Take a look around most gyms and you’ll see lots of people doing cardio. Cardio is great for fat loss and general health and most fitness trainers will tell you that the best cardio for weight loss is what is often referred to as steady state cardio or, in running parlance, long slow distance training or LSD for short.
Steady state cardio is very popular for a number of reasons…
1. It puts you in your fat burning zone where you are mainly using fat for energy
2. It’s comfortable and relatively easy to do
3. Most fitness trainers don’t know any better
The thing is, while steady state cardio does put you in your fat burning zone and yes, you are predominatelhy burning fat for fuel, you are burning very little of that pesky stuff. Steady state cardio is a lot like sitting at the traffic light in you car with the engine running slowly and smoothly – very economical.
If you are serious about fat burning, the last thing you want to be is economical! You want to rev your fat burning engine and waste as much fuel as possible and that means getting up and out of the so-called fat burning zone.
Using the car analogy again, if you drive ten miles slowly, you will use minimal amounts of fuel. If, however, you drive ten miles with your foot flat on the floor you will use lots more gas. That’s the difference between steady state cardio and the alternative, interval training.
Interval training, as all good fitness instructors should know, is a period of high intensity exercise (sprinting) alternated with periods of low intensity recovery. These bursts of speed will take you out of your aerobic fat burning zone and into the realms of anaerobic exercise where oxygen is in short supple and your body starts to produce lactic aid. Not only does this level of intensity require more energy, it also triggers somemthing very exciting: EPOC.
EPOC stands for Excessive Post-Exercie Oxygen Consumption which is also known as oxygen debt or after burn. In a nutshell, EPOC means that, after a lactic acid producing interval training workout, you metabolism is elevated for hours after exercise, so not only do you burn more calories while you workout, you also burn a whole lot more in the hours that follow. Back to our car analogy, after you have driven you car with you foot to the floor, once you turn the engine off it stays hot for hours as it sits ticking away in your garage. Interval training does the same thing to your body except you’ll also burn more fat too!
Despite the title of this article, you don’t have to strap on your spikes and head down to the running track to do your sprints. You can do sprints on just about any type of cardio machine as well as in the more traditional way of running as fast as you can. You can do sprints on an exercise bike, a cross trainer, a rower…even using a jump rope. For our purposes, sprinting simply means going fast.
How fast? Just short of full speed will do it. Hold this pace for 20 to 60 seconds and then take it easy for 60 to 120 seconds. Repeat this on/off sequence for as many sets as you like – five or so is a good place to start. Adjust these figures according to your fitness levels and exercise experience or follow the interval plan your fitness trainer designs for you.
Because interval training is intense, most workouts of this nature are shorter than typical steady state cardio sessions. 20-30 minutes of sprints will torch your body fat and also really maximize your fitness. More effective for fat loss, more economical. What’s not to like about interval training?
The next time your fitness trainer suggests another long steady state workout, why not ask them to mix things up a bit and give you some sprints instead. You have nothing to lose but fat!
By Mark Darco
Mark Darco is a certified personal trainer and boxing instructor with 15 years experience. He has completed multiple certifications and has trained hundreds of clients in the NYC area.