The Ultimate Cardio Guide: The Best Way to Burn Fat

9Oh good, you’re looking to lose fat? Well I’m guessing you’ve heard the suggestion of cardio about a half a million times to blast that fat then. Nowadays, you can’t go anywhere without someone telling you that if you want to get in shape, lean down, or be fit, you have to start doing some cardio.

But if fat loss is the end goal – then most people are doing cardio all wrong.

They’re choosing the wrong type of cardio and actually increasing their fat storage. In order to burn fat, you have to choose the right kind of cardio to get you results.


At its more basicness, cardio just means heart and anything that gets your heart pumping is considered cardio. Of course, our hearts pump all day long, but we don’t claim to be doing cardio training 24/7.

So let’s say that real cardio only happens when you elevate your heart rate higher than it is now, as you sit and stare at your tiny magical screen. Sure, running does this. But that’s not the only way to boost your heart rate. And no, it’s not limited to just swimming, biking or ellipticals.

Man and woman running on treadmills next to eachother

In fact, let me lay it out there – what everyone knows as “cardio” is probably the least efficient way to burn fat and lose weight. Long bouts of slow and steady cardio aren’t going to give you the fat loss you’re after.

There are way more efficient methods to get there without spending hours on the treadmill. Cardio can be packed into tons of different exercises that can still give you heart healthy perks.

It all comes down to your ENERGY SYSTEMS and which ones you’re tapping into. Because when it comes to fat burning, some systems are better than others.


Any time you lift a weight, do a squat or contract any muscle, you use ATP to power that movement. ATP is the fuel juice of your muscles. So if you want to do some kickass workouts to start burning fat, you’re going to need enough ATP to power you through.

We have three different energy systems that make and burn this fuel juice, but we can only use one system at a time. And each system can only make a certain amount of that juice before your body needs to rest and replenish.

We start with the first system and use up the fuel. If we stop and rest for long enough, we give our bodies a chance to make more ATP. That means we can create enough juice for another set of work within the same energy system. But if we run out of juice and keep working without resting, then we tag in the next system in line where a fresh supply of ATP is waiting.

But not all systems burn fat the same. So we can design our workouts to keep us training in the systems best for fat burn.

So what are these systems?


The ATP-CP System is your first system and your sprinter. It gives you about 10-12 seconds of supercharged, incredibly powerful energy. Now, that sure doesn’t sound like much, but that’s plenty to power a sprinter through their 40-yard dash. Or for a boxer to throw a powerful, KO strike. Or get through your max out deadlift rep.

This quick burst of energy is powerful. And it’s ready when you are. Because the ATP in this system is already made and stored in your cells. You just have to tap into it. It’s an instant espresso shot of energy. It’s powerful, but it’s short lived. And the only way to get that powerful dose of energy back, is to give your body enough rest to create more ATP and store it again for the next set.

In this system, you need to rest at least 5x longer than you work in order to recharge that ATP fuel. That means you need a minute or two rest between each of those 90% deadlift reps in order to keep lifting that weight again.


Woman swinging a kettle bell in front of her with a serious look on her faceIf you powered through your first system and aren’t quite ready to rest and refuel, this second system will jump in to give you about 90 more seconds of energy. This is The Glycolytic System and it quickly breaks down glucose and glycogen to give you fast and furious energy. It’s not quite as strong and powerful as the energy from the first system, but you can still keep a super high intensity work effort for a set of burpees or some kettlebell swings.

To replenish the ATP in this system, you’d have to rest about twice as long as you spend working before you’re ready for the next set. So if we’re doing those deadlifts, we aren’t going to be able to stay at our 90% effort. But we could probably drop down to 60% and power through a dozen reps.


This third system, The Oxidative System, takes over when the second one putters out of juice but you’re still pressing forward in your workout. And it’s last in the line up because it can give energy for as long as your coach makes you do burpees (hopefully they’re nice and it’s not too long). It can make ATP as long as your breathing, but it’s just kinda slow at making it. It’s like a marathoner system, you can make it all 26 miles, but you have to pace yourself, slow and steady.


If the above info isn’t quite connecting in your noggin, think about it this way. Remember the last time you ran a timed mile? Maybe it was wayyy back in high school gym class.

Group of runners on a red track, running a mile

Well when the timer started you started off nice and strong so you could brag to your crush about how fast you could run. During that first straightaway you were flying! That was thanks to your first system of powerful, explosive energy. But then you hit that first curve and realized you couldn’t keep that powerful pace for 4 whole laps. So you slowed down just a tad. Your second system kicked in to keep your intensity up, but at a slightly slower pace. And then about a lap and half in, it hit you. Holy effer this is hard. There’s no way you could keep this pace up for 2 more laps. So you knock down your pace another notch and get into your third system. You finish out your mile slow and steady but at least you’re still moving forward to finish the race.

As you keep moving in your race or your workout, you can tap into each energy system. Once the ATP from one system is burned, you either need to rest and replenish or move into the next system.


We used to think that to burn fat, you had to hit that last system. Remember how those treadmills and ellipitcals have the slow and steady “fat burn” target stages? Well, we have finally learned that we were all wrong about that.


Doing long, slow, steady cardio (like the long distance running) uses the least amount of energy of almost any kind of training. You keep the same pace and your body adapts to keep your metabolism, oxygen needs and energy burn stable. Stable sounds like a good thing, but it’s not what we’re going for if you’re after fat loss. Stable energy means you’re burning the least amount of calories and fat in order to keep your body able to run for hours on end. Slow and steady is not the answer for fat loss. And it actually encourages your body to keep storing fat, because who knows how long you’ll be slow and steady running? It stores your fat just in case it might need it in 20 miles or so. System 3 isn’t the answer for fat loss.

So which system is better?


Let’s say you are a lover of the short, powerful and explosive movements. You love maxing out on exercises and would prefer training 3 reps per set with a couple minutes break in between. If this is you, then you’re training in System 1, the ATP-CP. It makes you feel strong and powerful, and it’s certainly building up your muscles, but is it burning fat? Kinda.

Woman in black workout clothes curling a dumbbell and showing her back muslcesWhen you burn ATP in this system, you’re not tapping into your fat stores. But you are growing your muscles. And stronger muscles means higher metabolic burn after your workout’s done. So that’s helpful for fat loss. But if you only train in this system, then you aren’t directly targeting your fat stores.

Now, even if fat loss is your goal, you should still do these kinds of workouts or exercises regularly. Because the more efficient your first system becomes, the better your ability to lift heavier weights during the next two systems.


When you train for fast and furious workouts, like shuttle runs, 400 m. sprints or heavy reps for time, you’re mostly training in System 2. And this is the money spot for fat burn. Training in this system disturbs your metabolism (in a good way), burns a butt ton of calories, and grows your muscles for fat burning perks when the workout ends. It’s the key to success for a bangin’ bod.

women on bikes, looking toward the ground focusing on training hardThose 20-90 second bursts of high energy work are long enough to tap into your fat stores, but still short and intense enough to keep your metabolism revved high and your body out of the slow and steady energy saving mode. System 2 is your best friend for fat loss.


We know that the second system is the money spot for fat burn. But if we only train in this system, we’ll eventually putter out our fat burning potential. Because that means we lose some of our strength and our endurance. To keep our fat burn high, we actually need all of our energy systems to be efficient. We need to be able to lift heavy weights and have short powerful explosive jumps. But we also need to be able to have the endurance to power through long workouts. We need to balance strength, power and endurance in order to keep burning fat.

Now, we don’t always need to max out on reps. And we don’t include very many long distance runs in our training plans. But we do include ways to keep all of our energy systems working together. That means sometimes it’s good to have a few super heavy reps. And sometimes it’s good to do 3-5 minutes of work. And sometimes its even good to add a 20 or 30 minute longer cardio bout.

By varying our training, we keep all of our systems strong and we learn to stay flexible with how we produce and use our ATP fuel. This is how we burn fat and we keep burning fat for the long haul.


To burn fat through cardio, you need to use all of your energy systems. Slow and steady cardio isn’t the answer for efficient fat loss. To get the biggest bang you’re your fat loss buck, you should be training mostly in your second energy system – with 20-90 second bursts of high intensity energy. But in order to keep your training, heart health and muscles strong and efficient, you still need to include short powerful exercises and longer duration intervals.

Keeping your energy systems balanced guarantees efficient heart health, muscle growth and of course, fat loss. And if you really want to burn fat, use metabolic resistance training to hit all of your energy zones.

A workout like this or this is going to give you faster results than one that only happens on the treadmill!

But if you love running and just can’t stay away from the treadmill, it is possible to train through your energy systems while running. Just share, tweet or + it below to unlock the Training Through the Energy Systems Guide.  It walks you through a sample workout that hits every energy system and breaks down how long you need to rest to refuel your ATP to keep your fat burn high and your weight dropping.

[sociallocker id=6106]Training Through the Energy Systems Guide.[/sociallocker]



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *