What Is The Best Cardio For Weight Loss  🏃‍♂️🚴‍♀️

What Is The Best Cardio For Weight Loss 🏃‍♂️🚴‍♀️

What is Cardio?
Misconceptions About Fat Burning Cardio
What Training Should You Do?
Benefits of Aerobic Exercise
Target Heart Rate for Fat Loss
The Best Cardio Exercises To Burn Fat
HIIT
The Bottom Line

One of the most common questions we hear is “how much cardio should I do to lose weight?”. This is a bit of a tricky question because losing fat comes down to taking in fewer calories than you use. We’ve covered that in more detail here (related article). But adding in cardio can be a game-changer and make it much more fun.

There is no quick fix, so we’ll explore the different aerobic exercises with science and how they can help you burn fat. We all have different levels of fitness and we’d like to help you decide which form of cardio is best for you.

What is Cardio?

Let’s start at the top. What is cardio? Simply put, cardio is any sort of activity that can raise your heart and breathing rates and improves the function of your heart, lungs and circulatory system. This can include:

  • Walking

  • Running

  • Cycling

  • Rowing

  • Hot yoga

  • Spending quality time with your spouse

We’ll discuss some of this in more detail later. Don’t worry, this article is ‘safe for work’ 😉.

Misconceptions about fat burning cardio

Will running help me lose weight?

One of, if not the most popular types of cardio exercise to burn fat and lose weight is jogging. Having had this ingrained in our brains through TV shows, films, and bad broscience it’s the go-to exercise for most when they’re trying to shift a few pounds. It’s a low-risk option. Grab a pair of trainers and ‘hit the road, Jack’. You don’t require any fancy equipment or training - just one foot in front of the other until you feel tired, right? The data backs this up - an estimated 64 million Americans are said to have run at least once in 2018 (Source).

The problem with jogging, or the more technical term: steady-state cardio, is that it’s not an effective way to burn fat, although it will burn calories as more muscles are required to work together simultaneously (Source). Too much slow cardio will lead to an increase in cortisol throughout your body. Cortisol is your stress hormone, and not your best friend if you’re trying to lose fat. Cortisol will encourage the storage of body fat. Not only that but it has been linked to lower levels of testosterone which you do not want as a male to trim down.

Besides, steady-state cardio is time-consuming but will also lead to increased appetite - mainly for carbs. Have you ever run a 10k and ate a weeks’ worth of pasta? Trust me, it’s not a good feeling. Not to say that steady-state cardio should be ignored entirely. But if losing belly fat or love handles is your goal, the best cardio to burn fat is not jogging. Some people may have had success doing this and rave about their weight loss achievements through jogging, but this is typically people who have been living sedentary lives and any new physical activity would drive a positive change in their appearance and weight.

What Training Should You Do?

It’s unfair to say you should never do steady-state cardio or jogging, there are cardio workouts to burn fat. It can be therapeutic and some low impact machines in the gym can be much better on your joints especially if you’re in a post-injury state. We also know it’s taxing on your cardiorespiratory system and will increase your endurance - so don’t rule it out entirely.

Benefits of Aerobic Exercise

What is aerobic exercise?

Aerobic, by definition, means “with oxygen”. Aerobic exercises involve any type of cardiovascular training. It can be anything as tame as a brisk walk, to running around a track, or jumping around playing Nintendo Wii. This is different from anaerobic exercise which typically short bursts of energy expenditure such as weight lifting or sprints.

There are benefits to all forms of aerobic exercise, whether it’s very high intensity or calm, consistent, and minimal load on your joints. There are different categories of aerobic exercise and we’ll break this down. Figuring out your Target Heart Rate (THR) is important to define the type of activity you’re doing. There are low THR exercises and benefits to that, as well as high THR exercises and advantages to that too.

To figure out where you sit, subtract your age from 220, and this is your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR). This is the number of times your heart will beat per minute at 100% effort. If you’re doing low to moderate aerobic exercise you will be at roughly 50-70% of your MHR. Anything on the high end will sit closer to 80% of your MHR.

As an example, a 30-year-old male would have a maximum heart rate of 190. His low to moderate THR would be 105 Beats Per Minute (BPM), and high would be 152 BPM.

Regardless of intensity levels, the main benefits of aerobic exercise are:

  • Stronger heart muscle, improving resting heart rate (RHR), and pumping efficiency

  • Increase in red blood cells throughout the body, this means more oxygen around your body.

  • Improved circulation throughout all of your body

  • Reduced stress (Cortisol) and more functional mental state

  • Increased confidence

Target Heart Rate for Fat Loss

Low to Moderate Cardio Benefits (50-75% MHR)

  1. Less taxing on your joints - much better for beginners or heavier individuals.

  2. On the lower end of the THR (50-60%) you’re in optimal fat burning zones.

  3. Great for recovery without causing much stress on joints or muscles

Moderate to High Cardio Benefits (70-85% MHR)

  1. More calories burned due to increased exertion

  2. Ability to increase endurance, strength, athletic performance, and stamina

  3. Can help prevent osteoporosis

  4. Makes daily activities less difficult (climbing stairs etc)

  5. If you’re fit and able you can burn more calories over longer periods therefore fat.

Finding The Best Cardio Exercises To Burn Fat For You

Depending on your training goals, current physique and health, and abilities, there are a variety of cardio options available. Some may be more tailored towards specific sports and have their benefits, and others may be better for achieving a low body fat condition. Below we’ll look at the best cardio for weight loss and identify the advantages of each.

Walking (Burns 300 calories an hour)

One of the least effective exercises to burn fat, walking is great for beginners, those who are injured, or the elderly. Its obvious benefits are low impact on your body and can be done for a long period - although burning nowhere near as many calories are more engaging activities.

One of the more recent findings from Harvard has shown that walking briskly for an hour a day can reduce the effects of genes that promote obesity and contribute to weight gain. This was a study of over 12,000 people (Source).

Harvard has also found that walking for an hour a day can boost immune function, especially during cold a flu season. A study of 1,000 men and women found those who walked 20 minutes a day had 43% fewer sick days than those who exercised just once a week or less (Source). So, whilst walking may not be the best cardio for fat loss, or even really considered fat-burning cardio - it does have other health benefits.

A sample beginner's walking workout could be:

  • Frequency: 3x a week.

  • Intensity: 50-70% of Maximum Heart Rate

  • Duration: 25-45 minutes per walk.

Running (Burns 670 calories an hour)

Running, not jogging or sprinting, is a great way to engage in a higher intensity activity, burning more calories and is more efficient than walking. An 80kg male can burn 670 calories if running for an hour at a 12 minute/mile pace. Running will spike your metabolic rate higher and for longer (up to 24 hours) than walking. It is important to find the right Target Heart Rate when running as if you’re caught in the moderate zone it’s likely that you’re burning more muscle than fat.

Different types of running:

  • Base Run - Your typical 10km run (~6 miles). These aren’t fast, you maintain a moderate and natural pace. This will usually be in your low to moderate aerobic THR.

  • Long Runs - Covering a distance of 15 to 20 km (10-12 miles). Similar pace to a Base Run but over a longer distance. This improved endurance, mental toughness, and will keep your metabolism burning for longer than 24 hours.

  • Interval Runs - Short bursts that are intense with breaks in between. This may be running 800 meters (0.5 miles) 5 times at a high pace, with 400 meters (1/4 mile) lighter joggers peppered in between. This has a great advantage to your speed and power as well as recovery heart rate.

  • Hill Sprints - The most brutal of them all. Running short distanced at a steep incline. For example 10 x 30 second/1-minute sprints up a hill. This has lots of benefits, especially to your fast-twitch muscle fibres, improving stamina, and cardiovascular endurance (Source).

A sample beginner's walking workout could be:

  • Frequency: 3x per week.

  • Intensity: 65-85% of Maximum Heart Rate.

  • Duration: 20 to 30 minutes each session.

man running for weight loss in shorts outside along the beach front

Cycling (Burns 670 calories an hour)

Cycling can be great both outdoor and indoors on a stationary bike, although the latter burns approximately 12% fewer calories overall due to fewer stabilizer muscles used - and depending on terrain this percentage can increase. Using the same muscles as you would for running, cycling targets predominantly your lower half, and is less impact than running.

Cycling allows the individual to customize how difficult they want the exercise to be through the resistance or gears which is great if you’re legs are already fatigued or you’re cranking up the intensity to concentrate on some much needed fat loss cardio. One of the best cardio for fat burning is to combine HIIT with cycling (usually stationary), we’ll discuss this a little later on. For bodybuilders who are looking to carve up some diamond-shaped frontal quads, cycling can be hugely beneficial on quad development as most of the power in the push down on the pedal is from that muscle group (Source).

A beginner's walking workout could be:

  • Frequency: three times a week.

  • Intensity: 65-85 percent MHR.

  • Duration: 30-45 minutes per session.

Rowing (Burns 800 calories an hour)

If there was one exercise to pick, the best cardio to burn fat, then rowing has to be in the mix. It requires you to use all the muscles in your body for each stroke, formally called ‘the catch’, the drive’, ‘the finish’, and ‘the recovery’ (Source).

The Catch: As your legs are compressed and close to the front of the rower, you’re triceps are engaged alongside your fingers and thumb grip. Your quads and calves are primed ready to explode

The Drive: As you push to extend, all legs muscles are activated, as well as your back, shoulders, and forearms, and biceps.

The Finish: This position is where you have completed the full range of motion, leaning back having pulled the rower. Your core is tight and fully engaged, bicep and back are in their end range of motion, and calves are keeping your legs extended.

The Recovery: The triceps are engaged, pushing the arms forward, away from the body. The core is tight again to bring your torso back into alignment whilst your calves contract to go back into The Catch.

Rowing is great for a full-body workout and given that its also low impact compared to running, but burns more calories than cycling - it’s a great alternative. Take head, however, as you won’t easily be able to complete 1-hour sessions regularly unless your fitness levels are great!

HIIT

High-Intensity Interval Training or more commonly referred to as HIIT is now the latest trend. Pushing your body to the max for 10 minutes can be very time-friendly, but also has major benefits.

HIIT can stimulate both the aerobic an anaerobic system which means more stamina for all your workouts. For calorie-burning benefits - HIIT keeps your body burning fuel for longer throughout the day. That means if you kick start your day with this type of training you’ll be burning calories all day long, just from a short, intense workout.

A recent study concluded that performing HIIT workouts just 3 times per week was associated with significant reductions in total body fat, subcutaneous leg and trunk fat, as well as decreased insulin resistance (Source). If you had to do one easy fix, HIIT would be the quickest way to burn fat.

Whilst we can’t say that the best form of cardio is HIIT, it’s one you want to work your way up to so you can reap the benefits.

The Bottom Line

Depending on your starting point and fitness levels, you have different cardio workouts at your disposal for weight loss and fat burning. Just moving is a good start, but once you have found your baseline level of fitness, high-intensity workouts are much more efficient and competing with your friends can be a lot more fun. 🏃‍♂️ 🏃‍♀️ 🏁

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