The Perfect Cardio Workout (The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide)
The perfect cardio workout that makes you look good in a swimsuit is based on the four elements of the MBSC formula. Cardio training is one of them. This article will teach you the right and wrong ways to do cardio workouts.
A perfect cardio workout burns fat.
If you do it right, that is. If you don’t, you will – unfortunately – end up on the hamster wheel and achieve nothing but frustration and a standstill.
Why cardio training?
It’s true. Eat right, and you’ll hit the fat-burning pedal. But diet alone will not make you fitter.
You are allowed to move.
“Wait a minute, that’s what I do with weight training.” I like the idea because it goes in the right direction.
When you hear the terms fat burning training or cardio training, what do you think of?
Maybe you think about jogging or walking for miles, long sessions on a cardio machine, or step aerobics at the gym.
If you are not enthusiastic about any of this, I have good news for you:
Cardio, as we define it, is much more than that. Stay tuned. Cardio comes in a myriad of colors, shapes, and flavors.
What is cardio (not)?
Endurance training is your booster if you want to lose fat. It complements the other elements of the MBSC formula and forms the top of the pyramid.
While there is a scientific definition of cardio, in our context – looking good in a swimsuit – it helps if we deviate from it a bit.
Let’s set cardio as the third element of the MBSC formula like this:
Cardio is any form of physical activity that increases your breathing and heart rate enough for long enough to boost your calorie burn noticeably.
Specifically: cardio training is a physical exercise that:
- activates large muscle groups, i.e., legs or arms and legs together.
- measurably increases your breathing and heart rate.
- you can either perform long at a constant pace…
- or in high-intensity intervals, alternating and repeating with short rests.
The advantage of our definition is that it leaves many leeways so you can find a variant you enjoy.
Here are some examples of cardio training:
- walking or hiking,
- Jogging or running,
- Cross trainer,
- Stairs Machine (Stairmaster),
- Jumping a rope,
- To go biking,
- Swimming and other water sports,
- Cross country skiing,
- Hot Iron or Iron Cross,
- Other group courses that will make you sweat,
- Video courses that will make you sweat,
- Bodyweight exercises and calisthenics (in the strength-endurance area),
- Sports that challenge you physically (boxing, basketball, tennis, squash, football, sport climbing),
Cardio training ensures you release happiness hormones and become a persistent fat-burning machine.
Perfect Cardio Workout: A guide in 3 steps
The same applies to the perfect cardio workout: there is more than one path that leads to the goal.
The following questions will help you to find your personal optimum. I will also tell you some “best practices” and rules of thumb from fitness coaching:
- HOW LONG should you train your endurance?
- HOW OFTEN should you do cardio?
- HOW HARD should you train?
Let’s go through the points one by one.
Perfect Cardio Workout #1 – How LONG should you train?
It’s probably nothing new to you to increase your calorie needs as you exercise longer.
If you train twice as long with the same intensity:
- you burn twice as many calories during training and
- can break down twice as much fat.
And as so often, the same applies to cardio training:
The dose makes the poison.
Of course, long cardio units also have disadvantages:
- If your training volume is too high, you risk overuse injuries and/or overtraining.
- Very few people want to spend 1-2 hours a day in the gym.
You can find an efficient solution that fits into your life.
You can find the right balance between a balanced diet with a slight calorie deficit and an increased activity level.
I like the idea that you’re just doing as much cardio workout as you need to reach your weekly goals.
Okay, that doesn’t answer the initial question: How long should you do cardio training for optimal fat loss?
The point is this:
Training duration isn’t the only variable that can increase your metabolism. The intensity also plays a role.
Here are three options that experience has shown to be a good solution for most people:
- High-intensity cardio training: 20-30 minutes per session.
- Moderate-intensity cardio: 30-45 minutes per session.
- Low-intensity cardio: 45-60 minutes per session.
Each of these three variants burns similar calories due to the different intensity levels.
Especially when you first get in, you should feel your way forward cautiously. Then it’s a good idea to start with low to moderate intensity and choose a time frame you can handle.
If that’s 10 minutes of low-intensity cardio on your first workout, great!
From there, you slowly but steadily increase the duration – until you reach the optimal time window.
Perfect Cardio Workout #2 – How OFTEN should you train?
If you want to optimize your rate of fat loss, the following lower limit is recommended in exercise science and practice:
Exercise 3 days a week for 30 minutes at enough intensity to burn 300+ calories per session.
Let’s define this interval as a training foundation.
Once you have the training foundation in place and feel comfortable with it, you can make further adjustments if you:
- burn more calories
- break down fat faster
- want to break a plateau.
Then you could increase your cardio frequency to 4-6 sessions per week if your schedule allows.
In principle, there is nothing to be said against 7 days of exercise per week. However, most people feel more balanced in their lives when they allow themselves a full day of rest.
This balance helps you to stay successful in the long term.
If you decide to increase your cardio to more than three sessions per week, it’s not a good idea to go flat out daily.
Three HIIT sessions per week are okay. If you train more frequently, you should make the remaining units moderate or relaxed.
In this way, you avoid injuries, overtraining, and mental burnout.
Perfect Cardio Workout #3 – How HARD should you train?
When I say “hard workout,” I mean the intensity of your training.
The intensity measures how high your metabolic rate increases during training or how much oxygen you need.
Training intensity is relative.
If you have not done any sport before and have not moved much in everyday life, the stairs from the ground floor to the first floor may be a highly intensive training interval for you.
A 10K run might be a no-brainer if you have excellent stamina.
Possibility 1: the perfect cardio workout according to heart rate
Intensity is traditionally measured via heart rate.
The training intensity is based on your maximum heart rate (HRmax). You can estimate them using the following formula:
HRmax ≈ 207 – [0.7 x age]
The older you are, the lower your maximum heart rate. At age 20, HRmax for most people is around 194 beats per minute. At age 50, it’s around 173 beats per minute.
To burn a significant amount of calories, you should aim for an intensity of 70-85% of your maximum heart rate.
As a rule of thumb, the higher your heart rate during training, the more strenuous the training and the more calories you burn.
I’ve found that beginners tend to overdo it rather than underdo it. The heart rate measurement helps you to get a feeling for the right intensity.
You should know that this method does not provide perfect accuracy. But it helps you get a good feeling for your body and the intensity of your cardio training, especially at the beginning.
How to measure your heart rate:
- Via heart rate monitor: I have had the best experiences with heart rate monitors from Polar.
- Manual: Alternatively, you can measure your heart rate with your index and middle fingers on your wrist or carotid artery by counting the beats for 10 seconds and then multiplying the result by 6. You will often find heart rate sensors on cardio machines.
Possibility 2: a perfect cardio workout according to the Borg scale
The Borg scale is another way you can assess and control the intensity of your training based on your individual perception.
|Level||Borg scale||Intensity of cardio training / Activity||Short|
|0||Nothing at all||Sitting or lying in bed||BMR|
|1||Very slight||Work or activity (no training)||NEAT|
|2||Slight||Work or activity (no training)||NEAT|
|3||Moderate||Continuously with low intensity||LISS|
|4||Somewhat severe||Continuously with low intensity||LISS|
|5||Severe||Continuously with medium intensity||MISS|
|6||Continuously with medium intensity||MISS|
|7||Very severe||Continuously with high intensity||HISS|
|8||Interval training (long interval duration)||HIIT|
|9||Extremely Severe||Interval training (short interval duration)||HIIT|
|10||Maximal||Sprint with maximum pace||HIIT|
You’ve probably figured out that the Borg scale is named after its inventor, a Swedish physiologist named Gunnar Borg.
It may seem a bit imprecise at first glance, but that is deceptive: most people can subjectively assess their training intensity reasonably well on a scale from 1 to 10, which is why the Borg scale works just as well in practice as heart rate measurement.
Note: In training science, the following abbreviations are used for the activity level in addition to the 10-point Borg scale:
- BMR(Basal Metabolic Rate): Basal metabolic rate, Borg scale level 0.
- NEAT(Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis): Thermogenesis through exercise in everyday life, Borg scale levels 1-2.
- LISS(Low-Intensity Steady State): Low-intensity cardio training, Borg scale levels 3-4.
- MISS(Medium Intensity Steady State): medium-intensity cardio training, Borg scale levels 5-6.
- HISS(High-Intensity Steady State): Steady high-intensity cardio training, Borg scale level 7.
- HIIT(High-Intensity Interval Training): High-intensity interval training, Borg scale levels 8-10.
Practical tip: This is how you find the right start to the perfect cardio workout
No matter how high the motivation, beginners should never start with HIIT training.
If you start relaxed at an intensity that feels good for you, you’ll quickly find yourself getting fitter weekly.
Next, you can slowly increase the intensity.
You’re perfect if you give yourself a month or so to build a foundation of endurance.
Cardio training in the LISS area (“Low-Intensity Steady State,” levels 3-4) is the most effective way to build up this basic endurance. This article will teach you more ways to make LISS training effective.
The Perfect Cardio Workout – Conclusion
A good nutritional program will kickstart your fat loss and make you feel healthier.
But diet alone will not get you, fitter. You are allowed to move – whether in everyday life or through targeted cardio training.
You can only lower your energy intake to a certain extent without slipping into an unfavorable hormonal milieu.
A perfect cardio workout, when done correctly, accelerates fat loss.
An active lifestyle is the secret of those who stay slim “out of habit” for life. You don’t have to run a marathon to do this – there are many ways to ensure more exercise – even without breaking a sweat.
Countless ways lead to your goal. You now know the basics of effective cardio training. I will take up the topic again in the next articles and deepen it further.
It’s like this: If you find a way you enjoy and bring more movement into your everyday life, you’ve won – without it feeling like “work.”