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Jun 9 / Jeremy & Kim

The Best Cardio for Weight Loss

Cardiovascular exercise is an extremely important component of a healthy lifestyle.  For those who are on a mission to lose weight it can drastically increase your fat loss.  The best cardio for weight loss not only has the potential to burn a significant amount of calories, but when done properly, it can turn your body into a fat torching machine.  Below we’ll discuss the pros and cons of various types of cardio workouts and then we’ll show you how to combine them to create the best cardio for weight loss.

[Running on the beach always seems to make cardio workouts so much more enjoyable!]


Long-distance cardio for weight loss

We want to discuss long distance running first as it is often the default exercise method that people use to lose weight.  There are a few reasons why it is so popular.  First off, pretty much anyone can do it.  All you need to do is buy a pair of good running shoes and hit the streets (or treadmill as it may be).  Also, long-distance running can burn a significant amount of calories when used often.

The drawbacks to long-distance running for weight loss
There are two main reasons why distance running is not the best cardio for weight loss.  The primary reason is that performing long bouts of distance cardio training can actually cause your body to start craving carbohydrates.  Distance running will seriously deplete your body of glycogen.  When this happens, you brain signals that you need to restore your glycogen stores by eating more carbs.  This is problematic in that eating a big bowl of pasta can pretty much negate any caloric deficit you were trying to create by running in the first place.

The second reason why distance running may not be the best cardio for weight loss is that it can do some serious damage to your joints.  Pretty much every distance runner I know has been out of commission for weeks at a time because of knee, ankle, or hip pain, and once these injuries occur, there is very little you can do but rest until your injuries heal.  Needless to say, injuries are not good for weight loss or cardio training.


[This song came up on our iPod while writing this post and it seemed to make perfect sense to give you an opportunity to listen to it while reading our post. Gotta love the old school Phish!]

High Intensity Interval Training

High intensity interval training (HIIT) has gained in popularity quite a bit over the last decade and for good reason.  HIIT workouts are great at turning on your fat burners, they take less time than distance running, they do not cause hunger cravings, and they lead to significantly fewer injuries. HIIT is also quite a bit more diverse than distance running as there dozens of different ways to do HIIT, but really only two ways to do distance running, outside or on a treadmill.

HIIT means doing short bursts of intense exercise followed by a set period of active rest before repeating the intense exercise.

A 15 minute HIIT workout

Let’s look at sprints to provide an example of how HIIT works.  A 15 minute high intensity interval sprint workout would look like this:

Warm-up: Do a steady jog for 5 minutes
Interval 1: Sprint all out for 15 seconds
Active rest: Walk for 60 seconds
Interval 2: Sprint all out for 15 seconds
Active rest: Walk for 60 seconds
Interval 3: Sprint all out for 15 seconds
Active rest: Walk for 60 seconds
Interval 4: Sprint all out for 15 seconds
Active rest: Walk for 60 seconds
Interval 5: Sprint all out for 15 seconds
Active rest: Walk for 60 seconds
Interval 6: Sprint all out for 15 seconds
Active rest: Walk for 60 seconds
Interval 7: Sprint all out for 15 seconds
Active rest: Walk for 60 seconds
Interval 8: Sprint all out for 15 seconds
Active rest: Walk for 60 seconds

HIIT Workout Variables

One of the best aspects of HIIT is that it can be adjusted to fit your needs based on your fitness level or the type of exercise you are doing.  For example, if you are a beginner then you may want to shorten the length of the intense interval, or you could lengthen the active rest period.  The above example uses a 1:4 ratio meaning the active rest period is four times longer than the interval.  You can alter that ratio to be 1:3, 1:2, or 1:1.

Adjusting the variables in the workout will alter how your body responds to the workout.  Shorter intervals with longer rest periods will allow you to be more intense as you can exert greater effort throughout the interval.  Higher intensity intervals are good for releasing HGH into your bloodstream.  HGH is a hormone that signals your body to release stored fat cells to be used as energy, an important aspect of using cadio for weight loss.

Longer intervals make it more difficult to maintain high intensity, but they will also burn more calories during the workout.  If you use longer intervals, then it is recommended that you also use a ratio of 1:2 or 1:1 to prevent over training and ensure that you allow yourself enough recovery time to keep the workout intensity.

Bodyweight Circuit Cardio Training

Bodyweight circuit training is a unique type of cardio that combines six to eight different bodyweight exercises into a circuit that is then repeated two or three times.  This type of cardio training has many of the same benefits as HIIT with the exception that some bodyweight circuits require a minimal amount of equipment, such as a pull up bar or stability ball.  It is also unique in that it uses resistance training as part of the cardio workout.

A Sample Bodyweight Circuit Cardio routine

A simple example of a bodyweight circuit is below.  The idea is to move from one exercise immediately into the next with no rest.  Then, once you’ve finished the full circuit rest for 60 seconds and repeat the full circuit again.  The circuit is usually done up to three times.

40 Jumping jacks
15 pushups
20 lunges
5 pull-up
20 squats
60 second plank
5 burpees
50 high knees

60 seconds rest


[Watch this video for another great example of a body weight cardio workout. This is the guy who runs the Turbulence Training program.]

Comparing HIIIT and Body Weight Circuits

Bodyweight circuits result in an intense workout that releases HGH and burns a significant amount of calories, but they are different than HIIT workouts in a few important ways.  Bodyweight circuits provide a full body workout whereas HIIT focuses on only one exercise.  There is also a difference in intensity.  Bodyweight circuits are usually designed to alternate pushing and pulling movements of different muscle groups so that you can maintain some intensity throughout the circuit but your intensity will diminish substantially throughout the routine.  This is because bodyweight circuits only allow for very few and very short rest periods.

The Best Cardio for Weight Loss

The best way to use cardio for weight loss is to develop a routine that will utilize all three types of cardio described above.  Here is exactly how we would recommend you do this.

Workout 1: Combine HIIT with Distance Running (2x/week)

Get the best of both worlds by combining HIIT with distance running.  Start off by completing the 15 minute HIIT routine detailed above.  Follow that with a nice slow jog for 20 – 30 minutes depending on your fitness level. This way the HIIT increases the HGH into your system which leads to more fat cells released into your blood stream.  Then you annihilate that fat by going for a nice long run. After the workout, try to avoid a meal heavy in carbohydrates.  Stay away from pasta, bread, and rice.  This will keep your insulin levels low which will allow you to burn fat for hours after your workout.

Workout 2: Bodyweight circuit cardio (3x/week)

Body weight circuit cardio will add resistance training to your cardio weight loss program.  This is great in that it will help you develop a nice layer of toned muscle underneath your fat just waiting to be shown off to the world. Feel free to use the example circuit in this post.  You can get your hands on a lot more body weight workouts from the Turbulence Training program.

If you utilize these two workouts throughout the week then you will be utilizing the best cardio for weight loss.  Combine these workouts with a proven weight loss diet plan and you are guaranteed to succeed in your weight loss.

Wishing you the best of luck as you work towards your weight loss goals!

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214 Comments

  1. Great workout that you outlined here. I stopped doing long cardio sessions a long time ago. HIIT, intervals training has given me the benefits of keeping on my muscle, making me lean and burning the fat without a problem.

    -Sam

  2. Sprints and burpees FTW! HIIT is definitely awesome when it comes to burning fat, but I like to throw some lower intensity stuff in as well for balance.

  3. Jeremy & Kim / Jun 10 2011

    @Sam – Gotta love all of the benefits of HIIT! Glad to hear that it has worked so well for you.

    @Darrin – Balance is important in a workout routine and we find that variety also helps keep workouts fresh and fun.

  4. Great tips on using HIIT and bodyweight circuits for weight loss. Adding distance running after HIIT can really make a difference as well.

  5. Jeremy & Kim / Jun 17 2011

    @Dave – Thanks, Dave. Glad to hear you agree.

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