I’m a firm believer in a 3-step process for reaching your fitness goals: 1) Mandatory clean eating 2) Plenty of strength training and 3) Some cardio. Emphasis on some cardio. Somewhere from the birth of modern fitness to today it became ingrained in the public mind that cardio on top of cardio was the recipe for a lean, sleek, fit figure. Study after study, researcher after researcher have all stated cardio is not the secret to an individual’s ideal body, unless you want to look like a zombie on The Walking Dead. Want that awesome body? You need strength training and lots of it. But I digress.
Sometimes strength training isn’t enough. Sometimes you have to do cardio, and I don’t mean lifting weights faster (*cough* crossfit *cough*). But what kind of cardio? There’s cycling (i.e. spin class), running (sprints or distance), HIIT style workouts, and so on. I wish the answer was simple but we have to consider several factors: current fitness level, body fat %, current weight and goal weight, injuries, imbalances, etc. So, we’ll start from the bottom and work our way up.
1) First, let’s look at the person who has 30lbs+ to lose, injured knee/ankle/foot, and elderly. If you fall into one or more of these categories then here’s your best fat loss cardio routine: walking. That’s right. I said walking. I learned this first hand in Marine Corps boot camp. Yes, we did our morning PT (physical training) but we walked everywhere! I would ‘guestimate’ we walked 12+ miles every day (no packs). I lost 30lbs in 3 months. Keep in mind I ran my butt off before bootcamp and wasn’t losing any weight (and that included clean eating!). The biggest surprise while in bootcamp wasn’t how much weight we lost but how much we ate while losing weight. We ate TONS of food but no matter how much we consumed our bodies would continue to lose weight.
Some of you may be asking, “didn’t you run?” To be honest, we didn’t do that much running. Besides, unlike running, your body will never burn fewer calories the more you walk (at least not until you’ve lost significant weight). The more you run the more efficient your body becomes to the physical demand. This adaptation was needed for our survival hundreds and thousands of years ago. Today? Not so much. Also, by walking you reduce the risk of injury or exacerbating current injuries and imbalances, which can lead to more problems and prevent you from exercising. Finally, it’s pure fat burning! Walking keeps you in the oxidative state that requires your body to use fat, and only fat, as energy. Since you’re not pushing yourself too hard your body will never switch over to your ATP or glycogen stores that are required for strenuous physical activity. It’s a win-win! The only catch 22 on walking for weight loss is that you must do a lot of it. Build up to 60 min. of continuous walking. On the weekends, try to move around all day. The more you move the more you lose.
2) Now, we’ll take a look at the person who has just a few extra pounds to lose, no major injuries, and a moderate level of fitness (i.e. played sports, occasionally works out). This person should already be on a weight training program and I believe if they are eating well then cardio should not be a concern. However, if they’ve been eating clean and training hard for at least 6 months and the results are not fully there then I would add sprint intervals to their routine. Sprint intervals will help maintain the muscle they’ve been building and lean out those last few pounds. Why? Unlike walking, sprinting requires high usage of your ATP energy source. Carbohydrates power ATP. ATP burns carbohydrates. The result is a depletion of carbohydrates so your body relies on fat as energy for the remainder of the day (if you keep the carbs minimal in your diet). Start off with 40-50 meter sprints. Perform 1 every minute for 6-8 min. As your recovery time improves you may increase the distance (no more than 200 meters) and sets (no more than 15).
3) Finally, we come to the strength athlete. You’re not just strong. You’re very strong. While cardio is not your priority you know it’s necessary for heart health and weight maintenance (i.e. keep the strength but not get fatter). For this we turn to the kettlebell swing and kettlebell snatch. There are very few exercises that can improve cardio, decrease body fat, and increase strength and power while being safe (sorry, 30 reps of deadlifting for time or 15 barbell snatches as fast as you can is NOT safe). The kettlebell swing and snatch are hip hinge movements performed with a focus on speed and power. Even when you’re tired the movement is not going to damage your hips, knees, low back, or shoulders. All key aspects of a strong lifter.
Kettlebell Snatch Demonstrated Above
Also, the swing and snatch allow high volume work (lots of reps with lots of weight) while not sacrificing safety or strength. In fact, the swing and snatch are very beneficial to hip strength and mobility as well as upper back and shoulder girdle strength. In addition, the swing and snatch can be performed daily (kind of like walking) without causing any damaging repercussions. For training purposes I would suggest incorporating swings and/or kettlebell snatches at the end of your workouts 2-4x per week. Vary the sets and reps as you wish. Simply focus on performing solid, good reps for a period of time (5-10 min.). My personal favorite is performing as many kettlebell snatches as I can in 5 min. GREAT finisher to any workout.
Kettlebell Swing Demonstrated Above
So, the swing and snatch can make you stronger, leaner, and improve cardiac output. Do what I did: Say ‘yes!’ to the kettlebell swing and snatch.