One of the very first lessons I have learned during my fat loss journey is that I hated doing cardio. When I say cardio, I'm thinking about spending 40 long minutes (or longer) on the treadmill while going at a steady pace. While there are other forms of cardiovascular or aerobic activity to choose from such as yoga, step class, tae bo, stairmaster, etc., most gyms are equipped with a lot of treadmills because running is one of the most popular cardio exercises available. Running on the treadmill is also one of the most effective ways to burn fat.
By definition, cardio is basically any activity which forces your heart to work harder than it typically does. So, if you're used to sitting on your desk all day then, even brisk walking can make your heart work harder than it normally does. Yes, you can benefit from brisk walking or just plain, old running but, chances are, your progress will be painfully slow.
The New Form of Cardio
At some point in your life, you've probably heard that running at your target heart rate at a steady pace is the best way to burn fat – let's call this traditional cardio (click here for target heart rate definition). While this may be true, it is time consuming. boring, and inefficient. I know because I've been there and I say this about traditional cardio because there is a much faster, more efficient way to challenge your heart.
One of the latest trends in the fitness industry today which delivers great results, is hight intensity interval training (HIIT). Interval what? Ok, if this is a new concept for you, stick with me.
Interval training is a form of cardio (if you can even call it that) wherein a person goes from a period of low intensity to low intensity cardio in a matter of minutes. For example, I did my HIIT at the gym yesterday on the treadmill for 14 minutes with this:
- Warm-up for 1 minute at 3.5 miles per hour (mph)
- Warm-up for another 1 minute at 6 mph
- Run for 1 minute at 8 mph and 1.5% incline
- Run for a minute and a half (90 seconds) at 4 mph and 1.5% incline
- I repeat steps 1-4 for 5-6 times then cool down
This is exactly what I did and believe me I was sweating buckets at the end of my HIIT. One of the things that makes HIIT more effective than traditional cardio is the high intensity. Running or performing cardio at a higher intensity challenges your heart and body to exert more effort which results in more calories burned during your cardio session at a shorter period of time. Basically, I would burn the same amount of calories if I ran at 6 mph for 40 minutes but HIIT cuts that time by about 70%! What's more important after my session is that my body kept working harder to restore my system back to its "normal" state even after I was done running. This results to even more calories burned after I leave the gym even though I'm just sitting down watching tv or sleeping.
Note: I have to warn you to be conservative when doing HIIT for the first time. Try starting with a comfortable speed for your high intensity and work your way up as you build your endurance.