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Cardio for Fat Loss: How to Make It Work for You

written by: Rochelle Connery • edited by: Cheryl Gabbert • updated: 4/18/2011

If you’re looking to do cardio for fat loss, you don’t have to do the most mundane exercises to achieve that goal. There’s a reason you see phrases like “cardio blast” and “dance cardio” at gyms and on weight loss websites. There really are ways to make losing weight with cardio a lot of fun!

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    Fat Loss vs. Bodybuilding

    Doing cardio for fat loss and bodybuilding might overlap in some respects. The exercises involved might be very similar. But it’s the amount of time or number of repetitions that you do for each that help determine which goal you’re going to achieve.

    If you don’t necessarily have a lot of equipment at your disposal, doing cardio for fat loss is probably a great option.

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    Cardio in the Morning

    Doing cardio for fat loss at certain times of the day will optimize your results more than at other times. For instance, getting up early and working out before loading up on food for the day will take fat from your stored reserves (i.e., the fat you want to lose).

    However, you’re not quite as energetic when you first wake up as you are at peak hours of the day. So don’t strain yourself, and don’t exercise on a full stomach. Eat a protein bar or drink a protein shake before doing cardio in the morning so you’ll have some energy to help you burn that stored fat.

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    Cardio During the Rest of the Day

    Of course, you shouldn’t reserve cardio for fat loss to the morning hours only. You can do it in the afternoon and at night as well. But you should try to do cardio at times when you haven’t just eaten a full meal. If you do, you’ll just burn off the food you just ate, instead of burning off the fat stored in your body.

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    Cardio Options

    Straight running on a street has its benefits, but after a while, your joints will feel the impact of all that heavy running. You might damage your knees or get tendonitis from overworking those muscles. You’re better off to do cardio on a machine, like a stair stepper, a treadmill or an elliptical trainer.

    You can also do cardio-inducing activities, like biking, kickboxing, dance cardio, and martial arts. You don’t have to handcuff yourself to an exercise bike just to burn calories when high-perspiration activities will help obtain the same objective.

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    Length of Cardio

    Experts quibble over how long you should actually do cardio each day. Some say short bursts of 5 to 10 minutes are all you need. Others recommend 1-2 minute bursts in between strength training exercises for high-intensity interval training circuits.

    But if you’re looking to achieve most of your weight loss through cardio, you’ll have to do more than 10 minutes per day. And instead of just running happily on an elliptical trainer on the easiest level possible, amp up the level and run as fast as you can for short bursts. Take a few seconds off for a water break, then get back on. You can also choose a particular program, like Glute Blaster or Mountain Climbing, for a variation in cardio difficulty.

    You never want to do the same thing over and over for cardio, or your body will get used to it. Mix up your routines, and don’t be afraid to try new activities!