Cardio Exercises for Weight Loss (updated July 2019)

The Best Cardio For Weight Loss
Best cardio for weight loss
Best cardio for weight loss

First and foremost, any form of exercise will help you to lose weight. Losing weight is simply calories in versus calories out, or burning more calories during the day than you consume. For example, if you eat 1,700 calories in one day but burn almost 2,000 calories from daily activities, metabolic pathways, and exercise, then you’ve burned 300 calories for that day. Likewise, if the numbers were reversed and you consumed 2,000 calories but only burned 1,700 calories, then you would gain 300 calories that day.

However, there are better ways to initially lose body fat. High-intensity cardiovascular activity will initially burn more fat because of the energy pathways it requires. If done consistently, you’ll be well on your way to losing inches quickly.

Energy Pathways?

Cardiovascular exercise requires more energy than lifting does. (It’s why you’re more out of breath after a five-mile run than a handful of deadlifts.) This is because cardiovascular activity requires energy from fat stores, not glycogen stores. It also requires the energy pathway of oxidative phosphorylation, or the conversion of oxygen into ATP energy, instead of glycolysis, which converts glucose into stored ATP energy.

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Oxidative phosphorylation requires more energy and more work. Your body has to work harder to convert this type of ATP versus already stored ATP from the muscles, hence a greater percentage of fat loss. So the harder you work, the more your body has to work to keep up with you, and the more fat you burn. Easy, right?

So What Makes it High Intensity?

You should be able to tell when an exercise is intense by how hard you’re breathing. If you can hold a conversation, it’s not that intense. If you can’t speak without wheezing, chances are the exercise is intense enough. Intensity is also calculated through the scale of Rates of Perceived Exertion (RPE). This is a scale from 1-10, where 1 is the easiest (think: lying in bed) and 10 is the hardest (think: about to faint because you’re so minded).

Any cardiovascular exercise you do with the goal of losing significant amounts of body fat should be upwards on the RPE scale. Again, you’re aiming to be sweaty and out of breath in order for your body to continually fight for oxygen and generate ATP. If you can grab energy from your muscles, then the body has no reason to work as hard for its energy. If that happens, your metabolism slows. Don’t let that happen!

Get sweaty! Breathe hard! Make your body work!

Various Cardiovascular Exercises

So now you’re thinking, “Well okay, I need to work hard to lose body fat. What exercises are good for that?”

Any exercise that gets your heart rate up, gets you sweaty and makes you lose your breath is a fantastic form of cardiovascular exercise. However, there are some exercises that are easier to perform than others:

  1. Cardiovascular machines. These machines are commonplace gym equipment, such as the: treadmill, elliptical, Stairmaster, and stationary bike. Your gym may have something more unique than those, but those are the main four cardiovascular machines that, when utilized properly, can help to get your heart rate up. Most newer models even have workout options for an increased heart rate, which is great for beginners!
  2. Running. And yes, actually running. Jogging will not get your heart rate up as much, so spare it when you can. Use it as a cool down method to bring your heart rate back to baseline at the end of your workout.

    HIIT
    HIIT
  3. Sled pushes, tire flips, or battle ropes. For the more skilled athlete training at more rugged-style gyms, sled pushes, battle ropes, and tire flips are a great option. These exercises give a greater resistance during activity, which helps to sustain muscle while still getting your heart rate up.

The King of all Cardio

Although the list above is great, there’s something even better. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a cardiovascular exercise that has interchanging periods of rest and activity. The purpose of HIIT is to get your heart rate up to the highest possible level — or the optimal “fat burning zone” — and then let it come back down again before starting the whole process over again. This is a great tactic because the optimal “fat burning zone” can only be withheld for so long before your body needs to stop. It simply cannot produce oxygen that quickly.

 

 

A great example of HIIT cardio is a treadmill sprint. Generally, a sprint can only be held for about 20-30 seconds before you’re physically out of breath. This is the “activity” portion of the exercise. The “rest” portion lasts for about 90 seconds to 2 minutes, depending on your current level of fitness. It gives your heart rate a chance to come back down. However, the key here is to make sure that your heart rate doesn’t return to baseline. Make sure your rest periods are only as long as it takes you to catch your breath. Then you’re off again!

An example of HIIT cardio would be:

20 minutes of full activity –> 90 seconds rest, 30 seconds sprint (activity) / Repeat 10 times.

The General Takeaway

Cardiovascular activity of any intensity is great for heart health. Cardio in of itself gets your blood pumping and your heart beating, which helps to regulate your cardiovascular system. However, when wanting to burn fat, the more intense the exercise the more fat is burned in a shorter period of time.

Exercise intensity is based on how you feel through Ratings of Perceived Exertion. Remember: aim for higher levels, like 7+, in order to really get your heart rate up and increase your body’s demand for oxygen and ATP energy. Without that high demand, the body can use stored energy and the metabolism will not have to work as hard in that moment. That equals less fat loss, which is no good.

In general, the more you sweat the more fat is burned. So get sweating!

How to Improve Your Big Lifts (updated July 2019)

What Are the “Big Lifts”?

The Big Four

image @ www.birthorderplus.com

The “big four lifts” refer to compound movements. These exercises are generally accepted to be the deadlift, squat, bench press, and overhead press (OHP) because they recruit the most muscle groups. While other lifts are also considered compound movements, they do not recruit as many muscle groups as the big four. Other forms of compound movements include exercises such as: lateral pulldowns, barbell rows, push-ups, etc.

Typically, weight lifters will utilize these four main lifts the most. They can improve multiple muscle groups at one time while also improving the lift overall. In addition, working one main four exercise can help to improve some others. For example, training your deadlift helps to improve your squat. This occurs because the hamstrings are recruited in both scenarios. Likewise, perfecting your bench improves your overhead press because both develop the anterior deltoid.

How do I Pick Which to Do?

Really, anyone can train the big four lifts. In fact, performing a compound movement is actually more beneficial for fat burn than isolation movements. This is because the metabolism speeds up with greater muscle density; muscle burns more calories per day than fat does. Compound movements activate more muscle groups, which, in turn, increases muscle density. You’ll become a fat burning machine!

However, a word of caution before embarking on the big four lifts. These lifts are compound and powerful for a reason. It is imperative to nail the form for each one before increasing weight. Having improper form for any exercise can result in serious injury. This warning increases tenfold with compound lifts, however, because of how much more demanding they are. Ask a friend or colleague to demonstrate the proper form for you before beginning! After that, you’re home free.

How to Increase the Big Four Lifts

image @ www.images.shape.mdpcdn.com

So you wanna train hard and lift heavy, huh? Good for you! Big lifting is not only more beneficial to the metabolism and the body’s muscle density, but they’re also lots of fun. Who doesn’t like throwing around some heavy weights in the gym every now and again?

There are a few key ways to improving your big four lifts, whether you’re primarily training the lower or upper body exercises. They include:

1. Proper Programming

It goes without saying, but having a solid program in place is the most beneficial way to increase your big four lifts. Proper programming refers to something either you or a paid coach has written (or a fitness friend, who knows?). This program generally lasts over the span of about six to eight weeks. This time frame gives the trainee (i.e, you) ample amount of time to work upon and improve his lifts.

Your programming should also reflect future strength gains. If your program only has you increasing your big lifts by five pounds every few weeks, then it’s not a solid program. With proper guidance, you should be increasing by either one repetition or five pounds every time you perform the exercise.

Now, there can be outside factors that affect these numbers. But generally speaking, you should be increasing by either five pounds or one rep each week. You should also not perform the exercise for strength — or high weight with a rep scheme of 4-6 repetitions — more than once a week. The same holds true for power training, or repetition sets of 1-3 reps.

2. Proper Recovery

Whether in-between sets or in-between days, you need to give your body the recovery it deserves. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • foam rolling / myofascial release
  • trigger therapy
  • massages (regular or deep tissue)
  • sleep
  • stretching
  • yoga
  • ice baths, hot tubs, and/or saunas
image @ www.rocktape.com

Any one of these recovery practices emphasize releasing the tension from the muscle. This reduces the stress placed on it and allows it to fully heal. And since muscle growth is the healing of muscle tissue, recovery becomes just as important as exercising.

In addition, program your training days well enough so that there are no conflicts with muscle groups. For example, do not train lower body two days in a row, or even over the course of three days. While performing heavy lifts, the muscles are under greater stress than isolation movements. Therefore, they need greater time for recovery in between training days. Aim for three or more days in between big lifts. This time frame gives your muscles ample time to recover before being fired again.

3. Accessory / Isolation Work

What good is an underdeveloped muscle group? If the muscle is underdeveloped, it cannot function properly. Likewise, if one muscle group is lagging another will compensate for it. This puts unnecessary pressure on the developed muscle, while the underdeveloped muscle does no work. In the end, both are injured and your lifts suffer.

The answer to this dilemma is accessory work. Accessory and/or isolation work is directly targeting the muscle. This forces that one particular muscle under constant stress, instead of being integrated with other muscles in a compound lift. For lagging muscles, this tunes them up without overdeveloping surrounding muscles. You can also directly target supporting muscles to the big four lifts, which will help increase them in the long run.

4. Hypertrophy Days

Hypertrophy refers to increasing the size of the muscle tissue. Hypertrophy lifts follow a repetition scheme of 8-10 reps per set. This repetition range adds just enough stress to tear the muscle while also making sure the weight can be heavier than lighter load days.

Hypertrophy days should be very similar to strength days in terms of exercise choice. However, the weight and repetitions change to support muscle growth instead of strength growth. This will not only help you to practice your form, but will also help develop all the working muscles of that exercise.

Hypertrophy days should be about three days or more apart from strength days. Or, they should change week by week: one week train for strength, one for hypertrophy. This latter tactic will take longer for strength development, but can still help to improve the lift.

image @ www.52bpijddwt-flywheel.netdna-ssl.com

So if the big four compound lifts are in your future, remember these key points. Nothing will increase your strength better than proper programming, isolation work, hypertrophy work, and proper rest and recovery!

Best Workouts for Abs To Get A Six Pack (Updated July 2019)

Best Workout for Abs

Abs are Shown in the Kitchen but Made in the Gym

Abdominals are shown in the kitchen but made in the gym. Against popular belief, the abdominals are like any other muscle group. Therefore, they need to be trained, rested and recovered like any other muscle. Training your abdominals every day will not get you abs — in fact, it may hinder them!

image @ www.doctorshealthpress.com

However, your abdominals are a collection of smaller muscles. These muscles can, therefore, be isolated and trained separately, and the recovery time for any one group is significantly less than your major muscles. Abdominals can be trained directly up to three times a week, every other day. They’re also indirectly trained through big lifts, such as the deadlift and squat. This is how abdominals are “made in the gym.”

To actually see your hard-earned six-pack, though, is where “shown in the kitchen” comes in. Typically, abdominals can only be seen at a strikingly low body fat percentage. For most people, this level of body fat is neither healthy nor maintainable year-round. But eating a balanced diet of lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, good fats, and whole grains can help to make those little abdominal nuggets pop from time to time.

The Best Tactics — TUT

Okay, so you’re eating well. Now, how do you train your abdominals?

As I’ve said, abs are like any other muscle group. Training them requires more than hundreds of body weight crunches and thirty-second planks. Instead, your abdominal muscles require weighted tension — the same you’d apply to your legs or chest.

image @ www.seannal.com

The best tactic for building your abdominals is “time under tension.” Simply, Time Under Tension (TUT) is how long the muscle is underweighted strain during a set. The longer the TUT, the longer the muscle is active and contracting. And the longer the muscle is active, the more it can tear.

There are plenty of ways to increase TUT during a workout. The most effective way is to decrease your rest periods in between sets. This ensures that the muscle is generating enough energy to perform the next set, but not so much that it loses its contraction. Another way is to go until “failure”, or when your body physically cannot perform another repetition with good form. Both tactics are excellent ways for increasing TUT.

And since the abdominals are such a small muscle group, they can recuperate fairly quickly. This allows for shorter rest periods, enabling longer TUT.

The Best Exercises

I’m going to let you in on a secret: crunches don’t do much. They’re publicized everywhere because they’re easy and convenient. However, they also don’t supply much tension to the abdominals. There are better exercises that can increase TUT and decrease training time so that you’re not performing hundreds of crunches just to feel the burn.

Cable Crunches

I know what you’re thinking. I literally just said crunches don’t do jack squat, and now I’m saying do crunches. However, these crunches are performed with a cable and can add tens to hundreds of pounds of tension directly to the abdominals. They also target both the upper and lower abdominal regions, making them far superior to conventional crunches.

Perform the exercise by:

  1. Set a cable machine up with a rope attachment, and pin the appropriate weight.
  2. Grab the rope handles in both hands and place it behind your neck.
  3. Pull the rope down as you kneel about eight inches away from the cable. Keep your gaze pointed down and your back straight.
  4. Bring your elbows down to your thighs while keeping your back straight and core tight.
    1. Do not sink into your heels! This takes the pressure off the abs.
    2. Make sure to bring your elbows in so you can crunch your abdominals. Don’t just hinge at the hips!
  5. Slowly bring the rope back up to the kneeling position and repeat.
  6. Perform four sets of 8-10 repetitions.

Leg Raises

Leg raises are a great exercise to target the lower abdominals. The trick is to pull from the core, not the feet. Pulling your body up from the feet takes the pressure of the core entirely. Instead, you’re using the momentum of the feet to complete the movement. Make sure your core is tight as you pull your legs up — you’ll feel the burn for sure!

These can also be performed with ankle weights for an added boost.

Perform this exercise by:

  1. Lay flat on a mat or bench while holding onto a rail behind your head.
  2. Brace your core and pull your legs up until they’re perpendicular to the floor.
    1. Your feet should remain on your chest and not your head! Bringing your feet too far back will relocate the pressure to the upper back and not the core.
  3. Hold the upward position for a beat, then slowly lower your legs back down.
  4. Keep your feet an inch from the ground to ensure TUT, then repeat.
  5. Perform four sets of 10 repetitions.

Russian Twists

image @ www.fit-on.ru

Russian Twists are a great exercise for targeting the obliques, or the side abdominals. They can also be modified to fit multiple fitness levels. This adjustment can be made by raising or lowering the feet, which adds tension to the core. Work on your stability to progress to the harder levels! You can also hold a dumbbell for added tension.

Perform this exercise by:

  1. Sit on a mat with your legs bent at forty-five degrees, heels on the floor.
    1. To make it harder, take your heels off the floor until your shins are parallel to the mat.
  2. Lean back so that your body is at a forty-five-degree angle. Keep your back straight and your core tight!
  3. Either hold a dumbbell or clasp your hands into a ball in line with your mid-chest.
  4. Focus on an object in front of you so that your upper body doesn’t move. Then rotate your hands (or the dumbbell) from side to side. Try to bring your elbow to your hip.
  5. Hold the ending position for a beat, then slowly reverse back to the starting position and repeat on the other side. This is one repetition.
  6. Perform four sets of 10-12 repetitions.

Bicycle Crunches

image @ www.hiitacademy.com

I know, another crunch. And I also know that you’ve heard of these before. You’ve probably done them, too. But I can bet that you’ve also been doing them incorrectly.

The key with bicycle crunches is to perform the exercise slowly. You’re not Lance Armstrong riding a marathon, you’re trying to keep tension on your core. Performing the exercise too quickly takes that pressure off because form fails. Instead, move through each repetition slowly and feel the burn!

These can also be performed with ankle weights for an added boost.

Perform this exercise by:

  1. Lay flat on your back, hands laced behind your head.
    1. Don’t lace your fingers behind your neck! This causes it to strain upwards and put tension on your spine, not core.
  2. Draw your legs up until they’re at ninety degrees. Lift your chest and shoulder blades off of the floor.
  3. Slowly bring one elbow to the opposite knee without moving your upper back off of the floor.
    1. Pro tip: Make eye contact with something in front of you. This helps to prevent too much movement in the upper body!
  4. Slowly release back to the starting position, then repeat on the other side. This is one repetition.
  5. Perform four sets of 10-12 repetitions.

Hanging Leg Raise

Hanging leg raises are a bit more advanced than floor work because they require more core strength. It combines stability work with crunches, which definitely increases TUT.

These can be performed either on a pull-up bar for maximum stability or on an assisted hanging leg raise machine. You can also throw on ankle weights for an added boost.

Perform this exercise by:

  1. Place your arms on the machine pads and your back flat against the machine. Hold the handles to make sure you don’t move!
  2. Brace your core and bring your knees up to your chest.
    1. You can also perform an L-sit, where your legs remain parallel to the floor and ninety degrees to your body (see above photo).
  3. Hold the top of the movement for a beat, then release back down.
  4. For a full-on hanging leg raise, hold the handles of the pull-up bar. Perform the exercise in the same way but keep your upper body locked. Then release the feet back down to the starting position.
  5. Perform four sets of 10 repetitions.

 

Now, these are just some basic core exercises. The trick to training core is to make sure that you’re hitting all regions — upper, lower, middle, and the obliques. Training abs up to three times a week can help ensure this, as well as incorporating one movement for each muscle group.

A strong core is imperative. In fact, it’s your number one stabilizer. Big lifts — such as deadlifts and squats — can be hindered if you don’t have a strong core. So take the time to really focus on growing that foundation for not only that six-pack, for overall performance improvement!