1. Go for the Stairmaster first
The Stairmaster is readily available at most gyms and is one of the tougher pieces of cardio there. Another option is to walk or run the stairs outdoors (or indoors if you have the space and you won’t inconvenience other people).
Almost none of the other equipment at the gym (besides intense weighted cardio like sled pulling or pushing a prowler) will elevate your heart rate or make you sweat intensely.
Working on the Stairmaster requires focus because its not easy to watch tv when watching your steps and keeping a rhythm.
30 minutes on the Stairmaster might be hard to accomplish until you get used to it or in better cardio shape. But starting with even 5 minutes on the stairs then transferring over to a treadmill is better than not doing it at all. With every cardio session, try to hold out a little longer on the stairs until you can do the full 30 minutes without getting off.
Hitting the stairs is not only a great cardio workout, keeps you lean, but can also bring out better definition in your quads.
2. Incorporate the Jacob’s Ladder
Finding a gym with a Jacob’s Ladder can be hard, and at the gyms where there is one, it’s usually empty. It’s empty because it’s hard. If you thought 30 minutes on the stairs was hard, this is a new level. The plus side is that you can workout on it at your own pace, so the slower you move, the less effort required. But you should aim to make it challenging.
Traction has been gaining in the Jacob’s Ladder, with many people doing a 5-minute challenge to see how many feet they can go in that 5-minute period. There is even a Mt. Everest Challenge to climb the 29,032 vertical feet. Currently, the world record is 5hrs 27 minutes, set by Justin Stewart in 2020.
Not only does the Jacob’s Ladder provide a great aerobic workout and an effective way to crush calories, it also heavily works your core and stabilizer muscles. It offers low impact, high range of movement which gets your heart rate up quickly.
3. If stairs are not an option, go for incline treadmill
No, a slow speed without an incline is not enough. However, crank that incline to the max, and then a steady pace of around 2.8 mph and that will provide an effective workout. Make sure you don’t hold the railings – let your arms swing, which burns more calories.
It also strengthens your abs and obliques. Your abs/obliques are the first muscle group to flex in any motion you do with your body. This is because the vertebrae itself are very weak and requires abs to support it. This is also part of the reason people with a lot of extra mass in their midsection (fat) also have bad backs.
4. Stay away from the elliptical
Ellipticals, gliders, recumbent bikes, all of them – stay away! Look around your gym. Chances are the most overweight people are using them. Go back in 6 months and those people will likely still be overweight, if not bigger (because they think they are burning more calories than they are, and likely eat back those calories).
Ellipticals are notorious for utilizing momentum into cardio instead of using your muscles. It also does not elevate your heart rate nearly as much as other forms of cardio.
Most people do not even complete the full stride. Even if you set the resistance higher, it becomes more of a lighter leg workout and not a true cardio session. Avoid ellipticals altogether unless you are overweight or need something low-impact due to injury or joint issues.
5. Occasionally throw in weighted cardio
Why waste your time doing an hour of LISS when you can burn the same number of calories in a 20 minute of high intensity cardio?
LISS (low intensity steady state) cardio has its benefits but incorporating just 1 session a week of higher resistance cardio can save you some time as well as reap the benefits of getting your heart rate elevated quickly.
Just exchange 1 cardio session for a resistance-based cardio such as pulling a sled, pushing a prowler sled, kettlebell swings, etc. can have a major effect towards your goals and your performance.
6. Cardio first thing in the morning or after weights
Cardio is more beneficial during times when your glycogen stores are depleted, and your body needs to utilize its fat storage for energy.
With this, eating within 45-60 minutes of your cardio session helps your body restore muscle glycogen, which is important if you plan on training again soon.
7. You don’t always have to stay in the fat burning zone
Bottom line up front: exercising to lose weight and burn fat all comes down to calories burned.
It’s true that when in the fat-burn zone (50-70% of your maximum heart rate) you burn more stored fats as your energy source. When you exercise in a cardio zone (>70% of maximum heart rate), you burn more glycogen (stored carbohydrates), which uses less fat, however your total calories burned will be much higher. Therefore, you will need to exercise longer in the fat-burning zone to reach the same amount of calories burned as higher intensity cardio.
Not to mention the “afterburn” effect, where your body continues to use stored energy and burn calories. Exercising in the fat-burning zone does not allow for the afterburn effect. However, exercising at a higher intensity has a high afterburn, meaning more calories burned, which means more fat loss.
Doing cardio at a lower intensity in the fat-burning zone is just a way to make exercise machines more appealing.
Aim to have some harder, high-intensity days, and just use lower intensity cardo as an active recovery day.
8. Do it for heart health
Old school bodybuilders often chose to skip cardio and just focus on their weights. Since then, there has been a lot of science encouraging all athletes, even bodybuilders and powerlifters, to incorporate cardio exercise to strengthen the heart. Cardio improves cardiovascular (hart) health, increases metabolism, and helps build better endurance to prep for cutting cycles.
Cardio is especially important for those who use anabolic steroids. Male anabolic steroid users often have significantly worse heart function than past users and have more plaque build-up in their arteries than non-users. Steroid uses can also narrow the coronary arteries and impair left ventricular function, meaning a reduced supply of oxygenated blood to and from the heart. Furthermore, steroid use has been associated with congestive heart failure, cardiac arrhythmias, and coronary artery disease.
Therefore, be sure to get your cardio in, skip the elliptical, and get your heart rate up!