Forget losing weight – do cardio workouts that burn fat!

One of the most common desires in health and fitness is the need to lose weight. Theories on what is an optimum size and shape and weight for humans have varied over time and between cultures. In terms of a wellness lifestyle, it is more meaningful to think about complete fitness and an ideal Body Mass Index (BMI - the make up of your body in terms of the percentage of fat compared to your muscle mass) than losing weight.

Weight loss can be the result of the loss of water or the loss of muscle tissue, neither of which are conducive for long-term health or weight loss. The key to weight loss is losing stored fat.

There are a number of ways to measure your body fat. For example, for BMI, the simplest being to divide your height in centimetres by your weight in kilograms. More accurate results can be achieved by trained professionals taking skin-fold measurements using a special tool called a Calliper. There is also bioelectrical impedance analysis whereby a small electrical current is passed through the body. Many bathroom scales and fitness equipment are capable of measuring body fat using electrical impedance.

The evidence linking body fat percentage to poor health outcomes is now well documented. A lower body fat percentage reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, gallstones, breathing problems and certain cancers. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has produced guidelines for body fat composition:

 

Gender Age Well Below  Average Below Average Average Above Average Well Above Average
Female 20-29 14.5 - 18.9 19 - 22 22.1 - 25.3 25.4 - 32 32.1+
30-39 15.5 - 19.9 20 - 23 23.1-26.9 27 - 32.7 32.8+
40-49 18.5 - 23.4 23.5 - 26.3 26.4 -30 30.1 -34.9 35+
50-59 21.6 - 26.5 26.6 -  30 30.1 -33.4 33.5 - 37.8 37.9+
60+ 21.1 - 27.4 27.5 - 30.8 30.9 -34.2 34.3 - 39.2 39.3+
Male 20-29 7.1 - 11.7 11.8 - 15.8 15.9 - 19.4 19.5 - 25.8 25.9+
30-39 11.3 -15.8 15.9 - 18.9 19 - 22 22.3 - 27.2 27.3+
40-49 13.6 - 18 18.1 - 21 21.1 - 24 42.1 -28.8 28.9+
50-59 15.3 - 19.7 19.8 - 22.6  22.7 - 25.6 25.7 - 30.2 30.3+
60+ 15.3 - 20.7 20.8 - 23.4 23.5 - 26.6 26.7 - 31.1 31.2+

A highly effective strategy for losing body fat is doing cardiovascular exercise. In a previous article we discussed the two approaches to cardiovascular training: Low Intensity Steady-State Cardio (LISSC) and High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).

LISSC, because it is performed at a steady but challenging and manageable pace, is probably a more suitable starting point for individuals with low fitness or who are above average or well above average in terms of body fat percentage.

Below is a low impact interval cardio workout that uses nothing but your body weight and is suitable for beginners wishing to lose body fat. It uses low impact moderate intensity intervals to get your heart pumping whilst being easy on the joint. It should take about 30 minutes. Remember to consult your doctor before beginning this or any other fitness program.

Cardio workout for beginners

Warm up

30 seconds leg swings - standing on one leg, gently swing your other leg backwards and forwards, gradually increasing the range of motion. Repeat with the other leg.

30 seconds elbow to knee cross - stand with your feet slightly wider then hip distance apart.  Raise your right knee to waist height while simultaneously lowering your left elbow to meet it. Remain upright and avoid curling your body down towards your knee.

30 seconds squats plus toe kick - stand with your feet slightly wider than hip distance apart. Perform a squat by lowering your body to the ground, as if you were about to sit on a chair. Keep your knees in line with your ankles and avoid dropping your hips past your knees. Return to a standing position and kick your right leg out to the front.  Repeat, alternating legs each time.

30 seconds V steps - step forward and back as if marking out the letter V. As you step forward and back mirror your footsteps with your arms by holding them at chest height and opening them out and bringing them in to your body.

Main Cardio Workout

The main workout consists of four exercises in descending intervals of 60 seconds, 50 seconds, 40 seconds, 30 seconds, 20 seconds and 10 seconds with the same amount of rest between each set (i.e. 60, 50, 40, 30, 20 and 10 seconds).

Exercise 1: High Knees + Arm Pull Down - Start with your feet slightly wider than hip distance apart and your arms raised above your head. Bending your right knee, raise your leg above waist height. At the same time pull your arms down until your elbows are by your waist. Return to the starting position and do the same thing with the other legs. This completes one repetition.

Exercise 2: Heel Dig Squat - Start with your feet slightly wider than hip distance apart, arms at your side. Kick your right leg forward and gently dig your heel into the ground in front of you while bending your left knee slightly. Bring your feet back together and do the same with your left leg. Return to the starting position and perform a squat. This completes one repetition.

Exercise 3: Side Lunge Floor Touch - Start with your feet slightly wider than hip distance apart. Taking your left leg out to the side, bend your right knee until your thigh is parallel with the ground; use your left hand to touch the floor directly below your pubic bone/crutch. Return to the starting position and repeat to the opposite side. This completes one repetition.

Exercise 4: Half Star Jumps - Start with your feet together arms by your side. Lunge to the right while raising your right arm above your head in a big circular motion. Return to the starting position and repeat the other side. This completes one repetition.

Cool down and stretch

When you have completed the last set in the last cycle, walk at your normal pace until your heart rate returns to its pre-exercise rate then stretch out your muscles.

Cardio workouts in the gym

Another option for a cardio workout that burns fat is to use the Technogym cardio equipment such as the Technogym Excite+ BIKE, Excite+ STEP, and Excite+ JOG NOW or RUN NOW, and select one of the programs designed for fat burning. The proven user interface, available on all models, offers the user a calorie coach and constant heart rate monitoring using the hand sensor placed directly below the display to guide exercise intensity. There’s also a cool down button providing direct access to the cool down function for extra comfort.

Whilst cardio exercises are a great way to burn calories, it is also important to include resistance exercises (exercises that use weights or resistance bands) in your training program. Resistance training boosts your metabolism, so that you your body keeps burning calories even when you're not exercising.

By far the biggest contributor to successful fat loss is having a comprehensive approach that incorporates exercise, nutrition and attitude of mind. Consequently, in addition to your fitness training:

  • Choose a good diet plan that is nutritionally balanced and monitors overall calorie intake
  • Set your self goals and reward yourself when you achieve them
  • Find people to share your journey with - other people on a similar experience will provide support and can be exercise partners
  • Sleep Well: There are numerous studies which show the connection between sleeplessness and weight gain
  • Stay well hydrated, as this will improve your cardiovascular performance by supporting your body to get oxygen to your muscles