Cardio is everywhere. Not only are there probably thousands of people sweating on treadmills right now, jogging and biking also seem to become more and more popular.
With the growing popularity inevitably come millions of cardio myths and bad advice. So in this post, I want to clear up many of the misconceptions out there about cardio and its role in your workout program.
To help you understand how to use cardio most effectively, let’s define it first. When talking about cardiovascular activity we usually mean some form of aerobic endurance exercise that increases the heart rate over a longer period of time. This is done with the purpose increase energy expenditure and thus losing more weight.
When wanting to maximize fat loss, common questions include:
– What type of cardio is best?
– When should you do cardio?
– For how long should you do cardio?
Now I would love to give you an easy answer for all these questions, but the truth is that it always depends of your specific situation and your other fitness goals.
I will elaborate on this in a second, but note that most people have to do a lot less cardio than they think.
Because it isn’t necessary for fat loss!
Let’s look at the two most common beginner scenarios. In the first scenario, you are a skinny guy or girl looking to build muscle.
According to the muscle building formula, you should focus on strength training to build muscle, while maintaining a calorie surplus to provide your body with the necessary energy. In this case, you should generally limit your cardio in order to ensure a calorie surplus.
So far so good.
Now to the second case. You might be a little overweight or simply want to lose fat. Here you should also primarily focus on strength training. This will make sure that your weight loss is mostly fat instead of muscle. And of course yo,u need a calorie deficit to set in motion the process of weight loss.
Interestingly, these two factors by themselves would be enough to lose fat while maintaining muscle mass.
So where does cardio come into play?
It’s basically an additional tool you have to further increase energy expenditure. This means if you feel that your calorie deficit is not enough and you don’t want to increase it you can do cardio to help your body burn more calories.
This brings me to my cardio recommendations. In general, there is no best cardio, because different people will prefer different types of exercises. But as a good rule of thumb, shorter and more intense cardio sessions will be more effective at burning fat than longer and less intensive cardio.
As for when to do cardio, it’s really up to you and just see what best works for you. This recommendation is a little different from the normal advice you get.
Most fitness gurus will tell you to either do cardio first thing in the morning on an empty stomach or right after your workout. However, these two turn out to be no more effective when looking at the actual science behind it.
The problem with cardio on an empty stomach is that even though it increases lipolysis, which is the amount of fat that is broken down, it doesn’t increase fat oxidation, which is the amount of fat that is actually burned. So all in all, the fat that is broken down but not used for energy gets re-stored as body fat.
As for cardio after your workout, the idea behind it is that because your body’s glycogen levels will be depleted as a result of the workout, more body fat will be used for fuel.
However, strength training usually only deplete glycogen levels around 40 percent and even then, the thought that doing cardio with low glycogen levels will increase fat loss isn’t backed by any scientific research.
To wrap up my cardio recommendations, if you haven’t already created a calorie deficit through your diet, do enough to reach one afterwards, but don’t wear yourself out in the process, because remember that your body needs time to rest as well.