You know you should probably be doing some type of cardio. It is a good additive to any workout plan to burn some extra calories. It is also extremely good for your heart. After all, the must important muscle in the body is our heart and we definitely want to keep it strong. So the question is, how much cardio should I be doing and what kind? I thought I would write to shed some light on the different forms of cardio that you may hear people talk about and the theory behind them.
The first question you need to ask yourself is, “what is my goal?”Are you trying to lose body fat, maintain, or are you trying to gain muscle mass? Each situation is going to warrant a different form of cardio. Below I will briefly describe each form and the situation you would use it in.
LISS (low intensity steady state) This is any activity that you can do at a low intensity for a long time. Examples are, walk on the treadmill, slow jog on the elliptical, slow row on the row machine, recumbent biking, even a walk outside. Your heart rate will be in your personal low zone (for me this is about 135bpm). Most likely you will not be overly winded while doing LISS. Most people use this if they are just starting out an exercise program, are not in great cardiovascular health, or people who are in a gain and just want some type of cardio in their program. It is also good for people who do high intensity training three times a week, they can do LISS in between for recovery purposes.
MISS (medium intensity steady state) MISS pairs well with a resistance strength building program. If you lift 5 days a week you can easily put MISS in your protocol on rest days or after a training program a few times a week depending on your fitness goals. This helps you burn some extra calories along with your regular workout protocol. You want your heart range somewhere in the mid range for you (for me this is about 155-160bpm). You should be able to still hold a conversation but you should be sweating and somewhat winded. I typically perform MISS on an elliptical or a stair stepper and I wear a heart rate monitor so I know that my heart rate is staying in the appropriate range. It is important to keep an eye on your heart rate so you don’t slip back into a LISS zone.
HIIT (high intensity interval training) This one most people have heard of. It is the least boring way to burn a ton of calories. It has proven to be more effective at burning calories than MISS on a machine for the same length of time. You want to see your heart rate in the high zone while in this state (for me about 180bpm). You should be sweating, red faced, and out of breath during high intensity training. Typically you see HIIT in the form of circuits at the gym, sprints on the treadmill, or sprints on the elliptical. You can also make a combination of the two. For example, 15 second sprint on the treadmill, get off and complete a weight lifting circuit, get back on the treadmill and sprint again. Although this is a great way to burn calories fast, you shouldn’t be doing it every day. I am a firm believer in working out at least five days a week, but you do NOT want to be performing HIIT for all five days. Like I suggested earlier, you can always perform LISS in between for recovery days.
So now that you know what all three forms are, what should you be doing? Like I previously stated, what are your goals? What is your cardiovascular health like? Is this your first time exercising? If you are new to working out, you should start with LISS. Start for small amounts of time until you can work up to a good 30 minutes. Once 30 minutes seems easy, head up to MISS and work a little harder. Start small again and work back up to 30 minutes. When you’re a master at that, give HIIT a try. Try sprints for 15 seconds at a time on a machine or set yourself up a circuit in the gym. A circuit is many exercises back to back without rest until all the exercises are finished. When all of them are completed, you start again.
The main goal is to make sure you are always challenging yourself. The harder you are working, the more calories you are burning. Sometimes we may not realize that our cardio protocol has gotten easier and our body isn’t fatiguing as fast as it once did. Wear a heart rate watch or chest strap so you can keep track of how hard you are actually working. After all, you are spending the time doing it, you want to make sure you are really making it count!