If the only kind of “cardio” you’re doing is going for long runs, you’re leaving a lot of gains on the table (even if you’re training for distance events).
In this article, I will share with you the best kinds of cardio to improve your speed (athleticism), maximize your endurance, and boost fat loss.
Okay, plyometrics aren’t technically “cardio” in the traditional sense, but they’re a really great way to improve your speed and athleticism.
Plyos train your central nervous system to fire more efficiently and recruit more muscle, generating more force (power) as you move. This type of training will make you more athletic, so that you move better on the trail, slopes, field, or court.
Example exercises include: box jumps, broad jumps, depth jumps, skipping, med ball passes and slams, and plyo push ups.
View this post on Instagram
Short duration, max effort sprints last 10-15 sec of effort, tops. These high-intensity, short duration sprints train your body to produce energy anaerobically, which is a powerful but quickly used up energy system. You’ll want to rest 10-20x longer than the sprint effort to fully recover between efforts.
“Long aerobic” workouts can be defined as anything longer than 20 minutes and are generally done at a consistent pace, though you can do intervals as well. An example of aerobic intervals would be 30 minutes/rounds alternating between 1:00 at 40 RPM, 1:00 at 55 RPM on an Airdyne bike or spin bike (sub whatever pace would be “easy” and “medium” for you).
Bottom line, many of us could benefit from taking more steps. Walking is low-impact, low-intensity, and usually easy to do no matter where you live because it requires zero equipment (granted, it might be harder to motivate yourself to go for a walk in the dead of winter than it is in the summertime, but you can still do it.)
Bonus: Most other kinds of cardio (I’m looking at you, HIIT) jack up your body’s stress response, which is a sure-fire way to stall fat loss and increase food cravings. Walking? Well, going for a walk will actually mitigate stress, making fat loss easier in the long run.
Use sprinting strategically as your “ace in the hole,” not as a starting point.
For fat loss, one thing matters most: calorie deficit. That means addressing your diet and eating a little less food. After calories, protein is secondary for fat loss. Third, resistance training, which signals your body to hang on to lean muscle. Finally, coming in a distant 10th place to that other stuff… sprinting.
If you’re strength training 2-4x per week, you could add 1-2 sprint sessions to your plan. Sprints should be done as a separate workout at least 24-48 hours removed from a heavy leg day. If you must combine sprinting with weight training, do it on an upper body day.
Example workout splits
5 Training Days:
- Monday, lower
- Tuesday, upper
- Wednesday, sprint
- Thursday, off
- Friday, lower
- Saturday, upper
4 Training Days:
- Monday, lower
- Tuesday, upper
- Wednesday, off
- Thursday, full body
- Friday, off
- Saturday, sprint
As you can see, cardio can be about a lot more than going for a long run. You’ve got options from walking to aerobic intervals to sprinting (in order of intensity).
It’s beneficial to include a little of each kind of cardio in your training program, regardless of your fitness goals, because each type of cardio trains different “energy systems” to make you a better all-around athlete.