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Ask the Experts: The Most Effective Cardio Strategies to Achieve Your Goals

Cardio can be confusing. Because of the popularity of high intensity interval training (HIIT), some people may think that traditional cardio is a waste of time. They are wrong. Whether it’s in bursts like HIIT or a continuous steady state, cardio not only increases your heart strength and the capacity of your circulatory system and lungs, but also reduces your risk of developing heart disease or diabetes.

Still, it can be mystifying to figure out which kind of cardio is right for you. So we asked two Bodyzeal Fitworks experts to get different perspectives on what cardio to do and when, based on what your goal might be.

Best cardio for weight loss

Add HIIT training into your regimen. One of the main benefits is EPOC, or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, where your body continues burning calories even after your workout because it’s working to return to its normal metabolic function. It will take longer to get back to your resting heart rate. It could go on for one or two hours. You’ll be watching a movie, but your body is still burning calories!

Cardio is just one element of a successful weight-loss journey, along with resistance training, healthy eating, movement quality and rest/recovery. I recommend at least three cardio sessions per week, for a minimum of 30 minutes each. The key is to find an approach that is sustainable and enjoyable, because if you find a cardio activity that you love doing, you’ll be more inclined to keep doing it. The most effective cardio is anything that’s enjoyable and gets your heart rate up and keeps it up for a sustained period of time. For weight loss, we’re really looking at burning calories, so you can go long and slow or fast and intense to burn additional calories to move closer to your goals.

Best cardio to complement strength training

If your goal is to add mass, do cardio but keep it steady. Try an inclined walk or stairs. Or try some steady-state (traditional) aerobic training. Just do the treadmill, the stair climber or elliptical to maintain. It’s going to be great for your heart health and blood pressure. You need weights to build your muscles, but you need cardio for your heart health. Heart health means reducing risk of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Cardio lowers blood pressure, lessens the chance of heart attacks and keeps arteries from clogging. Cardio is for the long term.

Best cardio for heart health

Frequently, people with this goal have high blood pressure or cardiac disease, or they have had a heart attack. Your resting heart rate should be between 50 and 80 beats per minute. If it’s 90 or 100 or 110, you want to get that checked. So talk to your doctor first. Walking is going to be the easiest form of cardio. Think about walking a certain number of steps every day. See how you feel. Monitor your heart rate. Take a 15- or 20-minute walk. Progress into an elliptical or a stationary bike. After a month, start progressing and adding an extra day and checking your heart rate. A healthy adult should walk five days a week for 30 minutes each day.

Best cardio for overcoming a plateau

First, evaluate your situation. Are you dedicated? Are you doing the same forms? If you’re doing steady-state exercise, I would try something else like HIIT. Every four weeks, change up one or two things. If you do interval training two days a week, you could add a day. But I wouldn’t do more than two or three days of HIIT training. If you’re already there, try switching to a steady-state workout. You have to keep changing things.