Cardio is something that most of us avoid, some of us hate, and very few of us love.
But the truth of the matter is, you need it – at least a little bit of it.
Not because it’s the only way to fat loss, but because it will improve health, push you towards your fat loss result faster, actually help you look more muscular if you’re pushing for hypertrophy, and it will absolutely improve your strength training in the gym.
But what are the kinds you should be focusing on? I’ll tell you the favorite and most recommended 8, in order:
You just can’t beat it. And if you’ve never pushed a prowler in or at the end of a workout… you’re missing out. Well, your results are. It kind of sucks during the process (it really sucks during the process).
Prowlers are number one because they’re the best all around tool, that anyone can use safely while getting an insane metabolic workout in.
You can load it up and build strength without harming the knees and hips. You can keep it light and use it for injury free sprints. You can push it fast for short explosive bursts or you can push it slower for long steady pace durations.
It really is a super versatile piece of equipment that is outstanding at shredding fat while avoiding any and all injuries.
But one of the best benefits of all, which you’ll notice as a trend amongst the first half of these modalities… is that there is very little true muscle damage. The type of muscle damage that leaves you sore as hell for days on end.
See the prowler has essentially zero eccentric phases while being pushed, meaning that there is no negative or lowering while performing the push.
This eccentric or negative phase is the phase of a typical movement that creates the most muscle damage – which is fantastic for muscle growth, because it’s a stress that forces repair (adaptation) and that repair is another word for saying, “build more muscle tissue”.
So when we want to add cardio in without wrecking our performance of our main lifting days, this is a perfect tool to use. Here’s an awesome Prowler finisher that never fails.
Set Out 3 Cones (10 Yards, 15 Yards, 20 Yards)
– Prowler Push (Sprint Pace) To Each Cone and Back For Time x3-6 Rounds
2.) Sled Pulls
Sled pulls are an easy second choice, for almost all the same reasons as the prowler.
It’s joint friendly, can be light and fast or heavy and slow, can be used by almost anyone, and has multiple purposes or benefits behind it.
The difference here, that makes it truly great, is that you can pull it in so many different ways – depending on what you’re going after.
You can row it, you can sprint forward with it, you can drag it backwards, you can bear crawl with it, you can walk laterally with it… the list goes on, it’s a great piece of equipment.
In fact, if this top 10 list was completely based on my personal preference – this would be #1 without a doubt.
But I have to be real, nothing can beat the prowler. And if you can embrace the suck that comes along with it, it’s the best fat loss tool there is (when it comes to cardio).
The sled comes in a very close second, damn near tie, because of it ability to be diverse to the individual and the movement patterns chosen.
The one thing I will give the sled that makes it better than the prowler, is that it can be more easily dragged for long distances at a time. You can go for yards or time, but since most people don’t have a football field in their backyard – I’ll give you a time-based workout for the sled.
Distance Sled Drags
3 Minutes On / 1.5 Minutes Rest x6-8 Rounds
– Pull Forward x20-25 Yards & Drag Backwards x20-25 Yards
The Rower, another made popular by CrossFit, is one of my favorite cardio methods to recommend to people – but not because it’s the ultimate fat burner (although it’s great for that).
I love this method because it also trains your back musculature and can promote better posture.
See majority of people in the gym are stuck on their anterior chain (front side) for 75% of their training volume. Squats, sit-ups, bench presses, and curls. All things that promote shortened hip flexors and protracted shoulder blades.
Now, all of those movements are great and necessary in the program.
But we need to row 2x more than we push, in order to combat bad posture. In other words, let’s work our back side more than our front side. Well with rowing, we accomplish that. In fact it’s one of the only cardio methods that is repetitive posterior chain movements – which makes it a top dog for the average American gym goer.
But let’s add to that for the sake of burning fat and increase aerobic capacity
It is a movement that builds aerobic capacity, can seriously crank up your metabolic rate during a session, allows you to maintain and build some muscle, promotes quality movement patterns, and can torch calories if you program it properly.
Here’s 4 ways to program your rowing for cardio, depending on your goals:
Intervals of 90 Seconds work / 60-90 Seconds Rest
Last Call Finisher
1,000 Meters / As Fast As Possible, 1 Round At The End Of A Strength Workout
250 Meters For Time / 45-60 Seconds Rest, 5-10 Rounds
500 Meters / 60 Second Rest
400 Meters / 60 Second Rest
300 Meters / 60 Second Rest
200 Meters / 60 Second Rest
100 Meters / DONE
4.) Assault Bike
I know, I know… More grueling cardio that we all hate.
Sometimes I walk into my garage and cannot believe I purchased one of these things for my own damn house!
But as much as I hate the burn an assault bike gives, we cannot ignore the fact that it’s one of the primary CrossFit tools that helps athletes get super conditioned AND that it creates a metabolic effect like no other tool out there.
The reason this is 3rd, is that it can be a mental battle. With the prowler and the sled, you set a distance and you do it… there’s no other option besides bringing the damn thing back, because you already started!
With an assault bike, you HAVE to be mentally strong to push through your time, distance, or calorie burn allotment.
Assault bikes are great because again, they’re super joint friendly. As you can see, that’s my number 1 priority with prescribing cardio. Cardio should NOT interfere with our lifting, it should enhance it, and it should never negatively impact our movement capabilities.
But another thing I love about the assault bike is that it actually improves our squat form. They did a study that showed people who chose the bike for their cardio vs. walking or running, actually improved their squat.
This is likely due to the movement of the hip and knees, moving together in unison. Which makes complete sense and is enough for me to choose it!
But if we’re referring to aerobic capacity, building muscle, or fat loss – again it’s one of the best forms of cardio you can possibly choose.
Because it actually works the muscles in your legs enough to maintain more muscle mass while cutting, made popular by Ben Pakulski. So if Ben maintained muscle with this while getting ready for a bodybuilding show, because he was injured and could not perform most leg training, then that most likely means this can actually help BUILD muscle when not in a serious caloric deficit. This is HUGE because more cardio is known to be catabolic (aka – anti-muscle building).
And again we cannot deny that it cranks your heart rate up to an abnormal level, so for HIIT purposes this is a top dog when it comes to cardio modalities. It also has minimal eccentric phases, safe for damn near anyone, doesn’t need big spaces to perform, and can even be used for slow cardio if desired.
Try this Assault bike workout for cardio soon:
Racing For Calories….
– 10 Calories For Time / 60-120 Seconds Rest x10 Rounds
5.) Hill Sprints
Enough said. Onto the next type of cardio.
All right I’ll explain, but that alone is a damn good reason to start sprinting up hills. He is known as one of the greatest running backs of all time and he swore by his conditioning – which was pretty much all hill sprints.
I recommend hill sprints over regular sprints to just about all of my clients because of its decrease in injury risk.
Hill sprints have less hip extension, because the hill gets in the way. So although flat ground sprints may develop better hamstrings (probably splitting hairs with that statement), it takes down the injury risk of any lower back, hip, or hamstring injuries occurring. And again, if you cannot do it consistently then there’s no point in doing it at all.
Sprints in general, though, are fantastic because they build explosive speed and power, work on fast twitch muscle fibers, and create a very short burst high intensity stimulus – which we know is fantastic for increasing metabolic rate and burning body fat.
So for anyone who is or wants to become an athlete, or just look and perform like one, hill sprints are a definite suggestion of mine. The beauty of them, too, is that the protocols are so simple you really can’t mess them up:
3-4 Rounds Of Each Distance, For Time / Rest 60-120 Sec Between Rounds
– 10 Yards, 20 Yards, 30 Yards, 40 Yards
Yep, this made the list. It’s actually one of the methods I most commonly recommend and suggest. The reason is because it can help lower cortisol, vs. raise cortisol.
In fact, studies show that it’s literally the only type of cardio that can possibly lower our cortisol levels.
Now, if you are walking daily at a speed walkers pace with little pink dumbbells in your hands punching the air along the way…. (This was a fad, do you remember?)
Then yeah, you’re probably not going to help your cortisol levels – especially if you’re training, dieting, and not sleeping 8-9 hours a night. But that’s just purely from over working and under recovering.
The best part about walking, though, is that it’s almost impossible to over do it and create a state of under-recovery. It can be done, but again it’s pretty damn hard to get there.
So it’s great because we can plan walks, count steps, or even hit the treadmill ALL while easily fitting it into your lifestyle plan.
Walking predominantly burns fat for fuel, can help burn a lot of extra calories, can help reduce stress if approached properly, and is extremely safe on joints and muscle mass. So if you’re looking to cut some calories but at a very low stress/demand approach – this is your go to.
My suggestion – just walk more. Don’t overthink it.
7.) LISS Biking
This here for the exact same reasons as walking, it’s simple and stress free – plus it can help burn a good amount of extra calories and body fat. My suggestion is to listen to your body and use this when you’re a little bit fatigued.
Often times when prescribing cardio for my clients, I’ll give them intuitive options. This basically means to listen to your body and depending on how your body feels, go with whatever cardio method suites you best at the given time.
If you feel amped up and fully recovered, metcons and prowlers it is!
If you’re feeling a bit tired, fatigued, or unmotivated, then jump on the bike for some LISS or go on a walk.
As I mentioned earlier, cardio should enhance your daily life and performance – NOT decrease it.
My suggestion – 30-40 Min at a slow pace of 60-65% max HR. Any more than that is a little grind, which is fine if that’s what you’re going for. But when it comes to recovery based LISS, which is what I’m talking about here, I suggest the slower pace.
Bodyweight metcons are great for cardio and conditioning, what I like about them most is that they’re functional by definition. They’re practical and can directly help your ability to train harder during strength days, while even preparing you for the zombie apocalypse.
You’re training bodyweight strength movements, in a high intensity fashion. Your heart rate is cranked, metabolism jumps up, and you can possibly even build some muscle.
It’s obvious as to why this is a great fat loss cardio method; it just works. You cannot deny that.
The reason it’s down by number 8 is because injury risk is a bit higher and the chance of fatigue (both muscular and nervous system) is a lot higher than most workouts.
Because even if you go lighter on this stuff… it will probably crush you.
The benefits are that you’re promoting full body movement patterns in a way that can apply to and benefit much more than just cardio alone.
But since it is a pretty demanding method of cardio, here’s how I’d suggest implementing it:
Mindfully – 1-2x a week IF you’re also strength training 3-4x a week, following something similar to Functional Muscle, which you should be! More is absolutely ok if you’re not strength training regularly, but in all honesty you should just be strength training more if that’s the case.
Another way to do this is by adding a shorter version of it to the tail end of your workout, like a finisher. Here’s an example:
10 Min AMRAP
– Rope Slams x15 Sec.
– TRX Rows x8
– KB Swings x8
– DB Thrust x8
The most important key of this article, is that programming what you’re doing inside the gym is a major key for seeing results. From your strength training to your cardio to your nutrition.
If there is no plan, there are not results. If you struggle with having a specific plan that will guarantee you results in the gym, check out my latest program Functional Muscle and see exactly what people are raving about. It lays down exactly what you need to be doing every day in the gym, why you’re doing it, videos demoing HOW you should be doing it, and even takes you through 9 full weeks of progressing – there’s even a support group included.
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