Getting your cardio routine together to help you reach the goal of losing belly fat is one of the most critical elements of your workout program design and set-up.
There’s been a lot of debate recently about the best type of cardio to perform in order to lose belly fat. Should you perform plenty of long, slow cardio training that has you working in the ‘fat burning zone’, or are you better off performing high intensity interval training that will work you at a much faster pace and only be performed for around 20 minutes?
The answer is simply this: long, slow cardio sucks. While yes, you will burn calories if you run for long periods of time, other chemical reactions are happening in your body that are actually DESTROYING muscle and preventing yourself from losing belly fat. So let’s dispel this myth once and for all – no more long slow cardio!
The alternative to long, slow cardio of course, as previously mentioned, is high intensity interval training. High intensity interval training is simply rotating rest and high intensity work (be it sprinting or biking) in short time intervals. Interval training can vary – from 10 second sprints with 30 second rests to 60 seconds of running with 60 seconds of rest. Your rest:recovery ratio and amount of sets will vary depending on your fitness levels and your goals.
Who Should Do High Intensity Interval Training?
The first thing you need to consider is your fitness level. The truth is this: if you’re completely out of shape and haven’t worked out in months, or very overweight high intensity interval training is not for you. Unfortunately, you’re probably not in shape enough to sprint without putting yourself at serious risk of injury. If this is you, then I would instead recommend slowly building up your “fitness tolerance” i.e. how in shape you are. I would start by lifting weights and walking (not at the same time!). As you become stronger, you can start to test out sprinting/HIIT and see how you feel. I wouldn’t go 100% at first, I would start off at around 75% of your speed and build up from there.
I would NEVER recommend jogging or running at a low speed to someone out of shape/overweight. It’s a recipe for injury and disaster.
If you’re someone who already has been exercising for a few months or years, then you likely can dive right into intervals without a problem. Take note though that intervals are very intense, if you’re doing too many sessions per week you may start to overtrain. You’ll definitely want to start out slow (which is something to always keep in mind in fitness: when in doubt, start out slow) so you’ll want to only add 2-3 sessions per week for best results.
Why Intervals Are Vastly Superior For Fat Loss
“Common sense” will tell you that long cardio workouts will be better for fat loss, as they will burn more calories during the workout (because you’re working out longer). However, what “common sense” wont tell you is that when you do high intensity interval work, it causes a huge spike in your metabolism, causing you to burn calories at an elevated rate for up to 24 hours after your workout. So you end up burning MORE calories for working out less. High intensity intervals can also help build muscle and boost muscle definition.
Overall, high intensity interval training is far superior for actually increasing your fitness level, as you force your muscles to work harder to keep up the pace of the workout.
Want to try HIIT? Here’s a sample workout courtesy of Craig Ballantyne of TurbulenceTraining.com:
- Warm up for 5 minutes
- Work at an 8/10 level of intensity for 60 seconds (a 10/10 being running for your life)
- Your heart rate should be near maximal at the end of the interval.
- Follow those 60 seconds with active rest for 60 seconds at a 3/10 level of intensity. Active rest is walking or pedaling very slowly.
- Repeat 6 times.
- Finish with a 5 minute cooldown at 3/10 intensity.
That workout should be good to get you started. Craig actually specializes in fat loss workouts, and he has one specifically for interval training that you can check out here: Interval Training Workouts. Craig’s workouts are great because they are generally focused around bodyweight exercise (meaning you don’t need to spend money on equipment), fast (30-45 minutes at the MOST) and are incredibly effective in getting people lean, improving sports performance, and building strength…all at the same time.
I highly recommend anything by Craig – and I think you should definitely check his program out.