When the calendar flipped, everyone jumped back on the cardio wagon, desperate to start hacking away at the holiday heft they’d accumulated around their waistline. But mindless droning about on the treadmill is simply not going to do the trick for you. Cardio is a fickle beast that requires as much careful thought as your resistance training. In the same way that you arduously and painstakingly map out every single exercise, every set and every rep of every workout, the same attention should be paid to your cardio. Putting things into cruise control – can you say “30 minutes of walking at 3.5 mph on a 4.0 incline?” – is a recipe for disaster for all but the most genetically blessed.

If you’re going to work up a sweat, make it count for something. So whether you’re on the bike, hitting the pavement, doing laps in the pool or running hills, these five simple tips from our expert sources can help you get more out of your very next cardio session.

1. Fuel Your Intervals

“HIIT (high intensity interval training) is arguably the most effective form of cardio. The mistake some make is performing this type of cardio fasted while dieting down to lose fat, as is sometimes recommended for traditional steady-state cardio. But this isn’t a great approach when training at a higher intensity. This means not only do you have low glycogen stores as a result of dieting but you also don’t have any fuel (carbs) while performing HIIT. A key component of HIIT is intensity and since carbs are the body’s preferred fuel source during high intensity movements, you’re shortchanging your body’s ability to produce maximum effort, or intensity. The greater the intensity, the more fat that’s lost for the next 24-48 hours after your intervals are done.  This means the most effective way to burn fat with HIIT is not to perform it fasted.”

Kelechi Opara is a fitness model sponsored by Optimum Nutrition and American Bodybuilding. He is the creator of HumanEngine.com and the Nutritionist App for iPhone and Android and has over 15 years experience in the industry.

2. Change It Up

“Change is an underused but invaluable component of cardio training. You have to change the format often because the body is so adaptive to aerobic exercises, assuming you are doing it for fat loss. Like resistance training, you have to push yourself and it is easy to get in the habit of 40 minutes while reading a book. Run, sprint, climb, crosstrain, intervals – don’t marry yourself to one format. There are many options.”

Rob MacIntyre, CSCS, is a Florida-based strength and conditioning coach who works with elite athletes, including several in the WWE. For more hardcore training tips from MacIntyre, visit his gym’s website at www.hardnockssouth.com or follow him on Twitter @hardnockssouth.

3. Do It Early

“My favorite cardio trick is to do first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. It helps your body to burn fat preferentially and sets you up for a great day, complete with racing metabolism.”

Eric Fleishman is a Los Angeles based celebrity trainer and creator of www.gethollywoodmuscle.com.


4. Use a Stopwatch

“In order to prevent muscle catabolism, I only do HIIT cardio, primarily running stairs. My secret to getting the most out of my HIIT training, however, is to always use a stopwatch to time every sprint and then time my rest periods. I want the 10th sprint to be as fast as the first and I want to gradually, over the course of weeks and months, reduce my rest time between sprints. The stopwatch keeps me honest.”

Stan “Rhino” Efferding is an IFBB Professional Bodybuilder and World Record powerlifter. For more with Stan, you can visit his web page at www.stanefferding.com.

5. Train with Purpose

“I think that people need to set new goals and vary their cardio more. What I mean by this is that some people just jump on a machine and go for a certain distance or time – every time. Instead, measure how long you are at a certain heart rate, or how often you are doing intervals or HIIT training as compared to steady-state. Just haphazardly doing your cardio will lead to haphazard results. Set new goals every four weeks to continue to losing fat and improving conditioning.”