Some questions people tend to ask a lot are “how much cardio should I do?”, “what type of cardio is best?”, “how often should I do cardio?”
The answer is: …it totally depends on you as an individual. Let’s start with the basics.
What is “cardio?”
Cardiovascular exercise, or aerobic exercise, is activity during which the heart pumps oxygenated blood to the working muscles. To broadly describe it here, if your heart rate is elevated and your breathing rate is increased, you are engaging in a form of “cardio.”
What are the different types of cardiovascular exercise?
- HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)
This type of exercise uses high intensity work intervals combined with rest/recovery intervals. These workouts are usually of shorter but more intense duration. You are using different energy systems (aerobic and anaerobic), and although people argue that you aren’t in that “fat burning” or solely aerobic training zone, you actually burn more calories post workout due to EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption).
HIIT is great for a more experienced athlete, or someone who is not just starting to do aerobic exercise.
2. Steady state cardio
This term is used to describe going at a consistent, lower intensity pace that is about 60-70% of your predicted max heart rate (calculate an approximation of this max by 220 – your age).
This is great for beginners to aerobic exercise, or for those training for endurance events.
What are the different modes I can do cardio?
There are, of course, many cardio machines which are specifically made for this type of exercise! Running on the treadmill will burn the most calories as it engages the most muscles. Elliptical is next best, then Nordic trainer, and then the bike.
My personal preference is doing a combination of bodyweight (plyometric) exercises and kettlebells/other free weights. The benefit of using your own bodyweight is that you are building functional strength and you can do it anywhere. Try doing jump lunges, squat jumps, or jumping jacks to really elevate your heart rate and challenge your body.
How often should I do cardio, and what type?
The number of cardio sessions depends on your goals. Cardiovascular exercise has many health benefits and is not to be disregarded even by naturally lean individuals. 2-3 times per week at moderate intensity for 20-30 minutes is a very general guideline I recommend to most people.
If you want to lose fat and are already athletic, try HIIT. It will also save you time! Remember you can start with longer rest intervals and decrease them once your aerobic fitness improves.
If you’re just starting out, start with steady state cardio. Or, if you are training for an endurance event, you would definitely be doing the majority of your training doing steady state.
The number of days per week and amount of time is what I like to call (as a professor of mine used to say) “where the science meets the art”. Try a few days, if you want to lean out more, add an extra day or more time per session. If you are a slave to cardio because of weight loss, please take that negative association with exercise and toss it out the window! Exercise should keep you healthy, and that includes mentally. You want to be doing the minimum amount that will give you your desired result, otherwise you will really be overtaxing your adrenals (that’s another post in itself).
The take home message is that your heart is also a muscle and it needs some attention to stay healthy and strong. However you want to make sure you don’t go overboard and overexert yourself. Find a type of cardio you enjoy, and incorporate it into your fitness program.