How to Maximize Your Cardio Workouts for Weight Loss | (2023)

How to Maximize Your Cardio Workouts for Weight Loss | (1)

The best cardio exercise for weight loss is the one you like the most and perform at a high-intensity.

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No, endless crunches and legs lifts aren't the secret to a flat belly. Ab exercises may strengthen the muscles that lie ‌underneath‌ excess fat, but they don't burn it off. In other words, you can't spot reduce: The best weight-loss plan includes both a comprehensive workout routine — complete with cardio ‌and‌ strength training — and a healthy diet.

But even though cardio is important, you shouldn't just hop on the treadmill, plod along for 30 minutes and expect to lose a lot of weight, either. Picking the right kind of cardio is also crucial, and that means high-intensity cardio and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts. If you want cardio to burn fat and lose weight, choose a form of exercise that raises your heart rate for an extended period of time.



You also need to be diligent about the amount of time you spend doing cardio exercise to lose weight. A January 2014 paper published in Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases notes that exercise exceeding 200 minutes per week, or 40 to 45 minutes per day five days per week, yields far greater weight loss than the minimum recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of 150 minutes per week. This minimum amount is to support good health, not necessarily weight loss.


You can't target a specific part of your body, such as your belly, for weight loss. But boosting the intensity of your cardio workouts will help you lose more weight overall.

Read more:The Truth About Running for Weight Loss

Ready to break a serious sweat? Here are the best cardio exercises for weight loss.

1. High-Intensity Cardio

There is no one best cardio exercise for weight loss. The type of cardio exercise you choose is less important than the intensity at which you perform it. While any activity is better than no activity when it comes to weight loss, moving at a high intensity or performing high-intensity cardio is most effective.


In an August 2017 study published in Health and Quality of Life Outcomes, researchers measured different exercise intensities' effect on weight loss. After 12 weeks, people who exercised at a high intensity, defined as 70 to 80 percent of maximum heart rate, three days a week lost significant weight, reduced their waist circumference and reduced overall body fat. Although people exercising at lower intensities still lost weight, their results weren't as notable as the high-intensity exercisers.

To make things a bit easier, here's a ranking of the cardio workouts that burn the most calories, based on the Harvard Health Publishing's average caloric burn for a 155-pound person for 30 minutes of high-intensity work:

  • Stationary cycling: 391 calories
  • Running (6 mph): 372 calories
  • Swimming: 372 calories
  • Jumping rope: 372 calories
  • Step aerobics: 372 calories
  • Elliptical: 335 calories
  • Rowing machine: 316 calories
  • Circuit training: 298 calories
  • Outdoor bicycling (12 to 14 mph): 298 calories
  • Stair stepper: 223 calories


(Video) The Best Science-Based Cardio Routine to Lose Fat FASTER (Without Losing Muscle!)

Remember to choose an exercise that you enjoy for your high-intensity routines. If you don't like it, you're far less likely to make it a regular part of your life, which is essential to losing weight and keeping it off. Even after you've achieved your goal weight, you'll need to continue to exercise 200 minutes or more per week to stay there.

How to do it:‌ Warm up for five to 10 minutes at an easy pace with your exercise of choice — this could be on a stationary bicycle, treadmill or outdoor track. Then work at an intensity that's 70 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate for 20 to 25 minutes or longer, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Be sure to cool down for several minutes. Do this routine three to four times per week.


2. High-Intensity Interval Training

HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, which involves alternating short bouts of all-out effort with short periods of rest or lower-intensity effort, blasts fat: A January 2017 in the ‌Journal of Diabetes Research‌ found that this type of exercise burns more fat than steady-state cardio performed at a constant moderate pace.


A February 2018 study published in the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation also found that high-intensity interval training three times a week for 12 weeks resulted in a decrease in fat mass percent, lower body mass indexes and improved health markers such as lower cholesterol.

How to do it‌: Warm up for five to 10 minutes, and then structure your workout so you go hard (near or at maximum effort) for anywhere from 30 seconds to four minutes at a time. Recover for an equal or slightly longer period of time. Continue for 20 to 30 minutes. Example: Sprint on a treadmill or track for one minute, then walk for one minute 10 times, for a total of 20 minutes. Cool down at an easy pace for three to five minutes.

Use any type of cardio to complete this workout, including a stationary bike, treadmill, calisthenics (think burpees and squat jumps) or an elliptical trainer.

Perform a HIIT workout three to four times a week and avoid consecutive days of HIIT training.


Read more:How to Use the Elliptical for Fat Loss


An easy way to figure your maximum heart rate is to subtract your age from 220. For example, if you're 35 years old, your maximum heart rate is 185.

3. Circuit Strength Training

Even though you're after the calorie-burning and fat-loss effects of cardio, strength training is also critical to weight loss. A comprehensive strength-training routine that builds muscle in all the major muscle groups makes your body more efficient at burning calories. Perform your strength-training exercises quickly and back-to-back to elevate your heart rate, build muscle and lose weight.

How to do it:‌ Plan a circuit routine that targets all the major muscle groups: back, chest, arms, shoulders, legs, hips and abs. The circuit may be based on time (30 to 60 seconds per exercise) or on the number of repetitions (eight to 12 executions of each move.)

Do two to three rounds of the entire group of exercises, taking one to two minutes rest between each round. Use weights that fatigue each muscle group by the last couple of repetitions. This means it's difficult for you to complete that last two or three repetitions with good form and through the full range of motion. Circuit train three times a week on non-consecutive days (say, Monday, Wednesday and Friday).


Here's an example of a repetition-based circuit strength routine for weight loss to get you started.

(Video) How Much Cardio Should You Do To Lose Belly Fat? (4 Step Plan)

Move 1: Bent-Over Row

How to Maximize Your Cardio Workouts for Weight Loss | (2)

Sets 3

Reps 10

Body Part Back

  1. Stand feet hip-width apart, holding a barbell with an overhand grip.
  2. Hinge forward from the hips so your back makes a 45-degree angle with the floor.
  3. Bend your elbows to pull the bar toward your lower ribs as you squeeze your middle back muscles together.
  4. Straighten your elbows to complete one rep.

Move 2: Chest Press

How to Maximize Your Cardio Workouts for Weight Loss | (3)

Sets 3

Reps 10

Body Part Chest

  1. Lie on your back on a workout bench, holding a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing your feet.
  2. Bend elbows out to the sides as you lower the weights down to your chest; elbows form a 45-degree angle with the body and upper arms are parallel to the floor.
  3. Push the weights back up to straighten the elbows to complete one repetition.

Move 3: Biceps Curl

How to Maximize Your Cardio Workouts for Weight Loss | (4)

Sets 3

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Reps 12

Body Part Arms

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms extended in front of your thighs and palms facing forward.
  2. Keep your upper arms close to your torso and bend your elbows to curl the weight to the fronts of your shoulders.
  3. Lower the weights back down to complete one repetition.

Move 4: Triceps Kickback

How to Maximize Your Cardio Workouts for Weight Loss | (5)

Sets 3

Reps 10

Body Part Arms

  1. Stand with feet hip-distance apart and knees bent.
  2. Tilt your torso 45 degrees forward, keeping your spine long.
  3. Hold a weight in each hand bend at the elbows to bring your hands toward the shoulders in front of you.
  4. Straighten your arms back behind you, keeping your shoulders elbows locked in place.
  5. Lower back to the start with control.

Move 5: Squat

How to Maximize Your Cardio Workouts for Weight Loss | (6)

Sets 3

Reps 15

Body Part Legs

  1. Stand with the feet a little wider than your hips. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms hanging alongside your thighs.
  2. Bend your knees and hips to lower your thighs so that they’re parallel to the floor. Keep your knees behind your toes, maintain full foot contact with the ground and push your buttocks back.
  3. Straighten the legs and hips to complete one repetition.

Move 6: Lunge

How to Maximize Your Cardio Workouts for Weight Loss | (7)

(Video) How To STOP Cardio From Killing Your Gains (3 WORST Mistakes You’re Making)

Sets 3

Reps 20

Body Part Legs

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, feet hip-distance apart.
  2. Take a big step forward and bend the front knee to a 90-degree angle. You’ll be balanced on the front foot and the ball of the back foot; keep your torso perpendicular to the floor.
  3. Push off the front foot to return the feet together.
  4. Repeat on the other side.

Move 7: Bicycle Crunch

How to Maximize Your Cardio Workouts for Weight Loss | (8)

Sets 3

Reps 20

Body Part Abs

  1. Lie on your back on a mat. Place your hands alongside your head, elbows pointed to the sides. Lift your legs up so the knees and hips create a 90-degree angle.
  2. Crunch your right elbow toward your left knee as you extend the right leg parallel to the ground.
  3. Repeat in the opposite direction.

Do 45 seconds of the following machine-based strength exercises for a time-based circuit:

  • Lat pulldown
  • Chest press
  • Triceps extension
  • Biceps curl
  • Leg press
  • Hamstring curl
  • Seated crunch

Do all the exercises in quick succession, rest one to two minutes, then repeat one or two more times. The entire workout should take about 20 to 25 minutes.

Read more:Want to Lose Weight at the Gym? Follow This Plan



(Video) Cardio vs. strength training: What you need to know


How do I maximize my cardio for weight loss? ›

For example, perform 30 to 45 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio exercise, such as walking or swimming, three days a week. Up the intensity for the other two days — five days total — and perform vigorous workouts such as running or cycling.

What is the maximum amount of cardio to lose weight? ›

Get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. The guidelines suggest that you spread out this exercise during the course of a week. Greater amounts of exercise will provide even greater health benefit.

Which cardio burns the most fat? ›

Running is the winner for most calories burned per hour. Stationary bicycling, jogging, and swimming are excellent options as well. HIIT exercises are also great for burning calories. After a HIIT workout, your body will continue to burn calories for up to 24 hours.

Will 30 mins of cardio help me lose weight? ›

Researchers say the results suggest that 30 minutes of exercise a day may provide additional weight loss benefits. For example, people may still have extra energy leftover after shorter workouts to be more physically active throughout the day.

How can I lose 10 pounds in a month of cardio? ›

For best results, try to fit in at least 20–40 minutes of cardio daily — or about 150–300 minutes per week ( 2 ). Walking, jogging, boxing, biking, and swimming are just a few forms of cardio that can boost weight loss fast.

How many minutes of cardio is enough for weight loss? ›

Cardio's role in helping you shed pounds is burning calories. The more you exercise, the more calories you'll burn. If you're trying to lose weight, you should aim for doing cardio at least five days per week for a total of at least 250 minutes (4 hours, 10 minutes) each week.

How long does it take to lose 20 pounds with cardio? ›

With that in mind, let's say you exercise five days a week, burning 700 calories each time. That burns an extra 3,500 calories per week. Since there are about 3,500 calories in one pound, it would take you one week to lose one pound and 20 weeks to lose 20 pounds.

How much cardio should I do to lose 20 pounds in a week? ›

Simply put, you can lose 20 pounds in several months by eating fewer calories than you do now and exercising vigorously for three to five hours per week using resistance training, interval training, and cardio training.

How much cardio should I do a day to lose 30 pounds? ›

Ideally, try to squeeze in at least 150–300 minutes of cardio per week, or between 20–40 minutes per day ( 18 ). Walking, jogging, swimming, biking, hiking, and boxing are a few examples of aerobic exercises that you can add to your routine.

What is the best cardio for belly fat? ›

Some great cardio of aerobic exercises for belly fat include:
  • Walking, especially at a quick pace.
  • Running.
  • Biking.
  • Rowing.
  • Swimming.
  • Cycling.
  • Group fitness classes.
Nov 10, 2020

What is the perfect cardio time? ›

The World Health Organization recommends that whatever type of cardio exercise you choose to do, you should do it for at least 10 minutes at a time to get the most benefits from it. If you engage in moderate-intensity workouts, such as a brisk walk, then 30 minutes every day can help you reap a variety of benefits.

Is it OK to do cardio everyday to lose weight? ›

It's true that cardio is good for weight loss, but you shouldn't do cardio every day to lose weight. That's because daily cardio is not only boring, which makes it hard to do consistently, but it's also inefficient compared with more diverse workout routines that include strength training.

What exercise burns fat the quickest? ›

#1: High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts, which involve repeated bouts of very vigorous exercise followed by easy recovery periods are one of the best workouts to burn fat.

What is the most effective cardio exercise? ›

The most efficient cardio exercise

According to Saju Mathew, M.D., a primary care physician at Piedmont Physicians Group, interval training is one of the best forms of cardiovascular exercise to challenge your body and burn maximum calories.

How to burn 1,000 calories in 30 minutes? ›

An interval session consisting of 30-second bouts of sprinting in between five-minute segments of jogging can burn 1,000 calories in less than 30 minutes. According to the American Physiological Society, research shows that sprint interval training can burn 200 calories in just 2.5 minutes.

How much cardio should I do a day to lose 10 pounds? ›

How much exercise do you need to lose 10 Pounds? To lose weight, it is recommended that you get about 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of the two each week.

How many calories a day should I burn to lose 10 pounds in a month? ›

At the end of the day, fat loss is just a matter of burning more calories than you consume. Since a pound of fat contains around 3800 calories, losing ten pounds a month requires a caloric deficit of around 1200 calories a day.

How much cardio do I need to lose 2 pounds a week? ›

Exercise goal: Lose 2 pounds per week

If you are coming from a point of little or no activity, work your way up to 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or an equivalent mix of the two each week, the CDC said.

Is it better to do cardio longer or harder? ›

Longer, slower exercise helps build endurance in both your heart and your muscles. Like HIIT, steady-state cardio makes your heart more efficient, getting oxygen to the muscles more quickly.

At what point does your body start burning fat? ›

Fat burning typically begins after approximately 12 hours of fasting and escalates between 16 and 24 hours of fasting.

Is cardio good for belly fat? ›

Aerobic exercise (cardio) is an effective way to improve your health and burn calories. Studies also show that it can be an effective form of exercise for reducing belly fat.

Will I lose weight doing 1 hour of cardio a day? ›

Even if you don't cut back on your calorie consumption, a half hour of cardio exercise a day could result in losing at least a pound a month (one pound equals about 3,500 calories). Exercising more frequently and making dietary changes could result in even greater weight loss.

Is 30 minutes of cardio a day enough? ›

As a general goal, aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day. If you want to lose weight, maintain weight loss or meet specific fitness goals, you may need to exercise more. Reducing sitting time is important, too. The more hours you sit each day, the higher your risk of metabolic problems.

Will I lose weight eating 1200 calories a day without exercise? ›

Therefore, individuals who cut their daily intake to 1,200 calories can expect to lose some weight. This can be beneficial for people who are overweight or obese. Some research suggests that a low calorie diet, such as a 1,200 calorie diet, offers additional health benefits.

How to speed up metabolism? ›

5 ways to boost metabolism
  1. Exercise more. Add interval training to your cardio routine and burn more calories in less time. ...
  2. Weight train. Add muscle mass to your body and you can burn more calories at rest. ...
  3. Don't skip meals, especially breakfast. ...
  4. Eat fat-burning foods. ...
  5. Get a good night's sleep every night.

Why is cardio not helping me lose weight? ›

You're Doing Too Much Cardio

Longer cardio sessions, like staying on the elliptical for 90 minutes or going for regular 10-mile runs, can eat away at your lean muscle mass, which is essential for increasing your metabolism to burn more calories.

Is it better to do cardio in the morning or night? ›

“[For] cardiovascular exercises, muscle stamina and endurance peak around early to mid-morning, meaning this is the best time for cardiovascular exercises,” Probst said.

Why you shouldn't just do cardio to lose weight? ›

Relying on cardio to burn calories is the biggest mistake people make when trying to lose fat, trainer Ben Carpenter told Insider. It can ramp up your appetite, which can lead to more eating, he said. Cardio is important for health, but eating in a calorie deficit is most important for fat loss.

Can too much cardio cause weight gain? ›

Yes, too much H.I.I.T. cardio can raise cortisol levels in your body, which may cause weight gain, particularly in the midsection.

How much cardio should I do a day to lose 2 pounds a week? ›

Exercise goal: Lose 2 pounds per week

If you are coming from a point of little or no activity, work your way up to 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or an equivalent mix of the two each week, the CDC said.

Is cardio alone enough to lose belly fat? ›

Aerobic exercise (cardio) is an effective way to improve your health and burn calories. Studies also show that it can be an effective form of exercise for reducing belly fat. However, results are mixed as to whether moderate or high intensity exercise is more beneficial ( 27 , 28 , 29 ).


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