Everyone has a love/hate relationship with cardio, but it's a necessary evil that helps us shed fat, build endurance, and look badass in (or out of) clothing. But which type of cardio is best? Should you do long-slow cardio (LSC), high-intensity interval training (HIIT), take a spin class, dance the pounds away with Zumba, or go 20-seconds on, 10-seconds off with Tabata?
If you're overwhelmed by the number of choices, you're not alone. When did working out become so complicated? What happened to the good old days when treadmill trudging and powerwalking for an hour was the best way to burn fat? Before you panic, take a step back.
NLA athletes Jessie Hilgenberg and Theresa Miller are here to to reassure you that despite all of the trends and buzzwords, there are still only two types of cardio to consider: low-intensity and high-intensity.
1. Low-Intensity Cardio (Aka Long-Slow Cardio, LSC)
It seems that, as of late, low-intensity cardio has fallen out of favor. HIIT, circuit training, and AMRAPs are leading the herd. But there's still a time and place for low-intensity cardio, especially if you want to build endurance, improve aerobic capacity, and, yes, burn fat.
"You can burn a good amount of calories doing low-intensity cardio, and I believe it still has a place in your programming," says science editor Krissy Kendall, PhD, CSCS. "It's also a lot easier on your joints and muscles." That makes it the perfect activity for anyone with injuries to rehab.
As for active recovery, nothing beats an easy LSC session to increase blood flow, help remove metabolic byproducts from your tissue, and accelerate the healing process. It's also easy to implement. "I like to do low-intensity cardio, to be active with my family," says NLA athlete Jessie Hilgenberg. "I put my daughter in her seat on my bike and go for a ride, or I put her in the hiking pack and hit the trails."
LSC is incredibly versatile. Potential activities include walking on a treadmill, cycling outside, or swimming in a lake. As long as you keep your intensity low and your heart rate at 60-75 percent of your maximum, you'll facilitate the best calorie burn and incite metabolic changes, such as an increase in enzymes that help your body utilize carbs and fats for energy.
Low-intensity cardio should be done after your lifting session or on your active-rest days, and should last 30-45 minutes to build muscular and respiratory endurance.