It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of cardio. Spending hours at a time jogging on a treadmill or, God forbid, the elliptical has never been appealing. And unless you’re training for a specific event such as a marathon or triathlon, I believe it’s downright ineffective.
For the average person who wants to lose body fat and maintain muscle mass, incorporating various weightlifting and high intensity interval training (HIIT) techniques are the way to go.
Numerous studies have proven that short bursts of high output cardio burn fat, increase resting metabolism (burn calories throughout the day), and preserve lean muscle more efficiently than steady state cardio. Here are a few of my favorite methods:
Limit Rest Between Sets
You have to USE weight to LOSE weight. That’s something I preach to all of my clients, whether they’re trying to drop 50 pounds or just shed a couple inches for pool season. Male or female, big or small, I believe that a solid weightlifting routine is the foundation of all training programs (even if that “weight” is just bodyweight).
One easy way to add a cardio element to your training is to reduce rest time between sets. Unless you’re performing a max effort lift, limit rest to 30-60 seconds between sets.
It should be just enough time to get a sip of water, catch your breath, or change the song on your iPod. Shorter rest periods will keep your heart rate elevated throughout the workout and put your body in a greater metabolic state (you’ll burn more calories). Use a timer to stay consistent.
To make your workout even more intense, perform supersets, tri-sets, and giant sets (circuits) by rotating between multiple exercises with no rest. I personally superset nearly all of my exercises to create a much more efficient and fast-paced training session.
Another way to implement cardio into your weightlifting routine is by cardio acceleration. Cardio acceleration essentially replaces the rest periods between sets of weights with 30-60 seconds of high intensity cardio.
For example, do a set of 10 bench presses, right into 60 seconds of jumping jacks, right back into 10 bench presses. No additional rest.
This method delivers a huge “pump” to the muscles and keeps your body in calorie-burning mode long after the workout is over. The high intensity cardio coupled with weight training also creates a shorter, more efficient workout. I stick to basic plyometric exercises for cardio acceleration between weights such as high knees, squat jumps, and mountain climbers.
A 2008 study at the University of California found that participants who performed cardio acceleration experienced a 992% (yes, 992%) greater loss in fat mass and 82% greater improvement in muscle gain compared to cardio-only and resistance-only participants.
Tabata training is a great way to get a quick workout if you’re on a tight schedule or if you want to break a major sweat at the end of a lifting session. A tabata interval is structured as follows: 20 seconds of hard work, followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated 8 times per exercise (4 minutes), for 4 different exercises (16 minutes total).
Tabata training can technically be performed with any exercises, but I typically stick to bodyweight movements. Here’s an example:
Push Ups: 8x20 seconds work, 10 seconds rest (4 minutes)
Squats: 8x20 seconds work, 10 seconds rest (4 minutes)
Sit Ups: 8x20 seconds work, 10 seconds rest (4 minutes)
Mountain Climbers: 8x20 seconds work, 10 seconds rest (4 minutes)
I often use this method while traveling or at home on weekends. I’ll string together two or three full intervals, resulting in a great full-body workout. You don’t need any equipment to do tabata and the exercise possibilities are endless.
Walking lunges are my personal favorite form of “cardio”, and I can (and probably will) dedicate an entire article to them. I started doing around 15 minutes of walking lunges five times a week about three months ago after listening to my fitness idol, Cory Gregory, preach the many benefits. I had a huge strength imbalance in my legs after knee surgery, and I credit lunges with correcting that disparity.
Walking lunges are a perfect blend of strength training and cardio, and correct so many health issues common in today’s society.
Most people have tight hip flexors, a weak core, and poor posture due to sitting behind a desk or steering wheel all day. Walking lunges stretch hip flexors and engage the core, increasing flexibility and alleviating lower back pain.
Most people also have an underdeveloped posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, back) as a result, again, of sitting all day. Guys notoriously have this problem because they habitually emphasize the “mirror muscles” (quads, chest, biceps) in their training. Lunges activate the posterior chain and really fire up the muscles that are typically neglected. Your leg strength will go through the roof.
So girls, if you want a nice butt: lunge. Guys, if you want to lift more weight: lunge.
The best part about walking lunges is that they can be done virtually anywhere at any time. Start with 10-15 minutes, 3-5 times a week and you'll be shedding weight faster than you ever would running countless miles on the treadmill.