Cardio – Was it designed by the devil?
What is cardio?
Cardio comes from the Greek word kardio, which means heat. When we talk about cardio from a health and fitness perspective we are talking about training the cardiovascular system (heart and lungs). When I even mention the word to most people it sends shivers down their spines and causes there face the screw up. There are many types of cardio, but the type people remember is the slow, painful boring type.
There are two types of cardio I am going to cover here. There are loads of other variants, types or methods and this list is not exhaustive. I am not going to bore you with them all but just cover the basics for now.
High Intensity Interval training. This has become very popular over the years and has been sold as a way to get fit in less time. Whilst that can be true, it doesn’t paint the whole picture. HIIT is a training principle in which you carry out short bursts of high intensity exercise, followed by a lower intensity/ recovery period.
HIIT has been popularised by the concept of EPOC (Exercise Post Oxygen Consumption). EPOC is your body trying to recover from an ‘oxygen debt’. As you perform high intensity exercise your body struggles to provide the required oxygen to the muscles throughout the body, therefore ending in an ‘oxygen debt’. Your body will then work at a higher rate to replenish these systems and help recovery. EPOC has been called the ‘afterburn’ effect as you continue to burn calories even after the exercise ends.
- Can be a way of getting a large amount of calories burnt in a short amount of time.
- Helps retain muscle
- Helps increase fitness
- Helps fat loss
- Not ideal for beginners as it can be very intense
- Can be difficult for those with low fitness levels
- Not recommended for those recovering from injury
Low Intensity Steady State. This is the usual type of cardio that pops into people’s head. The long tiresome sessions on a treadmill for hours are dreaded by most (except marathon runners). LISS is exactly what it says on the tin. Low intensity and usually performed for a longer time. The heart rate will be much lower and can be sustained for a much longer period of time.
- Can be used by any fitness level
- Increases fitness
- Limited training required
- Can aid in fat loss
- Easily progressed to make harder
- Not ideal for those in a hurry
- Can be boring
Which type of cardio is best for me?
As with anything in fitness, it depends! You don’t need to do cardio if you don’t want to. I would recommend it but again that is entirely up to you. From looking at the pros and cons above you should be able to work out which one is best for you. For example if you are tight for time and have a good base level of fitness then opt for a quick HIIT workout. If you are less physically fit then it may be worth carrying out a LISS session.
I would recommend carrying out cardio to help keep the heart and lungs fit and healthy as well. There is no point having 10% body fat, bulging biceps if you can’t run the length of your own shadow.
When to perform cardio?
The short answer is when it fits your schedule. The bigger picture is that getting cardio into your weekly schedule has a benefit, regardless of where it sits. This doesn’t mean that it is the most ‘optimal’. Ideally I would like you to perform cardio on a separate day from your weights workouts, but I am aware that may not fit everyone’s schedule and commitments. If that is not possible I would like cardio to be performed after your weights workouts. If that is not possible then just get it down whenever you can (3am, 11pm before/during/after weights) I don’t mind. The important part is just getting it done.
I’ve heard about fasted cardio, is it any good?
Fasted cardio just means not eating prior to carrying out cardio in the morning. I’ve been geeking out on the science. From looking at the evidence there is no clear benefit to fasted cardio. They both have the same effect on body fat reduction. So if you want to do fasted cardio then crack on. If you don’t want to do fasted cardio then eat before you workout. Do whichever one fits your schedule.
I’ve heard about the fat burning zone, should I train within this?
During cardio there are two main fuel sources used within the body, and that is carbohydrates (in the form of glycogen) and fat. At different intensities of exercise we burn different amounts of each.
As always I am going to bring this back to calories. The only way to lose fat is to burn more calories than you eat. With that in mind, the fuel that you burn throughout the exercise is irrelevant; it all comes down to the total calories burnt. For example HIIT training will use a large percentage of fuel from glycogen, but over a 24 hour period can burn a higher number of calories. Don’t fall for the trap that being in the ‘fat burning zone’ burns any more fat, it is total calories you should be concerned with.
Hopefully this has given you enough details on different types of cardio and when to perform it. As always I hate getting caught up in the minute details. The important message is to just get it done! Fitness is more than just looking good, but it’s also about feeling good and being healthy. Cardio will help support that health and should be included in everyone’s program. Have fun with it and get to work!
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The brains, brawn and beauty of Dackattack (basically it’s just me). A personal trainer with a private gym in Norwich, dedicated to giving out simple, actionable advice that will give you outstanding results.