The complete guide to fat shedding cardio boxing

The Complete Guide to Fat Shedding Cardio

The path to a jacked and shredded physique is not rocket science: lift weights and eat right.

But once you dial in a weightlifting program to build strength and size, and you’re nailing your macros on a daily basis, you could still struggle to burn the last couple pounds of body fat shielding your hard-earned gains.

If you truly desire a body that looks as though it was chiseled from stone by the deft hand of a Renaissance artist, you can’t rely on weightlifting alone to get cut. You’re going to need to do cardio, too.

Rest assured that cardio won’t “kill your gains” as many lifters on bodybuilding forums would have you believe.

However, there is a right and a wrong way to program cardio for better gains. In this article, you’ll learn how to do things the right way to shred as much unwanted body fat, as quickly as possible, so that you build a lean and shredded physique.

The first thing you need is to understand the difference between “steady-state cardio” and conditioning.

The former is what most gym-goers do as they plod along on the treadmill for sixty torturous minutes each day – getting no leaner in the process. The latter is what you, the enlightened lifter, are going to do to get shredded.

Moderate intensity, steady-state cardio still has its place in your training plan because it burns calories without adding excessive stress to your body.

But your goal when adding cardio to your training is to boost your metabolism and to create a hormonal environment that supports muscle growth and fat loss; and ultimately, to change the way your body looks. Steady-state cardio will not accomplish those things the way that strategic conditioning will.

Conditioning differs from traditional cardio in that it’s based on your body’s energy systems. Without boring you with all of the science, I’ll briefly touch on each system so that you understand their differences and the importance of training each system strategically. (1)

Your anaerobic system uses phosphocreatine and adenosine tri-phosphate (ATP) to produce immediate, fast-acting energy. Think of ATP as the battery pack of your cells. ATP creates a quick spark, but it gets used up quickly. It’s useful for a couple of explosive box jumps, for instance, but you can’t power a lot of jumps solely on ATP. Eventually, you will need to rest so that your body can recharge your ATP batteries.

What happens if you persist beyond ATP’s capabilities? No worries, your other energy systems take over, but your pace will slow down due to the fact that the other systems aren’t designed to power high-intensity activity.

The next energy system that kicks on as ATP supply diminishes is the Glycolytic System, which provides moderate power and short-term energy lasting about 90 seconds. Power output diminishes during that time as lactic acid by-product builds up. Think of going from an all-out sprint, to a jog, to walking – that’s how glycolysis works as you use up the available energy and as lactic acid builds up.

Finally, your Aerobic System provides long-term energy for lower intensity activities like steady-state cardio, walking, and activities of daily living. The aerobic system uses oxygen and can sustain activity all day long, but it’s not very powerful.

Keep in mind that all three of these systems work together and all contribute energy at the same time. Which system your primary energy comes from depends on intensity and duration of the activity you’re doing.


You’ve heard of the “fat-burning zone,” right? That’s the aerobic energy system at work. Aerobic exercise utilizes a greater percentage of body fat for power than the other two energy systems, but overall, you burn fewer calories with aerobic exercise.

This isn’t bad, but it isn’t very efficient for getting jaw-droppingly lean beyond those first couple pounds you needed to lose when you started exercising. Once you’re past that beginner stage, steady-state cardio shouldn’t be the only cardio method you rely on if you want to get truly lean and shredded.

Conditioning, on the other hand, calls on your ATP and glycolytic systems. By cycling between work and rest intervals, you can work at a much higher intensity than you could aerobically. Rest intervals allow your ATP and glycolytic systems to reset so you can achieve that high intensity effort for subsequent intervals.


Why is this better than traditional, steady-state cardio for fat loss? The science is unclear, but proponents of HIIT training argue that the high-intensity intervals create an effect called “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption” (EPOC). Because you work so intensely, you use up more oxygen than your body can take in during the working interval. This creates an “oxygen debt” that must be repaid; therefore, your metabolism remains elevated after the workout is over.

While there is some debate about whether EPOC’s metabolism-boosting benefits are as significant as some people claim, the hormonal benefit clearly favors conditioning.

High-intensity interval training triggers multiple beneficial hormonal responses: growth hormone is released during the intense sprint phase; insulin sensitivity is improved following the workout; and hormones like testosterone are elevated, too. All of these hormones are essential for burning fat and building bigger muscles.

Even more importantly, HIIT training is superior to steady-state cardio for burning body fat while retaining muscle mass.

Why? Because long-duration, steady-state cardio triggers the release of cortisol in response to the stress put on your body. Cortisol is catabolic, meaning it diminishes your body’s ability to build muscles. Not only does cortisol diminish muscle-building processes, it also sends a signal to your body to store fat in your abdomen; if you’re wondering why you’re getting jacked, but still can’t ditch your beer gut, excess cortisol from traditional cardio may be the answer. (3)

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Okay, I said I wasn’t going to dive too deeply into the science, so I apologize for getting a little carried away. Hopefully you now understand the importance of conditioning for unlocking your ultimate physique. Let’s get into the nuts and bolts, shall we?

Depending on how many days you have available to train, you can add conditioning after a lifting session, as a separate workout on “off” days from lifting, or double up and hit two-a-days.

I only recommend the latter strategy if your recovery is absolutely dialed in, meaning you’re nailing your diet, managing stress, and sleeping 8+ hours per night. I also only recommend doing two-a-days for a short period of time, say 4-6 weeks of focused lifting and conditioning to accelerate your fat loss and lean out very quickly. That strategy is not for the faint of heart.

That said, here’s my recommendation for the most efficient way to incorporate both cardio and conditioning into your get-jacked-and-shredded training plan.

Training Schedule

Monday – Squats + conditioning*

Tuesday – Bench press + conditioning*

Wed – traditional cardio or active recovery

Thursday – Deadlift + conditioning*

Flex Friday – arms and abs, just ‘cause

Saturday – traditional cardio or active recovery

Sunday – traditional cardio or active recovery

*As a single workout – hit your main strength movement, an optional accessory superset, then the conditioning pieces.

*As “two a days” – main strength movement, plus 3-5 accessory exercises in the morning before work, followed by a quick conditioning session after work.

Conditioning Workouts

In case you skimmed the science above, I’ll reiterate that you’ll want to keep your conditioning work intervals short and intense, while the recovery intervals should be long enough to replenish ATP, thus allowing you to go all-out on your next sprint.

Generally, a 1:2 or 1:3 work to recovery ratio is best for all-out efforts. If you have a strong conditioning background, you can push yourself to use a 1:1 recovery ratio. If you recover for less time than you’re sprinting, you must keep workouts extremely short, as in the Tabata protocol I’ll share below.

On three days a week after your strength training sessions or as a separate workout, choose from the conditioning options shown below.

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Workout A: Hill (or incline treadmill) sprints

Find a steep hill or set a treadmill on a steep incline. Sprint uphill for 30 seconds. Rest for 60 seconds before repeating. If you’re outside, this should be about the time it takes to walk back down the hill. Perform 10-12 sprint intervals.

Workout B: “Every Minute on the Minute” Sprints

Take a seat on a spin bike and set a moderate resistance level. Sprint for 15-20 seconds, depending on your conditioning level. Turn the resistance down completely and recover at a very easy pace until the top of the next minute (40-45 seconds) when you’ll sprint again. Perform 12-15 rounds.

Workout C: Jumping Rope

Grab a jump rope and use it to skip for 60 seconds. You don’t have to get fancy, but if you know any cool tricks like double-unders or how to criss-cross the rope, have fun with this. Rest for 60 seconds. Repeat for 10 working sets, or 20 total minutes, including rest. It might look easy, but it ain’t. And if jumping rope works for Rocky, it will work for you, too.

Workout D: Sled Push

If you have access to a sled or prowler at your gym, use it. Load up the sled with enough weight that when you “sprint,” you aren’t moving very quickly and push the sled as far as space allows. Work for 30-60 seconds. You may have to do a lap down-and-back if you’re short on space. Rest for twice as long as you push the sled. Perform 8-10 intervals.

Workout E: Rower Intervals

By far my favorite conditioning workout (in a love/hate way) is the rowing erg. If your gym has one, buckle up. You’ll perform 6-8 sets of 250m rows if you’re a beginner; row 4-6 sets of 500m if you’re more advanced. Rest equally to the time each interval takes to complete. Aim for consistent pacing on each interval.

Workout F: Tabata Protocol

This final conditioning workout option is perhaps the most bastardized HIIT protocol out there, so allow me to set the record straight: Tabatas should suck.

They are brutally effective because you’re given half as much time to rest as you have to work – 20 seconds on, compared to 10 seconds of rest.

Tabatas are best performed with kettlebell swings, battle ropes, or jump rope – something you can start and stop quickly. Don’t try these on a treadmill.

For 8 rounds of 20:10, perform as many kettlebell swings or skips as you can. The whole workout will last merely four minutes, but leave you gasping for air.

Feeling masochistic? Rest 2-3 minutes after the tabata and perform a second round.

More of a beginner? No worries, try “inverted tabatas” instead, where the work interval is ten seconds, and the rest interval, twenty.


Adding conditioning to your routine will ramp up your fat loss efforts and reveal the jacked physique you’ve trained so hard to build. Conditioning takes less time than traditional cardio, and confers greater benefits for shredding fat while retaining lean muscle. It’s a one-two punch on your journey to looking like you were carved out of stone.




About the Author

Katie is a strength and conditioning coach for the everyday athlete. Katie loves coffee, craft beer, and deadlifts. When she's not lifting heavy things, you can find her exploring the mountains - hiking, climbing, and snowboarding. Katie believes that training in the gym should make you more awesome at the things you love to do outside. Visit to learn how you can look better, feel better, and perform at your best to conquer every adventure life throws your way.