Cardio Tips To Unlock Results & Boost Fitness

20 Minute Fitness Episode #19

On this week’s episode of 20 Minute Fitness, we get to the facts about cardio. We delve into figuring out which cardio routine is best for you. Whether you are looking to lose fat quickly, gain muscle, or you are starting out on your cardio routine.

5 Ways To Burn 500 Extra Calories Each Day 

We also dig into those buzz-worthy cardio routines, such as HIIT and Tabata. Are they worth the hype or are they just a craze? Listen on to hear about the common mistakes of Tabata and HIIT so you can complete your workout, strong, safely, efficiently. Listen on to find out more!

Show Notes

Low-Intensity Cardio

Cardio For Beginners

Let’s first address the type of cardio that is best for people just starting out. If you are just beginning cardio and have led a fairly sedentary lifestyle to this point the best bet, is low-intensity, long duration cardio. Meaning, that your workout session lasts from about 30 minutes to an hour or more. This category includes exercises such as walking, biking, swimming, jogging, and similar activities. If you are engaging in low-intensity you should be able to hold a comfortable conversation.

There are two reasons why low-intensity is the best for beginners. Firstly, because you decrease your risk of injury and allow your body to recover. To decrease injury risk, as well as maximizing the benefits, vary your activities. So, switch it up. From biking to walking to swimming.

Secondly, you should start with low intensity because it allows to you continue burning calories without burning yourself out. It is very easy to dive head first and overextend yourself. Before you have built up your endurance and overall fitness. Therefore, you end up spending more time sitting on the sidelines than you are burning calories. If you simply keep a steady routine of low-intensity cardio you will be able to continue exercising consistently. A simple example of a low-intensity routine with variation is a 60-minute workout, with two activities for 30 minutes each.

Cardio For Muscle Growth

Low-intensity cardio isn’t just for beginners. It is also for people who are looking to build muscle. If you’re looking for maximum muscle growth while keeping fat to manageable levels, then you’ll want to choose low-intensity cardio. It’s also a great way to maintain cardiovascular fitness when you’re growing muscle. If you primarily use high-intensity forms of cardio for muscle development, then you may end up burning calories that your body needs for muscle growth. If you choose low-intensity cardio, then your body taps into your fat stores during the workout. This helps you optimize muscle development while reducing fat.


HIIT stands for High-Intensity Interval Training. This is a variable intensity session where you alternate between bursts of 100% output followed by active “rest” periods where you drop to about 50% output. The length of these intervals, as well as the type of exercise you’re performing, depends on your fitness level. For example, someone who’s just starting out may jog for 15 seconds and then walk for 15 seconds. In all cases, you should be giving 100% effort during the high-output interval. If you’re doing this workout the right way, you should not be able to hold a conversation while you’re doing it.

HIIT allows athletes to get more work at a higher intensity than if they did it steady-state. By having those rest intervals, you spend more time in the upper end of aerobic capacity, whereas you wouldn’t be able to do that if you tried to do 10 minutes of really high-intensity exercises.

HIIT burns a lot of calories during the workout session. Also, studies suggest that HIIT raises your BMR (basal metabolic rate) for up to 24 hours after the workout. That means you’ll keep burning calories long after you’ve left the gym!

This fact is backed by scientific evidence from Dr. Len Kravitz, at the University of New Mexico. He found that HIIT increases post-exercise energy expenditure. Kravitz notes that after a HIIT session, “oxygen consumption and caloric expenditure remain elevated as the working muscle cells restore physiological and metabolic factors in the cell to pre-exercise levels. This translates into higher and longer post-exercise caloric burn. In simpler terms, this means that after a HIIT workout, your body will continue to burn more calories than it would after a lower impact, steady-state exercise, such as walking or jogging.

Studies show that High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) improves insulin sensitivity by anywhere from 23-58%. This is crucial because insulin sensitivity helps boost fat loss. If you become someone who is insulin resistant, such as a diabetic, your body has more and more trouble losing fat.

Also, HIIT workouts cause a spike in two key hormones: epinephrine and norepinephrine, which play an important role in fat loss. These two hormones (sometimes referred to as adrenaline and noradrenaline: the fight or flight hormones) are responsible for driving lipolysis, which is the breakdown of fat.

A study from the Journal of Obesity noted that HIIT may play an especially key role in decreasing abdominal fat stores—which is that visceral fat that surrounds the organs in your stomach, and coincidentally, the area so many of us struggle to lose weight around.

Common Mistakes of HIIT

The first common mistake is training at a high intensity for too long. When it comes to HIIT, less is more. If intensity training is going to work then it needs to be, well, intense. Remember, 10 one-minute sprints are the equivalent of several hours of conventional cycling, according to research published in The Journal of Physiology. So make sure you cut down your sessions into tiny chunks.

The second mistake is training too often. Recovery is crucial to a high-intensity workout. In order to perform at a heighten capacity you also need to give muscle joints and tissue a well-deserved break. You should be training four times a week at most. Treat yourself and take at least one complete rest day between sessions to let your body recover and avoid injury.

Next is the classic pitfall of failing to warm up properly. Failing to limber up for an intense HIIT session is a recipe for disaster. Always remember that an intense session requires getting your body ready by matching the warm-up with the workout. Also, mimicking the movements of your main workout at a low intensity will allow you to excel when you actually train at a high intensity. So, if you’re planning a sprinting HIIT session, warm-up with a light jog for 5-15 minutes. Also, if you are planning on doing squats take a moment in your warm up. Move slowly through the movements and wake up your joints.

Finally, the last common mistake is using too much equipment. Dealing with alternating equipment between intervals can really take the bite out of your bursts of high intensity. Instead, invest in some dumbbells or kettlebells, equipment that allows you to do simple movements that you can do a high intensity and repetition. But even keeping to body weight movements such as hill sprints or squat thrusts – anything that ups your heart rate to 90% capacity will do the trick. Just keep it simple.


Moving on to another popular workout: Tabata. This training style originated from a 1996 study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise authored by Izumi Tabata. The study found that intense, four-minute workouts done five days a week for six weeks improved VO2 max

Essentially, you pick an exercise and workout to your absolute maximum capacity for 20 seconds. Then rest for 10 seconds and repeat for eight rounds. An example workout would be doing the previously mention intervals with push-ups of four minutes and bodyweight squats for four minutes. Despite being only 8 minutes, the VO2 max soared by an average of 28% across the board in the 1996 study!

Common Mistakes of Tabata

The first is to assume that all Tabata is just bodyweight exercises. Tabata intervals are classified as a cardiovascular workout, which keeps many from doing anything but traditional cardio exercises. This is a huge missed opportunity to up your fat-loss game while still getting an aerobic workout. This is because high-intensity interval training using weighted resistance has been proven to be superior to regular cardio for fat loss.

Another common misconception is that movements have to high impact. However, low-impact moves like pull-ups, kettlebell swings, and walking lunges holding heavy dumbbells will get your heart rate up too. Cycling is also an option as long as the resistance is cranked up enough that you’re really pushing.

The next mistake is not allowing for enough recovery time. Tabata can quickly become too stressful on the body. Incorporate Tabata 1 to 2 times per week as a way to boost your cardio endurance.

The final thing to maybe avoid is using a treadmill with a Tabata style workout. The reason treadmill sprinting is a bad idea when doing Tabata is simply because the active intervals are too short for a machine. A treadmill realistically takes 5-6 seconds to reach a sprint. That is a huge chunk of time in terms of Tabata.

High Intensity, Long Form Cardio

Next, we are talking about high-intensity cardio for long periods of time. This is where you maintain a high level of intensity throughout most of your session. However, because of the high-intensity, your sessions are relatively short (generally 30 minutes or less). You can do many of the same exercises you do for regular cardio, except you ratchet up the intensity. Examples include running, hiking and rowing. Generally, it’s extremely difficult to hold a conversation while performing a high-intensity workout. This type of training is generally used for endurance training. It may be worth adding to your cardio routine if you are training for a race such as a Spartan Race or marathon.

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Lesley George

Lesley is a content writer and community manager at Shape.
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