How Much Cardio Should You Do?
More is better, right?
That depends. If you’re training for a long-distance race, then yes, you’re going to need to log a lot of miles.
Thankfully, if you’re like most people training for general health/fitness and to look and feel better, more is not always better.
The first question people usually have about cardio is, what’s the best machine to use?
The honest answer is: the one you enjoy the most. The key to seeing results from cardio (or any exercise routine) is to stick with it consistently. So, pick the machine you enjoy the most!
As for how much cardio you should do, that’s going to depend on your goals. For general fitness, weight loss, and looking fine, here are the basics:
There are two different types of cardio. Both are important for different reasons.
The first type is “steady state” cardio. This is what most people think of when they hear the word “cardio.” These steady state workouts tend to be longer in duration and lower in intensity.
They’re good for building your aerobic base, aiding in recovery in between lifting workouts, and for burning calories for fat loss. A strong aerobic base also means you’ll be able to do more your resistance workouts and recover better between sets because you don’t get winded as easily.
I recommend at least one long duration steady state workout (30+ minutes) a week, and up to 3-4 sessions depending on your goals. If you’re training for a marathon, you’ll obviously want to do a lot more steady state cardio.
To progress your workouts from week to week, either add more time to the session or increase the intensity slightly (ie, a little faster on the elliptical, a slight incline on the treadmill, a little more resistance on the spin bike). You always want to do just a little more from week to week to keep your body from adapting to the workout.
The second type of cardio is sprinting, or interval training. Sprinting is done at higher intensities and for a much shorter duration. The key is that you must go all-out on an exercise. Giving a half-assed effort on the sprint interval defeats the purpose. After the sprint, you perform a recovery interval or just flat out rest before repeating the cycle.
This type of cardio requires you to have a bit of an aerobic base already so you can recover from each interval, and you should build up to it gradually. Keep the sprints short and sweet, and take plenty of time to recover in between efforts. Remember, the sprints should be “all out” 100% efforts.
High intensity or HIIT workouts are more efficient than steady state cardio (you burn more calories in less time). You also create an “after burn” effect with these workouts (you keep burning calories long after you’re done) because of a phenomenon called “EPOC” or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. Basically, this means that you create an oxygen debt with all the huffing and puffing you do during your sprints, and your metabolism stays elevated after your workout to pay back that oxygen debt, burning extra calories in the process.
I recommend 1-2 sprint workouts of up to 20 minutes a week, depending on your current fitness level. Start out with a “less is more” approach here. Since you are giving 100% effort to each sprint, these types of workouts will wear you out in less time than you may be used to doing for your steady state cardio workouts.
Try this: warm up on any piece of cardio equipment, then every minute, at the top of the minute, sprint for 10 seconds. The remainder of the minute (50 seconds) is a recovery period where you can either dial down your intensity or rest completely before repeating the sprint at the top of the minute. Do 10 sprints. Then, cool down at a lower intensity. Increase the sprint interval each time you do this workout (next week, 11 seconds, then 12, then 13, and so on). Keep in mind that increasing the sprint also decreases the rest period, so you’ll have less time to recover.
Most importantly, find the kind of cardio you like and mix it up to avoid boredom or plateaus.
To hit your target of 40 minutes of cardio without getting bored, you could do 10 minutes each on the stairmaster, treadmill, rower, and bike. Rotating through different machines will help you alleviate boredom from repetitive movement.
Beyond the traditional cardio machines, there are many other ways to get your heart rate up and increase your aerobic capacity. Some of my favorites are jumping rope, kettle bell circuits, burpees, and going for a hike or bike ride.
I’d like to know: what is your favorite cardio workout?
Add your 2c in the comments section, or tweet @KPxFitness using #cardio