I get asked this question all the time, is cardio the best way to burn calories and fat? Sparing my political correctness for another time, I must tell you that if you have asked this question, your intentions are good, but misguided. Many people for some reason have this belief that running yourself into a sweaty mush on the treadmill is the best way to get a good workout and burn fat and calories. While it is true that getting a good run, row, bike, etc. in, is a great way to improve health, it is not the only way to achieve those things, nor is it the best way.
The way I see it, there are two very important indicators for success in relation to human fitness: 1) variety of movement and, 2) workout dynamism. There is nothing more boring than just sitting or standing in the same spot at a gym for 30-40 minutes (i.e. on a piece of cardio equipment). I mean, not everyone likes Orange Theory, okay?!
Variety of movement
The American College of Sports Medicine paired up two high intensity 12 minute workouts, a Kettlebell workout vs Interval Cycling workout, to compare metabolic results, and their findings may surprise you.
The Kettlebell workout included three circuits of four exercises performed using a style called Tabata, which consists of 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest, and repeat for eight rounds. The Bike Interval session included three 30-second sprints of “all-out” effort, followed by 3 and a half minutes at a recovery pace¹.
The result? The Kettlebell workout not only elicited significantly higher levels of total calorie expenditure, but participants were in a fat burning zone longer and consumed greater levels of oxygen when compared to the bike workout. Long story short, when we throw weights and different time combinations into a workout, our bodies benefit far more than staying in one spot on a piece of cardio equipment.
Let’s get to that second word right away, dynamism. It is defined as “being characterized by vigorous activity and progress”, and when you read that I hope in your mind you put extra emphasis on vigorous activity and progress. Think energy, power, drive, ambition, spirit, all those good things, and there you have dynamism.
As a trainer, I oftentimes see people come into the gym and spend a couple hours going from machine to machine at a lackadaisical pace, or even worse, sitting and texting. For some people, this is very therapeutic and what they’re looking for in their workout, and that’s great, we are all different. But, as we started this article on the notion of burning calories and fat, this is the least effective method of training for that; therefore, I am unapologetically anti-machine hopping with phone in hand.
In fact, it is the shorter more intense workouts like HIIT, CrossFit, and (of course) the workouts on this site, that are going to give you the most bang for your metabolic buck. If you haven't yet, register a free account to access the Workout of the Day and sign up for the mailing list to get them to your inbox every Monday and Friday.
1 Author Daniel J. Green Contributor Daniel J. Research Special Issue 2017 - ACE-
SPONSORED RESEARCH: HIIT vs. Steady-State Training. Retrieved from