Posted on December 16 2019
If you clicked on this post, you are probably expecting me to give you a name of some magic pill or witch craft powder that will melt your fat away overnight. Sorry to bust your bubble folks, but that ain't going to happen.
Instead of a pill, I am actually going to tell you something you probably do not want to hear. CARDIO. In this post I will explain my personal experience along with different ways to do cardio and what will work for your body type specifically.
As much as I dislike cardio, I have found ways to make it super fun in the past few months. Knowing there is no escaping from it, if you are looking to seriously lose fat in a short period of time, CARDIO!
Unlike strength training, cardio works differently on the body, and though you cannot flex cardio gains (fitness joke ;/), it is actually as important as weight training.
When I dropped my fat % from 32% to 21%, all the cardio I did was a 5km run every Saturday morning (very religiously), and 10 minutes pre and post workout on most (3-4) of my weight training days. This was generally arc trainer or stepper but not very intense at all. This is enough to say that you can lose and maintain fat loss with strength training alone, in fact, this is better because you will build muscles and boost your metabolism. For the purpose of this article, I am talking exclusively to burn stubborn fat in areas like the belly, lower back and arms.
But after reaching 21% Body Fat (weighing around 53kgs at 5 feet 3 inches tall), I found my fat loss stagnate for a few weeks. When I actually sat back and structured my cardio routine, I was back on track- only stronger. I studied about the different types of cardio and found fun ways to add them to my regular routine. Shocking to myself, I dropped from 21% to 16% in just a few months from then. This was also faster than when I dropped fat the first time. I was surprised at how effective the results were, and since then I always recommend this to my clients. The key though, is to mix and match your cardio routine as much as you can so the body does not get used to one type of exercise.
The different types I do
1) HIIT: The famous HIIT! Or high intensity interval training is the most common one out there and in a lot of ways most effective also. I do not use the word “effective” just in terms of its effects on the body but because its also time saving, easy to track, does not really require many equipments, and also least boring. In fitness terms, it targets some aerobic but mostly anaerobic metabolism and will keep the calories burning hours after you are done.
HIIT essentially is high intense interval training with short intervals in between. So you go all out, give it your everything, and then break for a short time (30sec- 2 min), and then repeat. Research with HIIT has shown to improve glucose metabolism (the way your body absorbs sugar) and inprove lung capacity. Of course fat loss is another major reason to include this.
Sample Upper body HIIT workout would look as follows
- 10 burpees
- 1 min jog
- 30 sec sprint
– Repeat 10 rounds. You may rest for no longer than 30 seconds in between rounds.
Sample Lower body HIIT workout would look as follows
- 20 jump squats
- 10 pulse lunges (each leg)
- 2 min jog
– Repeat 8-10 rounds.
You could also include SIT (Sprint Interval Training) as part of your HIIT using only the treadmill (or a park and good running shoes).
My favourite SIT routine is as follows
- 1 min walk
- 30 sec jog
- 1 min sprint (as fast as you can)
– Repeat 10 rounds (25 minutes)
How long to HIIT: Since this is so challenging to the body, I recommend no more than 20-30 minutes. If done right, this is enough to exhaust you.
When to do this: Empty stomach HIIT works best for reduction of stored and stubborn fat (such as the belly area). You may lose muscle mass if you are in an extreme deficit or overdo HIIT.
How often to do this: No more than 2-3 sessions per week.
2) MISS: The moderate intensity steady state cardio is not as taxing on the system as HIIT. To avoid over training or burning out, I suggest you switch HIIT for MISS training once in a while. The concept of MISS is simple, 40-60 minutes of cardio maintaining a steady heart rate (about 60-70% above your resting heart rate). How exactly will you know when you have hit the 40% mark you ask. You should not be able to hold a conversation during your cardio but at the same time not keep grasping for breath throughout. Think of an hour long brisk walk along the beach, cycling, relaxed swimming, vinyasa yoga session etc are all excellent examples of MISS.
It is absolutely important to switch up your HIIT with MISS so that the body gets enough time to recover.
When to do this: In general, cardio is most effective when done empty stomach, but anytime works with MISS. I try and do them post weight training when I have time to myself with some good music. Avoid empty stomach training if you are fighting any metabolic diseases such as diabetes.
How often to include them: If you strength training 5-6 days a week and do HIIT 2-3 days per week, then add this in no more than 1-2 times per week. If not, feel free to do some extra sessions. For a beginner, I would suggest adding more MISS sessions than HIIT sessions.
3) Tabatha: As much as I know and believe spot reduction is not possible, I am a firm believer that you can spot- tone a particular muscle group like your arms/ glutes etc. I have struggled with hanging arm fat and bad shoulders forever and Tabatha training has really helped me spot tone these muscles. I did not want huge biceps or triceps but wanted to get rid of hanging fat and tone my arms. Tabatha is excellent for this.
Concept is similar to HIIT, give it your very best for 20 seconds (exact) and rest for ten seconds (exact). Repeat 8 rounds, or, four minutes (exact). Choose an activity that gets your heart rate high though.
For arms, my favourite to pick was the battling ropes post workout every alternate day. It was an excellent burn for the arms. Choose an activity like box jumps or mountain climbers for the abs/ core.
When to do this: Post weight training.
How often: Every alternate day if you can. You could alternatively shuffle between lower body and upper body everyday. Its only 4 minutes so will not take up a lot of time. Also remember to choose the muscle group you want to spot tone and work on that for a few weeks to see the difference. It is important to give the muscle group a recovery break of 48 hours so please don’t do squat tabatha everyday in the hopes of toning legs.
4) Circuit Cardio/ MRT : Now this is a fun one if you have a workout buddy or group to exercise with. This type of training technique is based on the principle of using maximum effort and all major muscle groups in the least amount of time. MRT (Metabolic Resistance Training) maximises your potential for change and build muscle mass also while losing fat. Some CrossFit WOD's fall under this category.
Concept: Use as many major muscle groups as possible for 30-40 minutes switching from one to another as fast as you can. Example do squats for 12 repetitions and move to pushups taking no break in between for 12 repetitions. This way when you are doing pushups, the muscles of the legs recover, also forcing the blood flow quickly from one part of the body to another.
- 100 jumping jacks
- 90 Bench dips
- 80 squats
- 70 Tricep kickbaks
- 60 crunches
- 50 jump lunges
- 40 pushups
- 30 reverse crunches
- 20 burpees
- 1 min plank
Feeling extra motivated? Well then repeat the circuit backwards!
While it is important to add cardiovascular training as part of your routine, it is very important not to overdo the same. Excess cardio can lead to bad joints and a low metabolism. In a long term, you want to stick to a routine that is sustainable and doable. Overtraining, just like under training will lead to nowhere. If you are constantly sore and tired from your workouts, its probably a good time to step back and analyse or talk to an expert.
Do checkout my plans here and get in touch to start writing your transformation story.