The Best Type of Cardio Debate Ends Today
Jul 7th, 2012
Fitness experts have long been debating about the best type of cardio exercise for burning off excess body fat.
There are those like Tom Venuto who believe in traditional steady-state cardio, those like Jason Ferruggia that ascribe to high intensity intervals, and then there are people like Muscle Hacker, Mark McManus, who think cardio work is largely a waste of time for those who want to reduce body fat.
With such varying opinions from those of us who eat, sleep and breathe fitness, is it really possible to determine the best type of cardio for fat loss?
I not only believe that it’s possible to determine the best type of cardio, but I am going to put an end to this debate once and for all by boldly proclaiming all of these views to be correct.
You’re probably curious how I can sit here as a reputable fitness writer and say that three very different techniques for losing fat can all be the best for burning off unwanted body fat. After all, my opinion seems to defy logic, which clearly teaches us that “A” and “not A” cannot both be true at the same time and in the same relationship.
So, how can steady-state cardio, high intensity intervals and zero cardio all be the best cardio strategy for fat loss? I’m going to tell you.
The Best Type of Cardio “X Factors”
Before going any further, I need to come clean with a quick disclaimer…
What I’m calling the best type of cardio for fat loss isn’t necessarily that which causes the maximal amount of fat loss per duration of time performed, but that which will lead to the maximal amount of fat loss over the course of several weeks or months for a specific individuals.
The reason I can say that all cardio strategies are correct is because the real answer to the question of the best kind of cardio for fat loss is… it depends. It depends on:
- Injuries that must be considered (present and past)
- Amount of time a person can spend training each week
- Other goals a person is working towards (other than fat loss)
- Which cardio option can be consistently applied
I will now quickly address each of these points…
As a personal trainer and transformation coach I’ve learned that every client represents a unique set of challenges. One aspect that must always be considered is any injuries a person is dealing with.
This not only applies to determining the best type of cardio exercise for that client, but also must be considered when constructing their entire training regimen.
As it pertains to cardio, if a client has a nagging hamstring injury, I’m obviously not going to have them running hill sprints. Instead, I will opt for a lower intensity, steady-state cardio option, such as walking at a brisk pace on a treadmill at a full incline.
If a client admits to only having 15 minutes to devote to cardio, the goal would be to try to get them to do as much work as possible during that relatively short amount of time. For this type of person, high intensity cardio options like interval sprints or sled pushes are usually the preferred cardio strategy.
The other goals a client is pursuing must also be taken into account. For instance, if you’re working with a football player that wants to drop body fat, but also wants to develop their explosive strength, slow steady-state cardio wouldn’t be the most efficient method of attacking those goals.
For this kind of client, heavy sled work, hill sprints, parachute sprints and stair sprints will be much more effective by enabling them to shed fat, build their explosive strength and increase their level of conditioning simultaneously.
The point, which I hope is clear, is that there isn’t a single blanket answer to the best type of cardio exercise that is going to work for every person under every circumstance.
When a person’s goal is strictly related to fat loss, the final point above will be the most important factor in determining their success.
As with any goal a person pursues in life, consistency will be the key to success.
So, if fat loss is your main concern, find a cardio exercise option (or combination of cardio exercises) that you’re comfortable with and stick with it. If you can swing it, the best fat loss results will come from at least five 20-minute cardio sessions per week.
If five weekly cardio sessions doesn’t fit with your schedule, just be sure to do as many as you can squeeze in.
Also, be sure to mind your diet. If you’re eating more calories than your burning each day, fat loss will be impossible.
The Cardio Combination Strategy
I personally prefer combining both steady-state cardio and high intensity intervals into my weekly cardio training regimen. For steady-state cardio I will usually either do elliptical workouts or fast walks on my treadmill at a full incline.
For high intensity interval cardio I will typically either do “push sprints”, by turning off my treadmill and pushing the belt as fast as I can for 20 or 30 seconds at a time, or jump rope for 1-2 minute intervals.
I will sometimes mix in a few other cardio options just to keep things new and exciting, but combining steady-state and high intensity interval cardio is typical of my cardio implementation at any given time.
This allows me to attack all of the following goals of mine: burn fat, build speed, increase conditioning and enhance my athleticism.
My goal is never to just look strong, muscular and fit, but to actually be strong, muscular and fit!
Most men and women share that sentiment, which is why I wrote Ripped Out to be an exact system for getting lean, muscular, strong and fit.
No Cardio is Nonsense
I have experimented with just about every kind of cardio exercise under the sun, including cutting out cardio completely. My take on completely ignoring cardio is that it’s foolish to do so for extended periods of time.
While I respect the work of Mark McManus, I can’t agree with his philosophy that cardio isn’t necessary while on a bulking cycle. I’ve tried “bulking” with and without cardio and completely cutting out cardio only made me fat.
I was also strict about counting my calories and timing my carbs around my training sessions, so the argument of over-eating or incorrectly timing my carbs can be thrown out.
I’ve since found that reducing the length of my cardio sessions and doing more high intensity work is much more beneficial while working on building lean muscle mass. I still keep to 5 cardio sessions per week, but they only last 10-15 minutes at a time.
That being said, I know there are individuals who’ve followed Mark’s advice, built lean muscle mass and were ultimately satisfied with their results. So I’m well aware that my opinion isn’t shared by all.
My philosophy is that cardio is an integral part of training, is essential for getting lean (and maintaining lean levels of body fat), and should never be eliminated for longer than a week or two – except when nursing an injury.
Remember that cardio isn’t just good for fat loss. It also promotes a healthy metabolism, cardiovascular health, respiratory conditioning , speed and agility.
While I’m sure I haven’t put an end to the debate regarding the best type of cardio for fat loss (or whether cardio is even necessary at all), I hope that I’ve at least helped to give you some perspective that you can use with your own training implements.