The Best Possible Cardio Workout for Burning Fat Quickly While Maintaining Muscle

By on June 12, 2014

A lot of bodybuilders and weight lifters do not like cardiovascular exercise. The simple reason for this is that they’re afraid it’s going to hamper their muscle gain (hypertrophy) and even cause them to lose existing muscle. Personally I just don’t like it because it sucks, so I wanted to find something more efficient that I could do more quickly and without the risk of burning muscle…

At the same time, many people training just to lose weight will not want to use resistance/weight training. Why? Because they believe it will give them big bulging muscles when they actually just want to be slim.

best cardio workout in 15 minutes

But in fact there are many reasons to train using both types of exercise at the same time. This is called ‘concurrent training’, and it’s a highly powerful tool when you get it right. I was interested in finding what the very best form of CV was for burning fat while maintaining muscle, and it turns out that it involves combining the endurance of CV with the resistance of weight lifting.

What I discovered was a method of burning fat in 15 minutes more efficient that any other form of CV and which could actually support muscle growth…

Understanding CV and Body Composition

When many people tell you they want to ‘lose weight’, this is not actually what they mean. What they actually mean is they want to achieve ‘body recomposition’. What that’s saying, is that they don’t want to lose weight indiscriminately, they just want to lose fat. Most dieters will actually want to make their bodies firmer and more toned at the same time which actually means gaining weight in the form of muscle.

For body recomposition, weight training is actually second to none. The reason is that lifting weights still burns calories, but it also builds muscle and triggers a powerful hormonal response in the body putting you in an anabolic ‘muscle building/fat burning state’. Subsequently, just having more muscle will raise your resting metabolic rate so that you burn more fat throughout the day even when not exercising. That’s because your body will need the energy just to maintain that extra muscle mass.

So if you’re someone who is doing CV to lose weight and you aren’t also doing resistance training, you’ll be missing out on some very powerful effects.

Likewise though, for a bodybuilder trying to build muscle, running and other forms of CV can actually have positive benefits. Interval training with running will trigger the release of growth hormone leading to the development of more muscle growth over night, while burning calories will result in a leaner physique.

How to Do Concurrent Training Right

The problems only come when the wrong type of cardio is added to the strength training or vice versa.

Studies show that concurrent training can impair muscle growth compared with weight lifting alone. But a closer look at the data tells us that this is only really true for extended bouts of CV. Go for an hour jog and yes, this will cause you to lose muscle relative to if you had just trained with weights.

On the other hand, a short and intensive burst of CV such as 15 minutes of HIIT, actually isn’t detrimental to strength gains despite being able to burn the same amount of calories. Likewise the more resistance you add to your training, the better it turns out to be for building muscle. Sprinting is better than jogging, cycling on a high setting is better than the elliptical machine… etc. This is likely because it engages the fast twitch muscle fibres – the same ones used for explosive demonstrations of strength.

Meanwhile, using HIIT with added resistance for someone aiming to lose fat would help to also tone the muscles and thereby produce more of a hormonal response and put the body into more of a ‘fat burning zone’ throughout the day.

The Best 15 Minute Cardio Session for Fat loss

With that in mind then, the best body recomposition would be achieved through a short burst of high intensity CV that also provided resistance in order to task the fast twitch muscle fibres. This would be better than just running for burning fat, and would help to add muscle rather than destroy it when added to a bodybuilder’s routine.

What would such a workout look like?

Well one program that follows this logic was suggested by Dr Layne Norton who devised the ‘best possible’ 15 minute cardio session for Fitocracy and for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ‘1% challenge’.

The routine involves the following steps:

  • Pedal on a stationary bike at an easy pace for five minutes with 50% resistance
  • Then going full throttle for 10 seconds still at 50%
  • Then increase the resistance to 100% and carry on at top speed for 20 seconds.
  • After this you go back to the easy pace for 90 seconds on 100%
  •  Finally return to half resistance for 5 minutes at the easy pace and repeat. (Until 15 minutes have passed)

This way you are using interval training to achieve maximum intensity. That’s because you’re going faster at some points than your body can get energy using your aerobic system. Thus you go into an ‘anaerobic’ state which burns all the available glucose in your blood. That in turn causes a rush of growth hormone and also ensures that you will subsequently be in a fat-burning zone as your body will be forced to start getting energy from your fat stores. Your heart rate will also be increased beyond what would be possible with a continuous moderate pace.

At the same time you’re adding resistance to help engage all the muscle fibres and tone the legs and buttocks. This tells your body it needs muscle and so it doesn’t get broken down.

In 15 minutes you can get a much better workout than you could with an hour of running even, and you’ll find it actually supports rather than hampers muscle growth! We likey…

This is actually similar to a technique I used for a long time which involved doing ‘semi press ups’ really quickly for sets of 100-300.

This seemed to burn fat while toning ab muscle and I swore by it as a way to get ripped for a long time. You could even get the same effect by just using the chest press machine for a large number of reps on a light setting.

It’s also probably why swimming is so awesome for getting a lean physique. I imagine running in sand could be used to pretty good effect too. In short then, to get the very most from your CV you need to use HIIT and combine that with resistance so you’re doing your concurrent training all in one. Give it a go and let me know what you think in the comments!

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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