Story time, grab a chair. I did a program with my buddy David 3 years ago called Mechanical Drop Sets. David put on 30+lbs of solid bodyweight and I put on 20lbs+ in 12 weeks (a little pudge but mostly clean mass). It was insane. So were the workouts. On the high week it was upwards of 500 reps total per workout and there were 4 workouts per week. Ugh. Add it to the list of programs I’ll venture to use again on myself.
On the 9-12 week part of the program it calls for you to add in cardio training. One short, very intense. One medium intensity, more time. And one 45 minute jog. Add 20lbs to your body in such a short period of time and you figure you’re going to suck at running. We got out to the track and began running on the 9th week. Aside from some low back tension, to our surprise we were killing it with the running. How the hell was that possible? We just lifted heavy sh*t for 9 weeks, gained insane body weight and should be like a turtle but here we are, heart rate easy, legs moving freely. Hmmm…
Do this: Pick up a dumbbell, a moderate weight, hold it up in front of you and squat 20 times fairly fast and low (range of motion).
Now put the weight down. Tell me about your heart rate….
It’s sky-high, right?! So weight training can equate to cardiovascular training as well. Those 500 rep workouts were equating to a cardiovascular system that was also improved. Cool, I hate cardio so now I finally had my excuse why I’ll never have to do it.
Give your head a shake, Adrian. The #1 cause of men dying is heart disease. 26% in fact (cancer is close at 24%, then it drops to 7% for unintentional injuries which to me reads stupid guy machismo). For women: the #1 cause of death is also heart disease at 26% (cancer is 2nd at 22%, stroke is next at 7%). So this means I should be smart and not only make my heart stronger by lifting things but actually training my cardiovascular system as if it were an important body part that should have its own specified training. But I still hate cardio so it’s gotta be something I can actually sorta enjoy doing.
So let’s get on that:
15 Different Cardio Styles That Actually Work
I’m going to classify these into three categories to make it easy. High Intensity (usually interval style; something you can only keep up less than 20 mins), Moderate Intensity (usually exercises or machines that are difficult to keep up longer than 30 mins), Low Intensity (think jogging for 45+ mins). I’ll talk a little about each variation and then sum this up with discussion on which is right for you.
High Intensity: <=20 Minutes
1. Tabatas. Time commitment: 4-15 mins. I’m going to do a separate blog about Tabatas but essentially it’s named after a Japanese exercise expert who discovered that doing 20 seconds all out effort followed by 10 seconds short recovery for 8 rounds which equates to 4 minutes total on a stationary bike improved VO2Max (breathing/cardio capacity) more than endurance style cardio or ANY style being done. In the fitness industry today we refer to a Tabata more in relation to the timing (20 sec GO:10 sec REST x 8 = 4mins) but we use a zillion different exercises. Again, I’ll get more into Tabata info in another post. Instead for now, watch this video and follow the instructions in the “see more” description of the video. The video is essentially a double Tabata which is no one’s business doing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jWvpddp3zw
2. Max-OT cardio. Time commitment: 16mins. I’ll tell you two things about Max-OT training: 1) it’s by far the most effective cardio on the planet for fat loss and 2) it becomes the most brutal form of cardio by about the 3rd week. You can use any machine in a gym that has the “Interval” setting but the recumbent bike is the best. I don’t even do it on any other equipment. Sit on the bike, set up your height adjustments, start it up on the interval program, pedal like a maniac for 16 mins. Record the calories burned (not for accuracy, just for tracking) and every single time you get back on that machine to do this cardio you MUST beat that calories burned number. You can do that by increasing resistance or RPM on the pedals. Trust me, come the 3rd week of doing this 2-3x a week you’ll really know what I mean by the two points above. Oh, and build yourself a couple 4 or 5 song iPod playlists that amp you up like crazy. Music makes this torture much better. Read more here: http://ast-ss.com/information/?p=17
3. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). Time commitment: ~20 mins. The above style of cardio is really a specific format for HIIT. In reality HIIT can be done a million different ways. Generally speaking work:rest ratios of 1:2 or 1:3 work best. For example I could go outside and after a warm up jog of 5 minutes I would then perform 10 “intervals” of 30 second all out sprint followed by 90 seconds of a very light jog (1 to 3 work:rest ratio), then follow it up with a 3-5 minute cool down jog back home. You can use machines at the gym also, any program where you see lots of hills is meant to work in this fashion. High heart rate followed by lower heart rate, repeated, then tapered off. Two things everyone should read: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-intensity_interval_training and http://cbass.com/FATBURN.HTM You’ll have a hard time justifying the time-wasting hour-long runs 5 x a week when 3-5 x 20minutes of HIIT produces up to double the fat loss results.
4. Tire Flips, Car Pushing (or insert any odd object hard work exercise). Time commitment: 10-20 minutes. This is pretty simple logistically. Most people don’t have access to a giant tire. If you do (there’s one at my gym if you’re bored) just do this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EEpU5UDkUEs for 10 minutes, resting the least amount possible; way easier mentally when you have a partner. Or just get your spouse, friend, random person that can laugh at you while sitting behind the wheel to steer your car in a large empty parking lot while you get behind and push that sucker back and forth for 10-20 minutes. Sorta like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBa8oeL9MKk
Moderate Intensity: 20-30 minutes
*by moderate intensity I’m not implying these cardio styles aren’t brutal or any less effective but to get my point across: it’s not like you’re going to push your car for 30 minutes straight, though you could probably jog for 30 minutes. That’s the sort of difference I’m talking about here. The sum total of difficultly should aim to be the same, regardless of the time (4 minutes or 60 minutes). If it is not, assess if you’re working hard enough or the style you chose was effective enough.
6. Hill Repeats. Time commitment: 20-30 minutes. Endurance athletes do this type of work frequently to simulate what happens come half and full marathons where they face hills that make the long runs more difficult. I suggest you find the biggest, baddest hill close to your house. I want you to start at the top of the hill. Walk down it quickly for a warm up. Now run as fast as possible up the hill (it’s going to slow big time as you approach the top). Walk or jog back down. Repeat for 20 minutes. It’s okay that your pace slows. You just do your absolute best to go fast up that hill. Your lungs will be on fire! In Surrey, we have some great hills. I like 140 street at 80th-74th ave. 144 street at 80th-76th ave is great too. I find hills that are 2-5 blocks and sharply climb at some point are best.
7. Jump Rope. Time commitment: 20-30 minutes. I’ll start this by saying I’m convinced guys were not designed to jump rope. While the girls played double dutch at recess, I was busy playing soccer. I’m compensating here because I suck at jumping rope. About 5 minutes in and my calves go on fire. I did do a stint where I worked my way up to 20 minutes. My cardiovascular became mint! Crazy effective, but if you’re like me and can only last 5 minutes at a time in the beginning best to start somewhere else first; you need a good 10 minutes at least to create EPOC (more at end). Still, there is little that beats a good jump rope workout.
That young kid mid-flight would have been me trying to play with the girls at recess
8. Sled or Prowler Push & Pull Drills. Time commitment: 20-30 minutes. Most of you don’t have access to a sled or better yet, a Prowler. Be thankful for that. I love taking the sled, throwing 100lbs on it and dragging it up and down a long parking lot facing backward and forward. Something incredibly satisfying to me about it. Your lungs, legs, calves, glutes, arms and everything else will be on fire. I like to push or pull down the parking lot at the gym (194meters), rest about 1-2 mins at the end, turn that bad boy around and head back. When I start swaying all over the place like a drunkard, it’s time to stop. Check this video for an idea of the fun you’re missing out on: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FMkImuPvZOg
9. Partner Resisted Running Drills. Time commitment: 20-30 minutes. If you pushed this drill hard you could really kill yourself off in 15 minutes. But I’m making the assumption you’d do this fresh, as cardio only on its own where I’d suggest you do this 20 minutes with 30-120 second rest at the end of each parking lot, field or street length. For the set up you’d need a resistance band that you could attach to a partner. Something like this product: http://stroops.com/shop/leap-frog/ which you can get at a local Fitness Town for about $70. Best wait till next spring for this device unless you like running outside in crappy weather. Doing drills where one person is held back by the drag (person in back) for 30-90 seconds of running, then the back person runs to the front and the person being resisted last time now is putting resistance on the front person (think leap frog). This can get competitive, aggressive but try it for a good jog with a partner with mild drag. Will add a MASSIVE difference in difficulty. Check this video for an idea: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_pdiCn2Mec
10. Stair Running. Time commitment: 20-30 minutes. Find a large stair case, preferably 150-200 stairs+. Run up it as fast as possible, walk quickly down. Repeat for time. A great idea my gal came up with was to take a piece of sidewalk chalk and mark off each time you reach the top. When you get out to do the cardio again, try adding another round while maintaining roughly the same amount of time it took the last time (20-30 minutes).
Low Intensity: 30-90 minutes (or more)
11. Stubborn Fat Loss Protocol 2.0. Time commitment: 45-75mins. This comes direct from Lyle McDonald’s book which you can find here: http://www.bodyrecomposition.com/the-stubborn-fat-solution I’m not going to bother explaining what he does so well in the book. Essentially, this cardio is best when you’re already lean but struggling to target the “stubborn” pockets of fat. If you’ve got 20+lbs to lose, don’t bother with this cardio, your fat pockets are too big to be trying to target. How to do it (I’m going to use the example of bodyweight and treadmill which is what I personally prefer): Dynamic Warm Up (check this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5ez8uALRDM ) for 5 minutes. Interval 1: 15 seconds ALL OUT burpees (equals about 6-9 reps depending on quality) followed by 45 seconds of jogging lightly on the spot or around gym x 5 rounds = 5 mins. DO NOTHING (maybe go pee and put on your iPod) for 5 minutes (no longer) which facilitates fatty acid release for the next part. Treamill uphill walk for 30-40 minutes (rate of perceived exertion about 4-5 out of 10, so able to carry conversation easily); typical “fat burning” zone cardio. Interval 2 (zero rest after treadmill walk): 30 seconds box jumps onto bench or 2nd step (STEP DOWN don’t jump down), 30 seconds jogging on spot or around gym x 5-10 rounds = 5-10 minutes. 5 minute stretching cool down. You can use a machine for the entire thing. You can switch burpees and box jumps for other stuff of equal intensity but I find this works best. If you add each step up you’re looking at 60-75 mins. Get the book if you want more info.
12. Hamster Wheel Cardio (Treadmill uphill walk) Especially in a fasted state/first thing in morning). Time commitment: 45-60mins. This has got to be the most boring, wanna-shoot-myself cardio on the planet. But it works. Especially in a fasted state where you get right on the treadmill, set incline to about 10-12.5 and speed at a moderately fast walking pace and go to it for 45-60 minutes. Then eat a great breakfast (protein, slow burning carbs, fruit). I like this cardio for when I’m just lazy as all hell. Get a podcast of something interesting or better yet, freak the people out beside you by loading up a comedy MP3 (Chris Rock is my favorite) and laughing the calories away. One warning, do this too often or as your only source of cardio and you’ll quickly lose the benefits of it. That and you can develop shin splints.
13. Jogging/Running. Time commitment: 30minutes – 4 hours. Given the option of sprinting up a giant hill till I throw up or running for 2 hours I’m going to always choose the former. I hate long distance running. One of the first questions I ask a new client is if they prefer sprinting for short distances or running lightly for longer distances. Right off the bat everyone knows which type they are. It could be that our body knows which muscle fiber type (explosive or endurance) we are more made up of or that we did more of one than the other as a kid. It doesn’t matter. Some of my clients in the best shape of their lives are over 40 or 50 years old and run 1/2 marathons, full marathons or triathalons. It’s great exercise if you enjoy doing it. It’s not the be all end all, you will require some resistance training to ward off injuries from this type of activity but the point is endurance cardio, like running burns calories which is a big part of why it leads to a leaner body. I will say this though, of all the forms of cardio, this one when stopped even for a week will equate to the fastest loss of recent body fat reductions. Generally because with your other exercise and eating it was the running that was tipping you into a caloric deficit and therefore creating the fat loss overall. Lose that caloric deficit and run into a surplus again and BANG, welcome back thunder thighs. Add in weight training to stop this cycle from happening.
14. Spin Classes. Time commitment: 45-90 minutes. I’ve done the whole of 3 spin classes in my life. I’ll tell you two things 1) your ass will kill the first couple of times as you’re not used to a hard seat riding up your ass for that long and 2) it’s super hard if the instructor is worth a damn. Heed my advice at the end of this article about variation, especially in regards to spin classes. I challenge you to do 4 weeks of 1-2 spin classes a week and I guarantee you’ll have some sweet fat loss, lower thigh toning/building (a good thing) and a great bump up in cardiovascular activity. Bring a towel…or better yet, a mop. You’re going to need it.
15. NEPA (Non-exercise specific physical activity): Time commitment: 45minutes to all day. The gym I first worked at had a relatively small parking lot. Every single day, without fail, at the busy periods you’d find 2-3 overweight people sitting in their running car waiting for a parking spot to open up within 20 paces of the front door. They’d wait (no lie) anywhere from 10-30 minutes. I’m talking overweight people going to a gym that don’t want to park 1/2 a block away because that’s too far to walk. Holy %!@# I still shake my head at this. The best way to explain NEPA is the intention to create activity where possible. Choice between the escalator or stairs: choose stairs. Choice of parking 2 stalls away from the grocery store’s front doors or way in the back of the parking lot AND CARRY your groceries to your car not cart them, do the latter. Go for a 30 minute walk after dinner or before bed to “clear the day” from your brain. Go walk your dog who is also getting fat. Just add activity absolutely everywhere you can find it. I can’t recall the last time I used a cart at the grocery store. At Costco when they look at my gal and ask where our buggy is, I chime in proudly “I’m the buggy!”
Stop using your children as a slave labour force! Carry your own groceries, or better yet: be an all-star and piggy back them while carrying the groceries to the very back of the parking lot where you parked!
A Word of Caution
I’ve said before and will say many times again, the body is a system of adaptation. Eventually as hard as _____ is, it will get easier and therefore less effective in regards to fat burning. So change your cardio type often. And change the INSTANT you start feeling tweaky joints of any kind every time you get on a machine or do a movement. Stair stepper hurting your knee, hmmm, maybe you should get a knee scope done. Or maybe just use a different machine that doesn’t hurt!!! Utilize common sense here.
The Right Choice For You
I read once in a woman’s training magazine that the best cardio is the one you do. I got all uppity and was like, no! This is the best cardio possible… But really, whatever you do often of the above list (or other effective stuff) is really going to be what works “best.” Max-OT may be the most effective but not if you hate it so much you never do it. If someone asked me what the best strategy to add cardio to their weight training program for the ultimate fat loss would be, I’d say you should pick 1 high intensity exercise (like Max-OT cardio), 1 moderate intensity exercise (like stair running) and 1 long distance, low intensity exercise like a 45 minute jog outside each week. Up the ante every time you get out to do it! That’s paramount. When in doubt add more high intensity bouts of exercise. Why? If I can get done in 15 minutes what others are getting done in 60 minutes, I’d prefer to spend my life doing something else that I don’t hate doing!
The Last Word on Metabolism: EPOC!
Read this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Excess_post-exercise_oxygen_consumption To me this is everything. Again, if I’m going to spend time doing this cardio thing, it had better give me results much longer than the time I’m doing it. So if I’m running 5 hours a week I hope to hell there’s some carry over in the remaining 163 hours in my week! You’ll note the greatest increase in EPOC was noted in High Intensity Interval (HIIT) style of cardio selections. The greater the EPOC the greater the elevation in metabolism and caloric expenditure following exercise. Do that frequently and you’ll see fat loss.
Make Everything Better: Weigh More
No, I’m not talking about eating 20 Timbits and then going out for a 30 minute NEPA walk. If there is ONE single way to make every one of the above 15 cardio styles WAY more effective it’s via a weight vest. We’re talking 20-50% more benefit depending on the weight of the vest. 10-20lbs is all you need, trust me! Although pricey there’s one vest in mind I feel is best because of its low profile nature (not bulky) and because you could wash it (once all the weights were removed): http://www.hyperwear.com/buy/weight-vest.html/ Locally you can get one at Fitness Town.
Alright, that’s it. Pick 1-3 options above. Put in work. Find your abs (they are under there). Don’t screw it all up by eating poorly. Do weight training on top of cardio for longer lasting results. Lower your risk significantly of developing the #1 killer of both men and women: heart disease!
P.S. If you haven’t put in some forethought into the footwear you’re using during this cardio this is a must read: https://adriancrowe.wordpress.com/2011/09/19/your-feet/
BTW, you can now find me on:
Facebook page at Adrian Crowe Athletic Training “The Crowe’s Nest”
or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org