If you’re just starting an exercise program, trying to lose a significant amount of weight, or just trying to get rid of those last few stubborn pounds…the solution is the same. You need variety in your workouts.
There are 3 types of cardio:
Steady state (also called fat burning or low heart rate) – This is where you exercise at a low intensity with the purpose of burning your fat stores. This is best done first thing in the morning before you have eaten. Depending on your age and resting heart rate, you can determine your “fat burning target zone”. My heart rate has to stay between 125 and 135.
Interval training – the fastest and most effective way to burn calories. This is also the best cardio for what experts call the “afterburn”. Meaning your body continues to burn calories after you have finished exercising. Interval training consists of a 5-10 minute warm up, 20-30 minute interval workout, and a 5-10 minute cool down. You can do this on the elliptical, step mill, treadmill, or bike. The goal is to go hard for a short period of time, then recover for the same amount of time (or just a bit longer). I have done sprints on the treadmill, running as fast as I can for 1 minute, then recovering at a jog pace for 2 minutes. I have also used the elliptical machine for interval workouts, going hard for 1 minute, recovering for 1 minute. You can also do shorter bursts of intensity – go hard for 30 seconds, recover for 1 minute. Pick the machine that works best for you. And remember, this is not supposed to be easy. I am usually out of breath by the end of my intervals. I suggest doing interval workouts twice a week. Although they are key for torching calories, they require the most recovery. So alternate interval workouts with steady state cardio.
Medium intensity – basically a cardio workout in between steady state and interval training. You need to get your heart rate up, but not as high as interval training. When I need medium intensity cardio, I usually run outside or on the treadmill or use the step mill. I can increase the speed if I need to, but I can also back off if the workout is getting too intense.
It is also important to vary your workouts week to week and month to month. If you do the same cardio and weight routines week after week, your body gets conditioned to those exercises. You need to switch it up because the more variety you incorporate into your workouts, the more you can challenge your body. Different exercises work different muscle groups and it’s important to use them all. If you’ve never tried Spin or Zumba, give them a whirl. You’ll be amazed when you are sore in places you aren’t accustomed to!