Hey Coach Stevo, I’m sick of running on the treadmill for my cardio. Any suggestions?

Yes, stop running on the treadmill. That’ll be $100, please.

Cardio is a 6-letter word with a lot of baggage. It’s also used interchangeably to mean a lot of things to people in different contexts. Even people in my profession throw it around with equal parts disdain and annoyance as they imagine millions of gym-goers trying to hamster-wheel their way into Jessica Beil’s ass. But professional posturing aside, what most of my clients mean when they say, “what cardio should I be doing?” is “what should I do when I don’t see you that will keep me from getting fat?” Of course, what I hear is, “what can I do on days I don’t see you that will give me the illusion that I’m losing weight so that I can binge on empty calories and tell myself it’s ok?”

First, some biology. Aerobic cardiovascular conditioning is a very real, very important part of any training program. Your heart is a muscle and it needs training, too. The benefits of consistent, moderate stress on the heart via exercise is increased stroke volume (more blood whooshing through per pump), a heart that has to work less to pump the same volume of blood, better lung capacity, lower blood pressure, and a lower risk of everything that kills most Americans (heart disease, diabetes, etc.). And yes, it also burns some calories.

But did you know there are other kinds of cardiovascular conditioning? Anything that puts your heart rate under 80% of max (220-[your age]) is considered “aerobic” but when your heart rate is between 80% and 100% of max you are burning more calories than your lungs can provide oxygen for. You are undergoing “anaerobic conditioning.” This taxes two completely different fuel systems than pounding out hours on the elliptical. When you have dialed the intensity up to 8 or 9, your “high energy phosphate” and “anaerobic glycolysis” systems are being stressed. And with proper fueling and recovery, these systems adapt and improve. That means faster recovery time, better fatigue resistance, higher V02 Max, and later onset of blood lactate accumulation. Oh, and it burns more calories.

Which type of cardio should you be doing? Well, “both” and “it depends.” That’ll be another $100.

If your goal is hotness, then first and foremost make sure you get in 2-3 sessions of resistance training per week. Then make sure your nutrition is dialed in. Because I’m about to break your heart and tell you that no matter what cardio you choose, you aren’t gonna sweat off those extra cookies. Both aerobic and anerobic cardio training burn calories and can help you maintain a caloric deficit, but the heavy lifting of your deficit has to be through proper diet because both types of cardio have a serious downside: they both make you hungry and require refueling (eating calories in the form of food) to work as proper training.

Here is the breakdown:

Aerobic (Jogging, Elliptical, Biking, Swiming)
Pros: Easy. Lower hunger response. Quick recovery time (less than 24 hours).
Cons: Boring. Less calories burned.

Anaerobic (Metabolic Circuits, Interval Training, Swings, Tabatas, etc.)
Pros: Not Dull. Burns slightly more calories.
Cons: Hard. Huge hunger response. Very long recovery times (more than 48 hours).

Coach Stevo’s Top Tip

If you are really good about sticking to a diet and getting plenty of sleep (and I mean really good) then 1-2 metabolic circuits a week might spice things up. But be very, very honest with yourself. I do this for a living and I don’t do more than 3 of those a month unless I’m in training for a specific event. And I certainly don’t do them in a caloric deficit. I coach my “Ticket to Hotness” clients to do 2-3 sessions of moderate cardio and throw in metabolic circuits during our sessions so I can monitor them. My absolute favorite low impact cardio?

Crank the treadmill up to 15% incline, set the speed at 3.3 miles per hour and just walk for 40 minutes. This is very low impact, hard as hell, useful for your entire life, and probably won’t make you ravenous. Plus it places the hip in full extension so you have to use your glutes. Booty!