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Exercise & Training, Fitness

The Best Cardio Workouts For Weight Loss And Fat Burning

Written by Tara Mazanec
Master Personal Trainer, Holistic Health Counselor and Yoga Instructor
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Are you looking to lose some weight and burn some fat? Do you get out of breath walking up a flight of stairs? Wish you could play with your kids or fur babies without feeling winded?

If you answered yes, it is time to look into a cardiovascular (Cardio for short) routine. Cardiovascular exercise is the cornerstone of any fitness routine and is essential to keep your heart and blood vessels strong and in good working order as you age. Cardio improves many aspects of health, including sleep, mental health, metabolism, weight regulation, stress, blood pressure, and mood.[1]

But before we look into the best cardio workouts for weight loss and fat burning, let’s have a better understanding of cardio exercises first.

What Is Cardiovascular Exercise?

Fyzical, the Therapy & Balance Centers states,[2]

“Cardiovascular exercise is any activity that increases heart rate and respiration and raises oxygen and blood flow throughout the body while using large muscle groups of the body repetitively and rhythmically.”

Below are various forms of cardio exercise. Choose the ones that interest you the most that you know you will stick with.

If you are a beginner looking for a place to start, choose walking, biking, dancing, or swimming. Start small and gradually increase the length during each session or add a day. It is best to add variety to prevent boredom and allow the overused muscles, joints, and ligaments to rest and recover from repetitive stress on the same muscle groups.

Always consult your doctor before starting any exercise program to ensure you are ready to put your heart and body under acute stress.


The most popular types of cardio include:

  • Walking
  • Jogging
  • Running
  • Biking
  • Skiing
  • Hiking
  • Rowing
  • Dancing
  • Tennis
  • Pickleball
  • Strength Training
  • Interval Training
  • Any outdoor sport that involves running
  • Swimming

Who Is Cardio For?

Cardio is for everybody, regardless of age, gender, genes, or fitness level.

If you are new to exercise, any movement other than desk sitting will elevate your heart rate to a degree. Over time, if you remain consistent with your exercise, your resting heart rate will drop, and endurance (your ability to sustain a stressful activity over time) will increase as you become fitter.

If fat loss is your goal, the best cardio exercises will challenge your heart and muscles for a short period, followed by longer durations, aka intervals, during the workout (which we will discuss below), and are those you enjoy doing consistently over time.

If you are getting back into exercise, have never exercised before, or returning from an injury, know where you are starting from, have a plan, and stay consistent to reap the benefits.

A sedentary individual will experience a rise in heart rate much faster with minimal effort as opposed to a high endurance athlete that has been performing strenuous exercise for more than a year, so it is crucial to know your cardio heart rate zones, fitness level, schedule, and health goals to determine your exercise selection, where to begin, workout duration and how many days per week you will be exercising.

Each individual has different needs, so seek professional guidance to help determine your fitness level, stay consistent, and offer suggestions on progressing your routine.


How Heart Rate Training Zones Enhance Weight and Fat Loss

A heart rate training zone[3] is a specific heart rate range, measured in beats/minute, used to monitor training intensity during exercise or everyday activities.

Determining your heart rate zones is simple and one of many tools to help you progress gradually toward your goal, improve your fitness, and aid in fat loss.

If you are using a fitness tracker and want to calculate your heart rate zones begin with the Tanaka formula:[4]

  • 208 – (0.7 x age)=Max Heart Rate
  • For example, a 46-year-old
  • 208 – (0.7 x 46) = Max Heart Rate
  • 208 – 32.2 = 175.8
  • 175.8 = Max Heart Rate

Although a great tool, this equation has its limitations, as it only adjusts for your age and doesn’t consider other important variables like genetics, medications, sleep, caffeine intake, or nutrition and hydration levels. Still, it will give you a starting point and guide your intensity levels during various workouts. Once you have calculated your max heart rate, use the percentages below to determine which zone you will work in during each cardio routine.

Workout zones:

A 46-year-old woman would alternate between these two workout zones:

  • 175.8 * .60(moderate intensity) = 105.48 Beats Per Minute
  • 175.8 * .80(high intensity) = 140.64 Beats Per Minute

Very Light – <57%
Light 57%-63%
Moderate – 64%-76%
High – 77%-95%
Near Max Effort or Max Effort – >96%

How Often Should You Perform Cardio Workout?

Many used to believe they should be performing cardio 6-7 days/week for 45 minutes to an hour. So who is correct?

If losing fat and maintaining lean muscle mass is your goal, focus on a few fundamental principles: a well-thought-out weekly workout plan combining cardio and strength training based on specific goals, consistency, a healthy diet, adequate sleep, rest/recovery, and low stress.


Which Cardio Works Best For Weight Loss?

Which cardio is best for fat loss has been debated for years, but the basics still stand firm:

find something you enjoy that you know will stick with for the long hall.

That said, some workouts fare better than others at decreasing fat; and that is high-intensity Interval Training (HIIT).

HIIT is a style of workout that combines fixed moderate-intensity activity with short bursts of high intensity. They are so popular because they are time efficient and highly effective for weight loss.

When trying to lose weight, you want to burn fat and build lean muscle to continue to burn more fat. HIIT forces your body to use energy from fat as opposed to carbs. This makes losing fat more efficient.

Here are my top 3 with a sample week program design. Each can apply to anyone from a beginner to an ultra athlete depending on your goals.

*Note: Personal training professionals implement several training methods, including HIITS, in a client’s weekly/monthly program to reduce potential injury and add variety and specificity.


1. Cardio Intervals

Find a few activities you enjoy (see the list above from jogging to swimming) and challenge yourself by adding intervals within the session.

If jogging is your jam, adding intervals within the session helps with fat and weight loss. Begin jogging for 1-2 minutes outside or on a treadmill. Then add 10-20 seconds of sprinting. Return to a jog or walk for 1-2 minutes allowing the heart to recover. Repeat this sequence 5-10x throughout your workout. Perform this workout 1-2x/a week.

Cardio intervals are one approach to helping with fat and weight loss and can apply to all cardio activities. As you get fit, change the variables; Jog for 1 minute, sprint for 30 seconds, for example.

2. Metabolic Conditioning

Metabolic conditioning is a HIIT-style workout that adds resistance work to the exercise and might alternate it with other forms of cardio, such as walking hills, running, or jumping rope. This workout will add dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, medicine balls, and battle ropes to enhance cardiac output, build lean muscle and lose fat.

With this style, you might alternate between a strength exercise such as a squat-to-shoulder press and a 30-sec hill climb or sprint. When you add resistance to any activity, you immediately notice that body weight cardio alone isn’t the only way to elevate the heart rate.

In metabolic conditioning programs, the intensity and time you spend doing the exercises matter more than the type of exercise selection.


3. Steady-State

Steady-state cardio has its place in an industry that has been so obsessed with HIIT training. It is no secret that HIIT gives you more bang for your buck, especially if you are short on time and want to lose fat, but if sustainability, injury reduction, muscle recovery, and mood enhancement are additional goals, adding 1-2 steady-state workouts to your routine is very beneficial.

Add a leisurely hike, walk, bike ride, or other activity you enjoy that keeps your heart rate light to moderate intensity. You will increase your performance during your next HIIT routine, keep your body guessing and minimize injury from overusing muscles, joints, and ligaments.

Sample Weekly Routine


For those who are new to exercise, returning after a long hiatus or injury. Repeat this plan for 2-3 weeks.

  • 2 Steady State workouts
  • 1 Beginner HIIT
  • 4 Rest/Daily movement

The routine:

  1. Monday: Walk for 20-30 minutes at 50-70% of your max heart rate (Steady State)
  2. Tuesday: Strength train for 10-20 minutes (insert beginner HIIT strength program)
  3. Wednesday: Rest/Daily movement
  4. Thursday: Repeat Monday’s Workout (steady state)
  5. Friday: Rest/Daily movement
  6. Saturday: Rest/Daily movement
  7. Sunday: Rest/Daily movement

Intermediate to Advanced Exercise Enthusiasts

For those who have consistently exercised for over three months.

  • 2 Steady State
  • 1 Moderately intense workout
  • 1 HIIT
  • 1 Yoga

The routine:

  1. Monday: Walk/Jog – 20-40 minutes (50-60% max heart rate steady state)
  2. Tuesday: Strength Train – 20-30 minutes (insert intermediate to advanced strength program at moderate intensity)
  3. Wednesday: Interval Training – Jog 2 minutes (50-70% max heart rate) sprint 20 sec. (70-90% max heart rate) Repeat for 15-20 minutes.
  4. Thursday: Rest/Daily Movement
  5. Friday: Yoga
  6. Saturday: Repeat Tuesday’s workout
  7. Sunday: Rest/Daily Movement

There are many possible program designs, the above is only a simple suggestion.

Mixing high intensity with a moderate steady can enhance your fat-burning potential, keep your body guessing, save time, and avoid boredom and injury.


Remember though, you should always consult a trained professional to review health history, goals, and overall plan for the long hall.

Bottom Line

HIITs and steady-state cardio will only be as good for enhancing your weight and fat loss potential as adhering to other essential health metrics. Following a balanced diet, getting plenty of rest, decreasing stress, and adding variety to your programming should be your primary focus.

Featured photo credit: Gabin Vallet via unsplash.com


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