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What Cardio is Best?

So, Summer is upon us, and you’re starting to wonder about cardio (if you’re not, you probably should be). The seems to be a few gurus on the net sprouting their ridiculous ‘one size fits all approach’ to fitness… so this week we are going to look at the various approaches to cardio and examine which ones are most effective.

Firstly – one size never fits all! Black and white thinking is great when you are 7 years old and don’t have the capacity to hold several views in mind simultaneously, but you’re not 7 anymore, so get ready to think outside the box. All types of cardio have their place, the key is to match up the correct cardio to your own lifestyle, metabolism, goals and body type. It is actually easy to do so let us look at the options.

NO CARDIO: This is very popular at the moment, with those espousing it using some thinly veiled pseudo-science. Most clients who adopt this ‘fuck cardio’ approach will NOT get the long term fat-loss results they desire. This approach is most successfully usually used on lean young males, but in saying that, it’s not that hard to get 4kg of fat off a teenager in 6 months (while also in a calorie deficit).

There are however a few valid points to take out of the ‘no cardio’ method of dieting:

  • Starting off reasonably lean makes for a healthier, happier dieting/contest experience.
  • Dieting over a longer period is also a wise choice
  • No point doing more cardio than is necessary

HIIT: High Intensity Interval Training is very popular at the moment and for good reason. If you want to spike your metabolism or don’t have a huge amount of spare time then a shorter, more intense cardio session could be the answer. There is a near infinite amount of ways you can structure a HIIT session and this translates over to being more interesting for most people. For a lot of people regular cardio holds little interest, they simply stop doing it because variety is not thought about. Most HIIT sessions are presented with variability built in and ultimately a good cardio session is one that actually gets done regularly.

On the flip side HIIT sessions are high intensity and you only have one nervous system. On days where you have smashed out a big leg or back session then interval sprints later in the day are going to be sub-par at best. A regular steady state cardio session (walking or bike) may be a better choice in this instance.

STEADY STATE CARDIO: good old regular cardio has fallen out of favour these days with the trendy kids. There are however some times when a regular cardio session will serve your needs. Some internet gurus (I use that term loosely) have gone so far as to say that regular cardio sessions are a waste of time.

My personal experience with regular cardio (walking/stationary bike) is that when performed regularly, fat comes off steadily while energy levels are still high enough to smash out a productive weights session each day. Try walking around briskly for 40 minutes weighing 120kg, calories are burned and you can get a good sweat up.

FASTED CARDIO: Unless you are in ketosis, there is always going to be some glucose in the blood, muscles or liver. By doing cardio fasted or when you haven’t had carbohydrates for many hours, you can slightly improve the ratio of carbohydrates to fat used for energy. However due to this lack of fuel, some may struggle to perform their cardio (especially if it is HIIT) sufficiently. Ultimately, the most important thing by far is that you actually do the cardio session, don’t get too hung up on fasted cardio. Just make sure it gets done!

THE BOTTOM (TRIMMING) LINE: My own split on cardio would be approximately 80% of sessions steady state and 20% HIIT. The variety you can get into your sessions, not only will you be more likely to stick to a regular schedule, your body will be less efficient at doing each of the cardio styles. You do not want to become efficient (good) at doing cardio if your goal is to burn maximum calories. Neural adaptation is not our friend when it comes to burning calories through cardio, so mix it up.

I would encourage people to experiment for themselves to see what works best for you. Don’t blindly follow the one size fits all Gurus, keep track of your results and in no time at all you will have a good understanding of which style of cardio suits you and how you can utilize all styles to get a great result.

For more tips on how to make your cardio sessions fun and exciting, check out our article BUSTIN’ MYTHS – No. 3: Cardio is boring.