What’s The Best Type of Cardio for Fat Loss?

In my last article I spoke about the best types of exercise for body transformation.

Unequivocally these are;

1: Resistance training

2: Cardio – more specifically, interval training

Having worked with hundreds of body transformers over the years I can testify to the effectiveness of these two exercise methods, and when it comes to the latter – interval training – the science continues to stack up.

But what makes interval training so superior to traditional, steady state cardio workouts? (steady state cardio is defined as maintaining an even pace for 30 minutes or more)

And why is this the preferred method for body transformation?

1: Superior fat loss

We all have various muscle fibre types, and broadly speaking these can be broken into two categories – slow and fast twitch muscle fibres.

With traditional steady state cardio we only activate our slow twitch muscle fibres, whereas with interval style cardio we also switch on our fast twitch fibres.

What’s the significance of this?

Because when we activate our fast twitch fibres we also turn on an avalanche of fat loss hormones, most notably, growth hormone. (HGH)

Growth hormone is often referred to as our body’s number one anti aging hormone, mostly because of its ability to burn fat, maintain and build muscle tissue.

For example, the 20 minute interval workout known as ‘Peak 8’ results in an average 771% spike in HGH above baseline! (Nb: An example of Peak 8 is included below)

What’s more, various styles of interval training (including Peak 8) have been shown to burn up to 9 times more body fat than traditional forms of exercise.

See study here.

Interval training also has one other distinct advantage over traditional, steady state cardio.

After your workout, a process known as EPOC (Excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) occurs, and which is often referred to as the ‘afterburn.’

EPOC is the process whereby there is increased oxygen intake to correct the body’s ‘oxygen debt’ brought about by exercise.

In the case of interval training, the afterburn is significantly higher than steady state cardio, and this has a profound effect on your body’s metabolism in the hours that follow your workout.

In fact, researchers have discovered that your body continues to burn calories at a higher rate for up to 38 hours following an interval workout.

So while it’s true that a 45 minute steady state cardio workout might burn 400 calories, and a 20 minute interval workout only 250 calories, you’ll burn significantly more calories overall thanks to short duration, high intensity cardio.

Nb: Interval training is also known as H.I.I.T. which stands for high intensity interval training)

2: Superior fitness

Here again, in terms of overall fitness, the benefits that can be achieved from interval training are quite remarkable.

While many people have aerobic fitness – the ability to walk, run, swim, cycle etc for upwards of 30, 45, 60 minutes or more, ironically, those very same individuals can lack anaerobic fitness which is arguably the most important kind of fitness of all.

Anaerobic fitness is the ability to move fast and recover from short bursts of intense exercise that can last anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds at a time. These sprints place additional demands on our heart and lungs which in turn results in greater reserve capacity.  

Reserve capacity is essentially the ability of your heart and lungs to withstand a sudden increase in cardiac demand. For example, you might be required to lift a heavy object, or you might find yourself in an emergency situation that requires you to move as fast as you possible. In these situations it’s imperative that your cardiovascular system is up to the task.

What’s more, researchers have found that the resulting increase in anaerobic fitness from interval training has measurable effects on your aerobic fitness as well. (Unfortunately the opposite is not true)

In the 1996 Tabata study, one group of participants performed a full 60 minutes of moderate intensity cardio exercise 5 days per week.

Group two also performed cardio exercise 5 days per week however this group performed just 8 x 20 second sprints of high intensity cycling with 10 seconds of recovery between each sprint.

The results were extraordinary to say the least.

After only 6 weeks, Tabata discovered that the athletes using the high intensity interval programme had increased their aerobic fitness by 14%. This compared to the steady state cardio group which had a 10% increase.

Most notably the high intensity participants increased their anaerobic fitness by a whopping 28%, whereas there was NO improvement from the steady state cardio group.

An amazing result, and all this despite the VAST difference in the amount of time each group spent working out.

The 6 week results of the Tabata studies are as follows:

However this is not a stand-alone study. There are literally hundreds, such as this recent study comparing the benefits of a single minute of interval training versus 45 minutes of steady state cardio.

Peak 8 – Interval Workout Example

Now that you’ve read about the amazing benefits of high intensity interval training, are you ready to give it a shot?

If so, Peak 8 is an excellent way to start out.

To perform peak 8, choose a cardio machine such as a bike, cross trainer or rowing machine, or you can do this outside as a walk or jog/ run.

Next choose two speeds that are based on YOUR current level of fitness.

The first speed represents 50% of your perceived maximum speed. The second speed represents 90% of your perceived maximum speed – as per the perceived exertion chart below.

Begin with a 3 minute warm up at your perceived 50% speed.

This is followed by a 30 second sprint at your perceived 90% speed (close to maximum exertion) and 90 secs recovery at your perceived 50% speed.

Repeat this sequence – 30 secs fast, 90 secs slow 7 more times. (8 sprints in total)

Finish with a warm down from 17.30 to 20 minutes.


Read this BEFORE Commencing Interval Training…

If you’re new to exercise it’s a good idea to spend at least 4 weeks establishing a base level of fitness, that is, BEFORE you embark on interval training. This might include walking, slow jogging, swimming etc at a steady pace you can sustain for 20 to 30 minutes.

If you’ve been exercising for a few months, yet consider yourself to be unfit, you can still apply the principles outlined above for interval training – simply adjust your 50% and 90% speeds based on YOUR level of fitness. Remember, the speeds you choose are all relative and vary from person to person. As your fitness increases, so too will your speeds.

NB: If you suffer from adrenal fatigue, interval training is NOT recommended. Although superior in terms of fat loss and fitness, interval training places demands on the nervous system. As such, professional advice should be sought from your medical practitioner, and preferably in conjunction with an exercise professional.

For body transformation, two interval workouts per week is what I normally prescribe for most individuals. (In conjunction with resistance training)

Don’t miss my next blog where I reveal the most effective body transformation exercises…which ones work, and which ones don’t!

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