By Sam Davis, BHS, CPT, FNS
Cardiovascular exercise can be confusing. What’s the best cardio for fat loss? There are so many options and variations of cardio and everyone is an expert and swears by one thing while discrediting the other. What most trainers don’t understand is that one method doesn’t always work for all of their clients. That’s why this area of fitness has become so clouded. It’s so inundated with theories and opinions that it’s almost easier to just not do it at all. Almost.
Many people hop on the elliptical or run for hours at a steady pace. Some of them maybe bike their hearts out as their cardio machine of choice. Either way, if your goal is fat loss, there is actually a hormonal component that needs to be taken into account.
In this article, I will show you what cardio is best for your body based on your goals. Then, I’ll cover the systems involved so you can find what works best for you. For example, you might prefer a leisurely run that mentally makes you feel good. Or, you might prefer an intense sweat session with high-intensity interval training for fat loss.
LISS stands for low-intensity steady-state training. It’s essentially a steady pace of movements like 60min on the treadmill or a couple of hours on the bike. During this form of exercise, after 2 minutes your body kicks in and uses its aerobic systems for energy. This means your body begins to utilize oxygen to help transfer energy to your muscles and wherever else you need it. Therefore, you can use LISS to increase energy, blood flow efficiency, heart strength, and overall cardiovascular health.
When someone first begins exercising, LISS is an effective way to burn fat. However, the body is one of the most adaptive machines on the planet. It and will adapt to any type of environment you put it in. This means that you must continually run or bike longer distances when you train. Otherwise, you won’t be able to burn as many calories as you did before.
Therefore, you should use low-intensity cardio for cardiovascular health, but not necessarily for quick fat-burning.
HIIT stands for high-intensity interval training. Simply put, you train for quick bursts and then get a brief rest period before you dive back into another quick burst. During our HIIT sessions, our anaerobic system kicks in. This is because it primarily uses stored glycogen in the muscles for the energy transfer process, not oxygen. Training with HIIT a couple of times a week is the perfect way to improve all areas of your fitness. Plus, you’ll lose fat—all while keeping the hard-earned muscle you’ve been working so hard for.
The other nice effect of HIIT is the “after-burn” effect that happens once you’ve completed 20-30 min of high-intensity intervals. The body uses energy to bring it back to homeostasis. This process only burns calories if you push yourself for a full 20-30 minutes. It’s not like you’ll burn 500 extra calories, but the minimal calories burned still play a difference.
A good way to test to see if you are doing your training at the intensity needed for the after-burn. If you can talk while you’re doing these intervals, you aren’t pushing yourself enough.
So with that information, it’s up to you to decide how you’ll choose to burn off the extra weight. Over a long time and long distances with LISS, or quick, intense bursts with HIIT.