Best Cardio For Weight Loss: Burn Fat Efficiently

People doing cardio

Most of us are interested in getting fit, and a lot of us could stand to lose some weight. The right strategy to accomplish those goals is a combination of a good diet, strength training, and the best cardio for weight loss. Finding the right cardio program can be tricking since it has to be something that you can stick with but also something that works well for losing weight.

If you’re trying to craft the best cardio for weight loss plan, how do you choose what type of exercise to run with? (No pun intended). How much do you need to accomplish your goals? Thankfully, there’s a cardio option out there for everyone. You just need to know what’s best for you.

HOW IT WORKS

man running on a treadmill

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How does the best cardio for weightloss actually work, anyway? In one way, weight loss is quite simple. When you use more calories than you take in, your body will normally burn its fat stores to provide fuel for your brain, cells, and muscles. It’s slightly more complicated than that, since the type of fuel–i.e. food–you’re putting into the machine matters, not just the total amount.

However, basically, putting fewer calories in than are going out is the way it works. Dieting controls the quality and quantity of what you’re putting in, and weight training increases your overall rate of calorie burn, even at rest. But you also need to be actively burning calories. That’s where cardio comes in.

INTENSITY = CALORIES BURNT

One of the great things about the best cardio for weight loss is that you can turn up the intensity pretty easily. Even just running a bit faster or switching your power walk to climbing a few more hills will push your metabolism and burn off more.

BALANCE WITH DIET

While it’s a great idea to watch what you eat (crucial, in fact) you’ll get the best results not from just cutting calories but from also burning more during the day. In fact, the more you burn the less you have to cut; and that can be good. You want to be taking in enough calories to get the full array of nutrients you need every day. Just be sure you don’t overcompensate for your cardio by eating more when you’re done!

CARDIO IS EVERYDAY

Weight training is hard to do every day, though some people can just manage it if they switch from legs to arms to core on different days and don’t mind a bit of self-flagellation! For most of us, though, we need some time to let muscles recover after weight training. Cardio, on the other hand, can be done at any time.

BEST CARDIO FOR WEIGHTLOSS

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The next step in deciding what’s right for you is to know which types of cardio are best. Then you can choose the right one for your needs, budget, and lifestyle. There are basically two major categories when it comes to the best cardio for weightloss; low intensity or high intensity. Within those two categories, we can also consider low and high impact.

LOW INTENSITY CARDIO

This type of cardio does help with weightloss and will get your heart rate up: but not hugely. Sometimes called “steady-state cardio,” this is the type of exercise where you can usually keep up a conversation while you’re doing it. The key is doing it for long enough and doing it nearly every day.

WHAT’S GREAT ABOUT IT

  • It’s easy to do
  • You can chat with a buddy while you do it
  • These activities aren’t hard on your joints
  • You’re more likely to stick with the program even if you don’t like exercise
  • Some studies suggest low-intensity taps body fat resources more effectively

WHAT’S NOT SO GREAT

  • It takes up a lot of time out of your day
  • Other studies suggest you might see slower weight loss than with higher intensity training
  • Some people may find them boring

TYPES OF LOW INTENSITY CARDIO

  • ​Walking
  • ​Cycling
  • ​Stretching routines
  • ​Beginner’s yoga
  • ​Swimming
  • ​Housework
  • ​Yard work

Naturally, you can make these activities higher intensity by doing them more vigorously (if your “yard work” is splitting logs for a half hour, for example, you can count that as high intensity!), but for a lot of people these are low intensity workouts.

HIGH INTENSITY CARDIO

These workouts are necessarily shorter since they involve pushing yourself the maximum. Most people who do these do them HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) style. HIIT is basically working at about 80% of your max for a bit, then pushing yourself to the edge for a short burst, then returning to 80% and doing it again. You do this about 15 or 20 minutes max and only three days a week.

WHAT’S GREAT ABOUT IT

  • It doesn’t take a lot of time out of your day
  • Some people find the intensity very engaging
  • You feel really pumped

WHAT’S NOT SO GREAT

  • Some studies show you tip into carb burning rather than fat burning with HIIT
  • It’s more taxing on the joints

TYPES OF LOW INTENSITY CARDIO

  • ​Sprinting
  • ​HIIT
  • ​Rowing
  • ​Swimming
  • ​Cycling
  • ​Running
  • ​Stair-climbing
  • ​Jumping

Of course to make these high intensity you have to do them with intensity! If you’re running on a treadmill, make sure you’re doing it on at least a small incline for best results.

IMPACT LEVELS

Man doing cardio on a

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Whether you’re doing low or high intensity, you have to consider how hard the exercise is on your joints. Running and sprinting, for example, are much higher impact than walking. Cycling has very little impact.

Many of the high impact exercises are also high intensity: but if you have a lot of weight to lose it can be a good idea to stick with lower impact exercises until you get some of the weight off. That way you avoid putting too much strain on joints like your knees.

SO HOW DO I CHOOSE?

The great thing is that you can combine both low and high intensity training in order to have the best of both worlds. Skip your low intensity workout on the days you do high intensity cardio. Save yourself some time on other days by doing just high intensity training.

The other thing to remember is that it’s important you do what you can actually sustain. Running, for example, burns more calories than walking. Great: but if you can only run for five minutes before you’re wiped out or your knees start screaming at you, running isn’t the best cardio for weightloss for you.

Instead, try walking briskly up inclines and see if you can sustain it for at least 15 minutes. Once you’re able to push that to 60 minutes, you can try running again. The same goes for something like biking. If you cycle slowly, you burn fewer calories than if you were going fast. But if you can’t sustain a fast pace, you’ll actually do better by cycling at a lower speed.

As you get more fit, you’ll be able to sustain your pace for longer and move up to more intense exertions. The key is starting well with a good and sustainable plan.

BEST CARDIO FOR WEIGHTLOSS BEGINNER PLAN

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CHOOSE SOMETHING YOU ENJOY

We can’t stress this enough: if you don’t enjoy your workout at least a bit, you’re unlikely to sustain it for very long. No one wants to be one of those New Year’s resolution statistics where you spend six weeks at the gym and then never go back.

START WITH THREE TIMES A WEEK

If you go barreling in determined to exercise intensely every day of the week, you’re liable to give up. Start out with a goal you can reach, like working out three days a week. You’ll have a much easier time moving up from there. If you have to move down from too much, it’s more discouraging.

SHOOT FOR A MINIMUM OF 20 MINUTES

If you can manage just 20 minutes each time, you’ll be doing some serious good and working your way up to longer sessions. The next week, shoot for 25 minutes. Keep going till you can manage 45 minutes of continuous exercise.

BUMP IT UP

Once you’re managing about 30 minutes or so three days a week, see if you can throw in some high intensity interval training. At first, do this just once a week. Then look at moving from three days a week of exercise to five or even six.

KEEP TRACK OF YOUR PROGRESS

Just as with diet, you’ll be more motivated and see better results in your exercise if you keep track of what you’re doing. If you’ve been slacking off, having to write that down will be a motivator. If you have been doing well, you’ll feel good about yourself when you see it in the numbers.

FUN TYPES OF THE BEST CARDIO FOR WEIGHTLOSS

Are you the sort of person who finds the treadmill to nowhere just a bit too boring to manage? Here are some ideas for awesome and fun cardio workouts that still burn calories and keep you moving:

  • ​Aerobic dance
  • ​Basketball
  • ​Boxing
  • ​Cross-country skiing
  • ​Downhill skiing
  • ​Golf (without the cart)
  • ​Skating
  • ​Jump rope
  • ​Kayaking
  • ​Martial arts
  • ​Racquetball
  • ​Tennis
  • ​Water aerobics

Some of those will require a bit more commitment on your part to really make them work. For example, golf is great; but only if you’re putting in the walk. Kayaking and water aerobics are pretty low intensity, so you have to keep them up for longer to get the same benefit.

However, not only are things like kayaking and water aerobics interesting to do, but they can also be a way of getting a workout if you have a limitation that makes it impossible for you to run or even walk without pain or difficulty.

THE FAT CONTROVERSY

Man with big belly

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There is a lot of confusion about how fat burning works and its relation to different intensities and the best cardio for weightloss. When you work out at a slow pace, your body does tend to burn fat rather than try to use carbohydrates. When you work out intensely, your body eventually switches into carb burning mode (and starts demanding an energy bar).

For that reason, a lot of people recommend long, slow workouts at low intensity. That’s legitimate; however if you did that same walk at just a bit higher intensity, you would burn more calories total: and that includes fat calories.

GETTING INTO A ROUTINE

Variety is the spice of life, and variety is what will keep you on track, all other things being equal. Here’s a sample of how you might divide your week in order to get the most out of the best cardio for weightloss programs:

​Monday

TUESDAY

WEDNESDAY

THURSDAY

FRIDAY

SATURDAY

SUNDAY

TIPS FOR GETTING THE MOST OUT OF YOUR WORKOUT

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LISTEN TO MUSIC

You probably already know this, but pumping out your favorite music can really ramp up your energy for a workout. It can be the thing that motivates you to push just a bit farther and harder. What a lot of people don’t know, however, is that listening to relaxing music after your workout can help you recover faster.

DRINK ENOUGH WATER

Skip loading up on tons of calorie-laden energy drinks. Instead, go for water. Studies have found the most people actually arrive at their gym already dehydrated; and then things just get worse. You need about a half ounce to an ounce of water per pound of bodyweight for an effective workout.

DON’T NEGLECT SLEEP

Sleep is a huge factor when it comes to weightloss and your strength to perform in an exercise routine. If you miss out on sleep, you won’t be ready to come back to your exercises with the intensity you need to make them effective.

YOU CAN DO IT!

If you’re just starting out on the path to the best cardio for weightloss routine for you, the road ahead can look daunting. It will be hard, there’s no denying that. But you can manage it. Keep your goals in mind, keep track of your progress, get friends and family to help with your motivation, and soon you’ll be seeing the results you crave.

Featured Image via Pixabay

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