Ever wonder if it really makes a difference for weight loss which program you select on a cardio machine?
Are you confused by the different program choices?
Your confusion is about to end – forever.
Let’s begin with a question:
If you were to design a piece of cardio equipment to sell in mass numbers – and you wanted to make the biggest profit possible – what features would you put in the machine?
If you wanted to appeal to the greatest number of consumers possible, including gyms that want to buy cardio equipment, your equipment should have several key features.
One of these is a variety of “programs” that the user can control. This makes the user feel more in control, and they’ll be pleased with your product.
Gyms like this because they know that their members will like it.
Naming the Cardio Machine Programs
The next thing you’d do is label the programs, such as “hills,” “intervals,” “athletic training,” “cardio zone” and “fat loss.”
Which one of these programs on any given cardio machine burns the most fat for the fastest weight loss?
The answer surprises many: No particular program is better for losing weight than another!
They’re there for appeal to the consumer as well as convenience for the user.
If you don’t want to be bothered with continuously changing the speed, incline or pedal resistance, the various programs will do this for you.
The Best Weight Loss Approach with Cardio Machines
What determines maximal fat loss isn’t the program, but how hard you work. It’s really that simple.
Energy exerted = calories burned.
The “fat burn” program won’t make your body burn any more fat than will the “cardiovascular training” or “athletic test” programs.
The harder you work your butt off, the more calories you’ll burn.
Effort, Not Program, Matters for Weight Loss
If you’re lackadaisically working the “fat burn” program, you will not burn more fat (or lose more weight) than if you were intensely using any other program.
To put this another way, suppose your perceived rate of exertion is 5 or 6 out of 10 (meaning, your respiration and heart rate are elevated, but you can speak and sustain the effort) – and you’re using a “fat burn” program on your favorite cardio machine.
Now let’s suppose a few days later you get on that same type of equipment and set the “interval” or “athletic training” program. And again, overall, your perceived rate of exertion is 5 to 6.
You will burn about the same number of calories with each program because your effort level (perceived exertion) is the same for the two.
Suppose next week you choose the “interval” program but this time, you’re going to go all-out on each interval to the point of breathlessness. The low-level segments of the program provide a chance to catch your breath.
What you’re doing – alternating brief, maximal effort with recovery intervals – is called high intensity interval training (HIIT).
The rate of perceived exertion (RPE) for each HIIT interval should be 8 to 10.
Over time, HIIT will cause much more weight loss than a same-length session in which your highest RPE is 6.
Don’t Obsess Over Cardio Machine Programs
They’re a manufacturer’s ploy to make the equipment more desirable.
Some people do prefer the fat burning program simply because of its configuration.
Meanwhile, other users truly believe they’ll lose more weight with that program.
What you should do is choose the configuration you like the best, then work your butt off to the point where you’re feeling quite worked over.
HIIT can be applied to some programs, while other programs lend more to a steady state or fixed pace.
HIIT and the Manual Setting
The ideal mode for maximal weight loss is that of applying HIIT to a manual control of the machine.
This way you can have a dynamic peak-and-valley workout, in which the peaks are fierce grueling efforts, and the valleys are very easy and gentle.
What about the fat burning zone?
Below a certain exertion level, you will burn a higher percentage of fat vs. glucose (blood sugar).
Above that threshold (and it differs from person to person) you will burn more glucose than body fat.
This creates the illusion that the “fat burn” program is best for weight loss over time.
But there’s the thing: We’re talking about percentages here, not absolute amounts.
Below that threshold, your total calorie expenditure is LESS than what it would be for the same length of time above that threshold (such as during HIIT).
So even though a greater percentage of fat is being burned, this is relative to the total number of calories burned.
Though the percentage of fat being burned during HIIT is lower when compared to non-strenuous exertion, the absolute or total amount of fat being burned is higher because the TOTAL number of calories expended during HIIT is higher!
Here’s another way to understand this.
• Total calories burned doing steady state, fixed-pace work with the “fat burn” program: 200
• Total calories burned doing HIIT with a manual control: 300
• Percentage of fat burned during the steady state: 50
• Percentage of fat burned during HIIT: 40
• Fifty percent is more than 40, but remember, these are not absolute values. They are relative. Check it out:
What’s 50% of 200? 100.
What’s 40% of 300? 120.
Which is greater? 100 or 120?
Though these numbers are arbitrary, they clearly illustrate the concept that more TOTAL or absolute fat is burned during HIIT.
The Biggest Benefit of HIIT: the After Burn
However, rather than get caught up in percentages, you should know that HIIT produces an after-burn that more conventional aerobic activity does not.
This after-burn can last up to 24 hours following HIIT.
The fitter you are, the longer the after-burn will last.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer for Bally Total Fitness.