The 12 Most Effective Fat-Burning Cardio Exercises

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As the name suggests, cardiovascular training is primarily used to bring about improvements to the cardiovascular system. However, cardio can also be an excellent fat loss tool.

Unfortunately, however, there are many misunderstandings when it comes to cardio training. Often individuals do not make the progress they desire as a result of these misbeliefs.

This article will start by defining cardio training before moving on to discuss the different forms and methods that exist.

It will also highlight 12 of the best fat-burning cardio exercises and outline important cardio training guidelines.

What Is Cardio Training?

Cardiovascular training can be defined as physical conditioning that exercises the heart and lungs.

Often it is assumed that cardio training is restricted to just running. However, there are a number of activities that can be classed as cardiovascular training.

Walking, running, cycling, rowing, circuit training, and interval training, to name but a few. In fact, cardio is really any activity that places a significant demand on the heart and lungs.

Regularly performing cardio exercises can positively impact the health and function of the body.

Adaptations To Cardio Training

The main adaptations that take place are to the heart and lungs.

The heart will become stronger and will consequently be able to more powerfully pump blood around the body.

This allows for more efficient delivery of oxygen-rich blood to the working muscles and removal of waste products. Consequently, the muscles will be able to work harder for longer.

The lungs adapt in response to cardiovascular training in a number of ways. These changes allow for a greater volume of air to be breathed in and more efficient uptake of oxygen. (1)

In addition to this, the muscles will adapt to increase the amount of energy they produce and become more endurant.

A great number of calories are typically burned off during cardiovascular activities and, therefore, cardio can facilitate fat loss.

Lastly, a number of studies have found that regular cardio training can reduce the risk of developing diseases.

This is particularly true for cardiovascular diseases and issues such as coronary heart disease, hypertension, stroke, and heart attacks. (2)

Aerobic vs Anaerobic

Fat-burning Cardio Exercises - Aerobics

It is important to understand that there are different forms of cardiovascular training. Cardio training sessions can be either aerobic or anaerobic in nature.

The words aerobic and anaerobic literally mean “with oxygen” and “without oxygen”. The intensity and duration of the exercise will determine whether it is aerobic and anaerobic.

Aerobic exercise tends to be long in duration but low in intensity whereas anaerobic is shorter but much higher in intensity.

Activities such as walking, running, cycling, or rowing for long durations depend on oxygen. Therefore, these can be considered aerobic activities.

However, the body can provide energy without the presence of oxygen but only for a short time.

Some examples of anaerobic exercises include sprinting, heavyweight training, and jumping.

While both forms cause cardiovascular improvements, they bring their own unique benefits and adaptations. It is recommended to incorporate both forms into training where possible.

With that being said, the method that is primarily used depends on training goals and preferences.

Cardio Training Methods

There are two main cardio training method categories – LISS and HIIT. This section will explain what is involved in both methods and highlight the differences between the two.


LISS stands for Low-Intensity Steady State. As the name may suggest, the method involves constant effort over a prolonged long time period.

Examples of LISS include walking, running, cycling, swimming, and rowing.

LISS would be classed as aerobic as the body uses oxygen as its primary source of energy.  Therefore, LISS is an excellent choice for improving our aerobic fitness.

In addition, LISS has been linked with improving heart health, enhancing circulation, increasing energy and reducing stress.

Finally, LISS training sessions tend to burn a large number of calories and contribute to weight loss.


HIIT, or High-Intensity Interval Training, is the exact opposite of LISS. It utilizes repetitive bursts of hard work over a short period of time.

Sprints are one of the best examples of HIIT training. Sprinting sessions will involve multiple maximal efforts that are interspersed with short rest periods.

HIIT would be considered anaerobic as it uses stored energy to generate movement. Consequently, performing HIIT regularly will enhance our anaerobic capacity.

HIIT has been associated with improving heart health, developing muscle tone, improving oxygen consumption and enhancing athletic performance. (3)

As with LISS, HIIT can also contribute towards fat loss. Considering the high intensities, a great number of calories are burned in a short time.

Cardio Training For Weight Loss

As mentioned, cardio training can be very beneficial for bringing about weight loss. However, it’s important to recognize that it is not the exercise itself that directly causes this.

For weight loss to occur, we need to place the body in something known as a negative energy balance. This is where we burn more calories than we consume.

The body naturally burns calories every day just to maintain normal function. If calories are restricted or used up, the body must find energy from another source.

As a result, the body will begin to break down stored body fat to continue to provide energy. If this negative balance is maintained for a prolonged time, significant weight loss will occur.

Exercise can help us to burn more calories and contribute towards establishing a negative energy balance.

Therefore, due to the high-calorie burn associated with both LISS and HIIT, cardio is a highly effective weight-loss tool.

Studies have suggested that LISS and HIIT are both equally as effective for improving body composition. (4)

The 12 Most Effective Fat-Burning Cardio Training Exercises

Fat-burning - Burpees

In this section, we will look at a number of cardiovascular exercises that effectively burn body fat.

We will cover a wide range of both LISS and HIIT exercises. Additionally, we will provide details on calories burned (5) and specific training recommendations.

Be aware that there are a number of factors that influence the number of calories expended. Therefore, recognize that these are only estimations and the true number may differ.

The frequency guidelines recommend how many times per week the exercises should be performed each week to optimize progress.

Once again, there are many factors that will determine how frequently exercises are performed. This includes current fitness levels, training goals, and time available.

1. Running

The ultimate fat burning exercise. While running primarily working the leg muscles, the core and upper body muscles also significantly contribute towards causing movement.

Calories burned per hour (12 – 10 minute / mile):  500 – 900

Training frequency per week: 2 – 5 x per week

Equipment: Running shoes + Running watches (additional)


2. Cycling

As with running, cycling predominantly requires effort from the powerful muscles of the legs. Using these muscles require a lot of energy and, therefore, cycling burns many calories.

Calories burned per hour (moderate): 400 – 600

Training frequency per week: 2 – 5 x per week

Equipment: Indoor bikes / Outdoor bikes


3. Swimming

There is not one muscle in the body that is not required for swimming. As a result, swimming uses up a substantial amount of calories and can significantly contribute to fat loss.

Calories burned per hour: 400 – 600

Training frequency per week: 2 – 5 x per week

Equipment: Swimming costumes


4. Rowing

Rowing is another fantastic full-body cardio exercise. Each stroke requires a powerful drive through the legs and the arms.

Calories burned per hour (moderate): 400 – 600

Training frequency per week: 2 – 5 x per week

Equipment: Rowing machines / Training shoes


5. Rock Climbing

While perhaps a less conventional fat-burning method, rock climbing can be highly taxing on the body. It also requires a large amount of strength, control, balance, and agility.

Calories burned per hour: 500 – 900

Training frequency per week: 2 – 5 x per week

Equipment: Rock-climbing shoes


6. Boxing

A great amount of power is required for many performing punches in boxing. In order to produce this power, a large number of calories must be expended.

Calories burned per hour: 500 – 800

Training frequency per week: 2 – 5 x per week

Equipment: Boxing gloves + Training shoes


7. Sprints

One minute worth of sprints burns up to 20 calories. Not only is the exercise maximal effort, it also requires the engagement of many muscles throughout the body.

Calories burned per 10 minutes: 200

Training frequency per week: 1 – 3 x per week

Equipment: Cross-training shoes / Training shoes


8. Stair Running

Adding stair reps into a run can significantly increase the intensity of a run. Consequently, to keep up with the demand, the number of calories expended also increases.

Calories burned per 10 minutes: 300

Training frequency per week: 1 – 3 x per week

Equipment: Cross-training shoes / Training shoes


9. Jump Rope

The jump rope is one of the simplest pieces of gym equipment yet one of the most effective. Challenging jump variations, such as double-unders, can be used to increase the intensity.

Calories burned per 10 minutes: 100 – 150

Training frequency per week: 2 – 5 x per week

Equipment: Jump ropes


10. Battle Ropes

As with the jump rope, there are a number of ways to use the battle ropes such as waves, circles, and slams. This allows us to manipulate the intensity and cause a great calorie burn.

Calories burned per 10 minutes: 110

Training frequency per week: 1 – 3 x per week

Equipment: Battle ropes


11. Kettlebell Swings

The kettlebell swing is an explosive exercise that can contribute significantly to a high calorie burn. While the technique is a little tricky, it is an exercise that is worthwhile learning.

Calories burned per 10 minutes: 150 – 200

Training frequency per week: 1 – 3 x per week

Equipment: Kettlebells


12. Burpees

The burpee is the ultimate bodyweight cardio exercise. Burpees place a large demand on the body and consequently burn many calories.

Calories burned per 10 minutes: 100 – 150

Training frequency per week: 2 – 5 x per week

Equipment: Cross-training shoes


Training Exercise Guidelines

It is crucial that cardiovascular training is performed safely and effectively. In this section, we will highlight a number of guidelines that should be followed carefully.

1. Starting Small and Progressive Overload

Often, individuals start a health kick and very quickly end up injured or burned out. The main cause of this is starting with too high an intensity.

For those who are untrained, it is not a good idea to immediately start with a high frequency and intensity. Rather, they should start small and follow progressive overload.

Regardless of the type of training, progressive overload is the key to maximizing improvements and avoiding injury.

Progressive overload simply involves gradually increasing the intensity of training sessions. This will ensure that the body is exposed to a stimulus that will force it to adapt and improve.

To apply progressive overload simply make training sessions a little harder with each week that passes. This can be done by manipulating the duration, exercise, intensity, or frequency.

2. Avoid Overtraining

Leading on from the previous point, it is important that training frequency is monitored. It may be tempting to train every day, however, this will be detrimental.

Instead of causing cardiovascular improvements, overtraining and burnout are likely.

Overtraining is where the body simply cannot deal with the stress it is experiencing. Consequently, training performance will substantially drop and chronic fatigue may occur.

Another risk factor to consider is repetitive strain injury. If the body is unaccustomed to specific exercises, high frequencies could cause these types of injury to develop.

Common repetitive strain injuries include plantar fasciitis, medial tibial stress syndrome (shin splints) and IT band syndrome (runners knee).

3. Use Heart Rate Training Zones

Using heart rate training zones can be a useful way to ensure that we are training at the right intensity.

The method is simple and involves monitoring heart rate during exercise. The aim is to keep the heart rate between specific parameters.

There are five training zones that can be used to bring about specific adaptations. It would be wise to utilize all five zones during different stages of training.

Be aware that the percentages are in relation to our maximum heart rate (MHR). To estimate our maximum heart rate, subtract our age from 220.

  • Zone 1: 50-60% of MHR
    Goal: Promote recovery
  • Zone 2: 60-70% of MHR
    Goal: Improve endurance and fat burning
  • Zone 3: 70-80% of MHR
    Goal: Improve aerobic capacity
  • Zone 4: 80-90% of MHR
    Goal: Improve anaerobic capacity
  • Zone 5: 90-100%
    Goal: Improve maximal performance


4. Keep Hydrated and Eat Well

Hydrated & Eat Well

While exercise is evidently important for improving health and fitness, hydration and nutrition are of equal importance.

Cardiovascular exercise tends to cause a great amount of fluid to be lost through sweat and body heat. This is fluid that must be replenished to avoid the negative impact of dehydration.

Therefore, ensure that fluid is consumed before, during, and after training sessions to maintain hydration levels.

In terms of nutrition, it is vital that some food is eaten prior to exercising. Food is fuel and therefore, failing to eat before exercise is likely to impact how we perform.

A healthy meal should also be prioritized once the exercise session is completed. There should be a particular focus on consuming carbohydrates and protein.

Carbohydrates will replenish energy supplies while protein will promote optimal recovery.


Regular cardio training is recommended as it can have a huge impact on our health and wellbeing.

Cardiovascular exercises tend to burn a high number of calories. As a consequence, cardio exercises can contribute to creating a negative energy balance and cause fat loss.

Ultimately, cardio doesn’t just have to be grueling runs on the treadmill. As highlighted, there are a range of engaging activities that can be performed to build fitness and burn fat.



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