By Sam Davis, BHS, CPT, FNS
Cardiovascular exercise can be confusing. For one, there are so many options and variations of cardio, and two, 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—and 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.
Most sweat junkies hop on the elliptical, run for hours at a steady pace, or 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, we will go over what cardio is best for your body based on your goals, and the systems involved so you can find what works best for you, whether that’s a leisurely run that mentally makes you feel good, or an intense sweat session with high intensity interval training for fat loss.
LISS stands for low intensity steady state training, which is essentially a steady pace of movement like 60min on the treadmill or a couple hours on the bike. During this form of exercise, after 2 minutes your body kicks in and uses its aerobic systems for energy, which just means your body begins to utilize oxygen to help transfer energy to your muscles and wherever else it’s needed. LISS is used to increase energy, increase blood flow efficiency, increase heart strength, and overall cardiovascular health.
When someone first begins exercising, it is an effective way to burn fat, but our body is one of the most adaptive machines on the planet and will adapt to any type of environment you put it in. This means that unless you continually run or bike longer distances when you train, you won’t be able to burn as many calories as you did before.
Therefore, low-intensity cardio is and should be used for cardiovascular health, but not necessarily for quick fat-burning.
HIIT stands for high intensity interval training, where you train for quick bursts and then get a brief rest period before diving back into another quick burst. During our HIIT sessions, our anaerobic system kicks in because it primarily uses stored glycogen in the muscles for the energy transfer process, not oxygen. Training with HIIT a couple times a week is the perfect way to improve all areas of your fitness, and 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 20-30min, and 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.