When it comes to the most efficient ways to build a leaner, stronger and fitter body, lifting weights offers the biggest bang-for-your-buck by providing the perfect stimulus for building lean muscle and torching excess body fat. But that’s not to say that cardio exercise doesn’t have a role to play in the pursuit of a healthier and happier life. High-intensity interval training – such as the Fat-Loss Finishers found in New Body Plan – are fantastic for getting your heart rate high and a good sweat on to burn calories, while longer and slower forms of cardio, especially outdoors or in the pool, will burn energy as well as being hugely mentally rewarding.
To ensure that the cardio you do helps rather than hinders your better-body aspirations, make sure you don’t make the following most common mistakes to maximise the efficacy of your workouts to take big steps towards a leaner and fitter physique.
The Flaw: Rowing at resistance level 10
The Fix: Use level 7 instead
In the list of greatest cardio machines it’s hard to beat the rower because it works the muscles of your upper and lower body just as much as it does your heart and lungs. But form must come first and trying to row at level 10 before you’ve mastered the correct movement pattern will result in an inefficient workout that could increase your risk of injury. Start at the lower end of the resistance scale and get to grips with a smooth, efficient action – it may feel too easy at first but that will allow you to focus on form. As you get more confident up the intensity to a level 7 or 8 for a more effective total-body session.
The Flaw: Running on a flat treadmill
The Fix: Increase the incline to 1%
The treadmill is a far more versatile bit of kit than most people realise because it can be utilised for everything from short and intense interval sessions right up to longer leg-busting runs. And it’s great for people who’ve suffered lower-limb joint injuries because instead of the bone-jarring impact of pavements, each stride is more cushioned on the treadmill to reduce the impact stress on the legs. That said, running on a flat incline means you only ever have to propel yourself upwards and not forwards, which is obviously the case with outdoor running. Setting the incline a 1% as a minimum forces you to move upwards and forwards and so better replicates real running, and burns more calories to boot.
The Flaw: Not adjusting the bike seat
The Fix: Have it at hip height
Sometimes you just want to get the session started but jumping on a bike without first adjusting the seat height is setting you up for discomfort, pain and even injury. Stand next to the bike and adjust the seat so that it’s at hip height. If the seat is too high you’ll constantly over-reach during each stroke, while sitting too low loads up the pressure on your joints. Then make sure the pedal straps aren’t too tight or too loose so you can get more power out of every push.
The Flaw: Never warming-up
The Fix: Do 5 minutes (and a warm-down)
You wouldn’t attempt a bench press one-rep max without fully warming up, so why would you do a tough cardio session without gradually getting your mind and muscles firing first? Doing five minutes of light effort work on the cardio machine is essential to training safely and effectively, and allows you to get better results whilst minimising the risk of injury. And always spend the same amount of time at the end of the main workout to warm down so your body can adjust from a very active to restful state to kickstart the recovery process.
The Flaw: Doing the same thing every session
The Fix: Experiment with different workouts
Nothing guarantees a results plateau more than doing the same workout every time you step into the gym. That’s because our bodies are fantastically efficient at adapting to the demands we place upon them, so it’s not long before that 5km treadmill run becomes a walk in the park. Keep your sessions fresh, challenging and more productive by varying them: do some short, sharp HIIT-style workouts, some longer and slower efforts, and some nice and easy recovery work to banish boredom and keep your mind and muscles guessing as to what’s coming next.