Would you like to know one of the simplest advanced training techniques that I’ve successfully used myself and given to my private coaching clients to maximize fat loss? It’s called combo cardio, and it attacks stored fat in several ways— and is better than anything else you can do.
As you know, I’m a huge advocate of high-intensity interval training, and combo cardio takes advantage of the speed and incredible EPOC benefits of HIIT and then combines them with the fat-oxidizing abilities of steady state cardio. EPOC, or excess postexercise oxygen consumption, is also known as afterburn.
One of the great benefits of combo cardio is that you also get all the benefits of alactic capacity training, which I discussed in the November ’14 issue in my column on alactic-capacity sprints. In other words, you get a lot of return on your time and energy with this one.
What Is Combo Cardio?
For combo cardio you start your workout with high-intensity intervals and take a break to replenish your oxygen and ATP stores. Then you finish with a segment of low-intensity, steady-state cardio. Depending on your fitness level and your goals, you can complete this workout in 20 to 30 minutes.
One of the many advantages of combo cardio is that, as with regular HIIT, you can do it anywhere, using virtually any type of cardio exercise. The easiest thing is to do it with sprints and running, but you can adapt cycling and even swimming to combo cardio as well.
Why Is Combo Cardio So Effective?
Most of the key benefits of combo cardio have to do with burning stored fat, but it also has muscle-building benefits. First, the high-intensity intervals not only burn calories while you’re doing them, but they also set you up with long-range fat-burning abilities by stimulating a huge EPOC effect. Because high-intensity intervals are hugely anaerobic, your body consumes oxygen—and, therefore, energy—at a much higher rate for many hours after your workout. The research differs and is still ongoing, but the general consensus is that the EPOC effect continues for at least 48 hours and possibly as long as 72 hours after your workout. That means your metabolism works at a much higher rate for as long as three days after your workout.
The high-intensity interval cardio also creates a huge lipolytic effect in the body, as it creates enough oxidative stress to stimulate the release of stored fat from your fat cells via glucocorticoids like cortisol. In essence, the fat cells get the message to release stored fat to be turned back into glycogen and burned as fuel.
That’s where the steady-state cardio comes in. Low-intensity steady-state cardio boosts the body’s fatty acid oxidation so that it can take that fat and burn it as fuel. Because you’ve stimulated the process with your high-intensity intervals, your body is primed to let go of the fat and use it to power the steady-state segment.
That wouldn’t be true if you just did a longer session of steady-state cardio. With longer steady-state exercise you ordinarily burn carbs for the majority (if not the entirety) of your workout, and you also don’t generate the EPOC effect.
As for the muscle-building benefits of combo cardio, they’re indirect but extremely valuable. As I discussed last month, training to increase your alactic capacity enables you to increase your ability to do explosive movement in the gym and also increases the stimulation of fast-twitch muscle fibers. So you can train at a higher intensity or train longer before reaching muscle fatigue. That means growth.
How It’s Done
Combo cardio is an extremely flexible training technique. You can do it almost anywhere and with any type of cardio exercise. It’s also very easy to design an effective workout based on your present level of fitness and how quickly you progress. The formula for combo cardio is a session of high-intensity intervals followed by a brief recovery period and then a session of low-intensity steady-state cardio.
The simplest way to do it is with running. So you might do something like this:
• Do a 30-second sprint at maximum capacity, and then rest for 2 1/2 minutes.
• Repeat four times, and then rest for 10 minutes.
• Do 30 minutes of steady running at a slow-to-moderate pace.
As your alactic and aerobic fitness increase, you can shorten the rest periods after your sprints and/or increase the intensity of your sprints by running uphill, with a weight or up a flight of stairs.
What To Do Next
Combo cardio is a great workout to incorporate into a cutting phase or to get rid of unexpected fat gained during an injury, a vacation, the holidays or anything else that interferes with your normal diet and workout schedule. You can also use it to help ward off unwanted fat by subbing combo cardio for one or two of your weekly cardio sessions.
Be sure you have a stopwatch, a stopwatch app on your smart phone or a watch with a second hand so you can time your high-intensity intervals properly and regulate your rest periods.
Combo cardio is one of about three dozen advanced training techniques that we use in our one-on-one personal-coaching program. I’ve shared several of them with you over the past few columns, but there are many more that we use.
Frequently changing up your training methods (and the stimuli they target) enables you to get incredible and very consistent results without ever hitting a plateau. You simply change methods before your body has a chance to adapt to what you’re doing.
We’re almost at capacity for the coming year, but registration is still open for a limited time. Feel free to check out our program, and see how it can take your training and your body to and beyond the next level.
By Vince DelMonte