No matter what type of cardio you do, you can burn more calories in the same amount of time with just a few modifications to your current workout.
1. Do cardio first. Over the years, many clients have asked me, "Should I do weights or cardio first?" If you want to up your calorie burn (and who doesn't?), research shows that you should do cardio first. Published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, one study examined how many calories exercisers burned doing one of four workout combinations: running only, strength training only, running followed by strength training, and strength training followed by running. Researchers found that while all exercisers experienced a strong "after burn" (a higher rate of calories burned when at rest after exercise) for the two hours after working out, the strength training and run/strength training groups had the highest exercise after burn of all. So what does this mean? Although it's just one study, the takeaway is that we might burn more calories after working out if we do our cardio first.
2. Try plyometrics. If you consider yourself an intermediate or advanced exerciser and are looking for ways to burn more calories, plyometrics are the way to go. These high-intensity, explosive exercises such as jumping and hopping, get your heart rate up quickly, which equals a higher rate of calories burned. Additionally, these athletic movements really target your fast-twitch muscles, coordination and agility, so you're training your body in an entirely new and challenging way. And challenging workouts almost always equal results—and more calories burned. Because using proper form is essential when doing these advanced high-impact moves, consider learning the ropes first!
3. Use your whole body. Most cardio exercises focus on the lower body (biking, walking, elliptical, stair climbing, etc.), but if you want to burn more calories, one easy tip is to incorporate your upper body. Pump those arms hard and high when running and walking, make sure to grab the elliptical with moving handles, and even consider adding a more full-body exercise to your cardio mix such as the rowing machine. The more muscles you move, the more calories you will burn!
4. Get intense. If you're serious about wanting to burn more calories, then it's time to up the intensity. Bump up your incline and resistance if you're on a piece of gym equipment, or walk a hillier route than usual if you exercise outdoors. To increase the burn, you need to get out of your cardio comfort zone. And when you do, the benefits can be big. In a study published in the Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports Medicine in 2002, researchers found that intense exercise resulted in the greatest fat burn (compared to light intensity exercise and no exercise at all) during the hours following a workout—and that fat burn continued for 11 hours.
5. Listen to fast music. If you seem to have trouble pumping yourself up for a workout, try popping in those earbuds! In a small study by the Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences, scientists found that when male college students pedaled stationary bicycles while listening to fast popular music, the subjects pedaled faster and elevated their heart rates more. The students even perceived their workouts to be less intense than they actually were. And when the music slowed down? The opposite happened. So listen to music you love and get your cardio on!
6. Use proper form. Do you hold on to the handles when you run on the treadmill? Maybe you lean on the handlebars during spinning class or hunch over while walking on the Stairmaster. If you use these machines, you need to use proper form in order to burn more calories. As a general rule, keep your arms moving freely and naturally, keep your abs in, your weight centered over your hips, and your shoulders down and back. Not only does proper form keep you from getting injured, it also ups your calorie burn since your core is engaged. Bonus!
7. Speed up. The simplest advice of all for upping your calorie burn? Increase your pace even if it's just a little bit. The tortoise may have won the race, but the hare burned more calories!
8. Add some intervals. By varying your intensity through different intervals (think one minute running then two minutes walking), you can actually improve your fitness more quickly than by steady state cardio, and you can burn more calories. The bonus? Time seems to fly when you add interval training!
9. Focus. We talk a lot about the importance of the mind-body connection and fitness. Although cardio isn't as Zen-like as yoga, cardio can still benefit from a strong sense of awareness. The next time you do cardio, focus on the movements and breathing while squeezing those muscles. By engaging your mind, you can actually better engage your muscles, which allows you to complete the exercise more easily and still burn more calories!
10. Don't work too hard. This might sound counter-intuitive but hear me out. We all know how important intensity is to any workout plan, but also think about how your workout affects the rest of your day. If you spend an hour at the gym sprinting and doing lunges, you might burn 600 calories in a short amount of time, but if that intense workout completely wipes you out for the rest of the day, the extra calorie burn might not be worth it. Be honest with yourself and definitely push yourself, but not so hard that it gets in the way of other daily activities. After all, the goal is to improve your quality of life.
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