What types of cardio should I do to lose fat -- especially belly fat? It’s one the questions I am asked most by my clients and Girls Gone Strong community members, and it's not as simple as "do this" or "do that." It takes a combination of things to truly lose your belly fat over the long haul, and guess what? Exhausting yourself isn't one of them!
So what is the best type of cardio for fat loss? The answer to this question isn't quite as simple as it sounds, which is likely why so many of us still struggle. The truth is this: both high-intensity interval training and moderate-intensity cardio have their place in a balanced fat-loss training program, but it's even more important that you include the cardio that you'll actually do regularly!
Who cares if sprints are awesome for fat loss if you dread them so much that you skip them 70 percent of the time? What does it matter if riding a bike is great for you if you get so bored that you can't do it any longer than five minutes? You absolutely must enjoy the cardio you're doing -- and do it regularly -- for it to be effective.
For the last 10 to 15 years, high-intensity interval training, also known as HIIT, has become increasingly popular for its short and intense nature, and its ability to burn a large amount of calories in a short time. HIIT is generally defined as a period of intense work, followed by a period of rest, repeated for multiple sets.
While HIIT is fantastic for major calorie burn, you must be strong enough and conditioned well enough to actually push yourself hard during HIIT. It's not for the faint of heart. An example of a HIIT workout that can scale to almost any ability level is hill sprints.
Perform a thorough warm-up, and then sprint 30 to 50 yards up a nice, steep hill. The less advanced you are, the slower you should go, which is OK, because you'll still be working hard. If you're more advanced you should go faster, because you're prepared for that. The hill is self-limiting, which is perfect. Once you've sprinted to the top, walk back down, catch your breath and repeat. Most beginners will be done after four to six sprints, while more advanced individuals may want to do as many as 10. Doing this, or something similar two times a week, is killer for losing fat fast.
Moderate-intensity cardio, or MIC, is cardio done with your heart rate in the 120 to 150 beats per minute range. It's great for fat loss, but not exactly for the reasons you may think. Yes, it burns some calories, but the best part about moderate-intensity cardio is that it helps you recover from your more intense training, like weightlifting and HIIT.
When done in appropriate amounts, MIC actually helps increase your body's capacity for more intense activities that burn significantly more calories. It's also great to help you relax and de-stress, and improve your sleep patterns (which is critical for fat loss).
One important thing to note is that if your RHR (Resting Heart Rate) is above 65 (greater than 11 beats every 10 seconds, taken first thing in the morning), you should actually avoid HIIT and only do MIC cardio until you get your RHR below 65. An RHR above 65 indicates increased sympathetic nervous system tone, meaning that your body is essentially in a stressed, fight-or-flight mode all the time, and you need more relaxing activities, such as MIC.
A good place to start for most people in 30 to 40 minutes, twice a week. Ideal activities include: hiking, biking, swimming, or anything that keeps your heart rate in the 120 to 150 beats per minute range.
Diet plays a huge role in fat loss, especially stomach fat, and eating nutrient-dense foods in the right amounts is critical for long-term body fat loss. While calories are king in terms of how much weight you gain or lose, the composition of those calories has a major effect on body composition, meaning that if you’re eating a 500 calorie/day diet of doughnuts and french fries, you might lose weight, but you’re most likely losing muscle and not fat.
So what should you be eating and how much? For women, a good rule of thumb is a palm-sized serving of lean protein like chicken, fish or beef at every meal, a serving of vegetables or fruit the size of your fist, and a serving of fat approximately the size of your thumb.
On the days that you work out, you should add one to two handfuls of starchy carbs like sweet potatoes or rice to a couple of your meals to ensure that you’re getting adequate carbohydrates for a balanced diet. Some people will feel better with more carbs, some with less, so pay attention to your energy levels and cravings and adjust from there.
For men, it's approximately 1.5 to 2 times more than the recommended amount of food for women.
You should eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re 80 percent full, and make sure every meal takes at least 20 minutes to eat so you can recognize your hunger and fullness cues appropriately.