Long, slow cardio is not the fastest way to burn fat. Research shows that short interval training workouts burn belly fat faster.
I was one of the first trainers to question long, slow cardio for fat loss back in the late 1990’s and I believe that traditional cardio is over-rated.
Interval training, or interval “cardio” if you want to call it that, is much, much better for fat loss. It burns belly fat in half the workout time.
I figured this out just before the year 2000. Back in 1998-99, I was but a lowly grad student, studying the effects of androstenedione (the supplement taken by the mighty baseball player, Mark McGwire during his record-breaking home run quest in ’98).
In my study (which was published in the Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology for any science nerds like myself out there), we had guys use the supplement and go through a couple of weight training sessions. By February of ’99 I was stuck in the lab, analyzing the blood samples using some fancy radio-active isotopes.
And when I say stuck in the lab, I mean STUCK. I’d get there at 7am, and record my last data point at 11pm. Sixteen hours of mad science. And if I wasn’t there, I was downstairs in the medical library, studying papers on testosterone and training.
Now coming from a very athletic background, this sedentary lifestyle didn’t sit well with me. But there I was, studing for a degree in Exercise Physiology and left with no time for exercise. Or so I thought.
Fortunately, I actually had a 50 minute window once per day of “down-time” while the lab’s gamma-counter analyzed blood samples.
That left me 50 minutes to get to the gym (5 minutes across campus) and get a workout in the remaining 40 or so minutes. I knew that if I applied my studies to the workout, I could get maximum results in minimum time.
As a former athlete, I knew that I had to find a way to stay fit and to avoid the fat gain that comes with working long hours in a sedentary environment. And I also had to stay true to the high-school bodybuilder I once was, so there was no way I was willing to sacrifice my muscle to one of those long-cardio, low protein fat-loss plans that were popular at the time.
Instead, I had to draw on my academic studies and my experiences working with athletes as the school’s Strength & Conditioning Coach. I knew that sprint intervals were associated with more fat loss than slow cardio, and I knew that you could also increase aerobic fitness by doing sprints (but you can’t increase sprint performance by doing aerobic training).
So clearly, intervals were (and ARE!) superior to long slow cardio for fat loss. I had seen first hand the incredible results of sprint intervals in the summer and fall, as the athletes made huge fitness improvements and shed winter fat in a short time using my interval programs. I knew that intervals had to be the next step in the evolution of cardio.
The biggest benefit of intervals? A lot of results in a short amount of time. I knew that I only had 40 minutes to train, and therefore I could only spend 15-20 minutes doing intervals.
I also understand that interval training sounds intimidating to a lot of people, so I need to clear up how an interval training workout goes.
After all, I believe everyone can do interval training for fat burning. Even beginners. For beginners who usually exercise for 30 minutes at 3.5 mph on the treadmill, their interval workout would be to go for 1 minute at 3.8mph and then recover for 2 minutes at 3.0 mph. That’s it. Repeat 6 times. If you are more advanced, you would use more intense exercise.
Interval training doesn’t have to be sprinting for your life. It just needs to start off harder than normal and progress from there.
Most folks hate cardio, so they are happy to use interval training as an effective replacement to lose stomach fat. Here is my list of preferred ways to do your intervals, ranked in order from best to worst, based on my experiences.
1. Sprinting outdoors (Hill sprinting might be the absolute best method)
2. Kettlebell exercises
3. Bodyweight interval circuits
4. Treadmill running
5. Stationary cycle (upright cycling preferred over recumbant bike)
With those 5 interval training methods, you’ll burn fat fast and never have to do cardio again!
Craig Ballantyne is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist and writes for Men’s Health, Women’s Health, and Oxygen magazines.
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