Some of us can’t get enough of it, some of us would rather pretend it doesn’t exist, but let’s face it: cardio is going to come up in pretty much every discussion you have about working out for weight loss.
Any exercise that gets your heart racing and leaves you working hard to catch your breath is a form of cardio, so whether you’re running a couple miles, hiking up a mountain, sprinting around a track, or putting your body through a grueling HIIT session, you’re getting your cardio in.
A lot of people get turned off because, yes, cardio is really hard work and it isn’t always fun. But besides just making you sweat like crazy, those workouts you’re putting yourself through can pay off in a big way. When you do them consistently and pair them with the right diet, they’ll help you burn a ton of fat, improve your body composition, and help you shred.
So don’t run away from the truth: cardio is one of the best types of exercise for burning fat!
Benefits of Doing Cardio
There are a couple of things happening in your body during a cardio workout:
• You’re moving your major muscle groups like your arms and legs at the same time, which requires a ton of energy
• Your heart rate starts to increase so that it can circulate enough blood throughout the body
• You start breathing harder to take in more oxygen
So this is different from strength training workouts, where you’re working on progressively overloading your muscles with weights and resistance to build strength and size.
Setting aside weight loss for a minute, there’s a lot of other good reasons to not skip your cardio sessions: [*]
• It’s good for your heart health. Practicing cardio regularly is going to make your heart stronger and your blood flow more efficient in a variety of ways including lowering your blood pressure and helping you with your blood sugar and cholesterol levels. This means a stronger, healthier cardiovascular system, and since heart disease is such a major problem right now, we could definitely all use a little more protection.
• It improves your endurance: If you’re an athlete of any kind, you’re going to want to pay attention to this one. The more you work on increasing your cardio, the better your heart and lungs can circulate oxygen throughout your body – and that means increased endurance and stamina to outlast your opponents.
• You get an endorphin boost: Ever heard of a runner’s high? Any kind of exercise is going to help increase your endorphins, aka your “feel-good” hormones that boost your mood, but since cardio is a more intense exercise, it’s an especially efficient way to get those hormones flowing.
Cardio and Fat Burn
So now let’s really get into what everyone really wants to know: does it actually help you to burn fat?
The good news (or maybe bad news, depending on how much you hate it) is that cardio is the most effective exercise to be incorporating into your weight-loss regimen. In fact, it’s so efficient that studies have shown that there’s no difference between doing aerobic training and resistance training together for fat loss than doing aerobic training on its own. [*]
“Burning” fat is also known as fat oxidation, and it happens when you’re in a caloric deficit. In other words, the number of calories you’re eating is less than the number of calories that your body needs to function. This means that your body isn’t getting enough fuel from your food, so it starts to burn through your stored energy – and luckily enough for anyone who wants to lose weight, that means that you start to burn through your fat stores.
Cardio is hard, intense work, and so it requires a lot of energy to sustain. This means that you’re going to need more energy to keep you fueled up throughout the exercise, which can put you in a caloric deficit. The result? You start breaking down your stored fat for energy.
That’s not to say that other kinds of workouts don’t help with weight loss. Building your muscles with strength training gives you better body composition and can help make your metabolism more efficient. But cardio really speeds up the process and helps you to be in a caloric deficit – the main goal for anyone looking to lose weight.
Cardio Workouts To Burn Fat
Cardio workouts that help burn fat can be divided into two different categories: moderate-intensity and high-intensity.
• Moderate-intensity workouts include a lot of the “classic” cardio that probably comes to mind: think running, jogging, hiking, biking, swimming, etc.
These kinds of workouts bring your heart rate up to a moderately high pace (around 50-75% of your max heart rate) and then sustains that heart rate for a longer period of time. We also call it “steady-state” cardio for this reason.
• High-intensity workouts, on the other hand, are becoming a lot more popular method for weight loss because, as the name suggests, they’re intense, they work your body even harder, and so they could be an even more time-efficient way to work out.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is the most popular example of how these workouts can amp up your weight loss. These interval training workouts get your heart rate as amped up as possible (80% or more of your max heart rate), and studies have shown that this is one of the best ways to burn through those extra fat stores. [*]
Either method can help you burn fat, and it’s even better to do a little bit of both plus your weight or resistance training to build those muscles and get that fit and toned physique.
As far as how much cardio you should be doing: it’s been suggested that you do at least 300 minutes of moderate-intensity workouts or up to 150 minutes of high-intensity workouts if you want to see a significant change in your weight. Your exact needs are going to vary based on your own calorie burn and the intensity of your exercise, though.
Cardio is a higher-intensity exercise that comes with a big payoff for anyone looking to lose weight. If you’re aiming to get shredded and really get those muscles visible, make sure to add a couple of cardio sessions a week to get that fat burning!