The thought of doing cardio usually invokes strong feelings for most people. In my experience most people either love doing cardio or hate doing cardio. There are very few people that are indifferent on the subject. Some love the feeling they get from hopping onto that treadmill and working up a good sweat, while others would rather drive over their own foot just to have an excuse to skip their cardio for the day. Whether you love it or hate it, when it’s time to start getting lean for a show cardio poses a lot of questions for a lot of people.
Questions about duration, frequency, and what type of cardio is best, flood my inbox every day. Cardio is necessary to get ultra shredded for a show, but you have to get it right. Too much and you’ll be lean alright, but you will also sacrifice muscle to get to that point. Too little and you’ll find yourself on the far left of the stage where you won’t get in the way of the judges ability to see those that got lean enough. If your diet is on point, and you get your cardio right, you can be sure you will come in lean and muscular. This is the formula for champions.
When transitioning from offseason to contest prep the first thing that must be established is how many days per week cardio sessions should be performed. This is often where people’s love or hatred for cardio comes into play. Those that love cardio will tend to start with too many sessions per week. This is not a good thing, because the human body is highly adaptive. Your body will adjust to this level of cardio faster than you would like, resulting in a weight loss plateau.
Once this happens your only choice is to cut calories or increase the cardio. Those that take this approach will find themselves only a few weeks into their diet doing two cardio sessions per day every day just to keep fat loss moving. This will lead to overtraining and muscle tissue breakdown, leaving you flat and small come show day.
Those that hate cardio will tend to try and ease themselves into their workouts by starting really low and trying to increase it slowly. Not necessarily a bad idea, but when dieting for a show, time is of the essence, and you must use it wisely. In my experience if you start with too few sessions per week you won’t be ready.
The best approach is a more moderate one. The amount of cardio that you should start with is highly dependent on your body type, so I can’t give you exact specifics on frequency, duration, and intensity. Just know that starting with a more moderate approach and moving upward from there will ensure the best results.
HIIT vs. LISS: What Type of Cardio is Best for Fat Loss?
The number one question most people have about cardio is, “What type of cardio is best for fat loss?” There are those that say low intensity cardio performed for longer periods of time is better for fat loss, while others claim that short duration, high intensity cardio sessions will give the best results. This is the part that tends to confuse people the most. Advocates on both sides of the argument are usually pretty passionate in their beliefs. To know which style of cardio to perform, it helps to know how each one helps you burn fat.
Low Intensity Steady State Cardio (LISS)
For many years this has been a staple in many bodybuilders fat loss arsenal. Generally, this type of cardio is performed at a constant pace for 60 minutes or more. It is commonly referred to as Low Intensity Steady State Cardio (LISS). The main argument for this type of cardio is that, of the calories burned, most of it comes from fat.
During any type of exercise, the level of intensity is very important. It is well known that the lower the intensity of any exercise, the greater the percentage of energy derived from fat oxidation.1 As the intensity of exercise rises more of the calories being burned come from muscle glycogen and muscle tissue. This is why advocates of LISS usually prefer to walk on a treadmill or stair stepper for long periods of time. They feel that by doing this they are burning more fat and less muscle.
The only problem is that during the entire time any type of cardio is being performed your body is in a catabolic state and it is breaking down muscle tissue for energy. Switching from a low intensity pace to a more moderate pace and lowering the duration a little may be a better option.
Moderate intensity steady state cardio has been proven to lead to the greatest amount of fat oxidation. Research has shown that fat oxidation is highest when training at about 65% Vo2 max.2 At this intensity level, not only is the greatest amount of fat being burned, but this rate of exercise can be continued for somewhat longer durations as well.
When dieting for a contest body fat levels will become minimal at some point. At this point muscle tissue breakdown becomes more likely. Limiting the amount of time that your body is catabolic is of utmost importance if you wish to hold onto all the muscle you worked so hard for. So for maximum fat loss and muscle retention, moderate intensity cardio for a rather moderate duration is the best choice.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
High intensity, short duration cardio has become more popular in recent years. The most effective form of high intensity cardio has been proven to High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). HIIT allows for very high intensities to be used and alternated with short periods of recuperation. Many people shy away from high intensity cardio claiming that nearly all of the calories that are expended come from stored muscle glycogen and not from fatty acids.
This is very true, but those people are forgetting one very important thing. Fat loss occurs through a process called lypolysis. Lypolysis occurs during periods when energy expenditure exceeds caloric intake.3 The most important thing during cardio is burning enough calories to create a deficit. This can be accomplished in much less time with high intensities.
Even though stored carbohydrates in the form of muscle glycogen are the primary fuel source at higher intensities, fat loss will be greater with the use of HIIT. Studies show a greater loss of subcutaneous fat with HIIT as compared to those that performed standard LISS endurance training. The reason for this is because post exercise lipid utilization is greatly enhanced with HIIT.4 This means that even after activity has ended your body will keep burning fat. So not only can you burn calories during training, but your metabolism will also get a boost. This is definitely a nice bonus if you ask me.
Another concern that a lot of people have about HIIT is that at higher intensities a greater amount of amino acids are broken down and used as energy. This is true, but many people will be shocked to find out that if HIIT sessions are kept short then they can actually help retain and even build muscle. You read that right, cardio can help you build muscle. Any type of intense cardio will cause your body to release growth hormone (GH).
The growth hormone response to aerobic activity is determined by the % of Vo2 max.5 Therefore, the more you push yourself, the higher growth hormone levels will go. I know many of you are thinking, “So what? If I am supposed to keep my sessions short I will only get 15-20 minutes of higher growth hormone levels.” The good news is that, not only will these brief, high intensity sessions cause an immediate GH increase, but GH levels can keep increasing even after training has ceased.6
GH is not the only hormone affected by HIIT. Testosterone levels can also be optimizing through strategic use of HIIT. During and following high intensity aerobic exercise, testosterone levels become elevated and remain elevated for a couple of hours into recovery. This only holds true with short durations though. Prolonged high intensity exercise results in an initial increase in testosterone followed by a decrease to below baseline levels.7
This is yet another reason why it is important to keep these sessions as intense as possible, but very brief. There is one problem with HIIT though; there are limits as to how many sessions can be performed before it becomes counterproductive. If high intensity sessions are performed too often, then baseline testosterone levels will decrease, and will lead to an increase in amino acid breakdown. This is why it is best to keep these sessions to only a few per week.
Anabolic hormones, such as testosterone and GH, are the key to building and keeping muscle. HIIT training can produce sharp increases in both of these hormones, which will go a long way to help retain muscle when calories are low. HIIT training can also increase fat burning by boosting the metabolism. This is why HIIT cardio is also a great choice for getting shredded while maintaining or even gaining muscle along the way.
LISS vs. HIIT: The Takeaway
So, which type of cardio should you use to help you get to that next level of conditioning? The answer is...both. HIIT cardio can only be performed a few times a week for it to be effective, but not many people can get into contest shape doing only a few cardio sessions per week. LISS sessions will need to be added to make sure enough cardio is being performed every week.
This is not the only reason to use both types of cardio. Both approaches shed fat effectively, but thru different pathways. HIIT cardio will increase lypolysis primarily by speeding up the metabolic rate, whereas LISS will burn more fat and calories during the actual workout. As I stated earlier, I can’t give an exact number of sessions you need to perform each week since the differences in individual metabolism’s can vary greatly. A good place to start would be with 2 to 3 HIIT sessions per week and add in some LISS sessions as needed.
Even though some people love cardio and others hate it, I think it is safe to say everyone loves winning. Applying sound strategies in your cardio routine will help put you one step closer to first place.
- Kang, J., Bioenergetics Primer for Exercise Science, 2008, 83-84p.
- Maughan, R., J., Nutrition in Sport, Volume 7, 2000, 186p.
- Runge, M., S., Patterson, C., Principles of Molecular Medicine, 2006, 957p.
- Wolinsky, I., Driskell, J., A., Sports Nutrition: Energy Metabolism and Exercise, 2008, 55-56p.
- Juul, A., Jorgensen, J., O., L., Growth Hormone in Adults: Physiological and Clinical Aspects, 2000, 33-35p.
- Plowman, S., A., Smith, D., L., Exercise Physiology for Health, Fitness, and Performance, 2007, 40p.
- Plowman, S., A., Smith, D., L., Exercise Physiology for Health, Fitness, and Performance, 2007, 42-43p.
Very nice article. My question.....what is the best HIIT ratio? I use a 2-to-1 ratio (30 seconds on, 60 seconds rest) on aspin bike or treadmill.
Also, how does Tabata (20 seconds on, 10 seconds rest for 8 rounds - 4 minute total) compared to low intensity and HIIT?
Your article contains a fundamental flaw
You state that Low Intensity Cardio will break down muscle mass, but this is false. The muscles aren't worked hard enough to break down muscle. And if you are using fat as the main energy source, why would muscle be broken down in the first place?
i'v been doing it wrong all along..i do cardio before weights..hope this info gets my results even better
Hi cliff this is a very nice article, i have a question.My age is 16 and my heights 5'5'' . i want to grow my height
do you think doing HIIT workouts will help me grow my height
and i also wanted to know that what kind o workouts can i do.. i have a disease severe heomophillia A . which interferes with blood clotting. so if i get injured it causes too much of bleeding. i am also overweight...... i'd be thankful i you could help me.!
Height is more about genetics - no amount or working out will make you taller. Sorry, guy.
Hey I realize this is an older article so hopefully I still get a reply lol but a week ago I started workin out an dieting. I am 19 in high school I was pretty active I was never in the best shape but I was very strong. I have quite a bit of weight to lose and I have got myself eating 800-1000 cal. A day an I do cardio for an hour of doing 3.5mph walking and then for 20-30min after I will do more intense running intervals because I tend to tire easily so I will run for two min walk for a min then run for a min or two then walk for a min and so on until I really just don't want to do anymore an then after I do weights until I'm wore out and I'm doing this every day.. I'm lookin for advice or if I'm doin anything wrong I'm a girl and I weigh 230lbs and I'm 5'7
i was 230lbs and currently 205lbs. Im looking to get to 180-185lbs. What type of cardio excercise would you recommand, how long and how many times a week. Im looking to loose more belly fat.
Hey Cliff great article I just need a little advice. See I'm joing the Air Force and I'm going for Special Forces which requires a lot of cardio. But I'm also very much Into weight lifting so I was wondering if I should be doing HIIT or LISS? I want to keep on adding muscle but I want to increase my cardio, I've been doing HIIT but after reading the article I'm thinking it may cause me to grow muscle at a slower rate.. Maybe I'm just worrying to much, but any advice would be greatly appreciated!
Very good article. I just completed the Shaun T's Insanity program twice. Followed it to the "T" and got the results I wanted. Changed my life. I am 51 years old and lost 20 lbs. I now weigh what I did in high school, wear a size 4, and can out run my 2 girls (ages 15 & 20)!! The entire family now eats fresh whole foods more and exercises more. We purchased a True treadmill and that was the best Xmas gift we could get ourselves!! Everyone in the family uses it, we don't hang our laundry on it!! LOL!! It's a lifestyle change, it's not a New Year's resolution.
Well Mr Cliff,
this article is extremely helpful and it gives me lots of infos that i really needed as a new comer to this life style.. however i have 2 questions that i hope to get them answered :
1) should/could i train cardio in the morning and lifting afternoon ?? would that be too much or fine.. and after HIIT should i drink supps and take amino pills same way as after lifting ??
2) What kind of training can i call cardio else running/jogging.. i used to do Insainity (Shaun T) workouts as well as P90x workouts.. does plyo a type of cardio ??
Thank you (so much) in advance :))
It will be nicer if u can include as well the suitable pre and post work out meals for both HIIT and LISS.
I've been working out for years but I have that skinny fat look. I need help.
when i'm gaining i lift 3 times a week and do LISS post weight training, and LISS the rest of the week...
and i add one HIIT session per week.
when cutting i do LISS pre-lifting 4days per week, and HIIT twice a week with one complete rest day.
results and differences are visible.
I really like the article. I been doing zumba workout for 5 yrs. But my problem is the belly fat :( can you send me information about the HIIT? I will like to tone my body as well can you tell me what do i need to do?. thanks in advance I hope to heard from you soon.
I am a 29 year old female at 5ft 7" and weigh 10 and a half stones and there's nothing I seem to do that helps me to loose weight. I am at the minute doing insanity workout dvd's 5 early mornings a week as well as 2 abs blast sessions, 1 circuit training, 1 body pump and 1 spin session all at the gym on an evening.
I would like to loose 1 stone, and get flat abs, as I have quite a big bloated stomach, although I eat healthy meals drink lots of water.
Please can you advise me on where I am going wrong??
Finally, I have got the answer to my question..
I don't know if you are still reading these but I need advice. I am a relatively skinny guy, I weigh 145 and the size of 5'10ish. I have recently started weight lifting, I work at a gym so I know how to properly lift and everything its just my diet sucked, I just recently changed my diet but have noticed that I have some belly fat that I would like to lose. I usually workout around 3-4 times a week. What I normally do is a 15 minute warmup on the elliptical and usually burn according to the machine anywhere around 225-350 calories, then I would rest for about 5 minutes and start lifting. However being about a month in the process have seen no loss in fat. I was wondering what suggestions you have and if you could recommend any suggestions for losing the fat and any good cardio workouts.
Clearly I am reading this a few years later but I hope you are still able to answer. ;) I am a 29 year old woman with the knees of a 60 year old...from running. I am 5'7" and I weight 145. I am currently trying to shred body fat and gain more muscle mass. I am trying to do 5 weight workouts a week(typically they are Jillian Michaels videos that are roughly 30 min each) and 5 sessions of cardio per week that are about 45 min each. For my cardio I was running a couple miles at a time but then my knees couldn't handle it. Running/walking is my only cardio option right now since I cannot afford a gym and do not own a bike. Lately I have been running for 60secs and then walking briskly for 90secs...doing that 4-5 times a week. Do you have any recommendations or do you think I am on the right path?
This article is great, thanks!
Do you have any advise for the rare female that does bulk? Even when I was a teenager people commented on how muscular I was and after 6 years in the army, boxing and a lot of weight training for my job I was "hench".
My family called me a Russian shot-putter! I have broad sholders and a swimmers physique even though I only do cardio.
After 5 years out the army my muscles are comparitively small but want to tone up again.
I have researched and found that very small weights with high reps (3 x 100) would tone my muscles but also make them smaller. Is this correct?
I know this article is quite old now but any info would be greatly appreciated.
I'd like to tone up but lengthen and reduce muscle. I have 25% fat but carry it well because of the muscles.
Hi Clif usually I do group exercises including STEP, BHANGRA AEROBICS, STEP & SCULPT. I used to do gym but Im so fed up with treadmill, I want to reduce my belly fat can you please help me should I carry on with the classes if yes then how many days in a week as well as If you suggest gym then how which machines.
I will be thankful.
Hey hope use reply back... I heard that low intensity cardio puts on more fat is that true? Thanks. Appreciate your help.
No - your diet will add fat.
I really enjoy reading your article, very informative. I have some questions for you regarding my workout and goals. I am over 50 and in excellent shape. I am interested I taking my workout to another level, by getting my body shredded. i don't have enough information on the proper dieting to achieve my goal. Now, this where you can help me.
First, these are my stats: I weigh 220 lbs, 6 feet tall, 25% BMI, and work out 4 times a week (mainly weight lifting with very little cardio). Second, I eat fairly decent meal, about 2,000 calories a day but not sure the break down of protein, carbohydrate, & fat.
Q 1. What is the ratio of protein, carbohydrate & fat I should be consuming daily?
Q 2. How much calories should i be consuming daily?
Please help. Your advise is much appreciated.
I am trying to get my HIIT perfected a bit, I was walking on the treadmill on 6 for 2 minutes and then running on 12 for 1 minute, for 45 minutes. After reading this article, I am assuming this is way too long and I probably need to be running on say 9 and then sprinting on 12? for a total of 20 minutes.
Also the lower intensity work out cardio everyday, I usually walk on the treadmill for an hour on a high incline, can you suggest other forms of Lower intensity cardio or can it literally be anything, so long as your heart rate is around 65% and your doing it for say one hour?
Lastly off topic a bit, would you say that super setting weight exercises is better than say doing the same one 3-4 sets with a rest in between? I think for some reason I always thought you pick two exercises one that works on a larger muscle group and alternate it with one of a smaller muscle group, as long as one exercise you pull and the other you push... with minimal rest. I am not sure if this is way off track
Any help would be appreciated, this article was extremely helpful
What about the high intensity cardio while on a ketogenic diet? After one knows that they are definitely fat-adapted, wouldn't sprint 8 cardio, 20 min hiit cardio, and or 16min MaxOT cardio be useful especially when ingesting appropriate anoints of glutamine, creatine, and BCAA's? There has to be some CURRENT studies regarding keto-dieting and HIIT cardio strategies. I have only found one person who has been actively researching this is Dr. Mercola.
Is it true that you can gain body fat under your abs as well as ontop of them? I would assume to lose the fat the combination of HIIT and LISS will work to remove that fat as well? Thanks Scott
I am 52, I've been going to the gym for 4 years, very faithfully. I am fairly toned everywhere except my stomach/abs. I can't seem to get rid of the extra layer. Is it my age that is making it hard to lose this? I realize now that I am going about my excersice routine wrong, I always start with cardio then do weight training and core. I will change this up next week. I tried HITT but really don't like how I feel after, so I have gone back to my 45 minute cadio work out. Any tips for an older lady?
Nice article ! I am wondering if you could give an example of the LIIS training at moderate levels. for instance if I jog instead of walk over 3 miles etc? Or jog with little spurts of running? I also take allot of kickboxing classes and it seems that the trainers use a little bit of both ( HIIT and LIIS), not sure if I should count Kickboxing as HIIT or LISS? Nicole
ive been doing HIIT everyday for 2 weeks already as suggested by my friend. but ive been experiancing pain on my shin ; leg and somewhere near my heart am I doing anything wrong ??
Hey cliff, awesome article, very informative adds up knowledge. Im 35yo for two months now i woke up early daily 5am and run moderately for 30 to 45 minutes, since im working at 8am, so i need to stop at 6am to prepare myself to work, then in the afternoon i do my weight lifting(my program). two months ago I weigh 98kgs now i weigh 89. please help me by telling me that what im doin is right or im misleading.
Thanks if you can reply me with some hints.
Hey clif..great artical by the way. I recently am 235ish body fat at 35%...i work out 5days aweek split days ...i do cardio on the eliptical for 30 to 45mins on lvl7 usually burning around 350 calories..im going in mornings and then after weight training i do aanother 25-30 mins..Doese this seem to be overkill on cardio...im eating round 2000calories.i just want to drop the bf not lose muscle...my gmail rogerjohnson60@gmail..all help is greatly appreciated .....rj
I don't usually post comments but I thought this was a great article and well written! I agree with you that doing both will yield the best results. I think it is also important to try different methods and see what works for you in real life. You can debate on the internet the merits of both all day long but it all boils down to what actually delivers results. Again, great job.
Hey Cliff, very interesting article! I'm a 19yro female and i've always had an issue with my weight since puberty. my stats are:
bust: 34 inches
waist: 33 inches
hips: 42.5 inches
height: 5ft 7.5"
weight: 12st 11 lbs or 181 lbs
I'm looking for an exercise regime that will help me lose 11- 16 lbs between now and December, in time for my 20th birthday and get down to a BMI of 24.6-ish.
I feel like i need a push cus i'd like to target my stomach, thighs/calves and buttocks but i don't know how to go about it in an effective, long-lasting way cus when i get a wave of motivation to exercise, i'll do a 30 min workout on the Jillian Michaels 30 day shred dvd one day but i can't get past the 3rd day hump. I also seem to have low willpower when it comes to avoiding sweet foods. Any advice?
I have started doing weights and trying to get into shape after a few years of practically no exercise, although I am not super overweight I do have a bit of a stomach which I am hoping to get rid of and build muuscle, tone up.
Just wondering, is it good to do muscle building exercises and after that session an hour of cardio, be it 30 on running machine and 30 on bike. Sometimes I have read that it is best to do one at a time although I have also read it is good to do them both as muscle building also helps to burn fat.
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do you even need to do cardio if you're alrdy calorie deficeit?
I try to do sean t hip hop abs everyday. Is this a bad thing to do it everyday?
I'm a deployed soldier with some time constraints and am usually only able to do cardio or WT at one time then the other later in the day around 10-12 hrs apart. Often it is more practical for me to do my cardio in the morning and was wondering if this might effect my WT that much later int he day.
This is a great article, very informative and has cleared up a few mysteries I had!
However, I am still a little confused about the balance of HIIT, LISS, and MISS cardio. You suggest to combine both HIIT and LISS cardio sessions per week, but where does MISS factor in? If it's a very effective form of cardio, then should I consider integrating that into my weekly cardio regimen? If you could elaborate on this a bit more, that would be great.
Also, what would be an example of MISS cardio (Ex: 20-30 min. jogging on the treadmill)? I'm very toned right now, but am striving to become more lean and muscular (secretly I am considering fitness/figure competing) so it's crucial for me to really understand the the mechanics of this whole cardio process.
Thanks for your help!
One of many of you're articles I have read in the last few days after coming across you in google. Each one has been excellent, clear, concise and informative. I have just turned up the heat on my training currently working with a workout designed for me by a PT to bulk up whilst staying lean. Question for you, I have turned up the gym visits to 5 per week each session around 2-3 hours allowing for weight training, core development and CV (im one of the haters!!!). As I'm sure you come across often I end up working arms and chest each session regardless of my best intentions to give them a day off for recuperation and repair...... Is the 2 days per week they are getting to rest and repair sufficient to allow for the most efficient development of the muscles? Regard supplements I have 60g maximuscle cyclone pre work out, 30g whey with 10g creatine post workout and 4-6 amino acid capsules in the evening, all as a supplement to a high carb morning intake and high protein afternoon /evening intake as part of my standard diet... Would appreciate your thoughts and any tips to really push on, I'm in it for the long haul, now 2 years into moderate training program and as I say time to really step up!
Roni in the UK
Keep up the great work!
Thanks for following along with my articles. I am glad I can be of help. I don't want to step on your trainers toes so if he has you on a plan I would follow that. I would get away from training the arms and chest everyday. Gives those parts a break. lol.
If you wanted a new program I have one I posted on the forum called German Volume Overload Training. For some reason it won't let me post a link here. So just head over to the forum and search for German Volume Overload Training and the thread should come up.
If you are looking to push it to the next level then I would also start counting your protein, carbs and fat daily. This will really help you make sure you are getting what you need. If you had any more questions I do have a Q and A on the forum here. It is under the General Chat section. So if you have any questions ask me on there and I'll get to it.
Keep up the good work Roni. If you do I am sure you will get where you want to be in time!
thank you for the great info.
i need your advise, i have fat around my belly and iv been training for around 18 months now but i still cant see my packs, i was thinking of cardio, and which will be better for me to run or to walk fast.
First off, good for you for keeping at it. If you keep at it you'll get it. I would suggest you run. Walking is just too low intensity. The higher intensity cardio is a better option. On my Moderate intensity cardio sessions I run at a moderate pace. On my High intensity sessions I do all out sprints. They are brutal but they work. Utilize both and this will help.
Super Star article, give me very good background
Am from Saudi Arabia :D
I would like to ask u if i can join LISS, HIIT and wight lifting(WL) together in one day ??
or shall i separate them?? so i'll do "LISS+WL" in a day and HIIT+WL in other day??
My stats are
Hight: 194 cm
Wight: 89 kg
Waist/Hip Ratio 38/42= 0.86.
and i have problem that my body fat is concentrating in the lower limps and butt !!!
Thank you so much :)
Thanks for reading. Glad you liked it. To answer your question. Yes, you can lift weights and do cardio in the same day. Just make sure that you do not do your cardio right before you lift weights. It will make your weight training less effective. So do your weights first then do your LISS or HIIT.
Great article..lot's of good advice. I have a different issue in that i have kinda reached that cardio plateau as a result of a heart medication i'm on for atrial fibrillation. Amiodarone has basically killed my thyroid, which controls your metabolism, thus making it difficult to sustain a heart rate over 90 during cardio whether it's HIIT or LISS.
Very Frustrating. Not sure what to do other than continue with the weight training and cardio, but maybe be a little more aggressive with the diet. Need to lose about 25 lbs.
Sorry to hear about that. You are exactly right though, you just need to let you diet do more of the work. This will actually give better results anyway. I prefer to keep cardio on the low side and make diet the main source of fat loss. Just make sure you keep up with the cardio because even though it may not be ideal it is still doing its job.
Keep training hard, I hope this helps.
heya there can u inform me what type of cardio i can doo hitt
can i do it with skipping rope cuz i like it alot or with punching bagg
i propably would skipp maximum amount of time i can like 7-8 minutes none stop or 3000 times daily that takes me around 45 min thks