Skip to main content

What’s the Best Cardio for Weight Loss and Fitness?

  • Author:
  • Updated date:

David is an army-trained biomedical scientific officer, writer, and lifelong health and fitness enthusiast.

HIIT is the best cardio for weight loss.

HIIT is the best cardio for weight loss.

The Best Cardio For Weight Loss

If you want to get in shape and lose all that excess body fat, there are far better ways of doing it than going out jogging for an hour every day. And although jogging does have its benefits, you can accomplish much more in far less time by using the best cardio for weight loss—High-Intensity Interval Training.

What Is High Intensity Interval Training?

Commonly referred to as HIIT, High Intensity Interval Training involves alternating short bursts of high intensity exercise with periods of much lower intensity effort. An example of this would be to sprint for 30 seconds and then walk or jog slowly for a minute. The jog allows you to recover somewhat before you do your next sprint. HIIT can however be done with many other exercises.

What’s So Special About HIIT?

The great benefit of HIIT is it’s very time efficient. HIIT burns fat faster than any other type of exercise, and what’s more, you’ll continue to burn fat for hours after you have finished your workout. This effect is known as ‘afterburn’, or EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), and it does not occur to any significant degree with lower intensity forms of exercise.

HIIT gets you fitter much faster too. High-intensity intervals benefit not only your anaerobic system, but your aerobic capacity as well. In fact, surprisingly it does this even better than ‘aerobic’ activities like jogging.

But apart from being the best cardio for weight loss and to improve your fitness, HIIT has other benefits too. HIIT increases your output of growth hormone, which has many tremendous health benefits, including helping to maintain youthfulness and vigor. And it also helps burn additional body fat too.

If you do HIIT regularly it will help normalize your blood pressure and improve your cholesterol levels. Your insulin sensitivity will also be improved, as will your cardiovascular health. This will greatly reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes or heart disease.

Apart from this, HIIT also enhances cognitive function, and the ‘feel good’ chemicals it releases in the brain will improve your mood and help to combat stress and depression.

An Example HIIT Workout

There are many ways you could approach a HIIT workout, but a typical example would be as follows:

  • Warm up with a light jog for 5 mins.
  • Sprint for 30 seconds
  • Jog slowly for 60 seconds
  • Repeat 4 – 8 times
  • Cool down with a slow jog for 2 – 3 mins.

Total time taken: 13 – 20 mins.

If you are just starting out, however, and are not very fit, you could begin by simply alternating periods of brisk walking with slower walking. Then gradually increase the pace as your fitness improves.

Alternatively, if you are already quite fit, you can adjust the variables depending on what your own particular goals are.

For instance, shorter, harder sprints will build more power, whereas longer sprints of a little lower intensity are better for endurance. Longer recovery periods enable you to put more effort into your sprints, which again builds more power, but shorter ones give increased cardiovascular benefits and improved fat burning. Or you could just vary the durations/intensity levels of each according to how you feel at the time.

An example of an advanced form of HIIT where you do 20-second sprints alternated with just 10 seconds of active rest is known as the Tabata Protocol. And the type of training that you vary according to how you feel is called Fartlek training.

There's just one downside to HIIT—it’s very demanding. So that means it's easy to overdo it. For this reason, you should proceed with caution. You don’t need to push yourself to the absolute limit to get good results. In fact, it’s been shown that 90% effort gives better results than 100% effort for sprints lasting 30 seconds or more.

Also, you should not do a HIIT workout more than three times per week; and in fact, twice per week is probably better for the majority of people. If you do it too often it will have a catabolic effect, breaking down muscle tissue as well as fat; and that's probably not what you want.

How To Get Even Better Fat Burning Results From Your Workout

Whilst HIIT burns fat much more effectively than lower intensity forms of exercise, low and moderate-intensity steady-state cardio does still have its benefits. And if you do 15 – 20 minutes of jogging after your sprints you will get an even greater fat-burning effect.

The reason for this is that HIIT breaks down fat quickly and releases a lot of free fatty acids into the bloodstream, whereas jogging, whilst poor at releasing fatty acids, is very good for burning them off when they are in your bloodstream. So if you jog for a while after your HIIT you will burn off all the fatty acids that have been released. And on top of this, it will help to continue the afterburn effect for longer too.

So if you want the very best cardio for weight loss, a routine that will burn off all your excess body fat and get you fit and lean in the fastest possible time is to do a HIIT workout and follow it with a short period of lower-intensity cardio. Of course, you should also eat a good well-balanced diet, and ideally do some form of strength training too, if you want to get the very best results in terms of improved body composition as well as overall health and well-being. So do give this a go and let me know how you get on in the comments below.


The Scientific Basis for High-Intensity Interval Training

Is high-intensity interval training a time efficient exercise strategy to improve health and fitness?

Effectiveness of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIT) and Continuous Endurance Training for VO2max Improvements: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Controlled Trials

High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise and Fat Loss

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.

© 2012 David


David (author) from Birmingham, UK on February 12, 2012:

Thanks Rob; yes Tabata is great for the more advanced. Just 4 mins. but extremely intense.

Rob Winters on February 11, 2012:

Excellent run down (:-))on HIIT.It really is a super way to exercise and really helps improve lung capacity too.

For advanced/fit people tabata protocols which are an extreme form of HIIT are also a great option to throw in once or twice per week, particularly if your short on time.Up & Useful :-)

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on February 11, 2012:

Thanks; glad you liked it. Yes, you can do a little low intensity cardio on some other days too, as you could not do HIIT every day.

SolveMyMaze on February 11, 2012:

Great Hub! HIIT is a great way to lose weight. Although like you suggest, I would add in another 20 odd minutes of exercise to fulfil the BHF guidelines of at least 30 minutes of exercise per day.