All forms of exercise are good, but some types of exercise are better for losing weight. So while a daily walk with the dog can provide health benefits such as lower cholesterol and a boost in energy, you aren’t likely to burn fat or lose weight with a daily stroll (unless you’ve read our article Walking For Weight Loss).

You can only achieve your ultimate level of fitness by burning calories, which burn fat, which contributes to overall weight loss. And, yes, it is possible to burn some additional calories by building muscle (see our article Circuit Training For Weight Loss), but to achieve maximum weight loss you simply have to add cardio training to your weekly fitness program.

While both men and women benefit from cardiovascular exercise, it is particularly important for women to optimize their cardio training in order to lose weight. This is true because women typically don’t carry as much muscle mass as men, so they don’t have that extra lean muscle working overtime to boost their metabolism.

Certain types of cardio training, such as high intensity interval cardio workouts, help burn calories during the workout, and contribute to a higher basal metabolic rate which helps burn additional calories throughout the day.

How Often Do You Need to do Cardio For Maximum Fitness?

Unfortunately, most fitness beginners don’t do enough cardio to move the needle on the weight loss scales. While 3-4 days of light exercise per week can provide general health benefits, it is not enough to lose weight. To see maximum weight loss results, it is necessary to perform some type of cardio exercise 5 times per week. After you have achieved your goal weight, you can drop back to 3-4 cardio workouts per week to maintain your weight. You can do strength training on the 2 days you don’t do cardio, or you can combine cardio and strength training and take 2 full days off per week.

How Long Should Your Workouts Last For Maximum Fitness?

To achieve maximum metabolic results from your cardio workouts, you should be working at a level of moderate or high intensity for 30-45 minutes. Longer is not always better, but when it comes to fat burning, it is. Of course, if you have not exercised in more than 3 months, it is better to start small and work up to more intense training. If you’re using a cardio exercise machine such as a treadmill, elliptical, exercise bike or stair stepping machine, start with a slow 5-minute warm up, then pick up the pace for 10-15 minutes, and finish with a slow 5-minute cool down.

When you are increasing the time of your workouts, try not to increase the total weekly time spent doing cardio by more than 10% at a time. So if you are starting with five 20-minutes workouts this week for a total of 100 minutes, next week’s total cardio should not exceed 110 minutes.

How Hard Do You Need to Work For Maximum Fitness?

The effectiveness of your cardio training depends on 3 factors: how long your workouts last, how often you work out, and how hard you are working during each cardio session. This last one takes a bit of practice. If you don’t push yourself, you won’t see the weight loss benefits that come from an increased metabolic rate. But neither should you push yourself all-out every day. Only competitive athletes should push themselves to the point of “nothing left”, and even those days should be limited to once or twice a week when training for an upcoming competition.

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