David is an army-trained biomedical scientific officer, writer, and lifelong health and fitness enthusiast.
Best Cardio Workouts
If you need to lose some body fat, or if you just want to ensure you stay as lean as possible while you are building muscle, some form of cardio should always be part of your weekly regimen.
However, steady state, long duration cardio like jogging is not the most efficient way to burn fat. And although a small amount of jogging can be beneficial, if you do too much of it, you will burn off a lot of muscle tissue as well as fat.
So, the far better plan is to do a short, high-intensity cardio workout two or three times per week instead.
Why High-Intensity Cardio?
By ramping up the intensity in your cardio sessions you will burn more fat in less time, and on top of that, you will continue to burn fat for up to 24 hours after your workout has finished. This effect is known as ‘afterburn’ or EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), and it doesn’t happen to anything like the same extent with lower intensity steady state cardio.
High-intensity cardio also gets you fit much faster, benefiting both your anaerobic and your aerobic capacity. In addition, it can improve your insulin sensitivity, so you’ll be less likely to store glucose as fat. And rather than breaking down muscle tissue–which too much jogging can do—high-intensity cardio actually has an anabolic effect that helps you put on muscle, provided you don’t overdo it.
There are many different ways you can approach a high-intensity cardio workout, but five of the best ones are as follows:
1. High-Rep Compound Lifts
Some of the heavy compound exercises are extremely demanding on the cardiovascular system – especially when done for high reps. Some good examples are squats, deadlifts, power cleans and clean and push presses.
Try doing 3 – 5 sets of 15 – 25 reps with 60 – 90 seconds rest between sets and you’ll know you’ve had a great cardio workout.
2. Full-Body Circuits
This is similar to the above except that instead of doing just one exercise, you do three or four exercises as a full-body mini-circuit (e.g. a squat or deadlift variation, followed by a push, followed by a pull).
For example, you might do a set of squats, rest 30 seconds and then do a set of power cleans, rest another 30 seconds and then do a set of push presses.
Do 3 – 5 circuits of 10 – 15 reps of each exercise for a great full-body workout and cardio session combined.
You can also do full-body circuits with just bodyweight exercises. An example of this would be to do 5 pull-ups, followed by 10 push-ups, followed by 15 squats. Keep rotating through these exercises with as little rest between them as possible for 15 or 20 minutes.
3. Barbell Complexes
With these, you take a barbell and do 3 – 5 exercises in succession, without the bar ever leaving your hands.
There are two ways of doing this. You could do a set of one exercise and then go straight into a set of the next exercise and so on without putting the bar down until you have completed all the exercises.
Alternatively, you could do one rep of the first exercise followed by one rep of the second and so on until you have completed all the exercises. Then, start again with one rep of the first exercise.
A great example of a barbell complex is “The Bear”. Here, you pick up the bar and do a power clean. Then, you immediately go down into a front squat. You then do a push press and lower the bar to the back of your head. Go straight down into a back squat, and upon rising, push the bar overhead again as a push press from behind the neck. Lower the bar to the floor (but don’t let go of it) and go through the circuit again.
Do this circuit 6 times and then put the bar down. Rest for a minute or two and repeat 3 – 5 times.
Barbell complexes are one of the best workouts for fat-burning and overall conditioning that you will ever find.
4. Plyometrics Workout – Squat Jumps and Jump Lunges
Plyometrics are exercises that require your muscles to exert the maximum amount of force in the minimum amount of time. They are very efficient and effective because you are exerting a huge amount of power in a short period of time. In this workout, you simply alternate sets of two different plyometric exercises: the squat jump and the jump lunge.
Do 15 squat jumps, rest 30 seconds, and then do 20 jump lunges. Rest 30 seconds and repeat for 3 – 5 rounds.
When you get more advanced, you can do this while holding a dumbbell or wearing a weighted vest.
5. Sprint Intervals
This is perhaps what most people think of when they think about high-intensity cardio: high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
An example would be to sprint for 30 seconds and then walk (recover) for 60 seconds. This would normally be repeated 6 – 8 times.
However, you can vary this type of training to suit yourself. You could do shorter faster sprints, or longer runs of up to 2 minutes. You could have longer recovery periods to enable you to put more effort into your sprints, or shorter ones to deplete more of your glycogen stores. Or you could simply vary it according to how you feel at the time (fartlek training).
Sprint intervals can be done on the road (on the flat or uphill) or on a treadmill. Or alternatively, you could do them on the elliptical, rowing machine, or stationary bike—or whatever else you want.
There are just two points to bear in mind when doing any form of high-intensity cardio. First, make sure you warm up properly in order to prepare your body for the high levels of effort involved, and also to help avoid injury.
And second, this type of training is very demanding and can be difficult to recover from if you overdo it. So, take it steady at first—training well within your limits—and build up the intensity gradually as your fitness improves.
You can do a high-intensity cardio workout anything from one to four times per week, but it’s not recommended to do it more than four times per week.
Now you know about the benefits of high-intensity cardio, and you have five of the best cardio workouts you will ever find to burn fat and increase your fitness levels to new heights. Try some of them and experience the results for yourself.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.