The Best Cardio For Accelerated Weight Loss
We’ve all wondered what the best type of cardio is for weight loss at some point during our path to get to our goal weight, which isn’t strange as all aspects of losing weight combined can be quite difficult.
Especially if you are first starting out – the combination of a new healthy diet & exercise may confuse you.
All these new variables in your life may even tempt you to give up and go back to your old way of living, but trust me – it isn’t all that complicated!
In this article I will break down what the best cardio is for you, and how to implement it in your fat loss regimen. I will explain it as thorough as I can without it getting too complicated.
I will break down how often you should perform cardio in order to lose weight, and I will also shed light on some other cardiovascular exercise related questions; How much cardio is healthy? How much does your body tolerate? And should you do regular treadmill/walking exercises, or the new cardio hype that is HIIT(High intensity interval training)
LISS VS HIIT
When we take a closer look at cardio we can break it down into 2 groups that are often practiced with weight loss in mind: ‘Low intensity training‘(or cardio, also known as LIT/LISS– low intensity training/steady state cardio) and High Intensity Interval Training(HIIT)
While both types of cardio will yield weight loss, there are advocates for both types of cardio. I have listed the pros and cons of each below so you can decide which one is best suited for your lifestyle:
Low Intensity Training
The regular type of exercise in which your heart rate generally doesn’t go above 120 BPM(beats per minute) – like walking, jogging, light cycling etc.
Low intensity cardio excels at burning fat due to the energy stores that your body lends it’s energy from at a low heart rate.
When the demand of oxygen/energy is not that high, your body will take the harder path of breaking down fat tissue(over muscle) and using primarily that as fuel to let your body run on. It is estimated that around 60% of the calories you burn with low intensity cardio come from your stored fat mass.
I’d argue that the biggest advantage LISS holds over HIIT is that it can be performed with daily activities, and doesn’t have to be a part of an exercise routine. You can go on a walk anytime, with any clothing attire without drenching yourself in sweat while still burning your body fat.
Another point in favor for LISS is that the stress hormone cortisol is kept in check. Cortisol achieves elevated levels of production by your body when it reaches fight or flight mode, quite similar to adrenaline.
When your heart rate goes high, your body thinks that you may need these hormones to act quickly in order to survive. This is also why HIIT generally takes the bulk of calories you burn from glucose – since it is a faster source of energy that will increase your chances of ‘survival’ from a biological point of view. Makes sense right?
High Intensity Interval Training
High intensity interval training on the other hand earns it’s stripes when you incorporate it as your weight lifting routine. By performing your exercises in a circuit style with little to no rest in between you keep your heart rate sky-high while targeting all the muscles in your body within a very short amount of time – this is optimal efficiency wise.
HIIT has gained an increased amount of popularity the last few years, knocking low intensity cardio off the throne. The biggest argument in favor of HIIT is the time you save with it. With everyones busy full-time schedule, this is not a strange thing. Every minute matters nowadays.
Another selling argument for HIIT is that it supposedly presents a calorie-burn bonus as you could call it in the form of the ‘afterburn effect‘. A metabolic effect that triggers your body into burning more calories post exercise(when you are lying in bed, on the couch etc.) due to the short periods that you heart rate is sky-high.
While the afterburn effect has been greatly exaggerated for marketing purposes, it is still worth mentioning that you can burn up to an extra 60 calories post exercise as opposed to regular low intensity cardio.
A typical HIIT training could for example look something like this:
60 seconds of squats – 60 seconds of jumping jacks – 60 seconds of push-ups – 60 second plank – 60 seconds of crunches followed by 2 minutes of rest. Repeat the cycle 3 – 5 times for a full body workout.
Another option would be to perform regular cardio exercises like cycling, spinning or sprinting(steady state, or not) and doing it like this: 5 minute warm-up – 30 seconds of sprinting – 60 seconds at low intensity – 30 seconds of sprinting – 30 seconds at low intensity etc. repeat until you reach 15-30 minutes.
As you can read HIIT is sort of a training regimen on it’s own – as opposed to LISS, it’s intensity is quite high which doesn’t make it very suitable to perform alongside a separate weight lifting routine, but more so the weight lifting should be a part of the high intensity interval training.
With a duration of anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes, HIIT is optimal time/efficiency wise. You should not perform sessions longer than that though, because it is so taxing on your body, prolonged sessions will cause the production of cortisol – a stress hormone that is responsible for the storage of fat in your body – The contrary of what we want to achieve!
You burn a lot of calories with a session of HIIT(Ranging from 250-400 calories per session), and as a bonus you can target all the muscles in your body and up your strength if you perform HIIT as part of a weight lifting routine.
When comparing the amount of calories you lose with LISS, it’s obvious that HIIT is the clear winner – there is a but, though.
When your heart rate is as high as it is with HIIT(anywhere north of 160 BPM) your body enters what is called the cardio zone. You will still burn calories from fat, but the percentage changes quite a bit. It is estimated that you burn around 40% of your calories from fat with HIIT – a lot lower than with LISS.
Do keep in mind that since you burn more calories with HIIT in the same amount of time as with LISS – that the difference in how many calories are actually burnt from fat may not be as big as you think.
How Often Should I Do Cardio To Lose Weight?
This one is a little harder to answer. It all depends on your diet and the rest of the activities you perform during the day.
While cardio is hardly required for weight loss, it is an efficient tool if you are closing in on your goal as it usually gets harder at that point to drop fat mass. This is caused by a number of factors like a slower metabolism due to the reduced calorie intake and increased physical activity.
The exact amount of cardio you should do is dependent on your diet. You would first have to know your BMR(Basal metabolic rate), which is the amount of calories you would need just to keep your body running without any activity, and your TDEE(total daily energy expenditure) which is the amount of calories you burn with your BMR and during your daily activities(walking, stairs, exercise) I explain how to calculate your TDEE in this article.
I recommend a daily calorie deficit of around 500 calories(or 20% of your maintenance) as a good rule of thumb for (healthy) weight loss. At this rate you will lose a healthy amount of weight (around 1- 1,5 lbs per week) whilst keeping your metabolism high, appetite under control and keeping a moderately pleasant mood 😉
So lets hypothetically say that your TDEE, or maintenance calories(the calories you consume to stay at your current weight) are 2000 per day.
You could eat 1750 calories per day and perform cardio to burn approximately 250 calories to reach your 1500 calories and a total deficit of 500 calories required for weight loss.
Another option would be to eat at maintenance(2000 calories) and introduce a longer cardio session to burn 500 calories to reach the same deficit. Or you can simply eat at 1500 calories without any cardio at all.
My point is that it all depends on how much you consume. If you eat fewer calories the need for cardiovascular exercise diminishes, and vice versa increases along with your calorie consumption.
It all comes down to your net energy balance, if you eat more calories than you use – you gain weight, and if you use more calories than you eat – you lose weight. Couple an energy deficit with low insulin levels which you can achieve with certain diets that are low in carbohydrates (keto) and you are making sure that you are also actually burning body fat.
Which Cardio Should I Do For Fat Loss?
I personally think neither one is better. They both have their own advantages that shine in certain training regimens/lifestyles more so than the other.
This study suggests that for fat loss, no particular type of cardio intensity was favorable over the other. They found that if your calorie deficit was met through cardiovascular exercise alone – that variety in intensity may be the key to success by avoiding getting burnt out on any intensity level.
I would recommend that if you choose LISS that you incorporate 3 – 6 sessions of 30 minutes of walking, cycling or any other light exercise into your routine in which your heart rate stays below 120 BPM. If you choose to incorporate HIIT – do no more than 3 sessions per week of a maximum of 45 minutes.
I myself practice low intensity cardio, because HIIT is pretty taxing on your body and my body already takes quite a beating from my 4 days a week heavy weight training routine. I usually take a 30-minute low intensity walk outside during my lunch break, and another 30 minutes of walking at night after dinner.
In the weekends I go on low intensity hikes that also last about an hour in total.
That type of low intensity cardio ensures that I am still burning fat, while keeping my stress hormones in check. Something that does not happen when you practice HIIT.
Personally, I even find it a relaxing and fun activity to perform – which also helps to relax your mind. Remember that exercise doesn’t always mean that you have to push yourself to the limit. Sometimes it’s a good thing to take a step back, and not always perform at 101% of what you can do.(even though you may be tempted to do so. Been there, done that)
Which type of cardio do you prefer? Or if you haven’t started out yet – what type of cardio do you think will best suit your lifestyle? How do you pair your diet with your exercise regimen to achieve weight loss?
Let me know down in the comment section below! And as always if you have any questions, please leave them below and I will be happy to help you out!