Cardiovascular exercise/ aerobic exercise involves using the same large muscle group (i.e. legs), rhythmically, for a period of 20 minutes or longer while maintaining 60-80% of your maximum heart rate. You should be able to carry on a short conversation while doing aerobic exercise. If you are gasping for air while talking, you are probably working too hard (read about how to gauge exercise intensity).
Examples of aerobic exercise include: walking, cycling, jogging/ running, rowing, skiing, aerobic classes, rope jumping and swimming. However, some high-impact aerobic exercises may be too intense for beginners and therefore not the best exercise to burn fat. High impact exercises such as rope skipping, jumping jacks and running may not be ideal for those just starting out in their fitness program. There are ways around this, such as using the elliptical or cross trainer in the gym, which burns as many calories as jogging/ running, but isn’t high impact and therefore feels a lot easier for the beginner.
BENEFITS OF CARDIOVASCULAR EXERCISE
Great nutrition combined with the right cardio program is a killer recipe for fat loss. The benefits of adding cardio to your exercise program are truly limitless.
CARDIO WORKOUT: DURATION
Aerobic means with air or oxygen and during aerobic exercise oxygen is continuously delivered to your muscles. The energy needed for aerobic/ cardiovascular activity is initially derived from your limited glycogen (carbohydrates) supplies. When these stores are depleted you body turns to burning fat. This is why, if fat burning is your goal, you should aim for workout lasting at least 30 minutes, since fat burning usually occurs after at least 30 minutes of training. Train no longer than 60 minutes, beyond this, your body reaches a point of diminishing returns, increasing your risk of injury, over-training and adaptation If you want to do more cardio, it is better to add a second session to your day (i.e. morning and evening).
For maximum fat loss you generally need to complete 40 – 60 minutes of continuous exercise, though some people may lose weight doing less cardio. If you have been leading a sedentary lifestyle you may want to start with 20-minute sessions and increase duration as you get more fit.
CARDIO WORKOUT: FREQUENCY
For maximum results training 5 – 7 days per week is best. Again, everyone is different and it may be the case that you can get away with less. The only way to find out what suits you best is by trial and error. If you do 4 days a week for 30 minutes and experience no weight loss you may increase it to 45 minutes per session 6 days a week. It is important that you give your body a rest and take a day off.
CARDIO WORKOUT: INTENSITY
There is a myth that in order to burn fat, one must train at low intensity for a long duration. It is true that a greater percentage of the calories burnt during low intensity exercise come from fat compared to a high intensity workout. However, you have to remember that if you are working out at a low intensity your TOTAL amount of calories will be lower compared to a high intensity workout.
This means that if you walked for 30 minutes, you simply would not burn as much fat as if you had jogged for 30 minutes – even if fat burning is more efficient when you were walking. This is because you burnt vastly more calories when jogging that despite the fact that it wasn’t as efficient as walking at burning fat, you still burnt more “fat calories”.
Cycle/ low intensity/ burn 100 cal of which 75% cal from fat = 75 fat calories
Cycle/ higher intensity/ burn 250 cal of which 50% cal from fat = 125 fat calories
For sustained weight loss, you have to burn more calories than you take in. Therefore, trying to focus on burning fat calories won’t help. Calories are calories – the goal is to burn as many as possible. Thus, to burn as many calories from fat as possible you should perform longer duration exercises at a moderate to high intensity. Basically step the intensity up to as high a level you are able to sustain for 30 – 60 minutes; this is your “training zone”. Generally, this tends to be 60% (moderate intensity) – 80% (hard) of your maximum heart rate. If you have not exercised for a while, it is a good idea to start with a moderate intensity and increase it, as you get stronger and increasingly more fit.
If you are already doing cardio, DO IT HARDER, increase your intensity. Start with adding 2 – 4 minute intervals at a level or 2 higher than you are currently training. Gradually increase the time of the higher intensity intervals until you can do 30 or more minutes at the new higher level. Then, repeat the cycle.
For Maximum Weight Loss Results, Cardio:
- 5 – 7 days/ week
- 40 – 60 minute continuous workout
- 60 – 80% of your Maximum heart rate