Best Type of Cardio to Lose Weight

By: Yuri Elkaim, BPHE, CK, RHN

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Considering that for every liter of oxygen you consume your body burns roughly 5 calories, it is interesting to know which form of cardio is best for burning the most calories and; thus, help you lose weight.

So let me ask you...

“If the goal is to consume large amounts of oxygen, then what do you think would be the ideal form of cardio to do?”

Well, let’s look at the typical options. Running, biking, swimming, elliptical, rowing, walking, stair climbing/stair master, upper body ergometer, and obviously many outdoor sports such as cross-country skiing.

So there are many forms of cardio to choose from and they all work. It’s important to always remember that. All forms of exercise will work in the long run given the right training program and consistent effort.

But we’re interested in not only what works but works what best! We want to get the best bang for our buck, right?

Since the goal is to maximize oxygen consumption (and thus VO2) it is essential to find activities that will recruit the greatest amount of muscle. This is because the more muscle that is needed to perform an activity or movement, the more oxygen that will be needed to supply those working muscles. Make sense?

Oxygen is the precursor to all the energy your body produces. Your working muscles need oxygen otherwise they will quickly fatigue and will be unable to perform their functions.

It is well known that athletes in sports that require large amounts of muscle have the highest VO2 max because their sports demand a massive supply of oxygen to their working muscles. As such, the highest VO2 max on record exist not in runners (as many would think) but rather cross-country skiers and rowers.

Think about that for a second. Both cross-country skiing and rowing involve just about muscle in the body working against resistance. Both the upper body and lower body muscles are pushing and pulling a given resistance which makes these sports not only great aerobic training tools but also fantastic fat burning machines.

If you’ve ever watched Olympic rowing you will have undoubtedly noticed towering men and women stacked with large and lean muscles. Most of the male rowers are upwards of 6’4’’ and 220 lbs of shear muscle, making them calorie-burning machines.

These male and female rowers can get away with their large frames because rowing is not a true weight-bearing sport. In fact, this terrific sport idealizes large muscular athletes because they can produce a lot power, both aerobically and muscularly, through your large muscle mass.

However, If you took these same rowers and asked them to run at the same intensities at which they row, they would most likely have a difficult time – not only because of the specific nature of running but also because they would be “carrying” a lot of mass.

How many 6’4”, 220 lbs runners do you know of? Most runners are slim and slight. It simply makes their movement much easier. Less weight to carry means less effort. If you have a tough time envisioning this then I encourage you to go for a run with a 20 lbs pack on your torso. You will immediately notice the difference.

Similarly, most cross-skiers don’t exhibit the same physical stature as rowers. However, their aerobic capacity is astronomical. Yet, they are more similar to runners in physical stature as cross-country skiing is a weight-bearing sport and thus does not reward athletes with lots of weight, even if it’s muscle.

So, let's have a look at how many calories you burn in various cardio activities.


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