When it comes to getting lean many people assume that endless hours of dull and teeth grittingly laborious cardio is on the menu. This doesn't have to be the case. But before we get into how to save yourself from monotonous suffering lets look at cardio planning basics so you can set out on the right track.
The ‘traditional’ rule of thumb for optimum fat burning and fitness is that each cardiovascular training session should span 20 to 60 minutes, with the typical range being 30 to 40 minutes per session. This should be performed 3 to 5 x per week. When it comes to your body nothing is ever set in stone. For fat burning, thankfully, there are a few effective ways to streamline cardio sessions to achieve a great deal more in much less time per week.
You may have already heard that to maximise the fat burning of your cardio effort the best time of day is considered to be first thing in the morning before food? As you’ve been fasting all night (unless you are a midnight snacker) and your carbohydrate levels have become lowered over this time your body is more likely to tap into body fat for a fuel source. The second best time of day - going by this theory on stored carbohydrate ‘gas tank’ levels - is immediately following weight training.
Weight training depletes stored carbohydrate levels nicely. This will prime your body to use body fats for fuel by the time you hit your cardio workout session.
It’s been said that the most effective cardio routine is simply the one you will stick to consistently. So when it comes time to choose your cardio type it makes sense to go for something you will enjoy - for fat burning CONSISTENCY is the key. At least structure your cardio to make it as interesting as possible, and you may even find a way to make it something to look forward to!
Let’s take a look at some straight forward approaches that might spark an idea for your own cardio planning. The first one is the closest to good old traditional cardio and requires the most time commitment. The other options will achieve more in less time.
Mixing it up
How about a circuit of different cardio machines in your gym? Instead of doing a dull 40 minute haul on one piece of equipment try something like the following on for size. If you only have some of these available then that’s ok, just work with what you’ve got at hand and replace with other options if you have them:
- 10 mins on the stationary bike followed by,
- 10 mins on the rowing machine followed by,
- 10 mins on the elliptical trainer followed by,
- 10 minutes on the treadmill
This method of breaking up your cardio can keep you on your toes as well as create a more ‘complete’ and well rounded, body workout.
Aim for 3 to 5 x sessions per week.
Skipping with a skipping rope/jump rope is one of the simplest but most effective cardio choices. 15 to 20 minutes will give you a total body blast and burn a huge amount of calories. It’s also a great way to build endurance (ask any boxer) for your sports. It also develops your hand and foot coordination - and speed:
When starting out begin with 8 to 10 minute sessions and build up a little more duration to your sessions each week. 3 to 5 x per week is ideal.
Boxing on the heavy bag is fantastic cardio. This one (like skipping) is also great for coordination and keeping you light on your feet. Try the following for a good heavy bag workout:
Warm up for 2 mins on either a stationary bike or by skipping, or shadow boxing. Then get into 2 to 3 minute rounds of boxing on the bag. Mix up your punches - hooks, jabs, uppercuts - and break rounds up with 1 minute rest periods between them. Aim to perform 5 to 6 x rounds depending on your fitness level. If just starting out you may find 3 to 4 rounds of 2 minutes each more than enough. 3 to 5 x per week will be plenty.
Go for gold
Sprinting is an excellent way to fire up your metabolism, burn large amounts of calories, and elevate testosterone levels. This will also keep training sessions short and sweet. A local school field, athletics track, or park is ideal but you can do this on the street if need be:
Start your session with a light 2 to 3 minute jog to warm up. Once warmed up begin with a 50 to 100 meter sprint, follow this with walking or lightly jogging double the distance of your sprint distance, then repeat. For the first few times aim to do 5 to 6 x repeats per session. Over the weeks as you get fitter increase the amount of repeats (aim for 10 or more). To add more intensity, increase the length of the sprinting distance up to 200 meters. 2 to 3 x sessions per week is about right for this type of training, and have at least a days break between each. This will give your body time to recover.
Do what you can to make your cardio enjoyable, and then hopefully you will be in there for the long term. Remember the magic word is ‘consistency’. Hang in there, stick to your plan, and in time your work will pay dividends.