Cardio is a little bit like marmite, you either love it or hate it. Which ever camp you sit in you cannot argue the many health benefits of cardiovascular training. However, is there one form of cardio that is superior for fat los?
In this blog I am going to explore the three main types of cardio and look at the pros and cons when fat loss is the goal.
Before we investigate which type of cardio is better for fat loss we first of all need to refresh what is required for fat loss to occur. If you have read some of my previous blogs you will have no doubt heard me talk about a calorie deficit. As a coach we can fall into the trap that everyone knows what a calorie deficit is. However, a lot of people will hear this common phrase and have no idea what it means.
A calorie deficit is basically a negative energy balance where you are expending more calories than you intake. If you do this over a sustained period of time you will lose body fat. This happens as your body starts to breakdown fuel stores of glycogen (carbohydrates) and adipose tissue (body fat) as it needs more energy than the body is ingesting from food sources.
We can help create a calorie deficit by reducing the calorie intake from food sources but also by increasing energy expenditure from general movement and training.
Resistance training can form a big part of the training schedule. This will help expend calories but also help to maintain muscle mass when dieting. When dieting the goal should always be to lose body fat and not muscle mass. However, despite the many benefits of resistance training it isn’t the most efficient in energy expenditure per hour.
This is where cardio can come in.
Cardio can be very time efficient and thus can help create and maintain a calorie deficit.
So cardio is useful, but is there a superior type of cardio for fat loss?
LISS cardio for fat loss
LISS (low intensity steady state) is any form of cardio where you are working in zones 1-3 or around 40-60% intensity. Due to the intensity being lower you can work at this level for a much longer period of time without feeling any real levels of fatigue. Examples of LISS could be going for a brisk walk, light jog, plodding along on the cross trainer or incline walking on the treadmill. When we look at the best forms of cardio for fat loss LISS is a pretty popular option. One of the biggest pros is that it isn’t very fatiguing and this can be very important when dieting while performing resistance training. If you can choose a form of cardio which is less faulting then you can potentially train harder in your resistance sessions which could lead to better muscle mass retention.
You can quite easily do a LISS session before or after a weights session or on a rest day and shouldn’t feel any soreness or tiredness as a result. Per hour an average size male can look to burn from 500-700 calories per hour depending on the type of LISS. However, this can also be a slight negative of LISS in that it does require a decent amount of time to get through some calories. Many people may struggle to get to the gym just once a day so when you throw in your weights sessions and a LISS workout time soon disappears. Also, for many people this type of cardio can be very repetitive and boring but for it’s low fatigue level and minimal amount of focus needed this option is a good one.
Moderate intensity/conditioning for fat loss
This second type of cardio is where you are working from zones 3-5 and due to this you won’t be able to work anywhere near the same amount of time of LISS training without fatiguing. This is quite a broad range of cardio and intensity. Examples could be a fast paced 10k run, a crossfit workout, circuit session or a spin class. With this being a middle range of cardio the energy expenditure will be higher than LISS options although with that does come a little bit more fatigue. This fatigue when dieting can really build up over time especially when coupled with your weights sessions. One effective way to use this type of cardio is by performing small blocks after your weights sessions or during a lunch hour. Exercise performed at this intensity can also be a more enjoyable type of cardio for fat loss. You can have more variety for both exercise selection and intensity which may suit you more than staying on a cross trainer for an hour.
For more information on this type of cardio make sure you give our newest Team Box coach Rich Sennawald a follow who is a big conditioning enthusiast.
HIIT cardio for fat loss
This last type of cardio is the top end of zone 5 and can only be described as 100% pure effort. Many people get this classification of cardio confused with conditioning. Five exercises in a circuit done over 2 minutes is not HIIT. HIIT is intense effort ranging from 5-20 seconds where the body performs exercise without the presence of oxygen. Think what it feels like to run 100 metres. To do this type of cardio correctly you will be looking to do small sprints followed by 3-5 minutes rest and then repeating for multiple repetitions. This is of course very fatiguing and requires a high amount of focus and output to get the most out of it. However, due to the intensity being so high the energy expenditure will be quite time efficient although there will also be rest periods required. This can be a good option for those who only get small windows to train, want to add in some cardio post weight session or those sadistic types who like pain :), you know the ones.
If you want to use this type of cardio for fat loss just be aware that it could come at the detriment of your weights training unless you are smart with the timing of your sessions and recovery over the week.
You will now see that we can’t really say that there is one best type of cardio for fat loss. Only different options which all have pros and cons. The main thing to consider is what type you enjoy, can do consistently and doesn’t interfere with the rest of your training. You also don’t need to choose just one. I have started diets on more conditioning work and then changing to more LISS exercise when the dieting gets harder and my energy starts to diminish. Just understand that cardio is purely a tool to help increase energy expenditure when fat loss is the goal.
For more information on cardio for fat loss make sure you check out our last episode of Muscle Box Radio where myself and Steve discuss this subject in more detail. HIT THIS LINK to hear this episode.
Here is to you enjoying your cardio and also using it successfully in your next diet.