Whether you love it or hate it, the truth is most people start their fitness journey with cardio workouts and ponder the question: “How much and what kind of cardio should I do?”
I can’t tell you how many hours of cardio I have done over the past year, let alone my entire fitness career. Simply put: Cardio has become a habit for me. I didn’t always enjoy doing hours of it when prepping for competition, but that’s because I didn’t know then what I know now. I have experimented with hundreds of different cardio prescriptions — both in my own training and with clients for almost 20 years — so let me just say, I know a few things about what works and what wears you out!
As with any personalized training program, each person has different needs and therefore different cardio prescriptions that will work best for them. There are, however, some golden rules that work if you want to decrease body fat and increase lean muscle mass.
The good news is you want to do less of more and more of less. What I mean by that is, you will lose more fat and build more muscle by doing short burst and intense interval sessions rather than long, slow, boring machine cardio sessions.
I always recommend that you do your cardio after lifting weights or, if you’re able to train twice per day, in a separate session. This will ensure you get maximum strength gains which will increase your lean muscle mass, which in turn will increase your BMR (Body Mass Ratio). In English, that means you’ll burn more calories, even when you’re not at the gym!
One negative effect of aerobic training — more so than weight lifting — is that it produces high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Too much cortisol post-workout will interfere with lean muscle gain and actually increase body fat. So unless your goal is to be skinny fat or to increase your fatness, I do not recommend “hamster wheel” cardio for hours on a machine like a drone.
If you get on a treadmill while hanging onto the handle bars or get on an elliptical and go for an hour while watching TV or reading a book and not even break a sweat, you are not getting the most out of your minutes. The only time I would say it’s best to do low intensity cardio is if the person is severely obese and just starting a workout routine. Once you are in the routine of working out, cardiovascular conditioning requires you to challenge the heart and lungs, which makes interval training the way to go!
The truth is that proper nutrition accounts for more than 80% of your weight management results. So when it comes to cardio prescriptions, optimal fat loss can be achieved with a sensible nutritional plan and interval sessions that are 20-40 minutes 3-6 days per week.