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What Is The Best Cardio To Do For Weight Loss?

If there’s one question I get from readers more than any other it’s, “what type of cardio is really going to help me lose weight most effectively?

While many of you may know I’m a staunch advocate of interval training cardio workouts for fat loss, my answer will probably surprise you.

The best type of cardio for weight loss is the one that you’ll do! Look, I could tell you that sprint work or intervals on the rower are twice as effective for weight loss than jogging for the same amount of time, but if you love to jog, then jogging it is.

You’re going to have to commit to more time doing it, but it’s not like lower-intensity aerobic exercise can’t be effective for weight loss.

The devil as they say is in the details.

More after the jump…

As a Charleston personal trainer that specializes in body transformations for middle-age adults, I tend to have my own set of recommendations for cardio.

Remember I’m mostly dealing with the unique needs of someone in their late thirties, forties and beyond. The nutritional and exercise strategies for this group is something I’ve spent years becoming an expert on.

I recognized very early on in my career as a fitness professional that what worked for twenty something’s to lose weight didn’t always work so hot for an individual in their forties or fifties.

The simple facts are things like insulin sensitivity, protein synthesis, metabolic rate, hormonal balances, lean body mass, etc, all change with age. Therefore the nutrition and exercise strategies used to produce a desired change in body composition can and should be optimized to meet these individual needs.

With all my research and hours upon hours of hands-on experimentation with middle-age adults I’ve found that burst training principals for resistance work and interval training principals for cardio work flat out produce the best results when they’re factored into the equation.

All of this is subjective of course to diet, nutrition, stress, and other lifestyle factors. However, all things being equal, if you’re older you’re going to see much better results when incorporating the above mentioned strategies than not.

It’s not all about how many calories are burned!

The reasons far extend beyond mere caloric expenditure and other variables that many trainers tend to overly fixate on. You have to look at how exercise impacts hormonal responses and whether or not it produces what’s called a “metabolic disturbance.”

Let me just say that brief, but vigorous bursts of all-out effort works to produce this metabolic disturbance I’m talking about and helps to create a favorable hormonal response.

So yes, twenty-thirty minutes of high intensity interval work followed by brief recovery periods or resistance exercise following the same principals will trump traditional workouts taking twice as long or more to complete.

But…and yes, there is a “but” here.

You don’t have to rely on this type of exercise all the time, and it’s not the ONLY way to see results.

I coach and teach these principals as PART of an exercise routine for middle-age adults, but they’re certainly not the only pieces of the puzzle.

Highly effective and beneficial pieces, yes, but not some magic bullet solution that devalues all other forms of exercise.

I say this because sometimes I’ll come across individuals who mistakenly assume that I believe low-moderate intensity cardio to be worthless. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

There’s a place for all forms of exercise, the key thing is getting the mix or balance that produces the results you want.

The most common mistakes I see being made with exercise…

The most common mistake is relying on ONE form of exercise for weight loss. It’s the person jogging for 45-60 minutes several times a week, but not doing any resistance training.

It’s the person doing yoga, Zumba, Spinning, Pilates, Body-Pump classes, you fill in the blank, as their ONLY form of exercise.

You get the point. The sad reality is when this doesn’t produce the desired results they’re looking for, these individuals often fail to see it’s the lack of VARIETY that’s really the missing link.

So instead of doing some strength training, throwing in some interval work, etc, they’re likely to merely increase the frequency or duration of their existing workouts.

When that doesn’t work, the next stop may be giving up on exercise altogether.

The truth is there’s not many forms of exercise I don’t endorse and encourage my clients to incorporate into their routines if they so desire. That is of course unless it’s obviously something gimmicky.

Variety is very beneficial to have in an exercise routine. Besides, what good is any form of exercise if you dread doing it? If you don’t like it, chances are you won’t stick with it very long.

As much as I love interval work for cardio 2-3 times a week when fat loss is a primary objective, I realize not everyone is able or willing to do so.

Let’s take physical limitations off the table for a second. There’s no denying that interval training is hard work. It’s discomforting to say the least. Interval training only works when you’re willing to push yourself with all-out effort.

The rewards are there, but if you’re not willing to push through the burn and give it all you’ve got, you’re going to likely be disappointed with the results.

I’d much rather see you do 45 minutes on the elliptical at a moderate pace than “jog” your way through 8-10 intervals.

Once again, there’s sort of a trade-off going on here. If you’re willing to provide the necessary effort to make interval training effective, you can get just as good, if not better, results in half the time compared to traditional aerobic work.

The plus side is you’ll also be benefiting from the hormonal responses and post-workout caloric burn that comes with short bursts of high-intensity effort.

Some fitness experts scoff at this because the caloric expenditure may balance out between the two methods, but from my experience the hormonal responses from short bursts of high intensity effort does produce a more favorable condition for fat loss.

When the best type of cardio is actually both aerobic based AND interval based…

However, having said that, combining some days with interval work and other days with low-moderate intensity, longer duration aerobic work, seems to possibly be the most effective strategy for weight loss in the big picture.

In essence, you’re getting the best of both worlds. This is assuming of course you’re also doing some strength training. Let’s just say that’s an essential component and leave it at that.

So the question becomes this…

“If I don’t use interval training could I do strength training and several longer duration, low-moderate intensity cardio workouts each week and still see desirable weight loss?”

The answer is YES!

If you’re diet is set right to support fat loss while also being able to support lean muscle development, the longer duration aerobic based cardio workouts can still be effective.

Heck, you can even watch the “tee-vee” while doing it if you want. As much as I personally despise this habit, if that’s what works for you to exercise then do it!

Go ahead and get on that stair-climber, elliptical, bike, or treadmill for some traditional cardio. Just don’t leave out the strength training and think the pounds will start melting off the longer you go.

Ladies especially pay attention here…

Excessive low-moderate intensity cardio combined with insufficient calories to support basal metabolic rate is one of the primary causes for a catabolic state and the dreaded weight loss plateau.

It’s a prime contributor to metabolic slow-down, especially with middle-age women. You can’t starve yourself and do hours upon hours of cardio on the treadmill or equipment of choice and expect your body to let go of precious fat loss reserves.

It will do the exact opposite and hold onto or store fat as that’s what you’re triggering it to do. Call it a primal self-preservation mechanism or whatever you want, but that’s what happens.

Cardio, regardless of type, works to reduce unwanted body fat ONLY when there’s a concern for muscle. Your nutrition and resistance training must be factored in accordingly to support muscle and metabolic rate if you want your body to let go of excess fat stores.

Sure, you may be able to get away with starving yourself and doing tons of cardio when you’re in your twenties, but not when you get older.

You’ve got a lot of factors like hormonal balances in your favor to allow you to perhaps get away with this when you’re younger.

Bottom line is if you’re current routine isn’t producing the desired results you’re looking for, then for heaven’s sake CHANGE IT UP!

Doing more of the same and simply increasing the duration, more than likely won’t work. Test me on this if you’d like, but when it doesn’t work don’t say I didn’t tell you so.

Chances are you need to tweak few things, perhaps with your diet, or with strength training, etc.

Don’t forget to look at your lifestyle factors with stress, quality of sleep, and the like as well.

Weight loss is matter of getting your body in balance, no single form or amount of cardio holds the secret.

Ok, I’ve gone the long way around the barn to end up exactly where we started.

What is the best cardio to do for weight loss? The type that you’ll do on a regular basis.

After all, it’s only one peice of the puzzle. All the debate on one type of cardio being best, and yes I’ve made those arguments in the past, are sort of a moot point.

You’re the only person who needs to judge whether or not something is working for you. If it’s not, be open to experimenting with something different.

If you do that and can attest that your diet is on point and you’re working really hard with a varied exercise routine, and still not losing weight, it’s time to dig a little deeper.

There may be hormonal imbalances that need addressed under the care of a physician.

You won’t know until you have some preliminary screening and testing done. But that’s a subject for another day’s discussion.

Final thoughts…

Wrapping this all up, let me say this in closing. I understand that the best way to exercise can get sort of confusing. One guru says this and another says something totally different.

The only thing you should concern yourself with is whether or not the strategy works for you.

Truth be told there’s more than one way to get from point A to point B. One way will work better for one person, and another for the next. You’ve got to find what works best for you. This is where the element of personalization comes into play with an exercise routine.

If you’re struggling finding the right mix on your own, seek the counsel and guidance of a knowledgeable fitness professional.

Yes, this is a shameless plug, but in all seriousness this can make all the difference. You don’t need to become an expert on this stuff when there are others who are that can help you.

If I can ever be of assistance please don’t hesitate to let me know.

Shane Doll is a certified personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Fitness Training Studios. If you’re looking for a personal trainer in Charleston, you can receive a no-obligations personal training trial and consultation without risking a dime. Over 1000 Charleston area residents have transformed their bodies following our unique burst training workouts and simplified nutrition programs. Experience the Shaping Concepts difference today.

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Category: Fat Loss.