post by Amy Tulip, NASM CPT

What cardio burns fat fast and effectively?

interval-training-cardio-burns-fat-fastI could spend hours lifting weights, but put me on a treadmill, and three minutes feels like standing on hot coals while fire ants devour my legs! Dramatic, I know.

Am I the only one who *hates* cardio? I didn’t think so.

Now, even though I strongly dislike cardio, I understand the benefit to my body. Cardio burn fat fast, given the right method. And if you’re like me, you want to know how to get maximum benefit in minimal time. Here’s what you need to know to do it.

For general purposes, we can group cardio into two categories – Low Intensity Steady State Cardio (LISS) and High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). I’ll briefly discuss both and share the scientifically-proven method to get maximum fat burn in minimal time.

Low Intensity Steady State (LISS) Cardio

Low intensity steady state cardio (like an easy 30-45 minute jog) is beneficial for your body and should be incorporated into your workouts 2-3 times/week. Here’s why LISS is helpful for you:

  • Increases your cardiovascular endurance
  • Increases your insulin sensitivity (decreasing your risk of insulin resistance)
  • Acts as a recovery workout for your body
  • Burns fat
  • Increases your aerobic fitness
  • Great for beginners (low intensity that can be sustained)

LISS workouts can be very rejuvenating and relaxing…but they are time consuming. And you probably started reading this post because you want to know the magic behind burning fat as fast as possible.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) Cardio

High intensity interval training (HIIT) comes in all shapes and sizes. You can use this form of training in sprints, all-outs on a bike, or even with body weight exercises like burpees and squat jumps. You can even change up the interval lengths to match your fitness level and goals. In short, HIIT is doing an exercise at maximal intensity for a set amount of time and then recovering for a set amount of time. My favorite HIIT is known as Tabata.

Tabata Training

Named after Dr. Izumi Tabata, who did the research that supports the now-popular 20/10 Tabata training is not only effective, it’s quick! In just 4 minutes, Tabata training will increase your metabolism, put you in oxygen debt, and torch fat during (and hours after) your workout. The best thing: 4 minutes of Tabata cardio burns fat fast, producing the same aerobic benefits as a 60-minute moderate intensity workout.

So, what exactly is a Tabata workout? Tabata is 20 seconds of maximal effort followed by 10 seconds of rest for 4 minutes. Exercises that give the most benefit in a Tabata workout include sprints, rowing, bicycling, swimming, or other non-stop movements that allow you to give it your maximal effort without any rest until the 20 seconds is over. I do all out sprints on a treadmill for 20 seconds and then step on the side rails for the 10-second recovery. As the weather allows, I take my Tabata sprints outside.

You might be thinking, “I thought you hated cardio?” I do. I can’t stand running on a treadmill. But because Tabata workouts are so brief and so intense, I don’t really have time to think about how much I hate them until the 4 minutes is over, and I collapse. Knowing that I can get many of the same benefits in 4 minutes of Tabatas as I can from 60 minutes of moderate cardio helps me begin to like Tabatas just a little bit. Plus, there’s the afterburn that I’ve grown to love.

The “Afterburn”

I mentioned above that HIIT workouts, like Tabata, help you to burn fat for hours after your workout. How? Due to the intensity of the workout, you put your body into what is called oxygen debt. (That feeling you get when you can barely catch your breath because you’re running so fast – that’s oxygen debt.) As a way to catch up with all of that oxygen debt after your Tabata, your body goes into what is known as Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC). Your body increases its oxygen consumption to restore itself to a resting state. To restore your body to resting state you need fuel. And what’s better fuel than body fat? Thus, the more intense (not duration but intensity) your workout the more oxygen debt you create leaving your body with a higher need of energy to power the EPOC process. In some studies, the EPOC effect can still be found, even 38 hours after the workout!

If you feel like the Tabata Protocol might just crush you, you may have other options. Additional research has shown similar benefits using maximal effort followed by longer rest periods. You spend more time, but you might find it more sustainable. And consistency is key.

While most workouts produce some sort of EPOC, the more intense they are the longer the EPOC will last. Thus, 60 minutes jogging may burn 400 calories but not many more afterwards. If 4 minutes of crazy-intense running can give me an extra 24 hours (or more) of fat burning, I’ll find a way to convince myself to like cardio…just a little bit.

Sources: Dr. Izumi Tabata, Tabata research and additional maximal effort protocols