If aiming to burn unwanted body fat, the topic of cardio can become a little confusing. Is it best to train at a slow steady pace for longer, or is it better to train with full on intensity for a shorter time? There are plenty of contradictory opinions around on which is the best approach and many people will give you a solid reason to why one way is better than the other. Let’s take a look at cardio and the high versus low intensity argument!
Cardio, short for cardio-vascular exercise, describes any aerobic activity that gets the heart ‘pumping’. Regular cardio exercise will benefit your heart through improving your fitness level. It is also a great way to help slice body fat and chisel your body.
Cardio exercise offers mountains of benefits:
- Effectively taps into calories to shed fat
- Strengthens the heart and lungs
- Reduces unhealthy cholesterol levels
- Helps in control of high blood pressure
- Stimulates release of ‘feel good’ endorphins
- Helps with relieving daily stress
- Improves quality of sleep
For tackling fat burning with cardio there are 2 ways you can go. Regular ‘low intensity steady state’ cardio, or the other, ‘high intensity’ cardio. Either option included on the correct plan can work. Some people will debate over which is the better form and why, but at the end of the day it’s what will suit your lifestyle and what you will stick to that is going to be the most effective choice for you.
The names speak for themselves, low intensity steady state or ‘LISS’ is cardio performed at a low, steady and moderate pace. At this level it’s long been considered that the body may burn a higher ratio of body fat calories for energy versus muscle protein and stored carbohydrates. Although it is a much slower way to burn overall calories it may be the safest cardio approach if your goal is muscle preservation and development. I personally prefer to get cardio over as quickly as possible and that’s where high intensity cardio comes into the equation.
If you are short on time or want to keep your cardio duration to a minimum then high intensity cardio will burn the most calories in the least possible time. It may also stimulate greater fat burning AFTER training finishes (ie you can potentially burn fat for hours after). A popular style of high intensity training is called ‘HIIT’ (or ‘high intensity interval training’). HIIT involves rotating intervals of very high intensity bursts separated by moderately paced periods and is usually performed for up to 20 - 30 minutes each session.
HIIT’s biggest advantage is that it successfully burns the greatest amounts of calories in the shortest period of time. HIIT’s very high level of intensity may also stimulate your metabolism into a higher calorie burning state, carrying over for many more hours post exercise than can be achieved with any other form of cardio. True HIIT will place quite a load of physical stress on the body so for this reason it’s recommended to not perform HIIT every day.
Taking this into account a good angle for a long term body fat reduction training plan might be combining 2 or 3 HIIT’s and 2 or 3 LISS cardio’s per week. There is a lot of debate among body builders over the stress issue of HIIT. Some feel that this higher degree of stress placed on the body may jeopardise lean muscle. In this case some people will choose LISS because even though it takes a great deal longer to burn the same amount of calories there may be less risk for muscle loss.
Whichever approach you decide is right for you, make sure to train consistently and stick to a routine. Push yourself to higher levels at every cardio session. By pushing to break through fitness targets you can make steady improvements towards your goal.