Make The Most Out Of Your Cardio Workout

We’ve all done it.  Hop on that treadmill or elliptical and set yourself to auto pilot for 30-60 minutes.  You don’t change the speed, resistance or incline and at the end of this cardio segment, you find you have barley broken a sweat.  Sound familiar?!

The problem with so many cardio workouts is that they become so routine, the challenge of completing it to your fullest is eliminated. Your goal should be to maximize calorie burn during every minute of cardio while burning fat and toning stubborn problem areas (that can get zoned in on with the intensity of cardio!)

Here are a few tips to make the most out of your cardio workout:

1.  No more excuses. You know you have to do it, so just do it and enjoy it.  Take pride in the fact that you are so committed to your health and make the most out of that hour.

2.  Check your heart rate.  If you are not working out in your target heart rate zone, you are not getting the most out of your workout. To find your target heart rate, subtract your age from 220 (this is your maximum heart rate). It is recommended that you work out at about 70% of your target heart rate zone when starting out. So, if you’re 30 years old, your maximum heart rate would be 190 beats per minute and working out at 70% of that would put your heart rate at about 133 beats per minute (190 multiplied by 0.7). As your level of fitness improves, you can up that number to 161 beats per minute. Many of the cardio machines have heart rate sensors that can give you a ballpark range (they are not 100% accurate, but close) or I like to wear a hear rate monitor occasionally to test my levels.

3.  Wait an hour before eating.  For so long, it seemed like everyone was saying to eat immediately after workout out so your muscles aren’t eating muscle.  However, more and more research is showing otherwise.  It is now being said that unless you are looking to bulk up (which most women are not) you should wait exactly one hour after finishing your cardio to eat.  This allows your body to burn more calories during the period immediately following your workout (after-burn), when your heart rate remains higher then usual.  Additionally, studies also have been showing that as long as you are eating every 2-4 hours (depending on your weight, metabolism and fitness goals) you should not need to add an additional “Post workout snack” into your meal plans.  Instead, I like to plan out my meals so that my snack is about 1 – 1.5 hours before my workout, I workout for an hour, then by the time I get home and make dinner, it has been my 3 hours.

4.  Get into those fat stores. (Note: This is not for those who are interested in bulking up, but for those who want to shed excess pounds.)  If you are really interested in getting into those fat stores, then getting your cardio in first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach or right after weight training — when your body has used up much of its readily available energy — is the thing to do. This way, your body is forced to really dig deep into its energy stores in order to get you through the cardiovascular exercise. It’s rough, but it works. Please note though, you should not be working out over 60 minutes on an empty stomach – this works best if you are going to do a 30 minute weight training workout followed by a 30 minute cardio workout, or a solid 60 minute cardio workout only.

5.  Use your whole body. If you can only afford to devote 20 minutes to your cardio workout, then make sure you do an exercise that uses your whole body and burns the most calories. For example, in that 20-minute time period, you may only burn about 150 calories using the recumbent stationary bike, whereas, with a little effort, you could burn 200+ running sprints or hills on the treadmill. Furthermore, any unsupported, upright activity, such as running, forces you to use your core and back muscles, whereas, when you are seated comfortably on the bike, your body does not require you to use these muscles. Another great one to do at a high intensity is the cross-trainer as this requires you to use your arms and upper back muscles; just note that in order to get a good calorie burn on this one, you must increase the intensity.

6.  Check your form. Having the right form is not only important for injury prevention, it also allows you to burn the most calories possible. For instance, if you are using the rowing machine, but you’re not making the effort to complete the movement by fully extending your legs, torso and arms, then you are probably not expending nearly as many calories as you could be.

7.  Sneak it in.  If you really aren’t a fan of cardio, that doesn’t mean you can get away with avoiding it completely.  Instead, try break your cardio into sets and integrate it into your weight training routine.   Try doing 10 minutes of intense cardio every 15 minutes of your weight training workout.  Want to really tone those legs?  Try doing a series of (20) of each of jumping squats, jumping front/back lunches, and skating side lunges then hop on the treadmill at an incline of 9 and speed of 4.5 for 5 minutes, lower the incline to 4 and up the speed to sprint for 60 seconds, then finish at the higher incline for 4 more minutes.  Repeat this 3 times.  You will love me for that one :)

8.  Switch it up.  f you get bored being on the same machine for 30 minutes at a time, you might want to hit two or three different machines for 10-15 minutes each. This way, you won’t have the chance to get bored. Furthermore, your body will not get the chance to adapt to any given activity and it will thus burn more calories, which is why you’re looking for ways to maximize your cardio workouts.  Try doing a 15 minute ‘warm up’ on the cross trainer, go to the treadmill and do 15 minutes of HIIT training the ‘cool down’ on the stationary bike.

9.  Be prepared. If you’d like to ride the stationary bike for 30 minutes, three times per week, but you don’t have the required patience to pedal your way to nowhere, then make sure to bring along a good book or magazine (just make sure you keep your pace up) or your iphone that’s loaded with your favorite songs. Music is a powerful motivator and if used correctly, it can serve as one of the choicest ways to maximize your cardio workouts. Besides, the right playlist can make time fly by, which will make your workouts seem like they’ve finished before they’ve begun.  I also love to listen to podcasts when I am working out.  In the time I am doing my cardio, I can get through a whole podcast and I get so engrossed in the topics, I loose track of time.  My favorite:  The Jillian Michael’s Show.  LOVE her.

10.  Gear up. Whatever your chosen cardio activity is, having the right equipment is a must. Not only will it allow you to perform the activity correctly, but it will also minimize your chances of injury and it’s one of the simplest ways to maximize your cardio workouts. Furthermore, the fact that you will probably look forward to trying it out – and, if you’re the type, showing it off – it will motivate you to do more of whatever it is you like to do. For instance, if you’re a runner, go invest in the best pair of running shoes and sports watches you can afford or if you’re into rowing, buy yourself a cool pair of rowing gloves. You will be so surprised to see and feel the difference just this simple change can make in your workout.

11.  Pick an activity you enjoy.  If you hate to run, then don’t because it’s not one of the best ways to maximize your cardio workouts. That doesn’t mean, however, that you should swear off all cardio activity. The key to sticking with a cardiovascular routine is picking an activity  that you really enjoy doing. If you’re a recreational biker or swimmer, for example, then do those activities a couple times a week at an increased intensity. Before you know it, it won’t even feel like work at all and that is one of the best ways to maximize your cardio workouts.