I am a big believer in productivity. In my own (elusive) vision of the ‘perfect’ me, I am this highly efficient, multi-tasking, fast-moving, super-worker who gets things done on time, every time, all the time. During one of those eureka moments, when you suddenly hit upon the most elegant solution to not one or two, but half a dozen problems, I realised that I must run a marathon.
The main challenges to which it was an elegant answer were:
- Getting enough exercise on a regular basis
- Improving my stamina
- Gaining a sense of accomplishment
- Doing something to show off about to friends and family
- Losing weight (I was not aware of the concept of ‘fat loss’ as distinct from ‘weight loss’ then) – secretly the most important reason for signing up!
During one of those eureka moments, I realised that I must run a marathon.
And, thus, I signed up for one of the earliest Goa River Marathons. The name was somewhat misleading because it was actually a Half Marathon then, but daunting, nevertheless, to the cardio-challenged me. I did my research on viable training programmes, and, as always, trusted my own instincts on creating one to work on. I embarked, in earnest, on the three-month run-up to the marathon, crossing one milestone after another. From being able to trot barely 3K at the start of the programme, I was running over 10K nonstop a couple of months in, that too within a respectable number of minutes.
I ran 17K of the 21K on the final day and walked the rest. Not bad, I thought. When the soreness had worn off after a couple of days, I stepped on the scale. I had lost a grand total of 1100 grams, at the end of three months. Umm… something wrong with the scale?!
LISS can lead to some weight loss and fat loss but not if you’ve overcompensated for the calories you burned running by eating them back.
If that’s ever happened to you, you’d know the disappointment it brings. But if you knew the science behind this inadequate result, you’d realise that you could not have expected anything different.
Long distance running is, in essence, low intensity steady state (LISS) cardio work, where your heart rate remains within the range of 40% to 70% of your maximum heart rate. What it prepares you for is exactly that, long distance running, which builds your stamina or endurance. It CAN lead to some weight loss and fat loss depending on how your diet has changed, but not if you’ve overcompensated for the calories you burned running by eating them back. Walking is the most common example of LISS cardio.
If, however, your goal is to lose fat, then you would be better served by indulging in HIIT.
If your goal is to be a long distance runner, with endless stamina, or if you simply enjoy running, go for it. You will be training completely in the aerobic zone, building your cardio-respiratory endurance as well as muscular endurance in the lower body (the weight-bearing joints and muscles in the hips and legs).
If, however, your goal is to lose fat, then you would be better served by indulging in High Intensity Interval Training, popularly known as HIIT. As the name suggests HIIT workouts have periods of highly intense cardio exercises interspersed by intervals of low intensity exercises or full recovery. This mechanism raises your heart rate, within the range of 75% to 90% of your maximum heart rate, for short bursts of time. It targets body fat stores long after the workout since it has a great after-burn effect. The higher the intensity and shorter the interval, the shorter the workout. There are as many adaptations of HIIT programmes available as there are sports – running, spinning, functional training, circuit training, Crossfit, even swimming. Those with cardiac problems should, perhaps, refrain from HIIT.
Other than intensity, an important principle to bear in mind is whether the chosen cardio activity is high-impact or low-impact.
If your goal is general cardio-respiratory endurance to maintain your level of fitness, then moderate intensity training should be your choice. You would be training at an intensity where your heart rate remains within the range of 60% to 75% of your maximum heart rate. Examples include step-aerobics, Zumba, Power Yoga, dancing, swimming, trekking, etc. Those with cardiac problems should get clearance from their healthcare provider before starting such a programme.
Other than intensity, an important principle to bear in mind is whether the chosen cardio activity is high-impact or low-impact. The ‘impact’ here refers to the stress put on weight-bearing joints, your hips, knees and ankles. Those who have never or rarely been on an exercise programme, those with high levels of obesity, those with orthopaedic problems, and those with back/ spinal injuries should ideally begin with no/ low impact cardio exercises such as swimming, training on an elliptical machine, cycling, rowing, light to moderate Yoga, Pilates, or functional training not involving plyometrics. Most other cardio exercises are high-impact, including walking, all types of jogging or running, climbing stairs, skipping, aerobics, Zumba, dancing, plyometrics, etc.
With so much choice out there, it would be hard not to find a cardio workout that works for you. Go for it!
2 thoughts on “Which is the best cardio exercise? The one that gets you closer to your goal!”
This is very helpful, thank you! I’ve been focusing on walking 10,000 steps a day (along with eating a low-calorie diet) but they don’t seem to be enough to help me lose weight/fat more. I will try to find another workout I can do 3x a week.
Glad you found it useful! Quick thought – look at whether your macros need a different split.
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