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The Best Cardio for Weight Loss (and Routines to Try)

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The Best Cardio for Weight Loss (and Routines to Try)

When people think of cardio, usually a boring treadmill, elliptical machine, or other mundane activity comes to mind, but that doesn’t have to be the case. The best cardio for weight loss is much more dynamic and interesting.

When you’re short on time or easily distracted, there are a variety of fat-burning cardio alternatives that will increase your body’s metabolism, boost weight loss, and keep you interested.

Here’s a list of different types of cardio workouts:

  • Steady State (Burns less fat, but isn’t as demanding on the body)
  • Interval Training (Burns more fat)
  • HIIT
  • Spinning
  • Stairs
  • Weight Training (Supersets) short rest periods
  • Weight Training (Compound Sets) short rest periods
  • Machine Circuit Training

We’ll discuss each of the best cardio workouts in detail so that you can decide which is best for you and your weight loss goals.

1. Steady State

Among the best cardio for weight loss, steady state cardio involves working at a low to moderate intensity—around 65 to 75 percent of your maximum heart rate, for a sustained period of time. This type of cardio doesn’t burn a huge number of calories, but it does burn a high percentage of fat tissue for fuel, and it isn’t too draining[1].

characteristics of steady state cardio

    An example of steady state cardio would be a long outdoor walk or a jog at a moderate pace. Steady state exercises test your mental stamina just as much as your physical stamina, as it requires you to sustain exercise for longer periods.

    Moreover, one study[2] found that HIIT workouts and steady state cardio both showed similar results over 8 weeks of training, meaning that the best cardio workouts are really a matter of personal preference and what you’re willing to stick to in the long run for results.

    2. Interval Training

    Similar to HIIT but with exercises that are slightly longer in duration, interval training alternates levels of intensity. For example, if you enjoy running, you would run or sprint for 30 seconds, then bring down your heart rate and walk for two minutes.

    Pick two intensities per interval, usually one at 85 percent of your maximum heart rate and the other at 60 percent, and alternate between them. I find that 85% for 30 seconds and 60% for one minute not only burns more calories but increases my energy level as well.

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    Another example would be jumping rope. Jump rope for two minutes, and rest for one minute. Begin again, this time jumping rope for one minute and resting for one minute. On the third and final round, jump rope for 30 seconds and rest for 30 seconds. Repeat five sets of this routine for a good cardio workout.

    3. HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)

    If you have a busy schedule, 15 or 20 minutes of the best cardio for weight loss a few times a week is all you need. HIIT is an extremely popular workout because it can be done quickly, burn calories in a short amount of time, and can even be done in your home or during a lunch break at work. And the best part is that you don’t need any equipment.

    With the use of your body weight, HIIT is typically 20 seconds of high intensity exercise followed by 10 seconds of active rest, which means your heart rate remains elevated for the entire 15-minute workout.

    You can check out some of the best HIIT exercises here.

    4. Spinning

    Spinning is a great way to get your heart up and keep it up in a 45-minute spin class. Our thighs and back are our largest muscles, and they work the hardest when spinning on stationary bikes.

    To get the most out of spinning, try to stay out of the saddle throughout an entire spin class. That way, you are forced to hold up your body weight, which burns more calories and increases intensity.

    It’s also great for stabilizing and building strong core muscles, versus cycling outdoors, where most of the time you are sitting in the saddle and going for distance (steady state cardio). They can both be considered among the best cardio exercises, especially if you’re looking to lose weight, but spinning will give you an edge if you’re looking to burn body fat.

    5. Stairs

    One of my favorite places to get out of the gym for cardio and trim fat from my thighs and butt is the Santa Monica Stairs, near California’s most popular beach. Climbing 170 steps a few times builds the glutes, leans the thighs, strengthens the calves, and builds endurance. Stairs can definitely be used for some of the best cardio for weight loss.

    If the gym is not your scene, and you love the outdoors, climbing stairs is a great alternative. Find a place with multiple steps, do six or seven rounds, and you’ve easily burned around 600 calories.

    6. Supersets

    A superset is two exercises that work opposing muscle groups, such as biceps and triceps, quadriceps and hamstrings, or different body parts, such as the lower and upper body, with little to no recovery between sets.

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    The superset may include two to five sets of 8 to 15 repetitions of each exercise or more.[3]

    If you love to workout with weight-training but aren’t really feeling cardio, supersets with no more than 30-second rest periods between exercises will keep your heart rate up. Not only will you build muscle, but you will burn fat!

    For example, if you are doing a leg workout, five sets of exercises with high reps and low weight is all it takes to turn your weight-training into a cardio workout.

    Here is a great leg training and cardio workout:

    Dumbbell Step-ups (4×15, each leg)

    How to Do a Weighted Step-Up: Techniques, Benefits, Variations
      Front Squat (4×15)

      Why the Front Squat is Your Best Friend: Part 1 — Human Performance Blog · Volt Athletics
        Wide Stance Dumbbell Goblet (4×15)

        Dumbbell Goblet Squat: 11 Benefits, Form Tips, Variations, and More
          Leg Extension (4×15)

          This Strength Move Will Take Your Legs To The Next Level | Women's Health
            Leg Curl (4×15)

            RS-1408 Prone Leg Curl – HOIST Fitness

              7. Compound Sets

              Compound exercises are exercises that recruit muscles in the entire body, such as pull-ups, squats, bench press, etc., putting them among the best cardio for weight loss. However, a compound set simply means to “compound” the number of different exercises into a series of sets with little or no recovery between, similar to supersets.

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              This may be accomplished by performing four to five exercises for the same muscle group, opposing muscle groups, or total body exercises performed in succession, such as full body extensions, followed by squat/cleans, and complete the compound set of compound exercises with lunges with biceps curls.

              Compound sets put stress on the body and are great for expending additional calories while strength-training as part of good cardio workouts.

              Here is a great example of a compound set routine for your shoulders, traps, and abs:

              Standing Military Press (5×10)

              Dumbbell Shoulder Press GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY
                Lateral Raise (4×12)

                How to Do a Side Lateral Raise: Techniques, Benefits, Variations
                  Barbell Shrug (5×20)

                  The Barbell Shrug | Form, Benefits and Variations for Stronger Traps!
                    Hanging Knee Raise (3×10)

                    How To Do Hanging Knee Raises: Exercise Guide and Instructions - GymGuider.com
                      Landmine Rotation (4×12)

                      Dryland Training for Swimmers: Part 2 — Volt Blog

                        8. Machine Weight Training Circuit

                        Like compound exercises, a machine circuit workout targets the entire body, upper body, lower body, or core. The difference is, with the use of machines instead of free weights, muscle strength is increased by making your muscles work against weight.[4] By limiting rest periods between exercises to 30 seconds, your metabolism will go into overdrive!

                        Here’s a machine circuit training example for your back and biceps:

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                        Cable Row (4×10)

                        This Machine Will Help You Sculpt Your Sexiest Back Ever | Women's Health
                          Cable Hammer Curls (3×10)

                          This Move Will Help You Build Your Strongest Biceps EVER | Women's Health
                            Machine Pullover (3×10)

                            Machines — BodybyBryce.com
                              Lat Pulldown (4×10)

                              Best Lat Pulldown GIFs | Gfycat

                                The Bottom Line

                                The above-mentioned workouts should be completed within 30 minutes, unless you’re taking a class, which is typically 45 to 60 minutes, giving you time to get on with the rest of your day.

                                By keeping your rest periods to a minimum between exercises, your heart rate will stay elevated, and you will burn more calories, get lean, and have more energy with the best cardio for weight loss.

                                Don’t be a gym rat, as spending unnecessary time doing lengthy workouts that give you minimum results. For efficient weight loss, perform these workouts three times a week, and watch the fat melt away while achieving your fitness goals.

                                More Resources About Weight Loss

                                Featured photo credit: Coen van de Broek via unsplash.com


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                                Terri West

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