Is buying a treadmill going to help me lose weight? What about a bicycle? Should I do cardio before or after I lift weights? What about body wraps, will they help me shed the unwanted pounds?
Having worked in gyms for the last ~10 years, you see and hear a lot of things from all walks of life, many vouch the effects of a specific movement, idea or fad that will promise the ULTIMATE EXTREME FAT BURNING EXPERIENCE!! You see sweatsuits and facemasks (you might as well just breathe through a straw), bodywraps and shoes that promise a tighter ass. You get barraged with folks asking about the newest supplement and you see Johnny in the back of corner of the gym hogging equipment with 3 towels on each machine in the vicinity going from 30 cleans to 60 box jumps before deadlifting 300 pounds for 21 reps.
Here’s what we’re going to do. Let’s disregard all that. Because I’d rather not have you confused by ridiculous marketing promises that fail to deliver anything other than broken minds and bodies.
To make this simple, let’s categorize your cardiovascular program based on your experience. Scroll through the categories below and use it as your guideline. For reference of intensities, I am going to use the following Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale as our measure of exercise intensity during your workout. No need for heart rate monitors, fancy gadgets or rectal thermometers, let’s go by how hard you FEEL you are working.
Beginner – You haven’t exercised for > 6 months or you have been exercising less than 150 minutes a week. You have limited experience weight training and have yet to become familiar with the gym, exercise names and movements. You have led a mostly sedentary lifestyle for the last few years but are ready to get your butt off the couch and start…TODAY!
Congrats on your decision !
If your goal is weight loss and/or health improvement, the recommended amount of activity for exercise is at a minimum of 150 minutes at a moderate intensity per week. Mind you – there are significant increases in weight loss and health risk improvement with greater than 250 minutes per week.
Your cardiovascular routine should be focused on achieving a constant heart rate that has you working and sweating – but not so high that you’re unable to talk. You should focus on one activity that you can safely perform for anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes at a time (low impact exercises include walking, an elliptical, a bicycle or swimming are great places to start).
As you work, your sentences might become broken as you spend time getting your heart rate to climb. But you’re not feeling faint, dizzy or coughing up a lung every time you hit the gym, pavement or pool. Your RPE as a beginner should be a relatively slow climb from 12-16. In your exercise log, you should be tracking your distance and time. Week by week, you want to progress your cardiovascular exercise in one of the following parameters – frequency, intensity, time or type (the FITT principle). For example, this week you turn on your walking app. You take 30 minutes and end up walking 1.75 miles four days this week. If you were increasing frequency, you would increase your exercise to five days the following week. If you were increasing intensity, you would try to go two miles each time you walk. If you were to increase time, you’d bump it up to 35 minutes per workout. And if you were to change the type, you decide to try your hand at swimming instead of walking.
Beginner summed up –
Get moving for >150 minutes per week (or greater than 250 minutes per week for serious results) at an intensity anywhere from 12-16 on the RPE scale. Each week, increase at least one parameter of the FITT principle. Continue your progress and make it sustainable – Increase by no more than 10% by week and keep at it for 4-6 weeks. Until you become…
Intermediate – You have been getting your heart rate up and sweating for >150 minutes a week regularly. If you hit the gym for weight training, you generally have some ideas but not much of a plan to follow. You are able to walk/run a few miles and have been a regular exerciser for over 6 weeks.
My advice to you is to start working cardio intervals. The benefits of interval training are amazing! You burn more fat in a shorter time, a lot of it being as you recover from exercise. It can be very time efficient, so if you’ve got 20 minutes, you can bust out some interval training. These sessions can be much shorter because you’re really going to push your RPE.
Choose your favorite (or least favorite because you like a challenge) activity for cardio. Let’s use walking as our example. You are now at the point where fast walking is literally a walk in the park so you want to begin a running program. A great place to start is a 1:2 work to rest ratio. In this example, you run at a good pace for one minute, followed by rest/walking for two minutes. Your rating of perceived exertion while running is 16 and drops down to a 10-12 by the time you finish your 2 minutes of walking/rest. You perform another set. This time, your RPE goes up to 17. You recover. The next set your RPE goes up to 18. You recover…rinse and repeat.
My recommendation would be to start with no more than two days a week of interval training – which allows the flexibility to increase it over time. You should still perform at least another two days per week of longer duration, lower intensity cardio because there are still great benefits of long duration cardiovascular exercise when it comes to burning Calories. As you progress, you increase the intensity of your running by upping your speed or time in the high intensity zone, decreasing your rest periods, increasing the number of sets or including different types of cardio exercise.
Intermediate summed up –
Interval training is best at decreasing your waist line. If you are looking to slim down your cookie pouch/beer gut, start working in some intervals. Keep track of your sets, rest periods and intensity by using the RPE scale. Modify and mess around with your work to rest ratios in order to vary intensity.
As you get tired of hitting the pavement, you want to find other ways to implement cardio for fat burning. You’ve become more familiar with the basics of weight lifting because you’ve done your research…you become…
Experienced – You are a regular exerciser. You sweat in the gym, you go hard and you regularly get into some mental battles. You are familiar with a reasonable amount of gym terms, flow of workouts and have spent 3-6 months lifting weights and implementing cardiovascular exercise.
My recommendation for you is to work your strength circuits into high intensity interval sessions. Your emphasis should be on keeping proper form while hitting different planes of movement. If you want a heck of a workout, are looking to build strength and improve your endurance, turn your movement and strength training into intervals. Some folks would call it Crossfit. Which, in a sense, it can be. High intensity training has been around forever. And it’s the most effective method of fat burning there is. These circuits usually end up at the end of your workout, due to an increased amount of fat utilization post-strength training. It will truly challenge you, keep your strength up and have you walking out of the gym feeling like you just moved a mountain. Because maybe you did…
Work in circuit fashion and push yourself. Movements involved should include any and all of the following throughout your weekly workouts:
- Push – pushups, bench press, overhead press, dips
- Pull – pullups, rows, hi-pull, cleans
- Squat – goblet squat, back squat, split squats, lunges, stepups
- Hinge – deadlift, kettlbell or dumbell swings, hip thrusters
- Rotation – Ball tosses, pallof press, battle ropes, chops
- Gait – sprinting, jogging, sled work
- Carrying heavy stuff – farmers carries, waiter carries, briefcase carries, awkward objects
Some of my favorites:
- 3 – 5 rounds of : 10 Dumbell Thrusters x 50 yard Farmers carry x 25 Max effort rope slams
- 10-20 minutes, as many rounds as you can : 5 Pullups, 10 pushups, 15 squats
- 3-10 rounds of Sled suicides w/ 1 minute rest between sets
Experienced summed up –
Stick to functional movements you are familiar with. Your body has grooved a pattern for how the movement should feel. These workouts are fun, challenging and a great way to push your body for drastic change. You want your heart rate to be elevated and your RPE to approach the 16-20 range for the ‘work’ periods. One of the biggest benefits of this style of training is the amount of energy your body needs after you finish. You can burn up to 150 Calories after you finish! Sitting around, after your workout. Burning Calories without moving? Count me in! Not to mention the testosterone release, growth hormone release and inevitable hair you grow on your chest.
Overall, programming your cardiovascular exercise around what ‘level’ you belong to is a sure way to keep you healthy while losing weight. I’ve seen a lot of folks get discouraged, injured, frustrated and quit due to biting off more than they could chew early on. Start moving, move more week by week, be consistent and your metabolism will follow. If you have any questions, comments or favorite training circuits, let me know!
Peace like Geese,