How to Mix Cardio and Strength-building to Zap Fat


We checked in with Mike Wunsch, certified personal trainer and Director of Training and Large Group Programming at Results Fitness, for his workout-building tips.

Q: How can I get the best mix of cardio and lifting to burn fat?

A: Looking to work off those holiday pounds? Consider cardio secondary. For a well-rounded, fat-busting workout routine, your best bet is to swap the treadmill for resistance training. Strength training moves like dead lifts, squats, pullups, pushups, and lunges should form the basis of your workout.

If you hit the gym three times a week, focus on total-body strength training your first two days, and metabolic conditioning (“cardio”) on the third. And remember, there’s no need to lope along on the treadmill or bore yourself with an endless stairmaster climb. Try incorporating kettle bell swings and ropes or flip over that TRX for an easy transition from rows to jump squats.

Redefine cardio

Make traditional strength training your bread and butter, and end with cardio. Close out a 40-minute workout session with 5 to 10 minutes of post-workout anaerobic conditioning. For example, consider 30-second sprints on the bike followed by a minute of rest. Repeat three times and you’re done.

Fully rest between sets

When it comes to intervals, go 30 seconds on and 60 seconds off. Resting twice as long allows you to get a true interval, and makes recovery a positive work period. As opposed to Tabata, which is 20 seconds on and 10 off, the extended rest allows you to push past your anaerobic conditioning point for a more complete recovery, allowing you to go harder for the next set.

Bend and pull

Lower your risk of injury and work the body diagonally by alternating between pulls and pushes. Think of the body in quarters: the upper and lower and the front and back. Work out in noncompeting supersets—let the quads rest while working out the back and vice versa—to prevent burnout. For example, a Day 1 workout might include goblet squats (lower front), rows (upper back), lateral lunges (bottom front), and pushups (upper front), while Day 2 consists of dead lifts (lower back), overhead presses (upper front), stepups (lower front), and lateral pulldowns (upper back). Work from bilateral to unilateral—from squats and dead lifts to single-legged lunges and stepups. Alternate between stations for anywhere from 20-40 minutes.

Produce power

Go all out in longer sessions. A positive work period—resting twice as long as you’re exercising—allows for a longer workout. Longer sessions with higher intensity and full recovery are key to maintaining proper form and executing a full range-of-motion. Chose a weight that’s challenging but not impossible for one set of 15 (at one week you should feel like you can do three to four more reps); use the absolute lowest weight possible. A lighter load at a faster velocity increases power production and uses more of the body’s muscle tissue.

Work intervals

Don’t make the mistake of doing hard cardio. Instead of pacing yourself, take complete breaks. Use a heart rate monitor to make sure you go hard enough to get into the “red zone”—85% of your maximum anaerobic threshold—and don’t start again until you’ve transitioned to the “green zone,” 0-75% of your max heart rate. Think of the “yellow zone”—76%-84%—as a transitional zone. You might feel like you can go again in the yellow, but waiting for the green allows you to produce more power and strength the next time rather than struggling to maintain crappy cardio.

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