Fine Tuning Your Cardio Workouts to Maximize Fat Loss

12094836_10208027572070022_2182502248194614602_oIn order to maximize caloric expenditure, we need to maximize the amount of oxygen we are consuming during cardio workouts. We utilize more oxygen when we involve more muscle mass. So any activities that involve more muscle mass will make your fat loss program a lot more efficient. 

Consider These Points:

  • At least one or two of your primary aerobic activities should involve activities during which you stand to perform them like running, power walking, cross-country skiing or stair-climbing. If your muscles have to support you in an upright position, they must expend more energy to do so in comparison to a seated, body-weight supported position.
  • At least one of your primary aerobic activities should involve both your arms and your legs.  Activities like rowing or cross-country skiing, which involve vigorous activity from both your arms and your legs, will expend a lot of energy.  It’s one of the reasons that cross country ski athletes are some of the fittest on the planet since they are racing in an upright position and using both arms and your legs at a high intensity.
  • Consider the environment in which you exercise. Your heat regulator and your appetite are both controlled by your hypothalmus. So, if you are exercising in a colder environment, like a pool during a swim workout, your hypothalmus must act in order to maintain your core temperature.  As it responds to the colder environment, it also acts to stimulate your appetite. This explains why many athletes find they may start a run hungry but once they are finished, it may take them an hour or more before they are ready to eat. This effect is even greater if the run took place on a hot day. In contrast, many athletes have difficulty explaining why, after a swim workout or a long-easy hike, they are famished. This may explain why elite level swimmers still carry on average 5% more body fat than elite level runners. I am definitely not suggesting that you find the hottest environment to perform your workouts – which would pose its own health risks. I am also not suggesting that swimming does not burn fat – it is just not as efficient as, say, running.  Swimming has many advantages for overweight individuals; their bodies do not overheat, so the workout feels more comfortable; the buoyancy factor makes it a lot easier on the joints; and they can definitely improve their cardiovascular and musculo-skeletal systems. Just be sure that not all your primary workouts consist of activities like swimming, outdoor cycling and easy hiking which all take place in a colder environment.  Instead include at least one activity during which you will sweat and raise your body core temperature.
  • One recent study reported in the Journal of Epidemiology studied athletes and found that those whose intensity was higher and/or duration longer, their appetite was suppressed more than those who exercised at a more moderate or easier level. It’s clearly easier to eat excessive calories than burn them so we definitely want to do whatever we can to suppress our appetites. Personally, after a tough workout, it usually takes me a while to be ready to eat but after an easier workout, I can eat right away.

If you’re going to be working out, you want to get the biggest bang for your buck. Weight loss and appetite can be a complex issue but experiment until you figure out which approach works for you to maximize your caloric expenditure while suppressing your appetite and therefore, reducing your caloric intake.

Yours in health & fitness,
Sherri McMillan

Note: As an avid Columbian reader, you can redeem a 2 week pass at her world-class training studio in Downtown Vancouver or Salmon Creek to help get you started. Contact 360.574.7292 (Downtown) or 360.574.2400 (Salmon Creek at 3SIX0 Fitness) for more details. 


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Sherri McMillan

Sherri McMillan

Sherri McMillan, holds a master's degree in exercise physiology and has been inspiring the world to adopt a fitness lifestyle for more than 33 years. She has received numerous industry awards including 2010 CanFitPro International Presenter of the Year, 2006 IDEA Fitness Director of the Year, 1998 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year, 1998 CanFitPro Fitness Presenter of the Year and 2005/2006 ACE Fitness Educator of the Year - Runner up. She is a fitness trainer, fitness columnist for various magazines and newspapers, author of five books and manuals including "Go For Fit - the Winning Way to Fat Loss" and "Fit over Forty" and the featured presenter in various fitness DVDs. She has presented hundreds of workshops to thousands of fitness leaders throughout Canada, Australia, Mexico, Jamaica, New Zealand, Germany, England, Spain, South America, Asia and the U.S. She is the owner of Northwest Personal Training in downtown Vancouver, the founder of WHY Racing Events & WHY Community, participates in various community fundraisers and can be found running, biking, or hiking around the community. Find more information at

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