Cardio Training: One Big Answer to Weight Loss


Hi everyone,

This month my business partner Kevin Masters has provided a great article on everything you have ever wanted to know about cardiovascular training. For those of you who are currently motivated to do cardio-type work weekly, this article is perfect for you. If you are going to dedicate some of your time to training your body why not maximize the results you can get for the time you invest? I get many emails from people asking how hard they should be working or is 30 minutes enough time to notice changes. Kevin answers all the questions and more.

Kevin is a nine-time Ironman Athlete and is the fittest guy I know. One time we ran in the Vancouver Marathon. I did the half in 1hr 33min and he did the full in 2hr 52min. When I finished the marathoners were still about an hour away because they started later. I decided that I would walk back about a mile and help run Kevin in.

When I saw him there was this crazed look in his eyes and he was in extreme pain from the intensity of his pace. I just remember this loud wheezing/grunting type breathing coming from his mouth. I started running beside him cheering him on. He did not look at me or even acknowledge my presence. He wasted no excess energy looking at me, everything was focused on his stride and that painful breathing noise.

After approximately one hundred meters I could no longer keep up. This guy is going much faster at the end of his marathon than I did my whole half marathon pace. He was in obvious agony but sprinted it to the finish line leaving me in the dust. Just when I thought I ran as hard as I could in the race, I see someone who entered the “pain zone” and pushed it to limits I thought impossible. Maybe this is why I get annoyed at people who wimp out too soon. Enjoy the article.

— Paul Plakas

This article is directed to those of you whose goal it is to lose weight and are looking at implementing a cardiovascular training program to assist you in reaching your goals. In terms of run training specifically, the guidelines provided here are geared towards someone who is wanting to walk/run, or run, up to an hour in duration, or have targeted a 5 or 10 kilometre run event.

Level 1 participants are in their first season of consistent walk/run training.

Level 2 participants are comfortable jogging from 20-30 minutes and would like to work up to 60 minutes and/or run a five to 10 km event for the first time, and/or improve a previous five or 10 km time.

To begin your walk/run or run training plan I would strongly recommend Level 1 and 2 runners should begin with a Kinetic Chain Assessment. This assessment will arm the runner with information that will aid them in the design of an appropriate strength training program to supplement their specific run training workouts. A study done out of the Run Injury Clinic in Calgary concluded that just under 90% of the knee injuries treated were a result of weak glutes (butt muscles). The core/ pelvis region plays a huge role in the stability of our body while walking and running and specifically in the carrying out of the running or walking mechanics.

Level 2 runners might consider a run analysis in addition to a kinetic chain assessment. This can also be thought of as a strength/balance assessment, I normally complete both within a run analysis session as it is helpful to look for any correlations between the kinetic chain assessment and mechanical weaknesses while running. Our run analysis will also provide the runners with a set of drill progressions and mental cues to apply to their run training.

Beware though, no matter the level or how diligent one is with their run analysis information, too fast an increase in ones run volume or intensity WILL lead to a potential goal-shattering injury.

Volume can be looked at in terms of overall weekly time of running and duration of individual run sessions.

Intensity can be looked at or monitored in terms of pace or heart rate as a percentage of a goal race pace or maximum heart rate, respectively. When developing your program remember only one variable should be changed at a time with sufficient time given to let the body adapt to that change.

Level 1 and 2 volume changes will occur primarily due to the one-weekend run rather than the weekday runs. For example the weekday effort may increase from 20 or 30 minutes in duration to 40 minutes in duration and the weekend run will increase from 20-30 minutes to 60 minutes in duration. Typically the weekday workouts are where the intensity variables are manipulated.

In both level 1 and level 2, interval training should not be introduced for the first four weeks in order to allow the body to get used to a new physical activity for the body. The level of intensity should always allow for talking while running and a perceived effort of six to seven out of 10. After the first four weeks, Level 1 and 2 runners can begin to incorporate higher levels of intensity.

The introduction of intensity brings us to the hot debate of Long-Slow Distance versus Shorter and Harder. There is always so much written about “fat burning” zone and training at less then 65% of your heart rate maximum in order to burn more fat.

First and foremost, unless you are physically able and have time in your life to handle regular 1-1.5 plus hour runs then limiting yourself to 65% of your heart rate maximum because that is your “fat burning” zone is not going to provide you the stimulus needed for your weight loss goals. Research supports that intensities less then 69% of MHR burn about 50% of its calories from fat for the first hour and then into the second hour that percentage jumps to 70% if intensity is kept at the same level. That means for the first hour only 50% of your calories are coming from fat. So one should consider the benefits of spending some time training above their “fat burning zone”

For example, a novice runner weighing 200 pounds running for 30 minutes at 6 mph will burn approximately 480 calories. This same runner running at 4 mph will burn only 292 calories per hour. These numbers are only approximations and vary based on runner’s level of efficiency, and the sex of the runner but provide a good idea of the benefit of working a little harder within a similar time frame.

Along these same lines of thought one may think that working at a less intense level burns more calories from fat then carbohydrates. There might be a smaller percentage of calories coming from fat but with more calories burned you still end up burning potentially more calories from fat. An example of the math provided by the web site,

With “fat” being the focus, the trend has been to worry too much about staying in the “fat burning zone “and working at too low of an intensity. When it takes burning 3500 calories to lose a pound of fat, the ultimate goal needs to be caloric expenditure, and working harder burns more calories.

To reiterate, both Level 1 and 2 runners still need to utilize our four-week build-up period, remember what I said about adaptation. Let your body get use to this new kind of activity and volume before implementing any type of intensity increasing strategy.

For the Level 1 walk/run program, intensity increases can be based on your own perceived exertion, where comfortable is five to six out of 10 and increased intensity levels would bring your perceived exertion up to an eight or nine out of 10.

The Level 2 runners are probably at a point in their training where getting a little more specific with regards to intensity levels can bring them a more accurate stimulus. The safest and most accurate way to determine these values is to locate a facility where you can get a controlled physiological test done by a professional. I will most often utilize a lactate test where intensity is increased every 3 minutes on a treadmill and speed and heart rate are then correlated with an intensity level providing the runner with specific zones of training and target heart rates that identify a runner’s fat burning zone, hard training zone or racing level and red zone training levels.

Unfortunately the very well known 220 minus your age equation for determining maximum heart rates which should then allow you to determine your intensity levels is not accurate at all and could very likely lead one to working well below or above their appropriate target heart rate levels.

Once your intensity levels are determined accurately by a well supported protocol then you can begin to insert your heart rates into these specific training level guidelines.

Zone 1: EASY RECOVERY: <65% of Maximum Heart Rate (MHR) and a Perceived Exertion of <5/10
Zone 2: AEROBIC TRAINING: 70–80% of MHR and a Perceived Exertion of 6/10.

Zone 3: SUB THRESHOLD: 80–88% of MHR and Perceived Exertion of 7-7.5/10.

Zone 4: LACTATE OR SUPRA THRESHOLD: 85-92% of MHR and Perceived Exertion of 8-8.5/10

Zone 5: PACE OR INTENSITY AT MAXIMUM OXYGEN UPTAKE OR Vo2: 92-100% of MHR and Perceived Exertion of 9/10.

Interval training is a great way to begin getting used to high intensity efforts. Australian researchers at the University of New South Wales and the Garvan Institute studied 45 overweight women over a period of 15 weeks. Three times a week the ladies cycled for 20 minutes, sprinting in bursts of 8 seconds followed by 12 seconds of easy cycling. Professor Steve Boutcher, leader of the team, stated that the women lost 3 times more weight as other women who exercised regularly at a continuous pace for 40 minutes.

Generally in our walk/run or run program I would introduce intervals with a time frame of 15 to 30 seconds with 3x the work time as recovery time. So for a 30 second interval, the recovery would be 90 seconds. This type of workout should always be preceded by a good 10 minute warm up and 10 minute cool down providing you a full 30 to 40 minute weekday training session.

Running is the most economical and practical way to boost fitness and lose weight. Done properly it does not need to lead to injury as some might try and have you believe. Although weight loss may be the goal, weight maintenance and health is a lifetime journey so I encourage you to learn the skill or technique of running so that you enjoy the activity. If you can enjoy the outing on a regular basis your other goals will be achieved much more easily and maintained because running becomes part of your lifestyle.

Kevin Masters is the Owner and Head Coach of Aerobic Power Training Systems specializing in endurance training. For more information please check out or email him at kevin [at] aerobicpower [dot] com

2 replies
  1. Nikki says:

    Hi Kevin,

    I have a tummy dent. It’s located right across my belly button a big dent right there and above that dent I have an over hang of flab … it’s really disturbing and I didn’t always have it as I use to be much smaller.

    I’ve been going to the gym doing a class called Body Pump with GoodLife Fitness and I have lost 28lbs. I’m wanting to lose 47 more pounds but my main focus is flattening this overhang I have so that it does not look like I have a dent in my belly botton area anymore.

    I recently started on the treadmill and I’ve been doing an hour at a time. I walk for 1minute at speed 3.0 then I walk for 3 minutes at speed 3.5 on incline 4.0 then I walk for 1 minute at speed 3.5 at 0 incline and then I jog for five minutes at speed 5.0 and I do that over and over for 1 hour.

    Do you have any suggestions or recommendations for me? I was told that if I wanted to lose fat around my midsection that running would be a good place to start … I am really insecure about the dent and want to know if there’s anything specific I can do about it or if it will get less and less noticeable as I lose weight.

    Thanks for your help!


  2. Paul says:

    Hi Nikki

    This is Paul. There are no specific exercises you can do to remove fat off specific parts of your body. Running is a good way to burn fat but where it comes off your body is determined by your genetics. The key is to increase intensity and duration specific to your fitness level. Once you are able to do a specific workout something must change in difficulty to burn more calories. Increasing the incline, the speed or length of time spent on the treadmil will do this. As long as you keep making your workouts harder you will burn more calories and fat.

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