Cardio. It’s a word that can often strike fear into our hearts. Those who prefer lifting weights dread the ‘cardio day’, and those who normally go to classes or use the circuit machines conjure thoughts of monotonous sessions on the treadmill or stationary bike.
Whether you love it or hate it, we know that it’s great for you. Your heart needs it and it burns fat the best. But how much do you need and which kind?
Before we get stuck into the types and amount of cardiovascular physical activity we should be undertaking, let’s discuss the all-important concept of calorie intake first. After all, cardio is mostly done to lose weight.
It doesn’t matter if you’re in the low-carb camp or you like to eat Coco-Pops every morning (which we do not recommend by the way), the aim of the game is start creating a caloric deficit to lose fat.
Secondly, you need to lift something (usually weights), otherwise known as strength training. Without strength training, dieting will just weaken you. Resistance exercise sends the muscles the message that they’re needed. Plus, the more muscle you have, the greater your resting metabolic rate becomes and the more calories you’ll burn daily, both in and outside of exercise sessions.
So, that brings us to the two types of cardio.
Aerobic (steady-state) work and interval training. Both are good adjuncts to your diet and strength training regime, but neither contributes as much to a lean body as you probably think.
The easiest way to explain the pros and cons of a doing a cardio based activity, such as jogging, is to compare the calories burnt during this activity to another one, such as interval training.
According to research from Harvard, an 80kg person jogging at a steady pace can burn 555 calories in 30 minutes. Sounds like a lot? Well, kinda…yes and no.
You’ll burn more calories doing this than lifting weights in the same amount of time yes…but, at some point in your day you’ll need to eat something. And herein lies the conundrum. It’s much easier to consume calories than burn them. Even if this 80kg person followed their run, or weights session, with a very healthy meal of salmon, sweet potato and broccoli with minimal dressing, that meal will still equate to a calorie total of around 600.
That’s right, one HEALTHY meal will basically cancel out 30 minutes of running And that’s just one meal! If you’re a normal human being, you’ll be eating two more during the day.
So, is cardio just a huge waste of time I hear you asking? Well, before you get all despondent the immediate answer is – absolutely not. Exercise of any kind has huge benefits outside of simply burning calories – bone density, mental health improvement, defence against preventable diseases such as heart disease, the list goes on.
The main point is that cardio still burns fat and increases endurance. More importantly, it strengthens your heart, lowers blood pressure and helps you recover from weight training quicker. It is an important part of how our bodies are designed to move and we simply need to do it.
Not that long ago there was no such thing as exercise. It was just called moving. We did it in various ways – climbing trees for safety, jumping rivers when hunting, planting seeds during the agricultural age. We used our bodies because they’re meant to be used. The short time it’s taken to become mostly sedentary beings has meant that moving is now called exercise simply because it is focused on combating that existence.
The fact is – exercise of any kind — when done independently from diet changes — just doesn’t make much of a difference for weight loss. If weight loss is your aim, then simply exercising is not going to get you there. You need to complement your exercise regime with healthy eating.
So, let’s get into the questions at the beginning of this article, even though that felt like ages ago!
How much cardio is good cardio and what kind should I do?
Not as much as you think and any or all of it.
What we mean is – variety is the spice of cardio life and consistency is your heart’s best friend. Aim to do cardio one day and then strength training the other day. Do that twice a week and change what you do for each day.
For example, on your two cardio days – jog for 30 minutes one day and then on the other day try an interval session of some kind. 50 metres of fast passed running followed by 10 squat jumps and 10 lunges (repeat 4 times). The variations you can come up with are endless, the key is to do something different each day.
Whether your jogging, jumping, throwing, swimming, sprinting, bouncing or doing body weight exercises, the point is to get your heart rate up for between 30 – 60 minutes. If the activity requires you stop, recover and go again, that’s completely fine.
Each cardio type trains a different energy system, so each is important to develop for well-rounded fitness. That coupled with some weight training and healthy eating will get you those beach ready abs in the shortest possible time.
Below are some examples to get you started and give you an idea of the different cardio styles.
As always – if you have any questions, get in touch with usand we’ll be able to explain further and develop a plan that fits you and your life.
Remember – we are designed to move. If we want to live the best possible life we can and feel the best we can, we have to. It’s simple.
- Frequency: 1–2 per week
- Exercise examples: sprints, hill sprints, exercise bike sprints, battle rope slams, jump squats
- How to do it: warm up, then work as hard as possible for 10 – 15 seconds. Rest until you feel ready to repeat the effort.
- Workout time: 12–15 minutes
- Frequency: 2–3 per week
- Exercise examples: fast treadmill jogs, rope jumping, body-weight circuits, sled pushes, battle rope waves
- How to do it: make up your own intervals. Any hard but not maximal pace for the work interval will do. Alternate that with active recovery. For example, jump rope for 60 seconds and stretch your hip flexors for 30 seconds.
- Workout time: 15–30 minutes
- Frequency: 1–3x per week
- Exercise examples: jogs, cycling, swimming, hiking
- How to do it: work at a pace that keeps your heart rate between 120 and 150 beats per minute.
- Workout time: 30–60 minutes