Use cardio to more effectively lose fat, enhance body composition and improve health. Cardio exercise can be a potent tool for conditioning your physique, and for improving your health and enhancing your rate of recovery after heavy weight training sessions. It is, however, important to understand that no amount of cardio can compensate for a poor diet, but a properly implemented cardio protocol will certainly be synergistic when all other efforts aimed at improving your physique and performance are in place – namely diet, supplements, rest and recovery, and weight training.
There are also various cardio options at our disposal, all of which have their place in a well-rounded programme:
Normally done first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach, fasted cardio works by taking advantage of your body’s slightly glycogen-depleted state, when insulin levels are low following the night-time fast. As such, fat will be the primary fuel source for your cardio activity when low-to-moderate-intensity cardio is used.
Also of benefit is the fact that fasted cardio, especially higher-intensity work, will boost your metabolism and keep it elevated for hours after your session, ensuring you’re a fat-burning machine throughout the day. Cardio also releases endorphins, which make you feel better both physically and mentally, offering you an ideal start to your day.
As mentioned, one of the most effective ways to keep your metabolism elevated is by incorporating high-intensity interval training (HIIT) cardio sessions into your workout routine. The metabolic demands of this type of training will boost your metabolism as your body works to recover and return to its normal at-rest state. This ensures you keep burning calories at above baseline levels, even while at rest.
Steady-state cardio consists of exercise performed at a relatively constant speed or intensity for an extended period of time, while HIIT is exercise performed at a high speed or intensity interspersed with short rest intervals. This can include walking, hiking, jogging, swimming or cycling.
This form of aerobic training should be performed at 50-75% of your max heart rate, which means that it is lower than maximal or peak threshold limits, not necessarily low intensity exercise. Due to the lower intensity nature of this form of cardio, it is the ideal option for days of active recovery.
All forms of cardio exercise also help to improve heart and cardiovascular system function, mental health by reducing stress, anxiety and/or depression, and helps to bolster the immune system. It is also said to improve sleep quality and helps to reduce fatigue when implemented with the right frequency and done at the correct intensity. Most importantly, though, cardio improves cardiorespiratory function, which is a direct determinant of your fitness level, which is beneficial both in the gym and in everyday life.
As each form of cardio has its benefits, a combination or all forms is ideal. Aim for at least three, 30 to 45-minute cardio sessions per week, in addition to your normal weight training. If your main goal is improved conditioning, it may be necessary to increase this to five or more sessions per week.