Do you want to burn calories?

April 11, 2009 at 2:21 pm Leave a comment

ex-bike-screenA lot of women love the idea that if they are on the treadmill or exercise bike for an hour or more they can burn 400 – 500 calories, and that makes them feel good. The immediate feedback of seeing the readout on the screen telling you how many calories you have burned is very gratifying, and mitigates any guilt you may feel about the chocolate bar or double deluxe bacon burger you ate last night!

The screen readout showing 500 calories burned looks impressive, but the bad news is that the high calorie burn you got from your hour(s) on the treadmill or exercise bike disappears quite quickly. Your body goes back to “normal” shortly after the cardio session ends. Because it has such a short lived effect, this does not make a big difference on your body’s ability to lose fat.

In fact, long sessions of cardio can actually work against your fat loss goals. Muscle is the foundation of your calorie burn – the more lean muscle you have the more calories you burn, all day long (not just when you are exercising). However, the more cardio you do the more you put your body at risk of taking energy from or burning lean muscle. If your lean muscle mass is reduced, your calorie burning capacity is reduced, so your fat loss is slowed. Long sessions of cardio work against your fat loss goals.

As your body becomes more accustomed to the level of cardio you do, ie as your fitness level increases, you will find that you end up having to do more and more cardio to achieve the same amount of calorie burning. It seems that you are working increasingly harder just to maintain a body that you are not really happy with any way!

It can leave you feeling like nothing works. You may think that there is no other option, but to keep increasing the length of your cardio session.

My suggestion is interval training.

Intervals are a type of “cardio” workout where you alternate brief, high intensity periods of exercise (where you are working flat out) with active recovery periods (where you slow down just long enough to catch your breath). High intensity cardio intervals are much more effective than ‘normal’ low intensity cardiovascular exercise – especially in terms of fat loss.

When intervals are performed at an intense level, your body will spend the rest of the day expending energy to recover from the challenge you have given it. This is referred to as EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) and it means that you consume a great deal more oxygen recovering from the exercise bout than you would have if you’d just done a steady-state workout – this in turn allows you to burn more fat and calories for the rest of the day.

Short and sweet is the way to go. 10-15 minutes of high intensity cardio performed 3 or 4 times per week is all you need to shed fat and “tone up”.

Interval training can provide all of the following fitness benefits:

* dramatically boosted metabolism – both during AND after exercise
* faster rate of body fat-to-energy conversion
* preserves lean muscle (muscle is your metabolism – you do not what to lose this!)
* significant increase in aerobic capacity (Max VO2) = increased endurance and stamina


How to “Do” Intervals:
Example: Walking on the Treadmill

Start with a three to five minute warm-up then go right into your first interval: 30 seconds of brisk walking (or jogging). At the end of 30 seconds, you should be winded and ready to slow down. This will be your active recovery period, slowing your walking down for the next 2 minutes. Then repeat by increasing the intensity of your speed for 30 seconds.

3-5 minute warm up
30-60 sec. “high”
30-90 sec “low”
Repeat this pattern for 4 to 8 complete Intervals (a total of 10 to 15 minutes) and finish with a cool down. You will find that a mere 8 minutes feels quite long and intense.

The wonderful thing about interval training is that it is so time effective. Remember that your 15 minute investment gives you a bonus effect. Your metabolism is revved up and you will be burning fat all day long – not just when you are exercising.

More good news: You actually do not need any special equipment for an effective intervals workout. All you need is your own body! Moves such as jumping jacks, jump rope and running in place provide just the intensity you need for a great interval workout.

So do yourself a favour – reduce the time you spend doing cardio by adopting high intensity interval training, and burn more calories!

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