There are many mixed reviews about the overall benefits of cardio workouts vs. strength workouts. With so many different types of cardio out there, which one is more efficient in reaching your fitness goals? Let's start by pointing out one main point: cardio is important to incorporate in any type of training regimen because (if nothing else) it's good for your heart health. With that being said, cardio can be done in many different ways such as long steady state, shorter high-intensity interval training sessions (HIIT), or performing bodyweight or strength training movements really fast to challenge the heart along with the muscles. The actual definition of a cardio workout is any exercise that raises your heart rate. Therefore many different workouts can be classified as a cardio workout. The majority of people who go to the gym without a specific program geared towards their goals head straight to the cardio machines to perform steady state workouts. Although this type of workout is better than not doing anything at all, it might not be the best option for someone seeking fat loss.
Strength Training or Cardio?
Although cardio workouts burn a lot of calories if the long term goal is fat-loss, we should be looking to increase the resting metabolic rate. The way to build the resting metabolic rate is by building muscle. The most efficient way of building muscle is through strength training exercises. Let's put it this way, one pound of muscle burns approximately 30-50 extra calories per day, meaning if you gain 10lbs of muscle you will boost your resting metabolic rate by about 300-500 calories per day. Once muscle mass is gained (or in the process of being gained) it's important to be careful not to perform cardio workouts that deter and have a negative effect on muscle growth. Performing short, intense bursts of cardio, whether between strength training sets or on their own will help preserve muscle mass and also create afterburn.
What is Afterburn?
Also known as EPOC (excessive post-exercise oxygen consumption), is based on the theory that the more intense the exercise, the more oxygen your body consumes afterward. Increasing the intensity of the workout will, in turn, burn more calories post-workout than performing something like steady state cardio.
3 Ways to Get More Calorie Burn From Cardio Workouts
Push Yourself and Incorporate Intervals
Intensity is the key to getting more calorie burn from your cardio workouts. Intensity is determined on an individualized basis because what seems intense for one person might not be that bad for another. It's important to push yourself in your cardio workouts if you are still able to hold a conversation or (go on Facebook) you are not working hard enough. Incorporating interval training into your cardio workouts will also help increase calorie burn. Interval workouts can be done on cardio machines at the gym, outside on a run or walk, or even in the stairwell at your house. Aim perform 15 to 20 minutes of interval training to get the most out of your workout.
Check this example of a treadmill interval workout:
Michelle's 20 Minute HIIT Workout0-5 mins – Warm-Up jog (5.5-6.5)5-10 mins – Sprint for 1 minute (level 8.0-10.0) & jog for 30 seconds (level 5.0-6.5)10-15 mins – Cool down jog (level 6.0-7.0)Note: This workout can also be done in a less intense version by performing a walk-jog interval or a walk-walk faster interval. Simply continue to follow the time frames set out, but decrease the intensity level for each interval.
Incorporate strength training with cardio training together
An excellent way to not only work your heart, but your muscle strength too is to perform quick cardio intervals between sets of strength exercises (i.e., burpees, skipping, or rowing machine as fast as you can for 30 seconds). Another great way is to perform a few workouts per week that have you performing strength exercises with a lower weight at a faster pace. This combination of strength training and quick cardio bursts is one of the ways to burn lot's of calories and achieve a leaner figure. This type of workout can also be known as a metabolic workout, check out this example of a metabolic workout you can do anywhere.
Switch it Up Always
The worst thing you can do is perform the same type of cardio workout for a long period, without switching up variables like length of time or intensity, etc. The body is a miraculous tool that can adapt to any stress put on it, therefore performing the same type of exercise will soon become less challenging and less efficient. If you are someone who enjoys using cardio equipment at the gym, there are many ways to switch it up using the same machine you always do. For example, if you love the elliptical you can play around with mixed speed intervals or increasing resistance. Alternating between 1 minute of regular pace exercise and 30 seconds of either increased speed or increased resistance continuously for 10 to 20 minutes. That is a great way to challenge yourself and burn more calories during your workout. Another way to switch it up is to try something different such as skipping, stair sprints, rowing machine, or spin classes as this will help keep you from getting bored and prevent plateau.
I hope this helps you work harder and become more effective in burning calories during your cardio workouts this summer. Remember, if you can still talk or get bored during your workouts, it's probably too easy! "Success lies outside your comfort zone" so don't be afraid to push yourself.