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If you’re new to exploring exercise for weight loss, it can be difficult to know where to start. There is weight training, yoga, pilates, barre and more. But many people—including personal trainers—believe in the simple power of cardio for weight loss. (However, research shows that a well-rounded fitness program for weight loss includes both cardio and strength training.)
Meet the Experts: Tim Landichow, CSCS, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Toned Fitness Coach and Dennis Chakoyan, CPT, Owner and Founder of CORE Cycle.Fitness.Lagree.
At its core, cardio is movement that gets your heart rate up and keeps it there for the duration of the workout, explains Tim Landicheau, CSCS, an NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist and Tonal fitness coach. “The goal here is to engage large muscle groups in rhythmic, repetitive movements, which in turn increases heart rate and breathing,” he adds.
The basic formula for weight loss is to burn more calories than you consume (though it’s not always that easy), says Landicho, and cardio leads to that effort by burning calories long after you’ve finished sweating through a process called post-exercise oxygen overconsumption (EPOC), he adds. According to the National Sports Medicine Association, EPOC is characterized by increased oxygen uptake and metabolism that occurs while the body is recovering from exercise.
“Cardio is good for weight loss because it reduces the body’s ability to store calories and fat,” adds Denise Chakoian, CPT, owner and founder of CORE Cycle.Fitness.Lagree.
The best cardio exercises for weight loss
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio per week. That being said, there is no one-size-fits-all prescription for weight loss because every body and metabolism is different. However, the CDC and the experts we spoke to can offer some good starting points to keep your commute efficient and interesting.
According to Chakoian, it takes 20 minutes of cardio to get into fat-burning mode on most bodies, so she recommends aiming for 30 to 45 minutes per session, regardless of your chosen workout.
Both Chakoian and Landicho recommend going for a run to get cardio. The CDC considers running a “vigorous” form of aerobic exercise, so you can meet your requirements for optimal health with a 75-minute weekly jog around the neighborhood.
Whether it’s a one-hour spin class or taking a bike instead of the train to work, both count as cycling toward your cardio goals. Depending on the terrain, the CDC considers it moderate or vigorous exercise.
Landicho recommends breaking out into jumping jacks whenever your workout needs a heart-pumping boost. Try three sets of 30 seconds of movement, resting 45 seconds between each.
“Using a rowing machine is one of the most effective ways to get a cardiovascular and strength workout in a short amount of time,” Nick Karwoski, a Hydrow athlete and triathlete, previously said Prevention. Some machine-specific workouts are as little as 15 minutes.
Never underestimate the power of brisk walking. The CDC recommends walking 30 minutes a day, five days a week.
Jumping rope is a high-intensity form of cardio that engages your entire body, making it an effective and efficient workout. “If you jump rope at random speed for 30 seconds, you’ll start to feel it,” Albert MathenyRD, CSCS, co-founder of SoHo Power Lab, Promix Nutritionand ARENA said earlier Prevention. “There’s a lot of coordination between different muscle groups.” Like running, jumping rope is considered vigorous cardio by the CDC, so a 75-minute weekly sesh is a good starting point.
Suitcase march or high knees
Stand up straight and, using your core, drive one knee up to your chest, then alternate, ending with high knees, Landicho explains. “The marching stance keeps your torso tall and resists weight pulling you to the side,” he adds. Not only will this negate your cardio duty, but it will also challenge your body’s ability to withstand a load on one side – as you balance on one leg and then switch to the other – strengthening your obliques and glutes.
“Lie on your back with your legs in a tabletop position and your arms extended directly over your chest,” says Landicho. “Simultaneous stretching the legs out and reaching the arms overhead, tighten the body in a hollow position. With control, bring your knees to your chest and pull your arms out to your sides, lifting your shoulder into a squat position.” This move is a good combination of cardio and strength—and it targets the core, which is often the main focus of weight loss regimens.
Landicho says a good freestyle dance session is his “favorite” form of cardio. Yours could be bursting into kitchen karaoke or attending a more formal cardio dance class.
Swimming offers all the heart-pumping benefits of other cardio workouts, without the pounding pounding of the pavement that comes with some. If you’re overweight and struggling with joint pain, this is a great option for a light but effective workout, according to the Cleveland Clinic. The CDC says a 154-pound person swimming slow freestyle laps for 30 minutes burns 255 calories.
In addition to potential weight loss, cardio is key to maintaining good heart and lung health, Landicheau says, and the American Heart Association backs that up. “It’s also mood-elevating, stress-busting and full of endorphins, making it a key component of a healthy lifestyle,” he adds.
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