You see it every evening at gyms across the country: dozens of people, a majority of them women, lined up on treadmill and ellipticals, going nowhere (literally and figuratively) as they zone out, read a book and/or stay glued to the TVs in front of them. Gym-goers spend countless hours performing steady-state cardio as a means of burning body fat and losing weight. Unfortunately, most of this time is wasted because this kind of low-intensity exercise is far from the most effective way of leaning out.
When most people think of weight loss, they associate it with sweating and believe that running and other forms of steady state cardio are the best way to produce the results they want. However, this may not be intense enough for someone looking to burn significant amounts of body fat. One may think the answer is to run harder for longer, but that may actually be more detrimental. Running not only pounds on your knees, joints, and back, but it can potentially cause the body to go into muscle-burning mode. At that point, your body is not burning the fat you want. Now, some people run for miles on end as a training regimen for their sport. I am not “knocking” runners or associating running as being detrimental to your health. However, if you are in the gym for the purpose of losing weight- running may not be your best option.
The key to torching fat and transforming your body is intensity. Weight training, when performed with sufficient volume, is as effective as anything at increasing metabolism and getting leaner. Using cardio to burn fat is fine, but it needs to be fast-paced and challenging. As a trainer, I recommend high-intensity interval training for cardio sessions.
Intervals are probably the best way to go about burning fat. Whether on a treadmill or in your neighborhood, you want to aim for a sprint of 30-60 seconds followed by a light jog or brisk walk for about 1-2 minutes. This spike in heart rate, then stabilization, then spike again, is what puts the body into a fat-burning/cardiovascular-conditioning mode instead of a muscle-deteriorating one.
TRY IT: For HIIT cardio sessions, follow 2:1 active rest-to-work ratio, making sure each work interval is done with all-out effort, regardless of the activity. It could be anything from sprinting outdoors to riding hard on a stationary bike to doing continuous burpees. Because of the high intensity, HIIT sessions shouldn’t last long, somewhere around 10-30 minutes, depending on your fitness level. Two or three of these workouts a week in addition to regular resistance training and a clean diet will ensure maximum fat burning!