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The Best Fat-Burning Cardio Without Burning Muscle

By Eliza Martinez

Cardiovascular exercise burns calories for weight loss and helps prevent a variety of health conditions, including obesity and heart disease. If you are concerned about losing muscle mass as you burn fat, interval training may provide you with the fat-burning benefits while also preserving muscle size. Talk to your doctor before beginning a new exercise routine.

Interval Training

Interval training involves periods of high exertion mixed with periods of low exertion. Most types of exercise are adaptable for use with interval training. Walking, indoor cycling, jogging and rowing are options. To do intervals, alternate periods of high-intensity exercise with periods of low intensity. For example, walk for two minutes at a moderate pace, walk for two minutes at a faster pace, then return to the slower pace. Continue in this manner for your entire workout.

How it Works

Interval training increases your body's production of human growth hormone, which creates muscle mass by increasing the protein in your muscles, according to Joseph T. Nitti, co-author of "The Interval Training Workout: Build Muscle and Burn Fat with Anaerobic Exercise." In addition, the higher intensity intervals increase calorie burn and work muscle fibers that aren't activated with traditional forms of cardiovascular exercise. This burns fat and builds muscle mass at the same time. Intervals also work by revving your metabolism, allowing your body to continue burning calories as it repairs your muscles and rebuilds your energy stores. Lean muscle mass, which results from a consistent workout routine, burns more energy at rest, building muscle and burning fat even when you aren't exercising, according to Nitti.

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Do interval training three to six days per week. For example, run at a moderate pace for 40 seconds, sprint for 20 seconds and continue the cycle for eight to 12 cycles. Include time to stretch, warm up and cool down, which increases muscle flexibility and reduces the risk of injury. Determining your own interval times is also beneficial. Some athletes make each interval longer, but the same. For example, jog at a low intensity for 30 seconds followed by a 30-second period at high intensity. Other athletes begin with shorter intervals and work up to longer ones. For example, the first interval may be 30 seconds, with each subsequent interval longer by 30 additional seconds. If you are training for a specific event or sport, talk to your doctor or a personal trainer to create a specific interval program that aids in fat burning without reducing your muscle mass.


Interval training isn't a good choice for everyone. If you are new to exercise, intervals may increase the risk of injury. Start slow and building your routine to include intervals. Interval training on a regular basis may require dietary changes. Cutting calories aids in burning fat and losing weight. If you interval train on most days of the week, your protein and carbohydrate needs may go up. Talk to your doctor to determine an appropriate amount of calories, protein and carbohydrates to support your interval-training workout.

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