3-4) of my weight training days. This was generally arc trainer or something but not very intense at all. It was more like a namesake warm up/ cool down and nothing much.
But after reaching 21% Body Fat (weighing around 53kgs at 5 feet 3 inches tall), I found my fat loss stagnate for a few weeks. When I actually sat back and structured my cardio routine, I was back on track- only stronger. I studied about the different types of cardio and found fun ways to add them to my regular routine. Shocking to myself, I dropped from 21% to 16% in just a few months from then. This was also faster than when I dropped fat the first time. I was surprised at how effective the results were, and since then I always recommend this to my clients. The key though, is to mix and match your cardio routine as much as you can so the body does not get used to one type of exercise.
The different types I do
1) HIIT: The famous HIIT! Or high intensity interval training is the most common one out there and in a lot of ways most effective also. I do not use the word “effective” just in terms of its effects on the body but because its also time saving, easy to track and progress, does not really require any equipments, and also least boring!
HIIT essentially is high intense cardio training with short intervals in between. So you go all out, give it your everything, and then break for a short time (30sec- 2 min), and then repeat. Research with HIIT has shown to improve glucose metabolism (the way your body absorbs sugar), improve cardiovascular endurance and health. Of course fat loss is another major reason to include it in your workouts.
Sample Upper body HIIT workout would look as follows
- 10 burpees
- 1 min jog
- 30 sec sprint
– Repeat 10 rounds.
Sample Lower body HIIT workout would look as follows
- 20 jump squats
- 10 pulse lunges (each leg)
- 2 min run
– Repeat 8-10 rounds.
You could also include SIT (Sprint Interval Training) as part of your HIIT using only the treadmill (or a park and good running shoes).
My favourite SIT routine is as follows
- 1 min walk
- 30 sec jog
- 1 min sprint (as fast as you can)
– Repeat 10 rounds (25 minutes)
How long to HIIT: Since this is so challenging to the body, I recommend no more than 20-30 minutes. If done right, this will exhaust you enough! If you think you can go on for even 2 minutes more, increase your intensity NOT time.
When to do this: Empty stomach HIIT works best for reduction of stored and stubborn fat (such as the belly area). Yes, you may lose muscle mass if you are under eating and over doing HIIT.
What if I cannot do empty stomach morning HIIT?- well you are still empty stomach post strength training, do it then. Or right before dinner in the evening.
How often to do this: No more than 3-4 sessions per week.
2) MISS: The moderate intensity steady state cardio is not as taxing on the system as HIIT. To avoid over training or burning out, I switch my HIIT for MISS. The concept of MISS is simple, 40-60 minutes of cardio maintaining a steady heart rate (about 60-70% above your resting heart rate). You should not be able to hold a conversation during your cardio but at the same time not keep grasping for breath throughout. A hour long brisk walk along the beach, cycling, relaxed swimming, yoga session etc are all excellent examples of MISS.
It is absolutely important to switch up your HIIT with MISS so that the body gets enough time to recover and yet there is good blood circulation in the body.
When to do this: In general cardio is most effective when done empty stomach, but anytime works with MISS. I try and do them post weight training when I have time with some good music, or may do them post dinner on days I have busy mornings. Always remember to eat carbs/ proteins post any form of exercise even if it is late night though!
How often to include them: If you strength training 5-6 days a week and do HIIT 2-3 days per week, then add this in no more than 1-2 times per week. If not, feel free to do some extra sessions. For a beginner, I would suggest adding more MISS sessions than HIIT sessions.
3) Tabatha: As much as I know and believe spot reduction is not possible, I am a firm believer that you can spot- tone a particular muscle group like your arms/ glutes etc. I have struggled with hanging arm fat and bad shoulders forever and Tabatha training really help me spot tone these muscles. I did not want huge biceps or triceps but wanted to get rid of hanging fat and tone my arms and cardio tabatha is excellent for this.
Concept is similar to HIIT, give it your very best for 20 seconds (exact) and rest for ten seconds (exact). Repeat 8 rounds, four minutes (exact). Choose an activity that gets your heart rate high though!
For arms, my favourite to pick was the battling ropes post workout every alternate days and do this! It was an excellent burn for the arms. Choose an activity like box jumps or mountain climbers for the abs/ core.
When to do this: Post weight training.
How often: Every alternate day if you can. You could alternatively shuffle between lower body and upper body everyday. Its only 4 minutes so will not take up a lot of time. Also remember to choose the muscle group you want to spot tone and work on that for a few weeks to see the difference. It is important to give the muscle group a recovery break of 48 hours so please don’t do squat tabatha everyday in the hopes of toning legs.
4) Circuit Cardio/ MRT : Now this is a fun one if you have a workout buddy or group to exercise with. This type of training technique is based on the principle of using maximum effort and all major muscle groups in the least amount of time. MRT (Metabolic Resistance Training) maximises your potential for change and build muscle mass also while losing fat.
So concept: Use as many major muscle groups as possible for 30-40 minutes switching from one to another as fast as you can. Example do squats for 12 repetitions and move to pushups taking no break in between for 12 repetitions. This way when you are doing pushups, the muscles of the legs recover, also forcing the blood flow quickly from one part of the body to another.
Sample workout (ok this is killing, but leaves you feeling powerful- dead but powerful):
- 100 jumping jacks
- 90 Bench dips
- 80 squats
- 70 Tricep kickbaks
- 60 crunches
- 50 jump lunges
- 40 pushups
- 30 reverse crunches
- 20 burpees
- 1 min plank
Feeling extra motivated? Well then repeat the circuit backwards!
Ok I’m done and since this is not a magazine article and my very own blog I am not obliged to write up a conclusion ;).
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