I’ve got some interesting new findings for those of you who have fat loss for a goal. Many of you, particularly physique competitors, are very familiar with the idea of splitting up your workouts in 2 sessions in order to maximize your efforts in the gym. I often like to have clients (and myself) perform cardio in a separate session from weight training, and sometimes we’ll put a little cardio in after training if it is needed for the individual. For me, the most important reasoning behind this is to be able to fully use all of my energy and focus during my cardio. I also want to ensure that I’m training with a high enough intensity, or keeping my heart rate within specific training zones which can be very taxing on the body, and I instruct clients to do the same. Well, a new study just came out supporting these claims, and shows how effective this simple training set up can be when it comes to increasing metabolism – and thus effect fat loss.
The Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport released a study that shows that splitting your cardio into two sessions beats a single session of medium to higher intensity cardio performed in one bout. They discovered that the two split sessions greatly impacted Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC) – or that “afterburn” that every talks about post high intensity training when your metabolism is elevated for up to 36 hours!
They took 10 healthy men ages 23-34 years old, and put them through a variety of different training set ups, and tested their VO2 Max in the process. They set the training sessions up as the following:
The men performed two maximal cardiopulmonary exercise tests for running and cycling to determine exercise modality-specific peak oxygen uptake (VO2peak)
They then had them perform four isocaloric exercise bouts (two continuous bouts expending 400 kcal and two intermittent bouts split into 2 x 200 kcal) performed at 75% of the running and cycling oxygen uptake reserve.
In plain English, the men performed basically 2 bouts of cardio each burning 400 calories that were over a longer duration session, and alternately burned the same 400 calories, but this time split in two sessions which each burned 200 for the sessions – all forms performed at a high intensity pace. Now, don’t mistake this for a long duration vs. HIIT type of study, because the workout intensities were actually kept constant, and the modality (running or cycle) was constant as well.
The study also points out:
Exercise bouts were separated by 72 h and performed in a randomized, counter-balanced order. The VO2 was monitored for 60-min postexercise and for 60-min during a control non-exercise day.
The results of the study showed that all of the exercise sets up produced a higher VO2 max than the control session. But what was most striking was that the combined EPOC was greater in the the two split sessions than the longer duration sessions. Both types of exercise (running and cycling) produced a greater amount of EPOC, BUT running ruled to be far more superior. They seemed to have concluded that because more muscles are involved with running than with cycling, a higher expenditure was observed.
So what does that mean for you, and how do you apply this? Well, if you have the time to be able to split up your training, performing your cardio in separate sessions can help you get a great bang for your buck. The goal being to try to keep your heart rate up during that first session, as shown in the study, and pushing your limits in the workout to get a good caloric burn. The total calories may not be as high as if you were doing a longer session, but at the end of the day the EPOC that is seen after has a far greater effect in the long run towards your goals. Later on in the day, performing an equally as challenging cardio session for a shorter duration is the final icing on the cake to producing results similar to what has been observed in the study.
In the real world, what I’ve also found that has helped myself and clients lose fat tremendously (again without having to increase duration), is adding in metabolic circuits to the cardio routine to get as many muscle groups involved, and to boost overall caloric burn. So it’s common for me to design a plan for a client that may begin with about 10-20 mins of HIIT cardio, followed by a quick metabolic circuit that really gets the heart rate up and every muscle involved from head to toe. Remember, the study demonstrated that running is far superior to cycling in the case of EPOC due to the fact that more muscle is involved in creating the motion. So GET UP AND GET MOVING!
When a program, like the one described above, is given as the first workout session in the day, the second session of cardio would follow (or precede) weight training, and again focus more on the intensity than long duration. I always advise clients wear a heart rate monitor throughout their workouts to ensure they are indeed pushing the limits – and getting the job done. I encourage you to always do the same.
Employing this kind of approach, alongside a well designed diet, can see you stripping off body fat in no time; and help those of you who may have hit a plateau to zoom right off of it.
I want to hear from you! Have you employed this kind of method with your own training, and if so, what kind of results have you seen? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Cunha, Felipe A., et al. “Effect of continuous and intermittent bouts of isocaloric cycling and running exercise on excess postexercise oxygen consumption.” Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport (2015).