Clearing Up Cardio

When it comes to cardio there always seems to be an air of confusion, and that’s understandable. There’s so much conflicting information out there of what the best cardio is for fat loss, when you should be doing cardio and how much cardio you should be doing. Then, on top of that, you’ve got some coaches who say you shouldn’t do cardio, some who say you should only do cardio, and some who just thing cardio is a beasting.

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Hopefully, if the first paragraph didn’t confuse you too much and you’re still reading, this article will give you all the answers you need to know if you’re goal is getting in shape.

What happens before cardio?

When it comes to losing fat and getting in shape, cardio can be used as a tool to increase your calorie deficit. As you should know from following any coaches in the fitness industry, you’re not going to lose fat or get in shape anytime soon if you don’t have a calorie deficit.

So, before you even look at adding cardio into your training, you need to look at your nutrition. Are you staying away from processed, sugary foods? Are you drinking plenty of water? Are you eating plenty of protein and vegetables? As the saying goes, you can’t out run a bad diet. Get your nutrition in order, and then you can start looking at cardio.

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Alongside that, a point to keep in mind is resistance training. This means training for strength. As you’ll be aware of, as I’ve probably mentioned countless times, strength training is the foundation you build on to work towards your goals. In the early stages of training, as well as focusing on nutrition, strength training is always included in my clients programs. This works really well in being able to drop body fat to a decent level, before looking to change anything else. Then, once that level has been hit, and that level will be different from person to person, you can start to look at cardio.

What type of cardio?

Ok, so this is where the most confusion occurs for the majority of people. This is where people usually start debating between high intensity interval training (HIIT) and low intensity steady state (LISS). Then, just to add a little more confusion into the mix, some people throw running in there as well.

For me, the best bet is to go through them one at a time.

  • HIIT

This type of training gives you the most bang for your buck. HIIT is quick, efficient and can be really tough.

HIIT involves alternating between intense bouts of exercise, followed by a longer bout of rest. This can range anywhere from 10-30 seconds of work and 40-120 seconds of rest. The benefits of this are;

  • Increased work capacity
  • Increased lactate threshold
  • Raised metabolic rate
  • Improved insulin sensitivity

If you are a beginner or haven’t trained for a long time, HIIT may not be the best starting point. However, if you have been training for a while, it might be an idea to start with one session of HIIT after a strength training workout. From there, you can gradually build up the intensity. However, if you have really high levels of stress, HIIT can sometimes lead to negative affects on fat loss and muscle gain. Therefore, starting at the lower end of the HIIT progressions may be a good starting point.

A point to make note of as well, HIIT doesn’t just have to be confined to using the bike in the gym. Use your imagination, use the prowler, battle ropes, hill sprints. Use something that is going to keep you interested.

  • LISS

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On the complete opposite of the cardio spectrum is LISS. This isn’t as intense as HIIT, just enough so that your heart rate is increased a little. LISS can vary from going for a walk, bike ride or a swim.

The benefits of LISS are;

  • Easy to recover from, and may actually enhance recovery. This is because it will promote blood flow and nutrient delivery to damaged muscles from a previous strength training workout
  • If you go for a walk or a bike ride, you’ll get some exposure to sunlight to get that all important Vitamin D (I know that can be few and far between in the U.K.)
  • Stress relief

As a beginner, or someone who hasn’t trained for a long time, LISS is great for building up your aerobic capacity to then progress you to using HIIT. For others, a 30 minute walk or bike ride on recovery days can be a good starting point.

What about running?

So here’s the most common question I get asked when it comes to cardio, what about running?

If you like running, go for it. However, when it comes to getting in shape, you want to be aiming to limit it to one or two days a week for anywhere between 20-60 minutes. Any longer or more often, running can start to interfere with recovery, strength training performance and body composition. The analogy I use is looking at a long distance runner and a sprinter. In terms of getting in shape, you want to be aiming to maintain, or increase, the muscle mass you have and drop fat, i.e. the sprinter. However, I would like to mention, if your goal or sport is running, knock yourself out. That is specific to you.


Technically, this isn’t classed as cardio. However, Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) still causes energy expenditure and is the activities you might do throughout the day. This can include cooking, cleaning, fidgeting etc. NEAT can be hard to monitor as everyone is different when it comes to day to day activities. The best, or most common, way I would suggest to track your NEAT is to count your steps.

Take Home Points

Hopefully, if you’ve got this far through the blog, you have a better idea of the different types of cardio, the benefits, and what your starting point might be.

A good guide I like to recommend to people is;

  • Do something on your recovery days, whether that’s going for a walk or a swim to get the blood and nutrients flowing to your damaged muscles to aid recovery
  • Start off by adding one HIIT session after a strength training session and then, over the next few weeks, increase the intensity. Then, once that session is nailed, add in another HIIT session
  • Don’t rush. Only progress your cardio when you feel you can as it may affect other areas of your training

Thanks for reading,

Coach Steve

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