When it comes to weight loss goals, everyone's first approach is always starting a cardio routine. However, if you're serious about getting lean and losing body fat then you have to get serious about your training and diet. Aside from the obvious of cleaning up your diet, you have to strategically plan an effective workout plan. That means one that involves more than just cardio...
Combining cardio and strength training is the best way to attain any weight loss goals. Doing so will make sure that the weight loss is coming mostly from body fat and not only muscle! However, strategically planning the type of cardio you do in combination with your strength training routine is the best way to reap effective body recomposition results and ensure that you're minimizing muscle loss!
To help you on your weight loss journey, we're giving you all the details on the best fat-burning cardio workouts, that way you can incorporate the best cardio for you into your strength training routine for optimal results!
What type of cardio is the best at burning fat?
If you hate cardio and want to make sure you're doing the right type and one that you enjoy, you have to learn a little bit about the effects of cardio on weight loss...
The mechanism by which regular cardio leads to weight loss is not at all burning fat or calories, but in developing the body's ability to form reserves of available energy for exercise. Such energy is taken from carbohydrates and stored in glycogen.
To make the body use fat as fuel, it is necessary first to empty the carbohydrate reserves stored in the muscles in the form of glycogen. To maximize your cardio workouts so that your body uses fat as fuel, prioritize long steady-state cardio (at least 30-40 minutes), or do it immediately after strength training. You can also practice fasted workouts! Fasted workouts have increased in popularity lately because of the fat-burning benefits. Working out on an empty stomach helps your body tap into your fat stores and use that as fuel!
However, doing any type of cardio, at any time, on an empty or full stomach, will help you lose body weight - as long as you're in a calorie deficit! For example, HIIT (high-intensity interval training) is a popular form of cardio that has been linked to fat-burning benefits. Even though steady-state cardio at a moderate intensity is efficient for fat loss, HIIT is another great alternative if that's your preferred type of cardio and that aligns with your goals!
Best Cardio Workouts For Weight Loss
The best cardio workouts for weight loss come down to your fitness level, goals, and overall preference. Luckily, long-steady state cardio and short, higher intensity cardio are both great options. This makes it easier for you to find the best cardio exercise that you'll actually enjoy.
To help, we've compiled a list of all forms of cardio exercises, from low impact to high impact, to low intensity to high-intensity - so there's something for everyone! Get all the details below on the best cardio for weight loss so you can start incorporating a cardio routine that you actually enjoy!
High impact, high-intensity cardio isn't for everyone. People who suffer from joint pain, specifically the knee joint, will benefit more from low-impact cardio. Not only that, but people who regularly lift heavy weights put consistent strains on their joints and muscles, so pairing high-impact cardio with a routine like that is not smart or effective. So, if you have joint issues, regular weight train, or simply hate high-intensity cardio - try walking!
Don't confuse low impact with low-intensity, walking can be just as effective as jogging or running, you just have to know how to do it so that you're maximizing fat burning.
Best way to burn fat while walking:
- Walk on an incline for 30-60 minutes! Inclined walking can burn just as many calories as running, and it can even help minimize muscle loss. It also is great at preventing overreaching with your stride (leads to knee pain) and works your glutes! Work your way up to a higher intensity by gradually increasing the incline it's at. Once you hit the maximal incline level, try to extend the time you walk to continue making progress.
- Walk in the mornings before eating breakfast. If walking on an incline is still a little too intense, then go on a 30-60 minute walk in the morning on an empty stomach. This will maximize the effectiveness of your cardio because opposed to doing it on a full stomach, your body will tap into the fat store, not your glycogen stores.
For those who love cardio, or simply want more of a challenge then start running! Running at a steady and moderate pace is an efficient way to lose body fat, improve endurance, and cardiovascular health. The intensity is sufficiently high enough to burn a good amount of calories while stimulating the metabolic rate for a long period afterward. You can also substitute running for jogging. Jogging is great for those who do 30-40 minute cardio sessions because the intensity is slightly lower, but you’re still burning a sufficient amount of calories.
Running is great if your main focus is to burn fat. If your main goal is to build muscle then running isn’t the best because it can potentially break down muscle. However, if you enjoy it, just make sure to not overdo it to reduce your risk of an injury.
Best way to burn fat while running:
- If you’re running on a treadmill, increase the incline by 2-3%. This will increase it to a higher intensity workout to help you burn more calories, and it’s easier on the knees.
The stair climber is one of the best cardio fat-burning machines! The stair climber requires you to use more muscles than walking or running because you are lifting your legs to climb the stairs. It’s a great workout to strengthen your entire lower body, including your hamstrings, glutes, and quads, plus you're working up a sweat!
The downside of the stair climber is that it can put a lot of strain on your joints. So, if you have bad knees, avoid using this machine.
Best way to burn fat on the stair climber:
- Use the stair climber for about 10-15 minutes, but at high intensity. Go at about 90% effort for a minute, go at a level that really elevates your heart rate. Then have a one to two-minute active recovery where you decrease the level enough to catch your breath.
- For those who prefer steady-state cardio, but still want to burn fat, do a 30-40 minute session at a moderate pace.
Jumping rope is not something only kids can do, in fact, it's a pretty great cardio workout! It's also a great way to switch up your workout routine and make it fun - which is super important for breaking through a workout plateau!
Jumping rope is one of the best exercises to pair with strength training because it's effective at working your lower and upper body. Aside from helping you burn calories, it can improve bone and heart health, balance and coordination, lung capacity, and it's convenient!
Best way to burn fat while jumping rope:
- Create a HIIT workout out of it! You can do this by jump roping for 60 seconds, and resting for 30 seconds, alternating for the desired amount of time. To make it effective, really give it your all, and try different variations high-knees, crossovers, double hop, etc.
- Want to do something less intense? Jump rope at a steady pace and give yourself adequate rest in between! You can do a 30-minute jump roping session by jumping at a steady pace for a few minutes and resting at least two minutes before jumping back in.
Cycling is a great option for those who hate running because it involves the same muscles, but it’s considered to be a lower impact. However, you must be willing to give it your max effort! Don’t just pedal while scrolling on your phone, really give it you're all. Another great thing about cycling is that a lot of gyms have indoor cycling classes. Usually, the instructors motivate you to push really push yourself so you’re guaranteed to get your heart rate pumping!
Best way to burn fat while cycling:
- Use the stationary bike and incorporate intervals. Increase the intensity for a few minutes, 3-5, then decrease for a1-2 min. to catch your breath. Continue these intervals for as long as you can to maximize fat burning!
Not everyone has a pool or has access to one, but if you do, consider swimming as your cardio exercise! Swimming is one of the best types of cardio because it’s a total-body workout. Your muscles are working extra hard to keep you afloat, it’s also low impact, and burns a high number of calories.
Definitely consider trying out swimming if you have access to a pool. Doing a variety of strokes will help you change the intensity and help you target different muscle groups.
Best way to burn fat while swimming:
- Try different strokes like the butterfly stroke. It’s slightly more intense than the normal breaststroke.
- If you are new to swimming and only comfortable doing the breaststroke then try interval training. So swim as fast as you can for as long as possible, then decrease the intensity for one lap.
Rowing, just like swimming, provides an excellent total body workout. It works all the main muscles, lower impact than running, and burns more calories per hour than any other common aerobic exercise. The main downside of rowing is that not every gym has rowing machines. But if your gym does, then definitely give it a try!
Best way to burn fat while rowing:
- Rowing is already a high-intensity, full-body workout, so you’ll burn fat no matter how you do it. To burn the most calories, we suggest using your entire body when rowing, and don’t forget to keep your chest up!
- Incorporate intervals to maximize fat burn. Row really fast for 250 meters, then slow down, and repeat.
HIIT - High-Intensity Interval Training
HIIT is a short, but highly effective full-body workout. It incorporates high-intensity aerobic work with a very high-intensity component that provides maximal fat burning. The structure of HIIT allows you to work out in less time, but burn a ton of calories - even after your workout! Like resistance training, HIIT increases your metabolic rate for over 24 hours after training.
The best thing about HIIT is that you can tailor it any way you want! You can include cardio exercises, like burpees and jumping squats, and exercises that work your muscles, like push-ups! Or you can simply pick one cardio workout like rowing, sprinting, or jump roping, and alternate high-intensity intervals with low-intensity intervals.
There really is no "best way" to burn fat while doing HIIT because it's already structured to do so. Simply pick your favorite HIIT exercises, your time frame, how many rounds, and get started. Just remember to give it your all!
Running is already on the list, but sprinting is a whole other beast! Sprinting is simple, requires no equipment, and you burn the most calories in the least amount of time.
The downside of sprinting is that it's an extremely high-impact exercise, so it is a lot of pressure on your joints. If you have bad knees or ankles then we suggest skipping this fat-burning cardio.
Best way to burn fat with sprinting:
- If you don’t have access to a treadmill or just want to work out in fresh air, then sprint for a lap then jog for a lap, and repeat. Sprint up bleachers, and jog back down, then repeat.
- If you prefer the treadmill then do an all-out sprint for 30 seconds, then jog for a minute, and repeat.
There are so many cardio workouts, but these are the top ones we recommend to add to your workout routine if you want to get effective weight loss results. And for those who lift and want to minimize muscle loss, consider taking workout supplements, like BCAA's or protein powder post-workout! Both supplements include amino acids that help increase muscle protein synthesis and enhance recovery, which results in less muscle loss.
In summary, doing any form of cardio paired with a healthy diet and weight training is the best way to achieve weight loss. But now you know how to make your cardio workouts even more effective for better results 😉
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