Adding cardio to your workout programs helps you achieve your weight loss goals and improve overall health and fitness. No matter the type of workout you choose, it’s a must that some form of cardio is included. The cardio tips suggested in this blog post will be beneficial to cardio beginners especially.
When’s the Best Time to Do Cardio?
A common query about cardio is what’s the best time of day to do cardio – in the morning or at night.
The most important thing here though is that you do it. If it suits your schedule best to work out in the evening, then you should do so.
However, many experts advocate doing cardio in the morning before you’ve had anything to eat.
Your glycogen stores are at their lowest in the morning after a night of fasting. The less carbohydrate your body has to burn off, the sooner it can get around to burning fat.
Similarly, many experts recommend doing cardio immediately after strength training, as weight lifting requires carbohydrates (found in the blood as glucose and in muscle tissue as glycogen) for energy.
Carbohydrate is the body’s primary energy source, so any carbs consumed prior to working out will be burned up while lifting.
After 30 minutes of high-intensity strength training, your body will be better able to access its backup energy source – stored body fat.
No matter what time of day you work out, you must have some carbohydrate in your system before engaging in moderate to intense strength training otherwise, you risk a blood-sugar crash.
So if you’re a morning exerciser and you plan on both cardio and weights, eat something small like a banana or apple before hitting the gym. And on cardio-only days, you can put off breakfast until after your workout.
Is Interval Training Better than Steady-State Cardio?
Interval training, or a cardio workout in which intervals of high intensity (work) are alternated with intervals of lower intensity (recovery), has been espoused as the best way to burn fat.
It does have many benefits and here’s why. Interval workouts are short in duration (20-25 minutes, including warm-up and cool-down) and less monotonous than steady-state cardio.
Interval workouts also optimize excessive post-oxygen consumption (E.P.O.C.).
This means that the body burns calories at an elevated rate for up to a couple of hours following an interval session.
However, interval training can be stressful on the body (running sprints on the treadmill, for instance), which means an increased risk of injury, and it’s not appropriate for beginners.
An ideal strategy is to alternate days of intervals (two to three times/week) with days of steady-state cardio (two to three times/week) to minimize the risk of overtraining.
Additionally, doing steady-state cardio the day after a leg workout will aid in muscle recovery.
How Long Should I Do Cardio?
Generally speaking, the duration of a cardio workout should be inversely proportional to its intensity.
In other words, a high-intensity interval workout (with work intervals of 80-90% intensity) only needs to last 20-25 minutes, including five minutes each for warm-up and cool-down.
On the other hand, a low-to-moderate intensity workout (55-75% intensity) can safely last 45 minutes.
With the exception of endurance training, it’s rare a cardio session needs to last more than 45 minutes, especially when fat loss is the goal.
A common mistake exercisers make is to spend the bulk of their workouts on the elliptical, even forgoing strength training in the hope of losing weight.
While it’s true that weight loss can be achieved via cardio alone, this loss comes from muscle and water weight, as well as body fat.
Over time, the loss of muscle and subsequent drop in metabolism will lead to difficulty shedding pounds, often resulting in the “skinny fat” look.
If your goal is to lose fat, maintain or build lean muscle, and improve your cardiovascular fitness, aim for 3 to 5 days a week of cardio training (incorporating both interval and steady-state cardio) and at least 3 days a week of strength training.
Vary the equipment you choose (such as the treadmill, stepmill, and elliptical) to stave off boredom and to reduce the risk of injury from overtraining.
Finally, remember that where fat loss is concerned, nutrition and strength training is just as important (many experts say more so) as cardiovascular exercise.
A good workout program will have a mix of cardio and strength training with varying levels of intensity so your weight loss is properly optimized.
Following these cardio tips will help make your workouts more enjoyable and more importantly, quite effective.
Have a look at some of the home workouts I’ve reviewed on the website for some ideas for your fitness regimen.
You can also check out the Fitness Planner and Worksheet to help with putting together a fitness and nutrition regimen.
Abi is all about staying in the best shape of your life at every age without having to starve yourself to make it happen. She’s been on her fitness journey since the age of 15 and doesn’t plan on letting up anytime soon. She’s currently studying to become a Certified Nutritionist. Learn more about Abi and her favorite fitness tools HERE. See our Editorial Guidelines here.
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