I have been a personal trainer for 12 years now and I get this question all the time. Clients are always telling me how boring it is and how they do it all the time and never feel like they are getting the weight loss or fat loss results they want.
Here is my answer to my wife and to all of those people that may have a similar question.
First, lets discuss what cardiovascular exercise or “cardio” is. In the simplest sense, "cardio is any activity that elevates the heart rate above resting." To determine what resting is for you, you need to take your heart rate before you get out of bed in the morning. (If you wake up to an alarm give yourself a couple minutes and then take your pulse for one minute.) Do this for three days and average the three numbers to determine what your resting heart rate is.
There has to be a better way.
And there is. Let me introduce you to an important concept and how having a basic understanding of it can help you achieve your goals more efficiently. The concept is called Anaerobic Threshold (AT). The oversimplified definition of AT is “the heart rate at which the body utilizes glucose (carbohydrates) at a greater rate than fat”. So why is this important?
To add insult to injury, after these sessions, while you are using up most of your stored carbohydrates, your body will crave MORE carbohydrates to replenish what you just burned. Then most people will overdo the carbohydrates and replace everything they just used up during their cardio session and even store a little extra. But aren't we trying to lose something and not gain something?! Wouldn't we rather use our hard to loose body and belly fat as fuel during cardio sessions and not our stored quick energy sources? Ummm, yes please!
Stop doing "CHRONIC CARDIO" (thank you Mark Sisson for the term) and decrease your overall carbohydrate consumption. If we keep our carbohydrate consumption around 100 grams per day, with most of these coming from fruits and vegetables (because, yes, these are carbs too), our body will become more efficient at utilizing fat as a fuel source on a daily basis.
Don't we want to use our stored body fat to fuel our body all the time?!
If we condition our bodies to utilize fat as the main fuel source more regularly with our diets, then we can tone down the "chronic cardio" that most people think they need to be doing. So instead of going to the gym for cardio and spending an hour on the equipment of your choosing at a high heart rate, incorporate more mid-ranged movement into your life on a daily basis. As my wife has been doing, a quick 10-minute workout at least once a day (or 3 times a day if you can) coupled with a lower carbohydrate, higher protein and higher fat diet may be the ticket to bring you surprising results.
When it comes to cardio a lot of the activities we do on a daily basis or in other workouts count, as long as our diet supports our ultimate goal.
If you are still going to devote specific time slots to cardio, because you really like it, then let's make them count! When doing cardio, a majority of your time should be spent at a moderate intensity, roughly 55% of your max heart rate. Then once or twice a week incorporate some type of sprint or interval session into the mix. The sprint or interval sessions should last no longer than 20-30 minutes.
Formula to determine 55% of your Max Heart Rate:
220 - AGE - Resting Heart Rate x .55 + Resting Heart Rate = Target Heart Rate
Example for a 40 year old with a resting heart rate of 70 Beats per minute.
220 - 40 - 70 x .55 + 70 = 131 (rounded up from 130.5)
*Make sure you do the math in order from left to right.
Sample Treadmill Interval Session
5 Minute Walk- 2% Incline, 3 MPH (Miles per hour)
30 Seconds Sprint- Speed set (AFAC) as fast as comfortable
1.5 Minute Walk- Speed back to 3 MPH
(Repeat this Sprint/Walk cycle 7 times)
5 Minute Walk- Same settings as beginning walk
Total time- 24 Minutes
This type of session can be done on your preferred piece of cardio equipment or it can be done outside. Being outside gives you more physical and psychological benefits as well.
As usual, give me a call or shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have any questions or comments.
Happy Training and Eating!!