The Best Cardio Workouts For Building Muscle And Burning Fat

cardio workouts

I'll be honest with you, I don't like doing cardio. For as long as I've been weight training (over 20 years), I can't remember a time that I enjoyed doing cardio.

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Here is one of the main reasons why I don't enjoy doing 45 minutes of cardio after my workouts. I really don't want to spend anymore time in the gym than I have to. I will usually spend about one hour doing intense weight training.

If I do another 45 minutes of cardio afterwards, that takes my total time in the gym to close to two hours. To be honest, I don't really want to spend 2 hours in the gym.

This has always been the train of thought amongst fitness enthusiasts and hard core body builders alike.

The more cardio you do, the better it is for fat loss. Now, we all know that cardio is absolutely needed in order to burn fat - There is no denying this fact.

Research has shown that the only way the body burns fat is through the oxidation cycle. Cardio exercise forces your body to use oxygen as a fuel source. And, in order to burn fat, oxygen has to be present.

So, it only makes sense that the more oxygen you have in your system, the better it is to burn fat. This is a very simplified version of how the body uses oxygen to burn fat but hey, I'm no scientist and this is the way I understand it to be.

However, the latest research has shown that shorter, and more intense cardio sessions to be much more effective for fat loss and muscle retention. Let me ask you another question, how would you feel if you could do shorter cardio sessions (20 minutes) and actually burn more fat in the long run and hold on to more muscle mass? I know I'm very interested in this method.

What I'm talking about is interval cardio training. I believe it's being called “High Intensity Interval Training” (H.I.I.T). Now, interval training is nothing new in athletics. This type of training has been going on for decades and is something that most Olympic athletes do in their daily training routines.

Alright, what are intervals and how can they be one of the best cardio workouts you can do?

Webster's defines an interval as a space of time between events. That's basically what an aerobic interval is. For example, when I was in high school, our running coach would make us do sprinting intervals. We would do an all out sprint for about 15 seconds and than we would rest for about 40 seconds. This would be considered on interval. We would repeat this pattern for about 4 or 5 intervals. The event would be the actual sprinting and the space in between would be considered the resting period.

I'm not going to lie to you, interval training can be very difficult to do so you have to work your way up to it.

Now, high intensity interval training has just now started to gain more popularity amongst fitness enthusiasts as a more efficient way to burn fat and maintain muscle mass rather than long, steady state type cardio workouts. With interval cardio training, the workouts are shorter and much more intense, and chances are, you'll work much harder than you did with your steady state cardio program. However, the results can be very dramatic.

You see, steady state cardio training usually involves low to moderate cardio exercises performed at 60% to 70% of your maximum heart rate. This usually involves long cardio sessions that can last up to one hour - Even longer for those who are cardio freaks. The idea is to burn fat while using low to moderate levels of intensity.

However, high intense cardio sessions are much shorter - 20 minutes long and use close to 90% of your maximum heart rate. The idea is to use higher intensity levels while burning maximum amounts of fat and maintaining lean muscle mass.

Why is High Intense Cardio Training gaining more and more popularity as the possible best cardio workouts for burning fat? Let's take a look at some of the research.

One of the earliest research done at Laval University suggests that more fat can be burned using high intensity interval training. The experiment lasted for one month and used two groups. One group used a steady state cardio training for 20 weeks and another group used a high intensity interval training program for 15 weeks. The results showed that the group using a steady state cardio program lost more calories than the high intensity interval training group did. However, the group using the high intensity interval training program actually lost significantly more body fat.

Another study done in 2001 at the East Tennessee State University found similar results. Two groups followed an 8 week cardio program. One group followed a steady state cardio program and another used a high intensity interval training program. After the study was completed, the high intensity interval training group lost 2% body fat. The interesting part is that the group that followed the steady state cardio program lost absolutely no body fat. Of course, there may have been other variables involved that could have accounted for the 0 fat loss for the steady state group, but regardless, the results speak for themselves.

You want to know what's really interesting about this study, is that the subjects who followed the high intensity interval program burned 100 more calories per day during the 24 hours, post exercise.

The most recent study is from Australia. The study involved two groups of females. One group followed a 20 minute high intensity interval wind sprints (8 second high intense sprint followed by 12 second rest), while another group followed a 40 minute steady state cardio program performed at 60% of maximum heart rate. The group that performed the high intensity wind sprints lost an amazing 6 times more body fat than the steady state cardio group.

These results are quite dramatic and begs the question:

“What Makes High Intense Interval Cardio Training Burn So Much Fat?”

From the research I've done, it seems that the most relevant aspect to the success of it's fat burning capabilities, a high intense interval training program, is it's effect on metabolism. A study done by the Baylor College of Medicine reported that those individuals who performed a high intense cardio workout on a stationary bike burned a lot more calories during the 24 hours than those who followed a steady state program. The fat burning properties of a high intensity interval cardio is due to it's ability to raise a person's resting metabolic rate.

Another study done by the Florida State University suggests the following:

• Subjects who performed high intense interval cardio exercise burned 10% more calories during the 24 hours post exercise than subjects who performed a steady state cardio exercise.

How is this possible? Since it takes so much energy and effort to complete a high intensity interval training session, your body requires more energy to repair itself afterwards. It only makes sense because by increasing the intensity of any type of exercise will only increase the amount of work it takes to repair the body.

Ok, so what types of cardio exercises are best for high intensity interval training?

Really, you can incorporate any type of cardio exercise and adjust it for high intense interval training. You can be perform high intensity interval training on a stairmaster, elliptical trainer, mountain bike, local track, treadmill, a stationary bike or a host of other cardio exercises. Let's take a look at using an elliptical trainer. Take a look at the following chart:


Resistance Level

3 minutes - warm up

2 or 3

1 minute


Interval 1- 40 secs to 1 minute

8 to 10

2 minutes


Interval 2 - 1 to 2 minutes

8 to 10

3 minutes


Interval 3 - 2 to 3 minutes


4 minutes


Interval 4 - 3 to 4 minutes

8 to 10

4 minutes


2 minutes - cool down


Remember, high intensity interval training is just that, it’s high intense and it is very hard to complete. However, the results are undeniable, you will lose maximum amounts of fat and get into the best shape of your life.

For those of you who are interested in maximum fat loss and building muscle, this may be a very important tip for you. Why not couple your high intense cardio sessions with high intense, compound movement weight training? Personally, this is probably your best way to gain maximum muscle mass while at the same time, keeping fat levels maintained or even burning fat. I’m not going to go over the whole weight training program, because I’ve discussed it at the following web page:

Great way to build muscle mass

So there you have it. Let’s face it, nobody likes doing cardio but it has become a staple in order to get into top shape. Although cardio has to be done in order to burn fat, it doesn’t have to be boring and monotonous to be effective. By using high intense interval training, you will spice up your cardio sessions with constant challenges and speeding up your fat burning efforts while cutting down on your cardio time.

If you were looking for the best cardio workouts to do, try doing high intense interval training, you’ll be amazed at the results.

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As the owner of Building Muscle 101, I am committed to providing you the best practical weight training advice. I've been training for over 24 years (and still train to this day!) and the advice and guidance I provide comes directly from my experience and knowledge.

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