How Many Days A Week Should You Train? Part 2: Cardio

Cardio is an important part of any fat loss program.

Akash Vaghela Akash Vaghela · 20 Jan 2018

Training Beginner
9 Mins

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In part one we discussed different strength training frequencies, and when each would be most applicable to use.

In this article we’re going to dissect the various forms of cardio, and how much you need to be doing in accordance with your goals.

Cardio is an important part of any fat loss program, and is a tool that can be used to maintain or further increase a calorie deficit.

Diet will always be number one, but there will be times where driving up energy expenditure through cardio is a better means of encouraging fat loss, as opposed to taking away more food.

STEP COUNT


Before adding in any ‘traditional’ cardio in, the first thing you should do is to set a step goal.

The beauty of the step count is that it’s very low impact, it can fit into your lifestyle easily, and it can be done whenever, wherever.

It also encourages being more physically active in day-to-day life. Most people’s day tends to revolve all around sitting, and if they’re not careful, besides a 45-60 minute training session, they never actually move.

Measuring your step count is the best way to track your NEAT, which is the energy expended for everything you do that isn’t sleeping, eating or intentional physical activity. This can be hugely significant in your daily energy expenditure, making up anywhere from 15-50% of the total.

This is why measuring and maintaining a step count can prove to be such a fat loss game changer.

How many steps should you take?


A good goal to initially aim for is 10,000 steps a day. If you’ve never tracked your steps and work a desk job, you’re probably averaging 3000 to 5000 steps a day. Maybe even less.

Once you’ve increased your activity up to 10,000 for a few weeks, you can start titrating it up over the course of the weeks and months.

In my own recent bodybuilding contest prep, here’s how I increased it:

Week 1-4: no tracking
Week 5-8: 10K a day
Week 8-10: 12K a day
Week 10-15: 15K a day
Week 16-20: 20K a day

Where you end up will depend on how extreme your goals are, how much fat you need to lose, and how active your lifestyle is in general.

For most people, around 12-15K tends to work great. But in some cases, pushing up towards 20K may be necessary!

To read more about how to track your steps, its importance and other benefits, check this article out here.

LISS (LOW INTENSITY STEADY STATE) CARDIO


Once you’ve become accustomed to being more active in your daily lifestyle, you can start adding in LISS.

This is still low impact in terms of its effects on joints and recovery, but at a slightly higher intensity than a step count.

With LISS, there’s a more conscious effort to get the heart rate up (e.g. 120-130bpm) and work up a little sweat.

When adding these in, start by doing them on your rest days for 25-30 minutes. After a few weeks, you can bump this up to daily for anywhere between 25 to 60 minutes.

LISS is very easy to recover from, and there’s no real limit to it. The only thing you need to consider is that if you add too much too soon, your legs may feel fatigued when it comes to training them. The key here is to build up your capacity for it.

One area where I see many go wrong with LISS is not putting enough effort into it. While it’s ‘low intensity’, it shouldn’t necessarily be easy. You’ve got to work hard during these sessions to get the most out of it.

You need to treat them like your workouts and track your best times and distances.

How you do these sessions is completely up to you. It can be on a bike, X-trainer, treadmill or done outside.

My preferred method has always been to do it outside. If you choose to do so too, here are some specific tips for maximising your sessions:

  • If you have 40-60 minutes to do, have ‘check-point’ times so you know you’re on track with your speed.
  • The first time you pick a route, always create a 1-2 minute ‘buffer’ to work against. For example, if you’ve got to do 30 minutes, the first time you do it I’d pick a route that takes you 31-32 minutes to complete. Over time, try to work this down to 30 minutes.
  • Once you max a route out, change it and take the same approach. When you come back to that route in a few weeks, aim to beat your previous bests.
  • To keep your speed up, think about being late for an important meeting and the only way you can get there is to walk fast without breaking into a jog.
  • If you’re texting or scrolling on your phone, I don’t think you’re going fast enough (very easy to let speed slip when not on a machine).

The topic on when to do your LISS cardio is hotly debated. I personally like doing it fasted in the morning for a few reasons:

  • You get fresh air and sunlight at the start of the day
  • Life can’t get in the way of you getting it done
  • You can maximise the use of stubborn fat protocols involving yohimbine and caffeine, which you can read more about here.
  • You may give yourself a 1% advantage – find out more here.

HIIT (HIGH INTENSITY INTERVAL TRAINING) CARDIO


Compared to achieving a step count and LISS sessions, HIIT is the most demanding form of cardio on your recovery and joints. As the name implies, this is high intensity with the main benefit of burning a lot of calories in a short period of time.

When introducing HIIT into your week, I would always start with one session of 15 to 20 minutes on top of your normal strength training. If you’re recovering well and need an extra push, you can then add a second HIIT session.

For most people, I like to cap HIIT at 15 to 30 minutes, 2 to 3 times per week. While there are always exceptions to the rule, I’ve found this to be the sweet spot between effective fat loss and recovery.

HIIT is similar to strength training; 15 to 30 seconds of all out effort, followed by 1 to 2 minute rest periods. This is why it can’t be used to the same extent as LISS – you just can’t recover when you combine too much HIIT with a calorie deficit and hard strength training.

In fact, when your body fat and calories get really low, you may want to pull HIIT out in order to help preserve muscle mass and recovery capacity. In these situations, it’s better to push on the LISS / step front instead.

WHAT IF I HAVE NO TIME?


I hear this one a lot. But if you want to get into really good shape, you will need to find some time!

This may be a necessary sacrifice for a few weeks to get where you want to be.

Besides this ‘suck it up’ period, strategies to include year round include:

  • Focus on your steps. Start finding ways to include extra activity into your daily routine. For example, you can take the stairs instead of the lift, park far away from the shops, start doing more ‘walking meetings’.
  • Add finishers to your strength training sessions. 5 to 15 minutes of conditioning in the form of strongman work, interval training and circuits can be brutally effective.
  • Go harder on the diet. If you can’t increase energy expenditure much, your best move will be to increase the calorie deficit through diet as much as you can, whilst still being able to recover.

CONCLUDING THE CARDIO CONUNDRUM


Now that you’ve got the breakdown on the different forms of cardio you can use to elicit maximum fat loss results, it’s time to implement.

Here’s what you need to focus on to begin with:

  1. Aim for 10,000 steps a day, everyday
  2. Add 25-30 minutes of LISS 3 to 7 times a week
  3. Add 15-20 minute HIIT sessions once or twice a week

Over time you can ramp this up or down depending on your progress, goals and lifestyle!

Akash VaghelaAkash Vaghela

Akash Vaghela has spent 10+ years transforming bodies and lives around the world, and in May 2017, founded RNT Fitness to serve this purpose. His vision is to see a world transformed, where ambitious high performers experience the power of the physical as the vehicle to unlock their real potential. He’s the author of the Amazon best-sellilng book Transform Your Body Transform Your Life, which explains his unique and proven five-phase methodology, is host of the RNT Fitness Radio podcast, has been featured in the likes of Men’s Health and BBC, whilst regularly speaking across the world on all things transformation.

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