Cardio and Intervals for Fat Loss

April 27th, 2007 by

I did a two-part interview for Craig Ballantyne’s Turbulence Training (// member site recently. I’ll be running the full interview in a future issue of the LBC newsletter, but in the mean time (since I’m trying to post to this blog frequently) I thought, I’d post up one of the Q&As from the interview.


CB: Moving over to training, how and when do you use cardio and intervals for fat loss? What about when gaining muscle, do your clients still do cardio?

EL: For fat loss, it really depends on the person, their goals, how far away from their goals they currently are, the amount of time they have to invest, how I have their training set up, etc. Generally speaking however, I put the emphasis on interval training and use lower intensity cardio as more of an ‘adjunct therapy’. Perhaps to top off off energy expenditure. Actually, I tend to fall into the camp that says to do as little cardio/interval work as necessary to see results. I put the fat loss focus on nutrition and look to optimizing and fine tuning what a person is eating before I’ll suggest more cardio or interval work.

For an average client I might have them doing anywhere from 1-3 interval sessions per week with varying interval or work/rest ratios. Again, it depends on the training as well. If someone is using a full body program, I might go as high as three short weekly sessions. For someone doing an upper/lower split, I probably won’t go past two weekly sessions and I’ll put them on leg days so that the lower body gets more full rest days.

For lighter individuals, and this basically refers to lighter females, I find I generally have to have them do a little more cardio than their heavier counterparts. The lighter the person the more likely they’re going to have to do more cardio because they simply can’t create the necessary deficit from dietary restriction alone, without calories becoming painfully low.

For example, let’s take two individuals,

Person 1 – 230lbs Approximate maintenance of 3450 Person 2 – 110 lbs Approximate maintenance of 1650 So, a reasonable place to start is to create about a 20% deficit and then adjust from there based on results, or lack thereof. So, continuing with the examples, Person 1 – 2760 calories (690 calories deficit) Person 2 – 1320 calories (330 calories deficit) So, you can see, Person 1 has created a big enough deficit, all else being equal, to lose over a pound of fat a week. Person 2, however, with the same 20% deficit, has not. For her to match Person 1’s absolute deficit she’d have to eat only 960 calories. (again, lots of general assumptions in these numbers). Hence the fact that lighter individuals typically have to add in some expenditure work to get the caloric deficit up high enough to get a reasonable rate of fat loss.

For muscle gains, I remove the interval training entirely and I just have a few optional low intensity steady state sessions in. I don’t really see much benefit to it during phases devoted to mass gains as those calories lost could be directed towards gains instead. As for those that cry ‘what about my heart’, I’m sure they’re getting enough cardiorespiratory benefits from their weight training. I had a client tell me they wanted to do some low intensity 15-minute bike riding for heart health. Now, I’ve got no problem with remaining active, but I objected to the reasons behind the 15-minute stationary bike ride, and asked this person to stop and take their heart rate the next time they’re training legs.

And there you have it. :)

I’ll try to post an update on how things go with Noel today. We’ve got a big 5-6 hour drive, then an athlete’s meeting and then the fun starts.