Getting motivated to do cardio can sometimes be tough. When you consider what most people’s idea of cardio consists of, it’s not hard to see why – slugging away on a stationary bike, elliptical or treadmill at a moderate pace for 45 minutes hardly gets the juices flowing in anticipation. But why has this become the widely accepted approach to cardio for most people? Let me explain…
The ‘Fat Burning Zone’
Once-upon-a-time, the thinking was that you had to exercise continuously for at least 20 minutes in a range between 60-80% of your maximum heart rate before your body started to burn fat. This heart rate range was labelled the Fat Burning Zone. Take a look at the labels on the cardio machines at your gym, there’s usually a table showing the correlation between age and what the values of 60% and 80% of your maximum heart rate should be. The mere presence of this information on the machine reinforces to the user that if they want to burn fat, they’re doing the right thing by keeping their heart rate within these boundaries. Actually, if fat loss is indeed your primary consideration, a moderate level of intensity isn’t the most efficient approach to shedding the pounds.
Does That Mean It’s A Myth?
If you Google the term now, you’ll see plenty of links saying the Fat Burning Zone is a myth. In my opinion, it depends which way you look at it. Yes, you will burn fat when exercising for at least 20 minutes at a moderate pace. That part’s true. However, this approach is not the optimum approach to burning fat, and I think that’s where the confusion lies. The name suggests that this is the zone to burn fat, and if you’re not in in it, you’re not going to burn fat as efficiently as if you were. This is wrong. It’s been proven, perhaps more logically, that your body expands more energy at higher intensities, which in turn burns more calories. It is this that ultimately dictates how much fat you burn.
What Does That Mean For My Workout?
Now we’ve figured out the most efficient way to burn fat is by exercising at high intensities, intervals consisting of short, sharp bursts of all-out effort are the order of the day. More specifically, you should look to apply a method of training called HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training).
Putting It Into Practice
HIIT can be applied to just about any piece of cardio equipment in the gym, and I’ve had great workouts on the stationary bike, elliptical and rowing machine doing this. If you like getting outside though, your best results are going to come from sprinting. All you need is some open space and a spare pair of lungs. Ok, so the lungs may be a little extreme, but you get where I’m going with this – it’s tough. I simply sprint until I’m out of breath, walk until I feel like I can sprint again, and repeat. I don’t have a running track or park nearby, so I make do with footpaths. Don’t get too fussy about sprinting exact distances either, just pick an object in front of you like a lamppost or rubbish bin and sprint to it.
How Long Should I Do It?
If you’re just starting out with HIIT, you’ll want to ease yourself in. Always start with a warm-up and stretch (particularly if you’re sprinting) and start with a 10 minute workout. The duration of your on-period (exercise) versus your off-period (rest) is up to you, but I’d suggest starting with a ratio of 1:2. So, for a 30 second burst, that’s 30 seconds work and 1 minute rest. As you get fitter you can bring it up to 1:1 or even 2:1 and simultaneously increase the duration of your workout from the initial 10 minutes. All that doesn’t sound like a lot, but it will be. I personally wouldn’t do HIIT for more than about 20 minutes, but if you feel like you need to, I don’t recommend going longer than 30 minutes.
So, with HIIT we’ve found an approach that allows us to get great results in a short period of time. Sounds perfect doesn’t it? It is, but only if you’re prepared to work. HIIT is tough, and if you want to get the most out of it you should be busting your ass during your on-period. You’re only working for short periods at a time, so there’s no excuse not to give it everything you’ve got. If you do that, you’re going to need every second of your recovery time before you’re ready to go again.
But don’t let my scaremongering deter you. If you’re serious about fat loss, you won’t find anything that’s more efficient at achieving this than HIIT.