Are you looking to shed some extra kilograms and achieve your fat-loss goals? In this blog post, I'll share 4 rules that I abide by when programming fat-loss cardio to ensure it's optimal, enjoyable, and (most importantly) sustainable.
What is "fat-loss cardio"?
Fat-loss cardio is designed to promote the burning of fat as a primary source of energy through targeted intensities; it would generally be classed as aerobic exercise. Meanwhile, non-fat-loss cardio, which is commonly higher intensity, focuses on improving cardiovascular fitness and overall endurance (fat loss is a secondary outcome). There are merits to both types of cardio, the choice of which you perform is based on your fitness goals and preferences.
Rule 1. Choose activities with fewer drawbacks
A key factor for fat-loss cardio (and weight management in general) is sustainability. Find activities that burn a lot of calories but won't cause too much trauma to your body, leaving you sore, fatigued, and potentially demotivated.
The elliptical trainer, an inclined walk, or a longer-distance swim are examples of activities that are more sustainable than something like a high-intensity HIIT class or plyometrics. There's nothing wrong with those activities and they will help you burn fat, however, if you do them routinely over 8–12 weeks, you'll likely impact your overall performance and beat up your joints in the process.
Rule 2. Prioritise enjoyment
When choosing activities, prioritise those that you enjoy most. Doing so will cause you less stress and anxiety, and increase your self-motivation.
If you hate jogging on the treadmill, look for a 5-a-side football team and play 40 minutes instead. If you hate skipping, find a weekly basketball pick-up game you can join. If you enjoy walking at an incline but find it mind-numbing, invest in some headphones and a streaming subscription so you can do it while catching up on your favourite shows.
If the fat-loss cardio you perform feels less like work and more like fun, you're far more likely to remain consistent for longer.
Rule 3. Moderate duration
45–60 minutes of cardio approximately 6 days per week is the upper limit of what most people can do before they start feeling a lot of fatigue.
Outside of specific performance goals, most people perform cardio as part of a weight management plan, which requires you to consume fewer calories than you burn to maintain a certain weight or lose fat. This can be accomplished by reducing daily calorie intake, increasing physical activity, or practising a combination of both.
I recommended that you opt for the latter of those approaches to safeguard the sustainability of a weight management plan. As the old saying goes, "You can't out-train a bad diet", and trying to do so through more frequent, longer-duration cardio will only lead to overtraining and boredom.
Aim for 150–250 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise weekly to prevent significant weight gain and produce modest weight loss. Greater amounts of exercise will lead to more weight loss.
Rule 4. Buy a step tracker
Perhaps less of a rule and more of a strong recommendation: Invest in a step or activity tracker to keep track of your daily steps. I truly believe that monitoring your progress is crucial for success.
10,000–12,000 steps daily is a great place to start on a weight management plan; it will ensure that mild fat-burning is always happening while you're performing routine activities, like grocery shopping or walking the dog. This range is just a guideline. If you go to the gym more often, perhaps your steps will be around 8,000, if you enjoy walking, perhaps you'll be closer to 14,000—it just depends on your plan and preferences.
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