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Best Cardio Workouts For Fat Loss?


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Hello everyone!

I've recently read that the best way to lose bum/thigh fat is to take on a low - medium intensity cardio workout (such as jogging/cycling).

Personally I've been cycling for the past year, and I've adopted (in the last couple of months) a very intense HIIT routine, which honestly just kills my legs. However, because I am interested in BURNING fat, I'm concerned that this is just making me build up muscle. Don't get me wrong, it's not as if I'm obese or anything, but I believe that although cycling has significantly reduced the size of my thighs, I feel it's no longer helping me.

I read that intense cardio will make you lose fat, but it also only leads to muscle build up, which is not exactly what I want (not a fan of massive thighs).

Hence, is it true? Will low - medium intensity workouts on a standstill bike help burn off the fat and just tone my thighs without building up a horrible amount of muscle that makes me look like a female version of RAMBO?

And if not, what are your opinions on a perfect workout to burn/decrease/tone bum and thighs?

Thank you in advance!

21 Replies (last)

Where did you read that? It sounds like once again someone has taken the "fat burning zone" and completely misunderstood and misapplied it.

First, read Hierarchy of Fat Loss

Then read Strength without size

I'm not even going to start in on your fifth paragraph suggesting that cycling is going to turn you into a she-hulk. That's just ridiculous.

I've read the links that you've attached, amethystgirl, but I'm going to be ruthlessly honest either way.

It's not like what has been said by those websites isn't true; I have enough evidence to prove that to some extense it does in fact work. However, HIIT does not seem to be improving the size of my body. I might be fitter, but I still have wobbly/chunky thighs and a butt that I wish I could hide. My level of fitness has indeed gone up and I find that sometimes I need to push harder to get to the same exertion I'd get a couple of weeks/months back..

Still - it has been MONTHS. I do take into account what I consume and how much, and I'm very strict on my exercise routines (5-6 times a week), and I still don't seem to be at the fitness level that I'd expect myself to be by now.

And yet again, to tell you the truth... I'm not enjoying it. Yeah it's a great feeling when I get off the bike feeling like I've just been hit by a train (breathless and sore), but it takes me a lot of willpower just to get on my bike and really get myself doing my HIIT sessions. Don't get me wrong, I still do them, but I was afraid that I'd start hating it, and to tell you the truth... I'm starting to get fed  up.

Besides that, I can't imagine keeping up HIIT sessions everyday of my life (and my teacher did tell me that if I'd cease to do what I'm doing my level of fitness would deteriorate very quickly and very significantly), therefore I was hoping that there is something that I can do that differs in intensity... something that I may enjoy and that I can continue.

Hence... low - medium intensity. HIGH intensity has NOT (and I reapeat -> HAS NOT) helped to decrease the size of my tighs (muscle and fat mass) to what I wish it were. And please don't tell me it's genetic, because although that plays a significant part, I've seen girls with worse issues than me (genetic and health-wise) lose more than I seem to be shedding.

What the heck is it that I'm doing wrong?

#3  
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Amethystgirl gave you some very informative, well supported, information on fat loss. If you choose not "believe" it, then what are you looking for here? There are not many on this site who will advise you to do low intensity workouts for fat loss....it has been proven not to be effective.

HIIT is not meant to be done 5 days a week. 3 max, and not consecutive days. I have been doing this for about 6 months and I can tell you, while I have not lost a ton of weight (approx. 15 lbs), I have lost a significant amount of fat, particularily from my thighs. I also strength train with a lot of lunges/deadlifts/squats, so it is admittedly hard to pinpoint the cause of my fat loss, but HIIT certainly hasn't impeded my efforts or made me "bulkly". If you read up on EPOC and HIIT you will learn why exactly it is regarded as a much more effective method of fat loss than low/mid intensity cardio.

Also, your diet is much more important that any of this. If you aren't creating a calorie deficit you aren't going to lose fat from anywhere. And yes, genetics play a huge role, again, whether you choose to "believe" it or not. The fact that people with issues worse than you lose more only proves that point.

I really think you need to do some serious reseach from credible sources, you seem to be very misinformed.

I'll be honest, I don't do HIIT. You know why? I hate it, and I don't have a good way to do it - I'm not a runner, I have no cardio machines, and the areas I can bike aren't any good for ramping up speed - too many turns, bumps, and walkers in the way. And jump rope... well, I'm remarkably uncoordinated, the ceiling is too low... you see, I've got all the excuses I need.

Here's what I do - I lift heavy. And I do a body-weight circuit that is probably somewhat comparable to HIIT (1 minute of exercises, 1 minute rest - one go through takes 24 min). And then I do other things for pleasure - walking, bike rides, etc.

But I don't lie to myself and say that those slower exercises (the walking and biking, that is) are better for me than HIIT - they aren't, and I do them because I enjoy them, not because I think they will make my thighs smaller (they won't).  Just like I'm not willing to eat completely clean and have the diet to give me a perfect body, I don't force myself to do an exercise that, despite its reputation for giving me desirable effects, would make me unhappy about exercising (and trikki is right - HIIT is not meant to be done every day).

You can choose to do whatever exercises or activities you enjoy. But you asked if low-medium intensity cardio was the best way to get rid of body fat, and I told you that it isn't.

I'd got with 2xweekly max on the HIIT actually, otherwise you're overtraining. Even Olympic athletes in the hardest part of their training will only do HIIT twice a week at most unless they're doing something whacked-out like the Tabata protocol proper where they'll do it 4-5 days a week, but only for 4 minutes at a time.

 Intervals are great, but all intervals all the time makes for poor recovery; no-one human can go at that intensity for very long without pharmaceutical support.

 The whole deal about adding cardio is that it adds to your total daily burn, so you can have a calorie deficit without restricting too much. this is especially important if the article you're reading is intended for the general public who unlike CC'ers have no idea what they burn in a day but make up for it by not knowing the calorie content of their food either. As long as you're weight-stable, adding some cardio (700kcal's worth of medium intensity, like you're asking) would tend to create that all-important deficit, but you'd achieve much the same effect by dropping one 700kcal Starbucks mocha frappe latte venti'o'Death.

 As long as you're counting calories accurately there's no discernible difference between the fat loss with and without cardio; the health benefits and sports-specific performance changes are independent of the fat loss and should be evaluated on their own terms. (As I write in the Geek-out part of the FAQ, do cardio, you'll live longer.)

 Your teacher is both right and wrong - if you're only doing high-intensity training a lot of the performance effects come from pushing your lactate threshold and VOmax plus some neural training effect. The lactate threshold and neural effects are quick to dissipate, the VOmax effects much less so.

 For performance in the endurance space though, you absolutely do need to build up a broad base of volume training to work from. Your body can near double the mitochondrial density in your muscles and add significant capillary capacity to oxygenate same in response to training; and those basic changes in your physiology are there for the long haul. Mitochondrial density affects power production and happens in response to almost all training - even more in response to strength training than endurance training; but the new blood vessels are mostly a byproduct of endurance training.

 For performance in the strength space, much of the endurance adaptations are in fact negative; some of the intermediate muscle fibers will shift expression to type I slow-twitch and the slow-twitch muscle fibers tend to shrink a little to more efficiently stay oxygenated during exercise. Great if you've got endurance goals, counterproductive for strength and fat loss.

 So exercise emphasis is a matter of goals more than anything; do you have any specific performance goals? If fat loss efficiency is a concern, endurance training is a lower priority than other exercise - extra credit as it were. If you've got performance goals related to endurance sports, it's rather crucial to be putting in the miles.

Original Post by themassivetribulation:

just tone my thighs without building up a horrible amount of muscle that makes me look like a female version of RAMBO?

 Hahahaha I almost spit out my water. If only it were THAT EASY to get Rambo thighs.... sigh.

The misinformed public never ceases to amaze me!

You might want to consider hiring a professional trainer.

Original Post by bigkorean:

You might want to consider hiring a professional trainer.

Why, when we've already got a free Melkor.

Original Post by amethystgirl:

Original Post by bigkorean:

You might want to consider hiring a professional trainer.

Why, when we've already got a free Melkor.

He he, true. A very great post by him once again.

UD

Hahaha, perfect comment just when I was looking into melkor's posts for my husband, who's thinking of switching to weight training instead of a burning the last 20 lbs. :)

Original Post by amethystgirl:

I'll be honest, I don't do HIIT. You know why? I hate it, and I don't have a good way to do it

 There are tons of body-weight exercises you can do for HIIT. Mix multiple body-weight exercises like burpees with mountain climbers. After warm up, Use a 1:1 ratio of 20 on and 20 off and try to go for 10 minutes. Do 20 seconds of intense burpees, rest 20 seconds, do 20 seconds of intense mountain climbers, rest 20 seconds, etc.. Recently I got my butt kicked in an HIIT session combining body-weight squats with burpees. I have found that I get a more effective HIIT workout using body-weight exercises.

If a 1;1 ratio is too difficult, you can use a 1:2 of 20/40 or even 1:3 of 20/60. I'll be honest, I had never tried to do a 1:1 ratio before. The hardest I ever tried was 1:2 (20/40). However, in my latest HIIT workout with body-weight squats, and burpees, I did 20/20. I only lasted for 7 minutes. However, it was the first HIIT workout, I truly felt challenged with. I am going to stick with 20/20 from now on.

vyper - read my whole post - I said that I do a body-weight circuit - Rachel Cosgrove's Get Metabolic

Original Post by amethystgirl:

vyper - read my whole post - I said that I do a body-weight circuit - Rachel Cosgrove's Get Metabolic

 I read your post. I just took it as you saying you did the body-weight circuit as an alternative to HIIT because you hated HIIT. Since you do body-weight exercises on the circuit, I was just trying to point out that you could easily use a few to do HIIT with.

Nope - I even said that it was somewhat comparable. The reason I don't consider it completely equivalent is that I wouldn't use it to replace the HIIT sessions that NROLFW prescribed, since they'd be done on the same day as lifting, and doing those exercises (many of which would be similar to the lifts I'd already done) once I'm already tired from lifting just seems like a recipe for injury. So instead I skipped that portion of the workout... probably why I didn't love those stages - I wasn't doing everything I was supposed to.

Your thighs will not look like Rambo's unless you work out high-intensity for hours and hours a day. I am a swimmer and jogger and am constantly working my thighs, and they're the perfect shape. They're strong (muscle, believe it or not, is actually pretty sexy) yet slender. If only my waist could be porportionate. But really, my point is, DO NOT BE AFRAID ABOUT BUILDING MUSCLE IN YOUR LEGS because if you don't build muscle, you're hardly going to lose any fat. Even if you do lose fat, they'll still be jiggly because they're not toned.

If you want, I have a picture in my gallery that shows part of my legs and you can see for yourself that my legs are NOT the size of tree trunks. So don't be afraid of working your leg muscles! Go to the pool and swim some laps, do it on a regular basis, and your legs will look great, and it's also a good cardio workout if you do it properly. Also, not cardio, but lunges are very good for both your butt and your thighs, though I'll warn you, you'll be sore. I'm still sore when I do lunges, but it's worth it.

I was looking at the other link you posted, amethystgirl, and I would take on the activities listed in that chart, however, I hardly have the space, and I've been trying to research on those exercises, but to tell you the truth, they don't make much sense to me.

And I'm always afraid that if I take on my own exercises like those that have been listed on my chart, I'll end up doing them wrong.

Don't get me wrong, please, I'm not saying that HIIT isn't any better than low-medium intensity workouts - I know I stated above that I presumed it was, but I have been doing my own research and I was always convinced that HIIT would get me to lose more weight...

Maybe it's just me, but I guess obsessing about appearance has led me to think that instead of losing weight, I'm in fact getting bigger.

I'm just looking for the best way that I can exercise to ensure that I can in fact lose the weight I want to lose... and then maintain it.

If 3 times a week is sufficient... what level of intensity? What would be the best duration, etc? And does anyone have any additional information on how to exercise efficiently on a standstill bike?

I don't mind being bombarded with information; I am aware that I may be missinformed, but that is why I am hoping that you'll be able to help me out...

Original Post by amethystgirl:

Nope - I even said that it was somewhat comparable. The reason I don't consider it completely equivalent is that I wouldn't use it to replace the HIIT sessions that NROLFW prescribed, since they'd be done on the same day as lifting, and doing those exercises (many of which would be similar to the lifts I'd already done) once I'm already tired from lifting just seems like a recipe for injury. So instead I skipped that portion of the workout... probably why I didn't love those stages - I wasn't doing everything I was supposed to.

Funny you should say that.  I'm doing NROL now, and he recommends doing some kind of metabolic workout after lifting if you want to lose weight. 

I'm doing a (modified) version of Cosgrove's evil 8 complex at the end of my regular lifting sessions.  Sometimes I'm doing the same lift that I did earlier, but since I'm using relatively light weights (45 lbs right now) it is really more cardio than the regular lifting. 

 

Apparently, one of the most brutal and effective fat loss exercises you can do is combining a burpee with a pull-up. I just discovered this a few days ago and I hear nothing but good things about it.

Here is a video - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJNDh4U5RYA

Now I have never done this personally. However, I plan to start doing it next week. You are not only getting the muscle building with push-ups and pull-ups, but the non-stop intense action of the exercise provides for a great HIIT workout as well. They say to do 10 reps or so, rest 30 seconds, do 10 reps, rest 30 seconds, etc.. Try to keep that up as long as you can go. Probably 10-20 minutes.

Original Post by themassivetribulation:

If 3 times a week is sufficient... what level of intensity? What would be the best duration, etc? And does anyone have any additional information on how to exercise efficiently on a standstill bike?

I'd like to think that cycling workouts really shouldn't be that much different than running workouts, and most people tend to do a recovery, tempo/interval, and long run every week.  This basically allows you to mix things up and not get bored or frustrated with any one workout.  Recovery after the long run, nice and easy.  HIIT for the middle one, then a long steady ride (increasing distance by 10%) each week.  You can ride more, but maybe some sort of cross training might be better for you?!?!

There is a book on Amazon called Cycling Workouts for Indoor Trainers that you might find interesting.  It is for cyclists, but it might keep your workouts from being the same ole same ole all the time and give you some ideas for how you can structure your own beyond HIIT.

Truthfully, if you want to sculpt your body, you are going to need to strength train.  As an endurance athlete, I have almost never strength trained, and I have lost around 50 lbs.  My wife sez I have chicken legs now, but I think that is more genetic then the fact I'm a runner/cyclist.  If I want to lose what's left of this tire around my midsection and get down closer to my ideal weight, I'm going to have to get serious about some sort of resistance training.

 

I'm not sure if anyone's already said any of  this because i didn't read the 20 or so replies before replying but here it goes:

muscles have 2 fiber types: fast-twitch (think high I, heavy lifting, sprinting)  and slow-twitch (think low I endurance).

Fast twitch fibers get bigger when trained which is why bodybuilders are huge and slow twictch fibers don't, which is why runners don't have gigantic legs. 

To really burn fat you need to operate in a HR zone 60-70% of your max.  this being said HIIT is also a great way to burn fat.  it revs up your metabolism and when your HR falls during the recovery, your body burns some fat to recover. 

In a few articles I've read recently, HIIT is discussed as a good compliment to HR zone training.  It "wakes" up your body's ability to burn fat for fuel, allowing your body to use a higher % of fat (as opposed to glycogen) during low intensity training.  One article mentioned a 36% increase in fat use, though this seems extreme to me.  If you're in decent shape you're probably not far from the max fat burn ratio (purported to be ~57%fat 43%glycogen).


low intensity exercises that utilize multiple muscle groups are the best for burning fat.  (eliptical has arm option, the rower uses everything, and i'm partial to the rower since i used to row in college).  exercises that use multiple muscle groups allow you to burn more calories at a given output level (expressed in watts, HR, or whatever) than exercies that use only one muscle group.  You mentioned a stationary bike - for the same work load or HR level, you'll burn more caloreis walking on an incline treadmill.  Swimming is also good at low intensity.  I've seen figures up to 900 calories a mile. 

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