“How much cardio should I be doing?”
It’s the eternal question regarding a tricky subject. Why tricky? Well, cardio is subjective in many ways depending on not only your personal goals, but also the type of cardio.
Typically when we think of “cardio,” it’s in the traditional sense; as in, “how long do I have to jog/walk on the treadmill to see results?”
In reality, cardio has many variations. It can be steady-state, which is the more traditional route of steady jogging or power-walking, or it can be explosive and involve exercises that also build muscle, for a shorter amount of time (aka: high-intensity interval training).
Both of these methods of cardio “work” in that they help build cardiovascular strength, but the real question of how much you should personally do of either type depends on your goals.
Let’s break down cardio advice by goals, so you have a better understanding of your personal cardio needs.
“I Need To Lose Fat” Cardio Recommendation
This is one of the most popular reasons for getting in some “extra” cardio. Fortunately, the recommendation for how much you should do is probably different than you’ve been told most of your life.
Studies show that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is actually more effective for losing fat than steady-state cardio … even though HIIT workouts are significantly shorter in terms of time than steady-state cardio sessions.
For instance, HIIT sessions typically last 10-20 minutes, while jogging on the tread mill requires at least 30 minutes to burn a decent amount of calories.
The reason you can get away with such a short amount of time in HIIT workouts is due to their intensity and the metabolic changes that occur following the workout. In HIIT, you’re pushing at maximum effort during your work interval. Now, this can be doing something like sprinting, where you sprint hard for 15-30 seconds, followed by a 60 second rest, or it can be doing intervals of other explosive movements such as clap pushups or burpees.
Research shows that your mitochondria (the powerhouses of your cells) become more efficient at using energy as a result of HIIT workouts, and also that your metabolism stays elevated for several hours after training. Both of these side effects are excellent for increasing fat burn not only while you’re working out, but also when you’re not. [*]
Fat Loss Cardio Recommendation: Because of the intense nature of HIIT, it’s best to do no more than 4 per week. You can supplement these with slower and longer cardio sessions if you like, but focusing on really cleaning up your diet will get you results pretty quickly. If you want step-by-step guidance on HIIT workouts, check out the 14-day free trial of my bodyweight program here.
“I Need To Increase My Endurance and Stamina” Cardio Recommendation
This one is a biggie for sports, and it’s for my own endurance reasons that I try to integrate both long, steady-state cardio AND explosive training in my regime.
Naturally, endurance training involves a more dedicated amount of time doing cardio, since you’re training your body to be able to “work” for longer periods. However, you definitely do want to do those HIIT workouts as well, since research has shown they do produce metabolic changes that also benefit aerobic endurance.
Cardio Recommendations for Increasing Endurance: Aim for 2-3 intense HIIT sessions per week, supplemented with 3-4 long cardio sessions (jogging, etc… for 30 plus minutes) per week.
“I Need To Improve My Overall Health” Cardio Recommendations
If you’re looking for somewhere to just get started with cardio to improve your health overall, your best best is to start mild. Begin a walking program and more up from there, as research shows even simply walking for 15-30 minutes a day can begin to improve health markers.
Improve Health Cardio Recommendations: For beginners, focus on going for a 30-minute power walk 3-4 time per week and work up from there. Once you start to notice these walks become easier, do them more days of the week, then start adding short jogging intervals (30 seconds to a minute) during your sessions. Keep moving up the intensity over several weeks.
Overall, remember that cardio IS good for you, no matter the type. Even going for a walk every day will benefit not only fat loss, but mental and physical health. If you’re higher level and wondering if you need to add in extra hours of cardio to prepare for a competition or sport, don’t forget about that explosive interval training.
Also, mixing up cardio can sometimes do the trick for fat loss and endurance training; for instance, swapping out incline walking for jump rope can really challenge your body in a different way that could cause massive changes for the better.
P.S.: Need a great HIIT workout to follow? Check out the video below: