You’re tired now. Your tried-and-tested thirty-minute run after a weights session isn’t helping you lose fat fast anymore, and you aren’t getting the ‘high’ from it either. Your time isn’t improving either in relation to the distance you’re doing for your cardio session. You’ve hit a plateau.
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Unlike other plateaus, one involving your cardio routine can be maddening because it’s tough to recognize when you hit it, and it usually happens when you desperately need to lose fat fast. You’re probably unaware that you’re doing one (or more) of the following:
You’re Going Too Easy
Your body drops weight quite fast when you dive into a new cardio regimen; a good hour on the treadmill on a hill-setting can easily torch 600–700 calories per hour. However, just like any other exercise, if it’s done consistently and religiously, the exercise can become too easy and your body will adapt (therefore, burning less fat in the process). Try increasing your per kilometer pace by 15-20 seconds, and you should be a little breathless after 5k. Also, do something totally different, such as using cardio rope or flipping truck tires. The different motions will definitely produce a harder and more challenging cardio workout which should allow you to lose fat fast.
For runners, a running form based on heel-striking is more or less a sure way of having sub-standard run sessions. Any form of cardio—if you have bad form—will likely produce more injuries and fewer results, stalling any prior progress you may have made. When doing cardio in the gym, use the mirrors to your advantage; I self-correct my running form by watching carefully that I keep my feet under my body when I run. A workout buddy or an instructor can also help you maintain proper form.
You’re Too Efficient
On the flip side of the coin, a consistent and proper-form cardio routine becomes just that to the body—a routine. The body is an adaptive machine and it will learn how to use its resources (energy) and machinery (the body) more efficiently. While this is generally good, to lose fat fast it would be better to always keep your body guessing. A great way of challenging your body’s efficiency is by increasing speed, adding laps, increasing incline, or even a change of scenery (running on sand is far more challenging than running on the road, for example). Change it up once in a while and try something new, such as biking instead of running, or doing vertical laps up and down stairs instead of the usual evening swim.
You’re Not Sleeping/Resting Enough
Rest is also part of training—a very important part—as this is the body’s time to repair all the damage we cause it from working out. For someone logging in 10 kilometers’ worth of cardio daily, a decent amount of sleep would be 6–7 hours. Any less and the fatigue would probably carry over to the next day, which creates stress. And we all know that stress=the inability to lose fat fast. I recommend having ‘easy’ cardio days (half the distance or time of a usual cardio session) right after a training day.
You’re Timing It Wrong
Some athletes I train with like their cardio session before doing weights. Personally, I like it after. My reasoning is that cardio uses up a lot of energy, and you would only subject yourself to a sub-standard weights-session, potentially causing you injury (lifting on tired muscles is never a good thing) or causing you to stop the workout early due to low energy levels. In my opinion, cardio at the end of a weights session (provided it does not exceed 40–45 minutes) simulates the latter half of a run; lower amount of carbohydrates in your system and fairly fatigued muscles. This builds endurance and increased lactic acid tolerance. This order (cardio last) seems to work for me.
You’re Not Eating Enough
As mentioned in the first point, a decent cardio session goes through your energy sources like a machinegun goes through bullets. This spent energy needs to be replaced, and in some cases, exceeded. I suffered a setback in my run training a while back; I never realized that I was not replacing the calories I expended sufficiently—especially as I log about 35–40 kilometers of cardio weekly. While it may seem counter-intuitive—especially for those looking to lose weight—replacing calories sufficiently and often may actually prevent your body from going into ‘starvation mode’ whereby the body hoards this energy instead of using it. So long as you keep a consistent work out schedule, load up on healthful food and you will lose fat fast!