This article discusses how a beginner new to cardiovascular training should create a fitness plan, how long the workout should last, what types of cardio is best for you, and how intense the workouts should be.
A lot of times, cardio for a beginner translates to someone looking for the correct way to perform a 100% cardio workout routine because they’re either timid, uneducated, intimidated, or bias about the benefits of weight training along with aerobic exercise.
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How Cardio And Weight Training Go Together
I don’t care if you’re a female, male, fat, skinny, tall, short, a track star, or a powerlifter. It won’t change that the underlying foundation of your fitness routine should always include weight training.
Why do you ask…
There are normally two goals people have in mind when they start to work out.
- Lose Weight
- Build Muscle
To properly attack both of these goals, you need to have a plan that includes its cardiovascular and weight training aspects.
If, your goal is to lose weight
- Weight training will help you keep the lean muscle you already have, keeping your body focused on burning your extra fat reserves. It will also activate the process known as Nutrient Partitioning, this is where the body decides if it has to store the energy from your diet or burn it, ideally you’d like all those nutrients to be partitioned to muscle as opposed to fat.
- Cardio when done alongside a proper nutrition plan is very efficient at burning fat and will be used to keep you in a calorie deficit for a long period of time.
Now lets say your goal is to build muscle
- To build muscle, you have to push your body to the point where it feels it needs to adapt to the stresses you’re putting it under, and weight training is the single most efficient means to achieve this.
- Cardio will help control how much fat your body stores during a weightlifting routine because you’ll be in a calorie surplus.
The subject of which cardio exercises burn the most fat is highly debatable and controversial.
The expert opinions differ about the intensity levels, duration, and frequency; everybody has a different idea of what makes the perfect cardio session.
The truth is, executing a proper cardio routine is very straightforward.
Anyone putting in the effort to perform anaerobic exercise is looking to burn calories; any exercise done at a high level of intensity for a sufficient amount of time will allow you to reach this goal.
A couple of factors to think about when creating a cardio plan
- Reduce any chance of injury.
- Pay attention to your calorie intake and how much cardio you do to minimize lean muscle loss.
- Be as productive as possible at burning calories.
- Cardio exercise will increase your appetite; you will need to learn how to cope with this.
I will touch on all of these above topics, talk about how long each session should last, how often you should perform them, and which intensity levels are the best for your goals.
Different Cardio intensity levels
There are countless cardio exercises.
- jumping rope
- running stairs
- mountain climbing
I could name dozens more, but I think you get the point; any one of these options, in the end, will give you the same outcome; they’ll all burn calories, reduce fat gains during a bulking session or burn a higher percentage of fat during a cutting phase.
The only difference is some need a higher amount of intensity from you to perform than others. So, for example, running is going to tire you out quicker than walking.
So now you’re thinking, which one is better?
This is where we’re going to get into the controversial part of the argument.
For years, we were told that you didn’t want to work yourself too hard, and you wanted to stay at a comfortable pace, meaning you would still be able to hold a conversation with someone while performing your exercise.
In other words, you’re not breathing very hard.
The reason behind this stems from the way your body uses its energy resources.
When you’re exercising at a comfortable pace and your oxygen supplies are equal to your oxygen demands, fat will be your body’s primary choice for a fuel source.
When you start to perform at a higher intensity level, known as anaerobic exercises, your body will switch to carbohydrates as its primary fuel source.
I know what you’re thinking; if my goal is to burn fat and low-intensity cardio forces your body to burn fat as its primary energy source, that must be the most efficient method to lose weight.
Not so quick…
While low-intensity cardio sessions that last a long time, such as a 40-minute walk, will burn a larger % of fat during the actual exercise.
High intensity, low duration cardio exercises, or HIIT for short, will burn a greater NET amount of body fat lasting Beyond the actual exercise.
That means that when your sitting on the couch after your high-intensity workout is over, you’ll still be burning fat; in fact, the fat-burning effects will last for hours after the exercise is done.
This is possible because of the oxygen deficit you create within your body during a HIIT workout. The body is then forced to burn an excessive amount of calories to make up for the deficit.
In the end, HIIT workouts destroy a higher amount of total body fat while maintaining the largest % of lean muscle mass. This is exactly what you want, no matter if you’re trying to build muscle or lose weight.
You have to be careful how many HIIT sessions you do a week depending on what other workouts you’re performing,
If you do weight training 4 days a week, adding 2 or 3 HIIT sessions on top of that may be too much.
Just be careful and do what is best for you while still achieving your goals.
How long should a cardio workout last
How long your cardio workouts last will vary depending on what intensity you’re performing them at.
Intensity and duration will always go hand in hand.
The harder you work out, the less time your body will keep that pace up.
The average HIIT workout lasts between 15 to 20 minutes, and I would say that if you’re easily able to exceed 20 minutes, you probably are not performing at a high enough intensity.
Or you’re an alien. If you are, there isn’t anything wrong with that, just saying.
Low-intensity workouts normally last around 45 to 60 minutes.
How Frequent Should You Do Cardio Workouts
There isn’t a one size fits all answer to this.
Individual body types, goals, diets all need to be considered when answering this question.
Even what type of job you do will play a role; if you work in an office and sit on your butt for most of the day, you will need more cardio.
If you’re bending re-barb and constantly in a state of motion throughout the day, then you will need less.
I know this is common sense, but a lot of people don’t consider it.
Your goals will determine this as well.
If you’re trying to build muscle, you need to be on a calorie surplus, so you don’t want to overdo the cardio and put yourself into a calorie deficit.
If your goal is to burn fat, you will find yourself doing more cardio to maintain the calorie deficit.
As a beginner’s rule, I would say to perform 2 to 3 cardio sessions a week and track your progress and modify it as needed.
If you have proper nutrition and weight training plan in place, you shouldn’t exceed more than 3 cardio sessions a week; if you’re not implementing any weight training exercises, you will probably be around 4 or 5 sessions a week.
When should You Do Your Cardio workouts
This is going to depend on what other workouts you’re doing alongside your cardio workouts.
If you do not include any weight training exercises, you can perform cardio whenever it best fits your day-to-day life.
If you’re planning on balancing your fitness routine with cardio and weight training, you will need to modify it.
If performing cardio and weight training on the same day, try to separate them by 8 hours; you never want to do cardio training directly before weight training.
Efficient weight training comes from lifting as heavy as you can as many times as you can within a set of reps and sets, depending on your goal. It would help if you always went into the gym as focused, energized, and strong as you can help.
If you absolutely have to perform one or the other right after each other due to time restraints, always do cardio after weights; keep in mind though this may hinder the recovery of your muscles and, in the end, produce negative results.
I always recommend performing your cardio on your off days, or if time allows, do your cardio in the morning and weight training in the afternoon or vice versa.
How To Structure HIIT Workouts
The premise behind HIIT training is that you will perform an exercise at a higher intensity for a certain amount of time. You will perform at a lower intensity for a set amount of time and then repeat the process.
The positives of interval training are…
- You will expend maximum energy throughout the entire session.
- It maximizes the number of calories.
- Allows time to rest while performing the low-intensity intervals.
- Creates mental benefits also. Since you’re not continuing at the same pace the entire time, the exercise won’t seem monotonous.
- Your body will continue to burn fat even after you’re done with the initial workout.
You can use countless interval combinations, so don’t focus too much on the numbers; there isn’t one interval structure that will burn significantly more fat than another.
Just make sure that you aren’t half-assing your workouts and you’re making continuous progress.
If you’re a beginner, you’re not going to start with advanced interval training. You will need to start with a lower intensity plan; you can push yourself with a higher intensity plan if you’re at a more advanced stage.
Intensity Intervals For Beginners
90 to 120 seconds of high intensity / 90 to 120 seconds of low intensity
This will not fit everyone; use it as a guideline and modify it as needed; it’s too easy to shorten the intervals and do the opposite if it’s too hard.
As you get used to it and get in better shape, you’ll be able to perform at a higher pace.
During the high-intensity part of the exercise, you want to train at an intensity greater than you used to.
For example, you’re on your favorite machine at the gym, and your normal resistance is setting 4 or 5, you’ll want to raise that to 7 or 8.
Often, I see people treat the low-intensity part of the exercise as a break; this isn’t what you should do; scale the resistance back to a 4 or 5.
As a beginner, I would push to do around 5 or 6 intervals.
Moderate Intensity Intervals
30 to 60 seconds of high intensity / 30 to 60 seconds oh low intensity
This will be harder as you will be pushing yourself with almost maximum effort during the high-intensity part.
This doesn’t mean 100% since you can’t sustain a full effort for that long, but you should be pushing yourself as hard as you can.
Since you’ll be working out at a higher intensity level, the lower intensity level will have to be modified to a lower level to help you recover.
Again this doesn’t mean you stop working; you need to set a pace where you are still moving and not letting your heart get too low but recovering enough for the next high-intensity interval.
I want to reiterate that the times above are guidelines, and you need to decide what is safe for you while still progressing and achieving results. Your times will vary depending on your fitness level and experience.
You’ll look to perform between 6 to 10 of these intermediate intervals to make a full session.
High Intensity Intervals (your muscles are going to burn)
These exercises will be performed at an all-out pace and should only be performed if you feel comfortable working at this extreme; with enough rest in between intervals, you will be expected to perform at 100% during the high-intensity part of the exercise.
It would help wind things down to the point where you are staying in motion but barely exerting any effort for the lower intensity part.
This extreme will shorten your workouts’ duration while giving you the most desired effect on your caloric expenditure.
As a warning, when these high-intensity exercises are performed properly, they will kick your butt; they are brutal and require a lot of focus and determination.
If you choose a lower-end interval time, for example, 15 seconds high intensity and 30 seconds low intensity, I would use either a stationary bike, spin bike, recumbent bike, or outdoor sprinting.
If you’ve decided to use a bike for your workout, a spin bike offers the highest calorie burn compared to stationary and recumbent bikes. Thus, it’s a great option if you’re looking for the quickest way to burn fat. Although spin bikes are commonly used by cyclists who want to train indoors, you can still use one as part of your fitness program. Just make sure to weigh the pros and cons of each of your options so you can get a hold of the best spin bike for your needs and preferences.
I would shy away from a treadmill because the treadmill’s speed won’t be able to adjust up and down quickly enough to keep up with the pace of your session.
You’ll complete 4 to 8 of these high intervals to make up a session.
Exercise Tips For Beginners
Start with an interval program and intensity level that you feel safe with, and focus on progressing from there. Always err on the side of caution and start with a lower intensity level and gradually build up.
You can go all out for 20 seconds and rest for 40 to 60 seconds. Even if you feel that this isn’t hard enough, gradually building up reduces your risk of injury and lets you avoid burnout.
Always do a warmup before any exercise. This will allow your body to be prepared for all the actions you’re going to do. With circular movements, it’s best to warm up your major joints first, including your wrists, neck, hips, shoulders, ankles, and legs.
Aim for repetitions if you’re looking to improve your capacity. Try monitoring your repetitions in a given interval and try beating them next time.
Use an interval timing program to keep things simpler and help you focus on your form. For example, it’d be more difficult to glance at your clock or watch now and then.
Avoid training on consecutive days. You can do training two to three times per week, but don’t do it consecutively. On other days, you can try doing other kinds of training, such as Pilates or yoga.
Also, try working out with a partner. You can try alternating your workout and rest intervals. You work while your partner rests, and vice versa.
I would also highly recommend keeping a log of your cardio workouts; just like you want to see the progression in your weight lifting routines, you also want to see the same from your cardio sessions.
Always strive to do better with each workout; here are some examples of increasing your exercises’ difficulty.
- Increase the resistance of your machine
- increase the resistance that your traveling at a given resistance
- Decrease the resting times in between intervals
- Increase the work period of an interval at the same intensity
- Perform more intervals
Low Intensity Non Interval Cardio
An aerobic session will last around 40 to 45 minutes and be performed at a steady pace (no intervals) all the way through.
The intensity level will be lower than compared to HIIT training, but it should by no means be easy; if you don’t feel challenged, you’re not pushing yourself hard enough.
If you ranked your daily activity levels from 0 to 10
0 is when you’re sitting on the couch and 10 being you running through a brick wall, then these cardio sessions would fall between a 5 and 6.
There isn’t much else to these workouts; jump on whatever piece of equipment you like the most and go at it.
Digital Calorie Display
If you’ve ever been on any cardio equipment, you have seen the display that tells you how many calories you burnt during your session.
I want you to take these readings as lightly as possible; whatever piece of equipment you’re using, the calorie counters are very inaccurate, then others that have you put in your sex, weight, and age tend to be more accurate.
There are still a lot of different factors that can make these readings bogus.
You can use them as a baseline to see if changes to your intensity and duration increase or decrease the amount, but I don’t think it is accurate when it says you burnt 500 calories.
Besides, the main goal isn’t when you do HIIT training, how many calories you burn during the session. Instead, it’s the effect you have on your resting metabolism to burn calories long after the workout is done.
How To Get a Six Pack
Most conversations about cardio exercises end with asking what exercises can I do to get a six-pack or lose belly fat.
The answer is NONE…
There are no top-secret techniques, workouts, or diets that will target the fat around your midsection.
In fact, it’s physically impossible to dictate the precise areas on your body where fat is decreased. This is known as the fallacy of spot reduction.
Fat loss only occurs on a total body scale.
As you keep to your fitness plan, you will eventually start to trim down everywhere, including your stomach.
Some people think that when they do crunches or leg lifts, burning the fat around their stomach or turning it into muscle, it isn’t how it works.
All you’re doing is working the abdominal muscle, and you’re not stimulating fat loss from that area.
I know I’m redundant here, but I hear this all the time.
Yes, if your goal is to develop a tight stomach, you will need to do resistance exercises that target the abdominal muscle, but they will only start to show once you have lost a certain percentage of body fat.
So the simple, straightforward answer to this is to focus on reducing your overall body fat%. This is accomplished through a proper combination of weight training and cardio and proper nutrition and supplementation.
Like any routine, you need to find out what works for you; HIIT training can be done in a shorter amount of time but is very hard if done correctly.
Noninterval cardio is easier but takes longer and doesn’t give results as fast as higher intensity cardio.
It all comes down to knowing what your choices are and finding what works best for you.