I am just getting into doing cardio and there is one question where I see a lot of conflicting information on the internet. What is better for losing fat and general health (more endurance, etc.)?

  • Running 25 minutes 6 days a week
  • Running 50 minutes 3 days a week

Don't get hung up on the actual minutes as I am hoping to build that up higher but the general question still stands.

I know with weights its important to take days off to rest and recover and allow your muscles to grow but wanted to see if there is similar factor here with cardio.

Is there a clear answer on a better way to do cardio training for best results?

  • 4
    I'd go with 50 minutes 3 days a week (actually I run 80 minutes 1 or 2 days a week). This enables you to burn more fat because AFAIK you don't start burning fat in significant amounts until your glycogen stores are depleted, which happens after 30-40 minutes of jogging. Also you save some preparation and setting down time. Jul 17, 2012 at 8:29
  • @Mischa - why put as a comment instead of an answer ?
    – leora
    Jul 17, 2012 at 11:40
  • 1
    @MischaArefiev - You have it backwards. Short, high intensity exercise relies on muscle glycogen. In longer, less intensity workouts, the primary substrate burned is fat. At 65-70% intensity level, you're getting about 60% of your energy needs from fat. You don't start getting more from muscle than fat until you hit about 80% of max intensity.
    – JohnP
    Jul 17, 2012 at 14:49
  • 2
    Why does he have it backwards? I think you're both saying the same thing, albeit focusing on slightly different aspects
    – Ivo Flipse
    Jul 17, 2012 at 15:38
  • @IvoFlipse - Sorry, missed the comment. Even at low intensities, you're still getting about half your energy needs from fat burn. The part about not using fat in large amounts until 30-40 minutes is the misconception.
    – JohnP
    Aug 15, 2013 at 17:20

9 Answers 9


For general fitness and endurance, 25 minutes, six days a week would be better. The best advice I've ever seen for running is: Run. Run lots. Mostly slow, sometimes fast.

One of the best programs I've seen for running comes from a triathlon and cross country coach that I've talked with a few times, and it's 3:2:1. Say your longest run is 30 minutes. You should have 3 runs of 10 minutes, 2 runs of 20 minutes and one run of 30 minutes, with one rest day. The generally accepted way is short, medium, short, medium, short, long, rest day.

This gives you a very solid aerobic base, doesn't overstress you and allows time for recovery. You can work up in time, although unless you are planning on competing, I wouldn't see much need to progress past the 20:40:60 minute range.

The nice thing about general cardio fitness is that it's as simple as getting out there and getting the work in. Almost any plan (such as your 6x25 or 3x50) can work, I usually recommend 3:2:1 as it is simple and extremely effective.

It also works if you are planning a weightlifting regimen, as you can couple the majority of your lifting days with the 3 short runs without being too time compromised.

Edited for ivo's comment below:

On this plan, you would still have to work up to hour runs, if you aren't capable of it currently. So if your long run capability is currently 45 minutes, then you would have 3 runs of 15 minutes, 2 runs of 30 minutes and 1 run of 45. Do that for a couple of weeks, then increase your base time by a few minutes, so you'd be doing 17, 34 51 minute runs, and so on until you reach your goal long run time. You take your current long run time, and work backwards for the medium and short runs.

  • That seems doable, but would it get you in shape for 1 hour runs or would that require longer runs?
    – Ivo Flipse
    Jul 17, 2012 at 15:40
  • Do you have any links or references for the 3:2:1 program? I've been trying it out, liking it so far, and would enjoy learning more about it. Aug 15, 2013 at 3:49
  • @esker - forum.slowtwitch.com/… - Barry Pollack, aka Baron von Speedypants, BarryP on that forum. All his training links are in that thread, and you can PM him for advice as well once you have enough forum posts
    – JohnP
    Aug 15, 2013 at 17:17

I run 60 min every single day and every time I come back home I feel very well and satisfied of another successful day!

Most of the time I run quite slowly and I speed up at maximum 1-3 times during this hour. It depends on how I feel on the determinate day.

I lost a lot of weight.

Any advice? Just move your body. The more you run the more you lose.

Don't expect to get slim running once a week.

Don't expect immediate results. It takes time and I strongly reccomend to repeat this sentence into your minds: TODAY I HAVE TO RUN. I HAVE NO CHOICE. IT'S A MUST! it will help you to move your ass.


I would pick 3 days per week, as it's more sustainable. You get 2 sets of 1 rest day, and 1 set of 2 rest days. So you can aim to run every second day, and if something comes up preventing it, you can easily just run the next day, and that became your 2 day rest. If you have to take 2 days of on a 6 day per week program, you've suddenly knocked yourself down to 5 runs that week, and that can actually get discouraging pretty fast. Being unable to stick to a program as it's set out often means quitting workouts entirely.

As for the importance of days off, if you're talking just 20-30 minutes of running, if you're just getting started you might need to take rest days just for that, but once you get into it, it's nothing. It's harder to notice with running than cycling, but that's really just the time you'd spend to get from point A to point B. You're not putting any new stresses on your body by running half an hour a day (unless your running technique is bad and causing joint damage, in which case you need to change your technique, as rest days will do diddly). Between 6 days/week and 3 days/week, I wouldn't say one is particularly better than the other, but if you can maintain one for 6 months straight and the other starts breaking apart after 3 months, clearly the one you could maintain is better because you're continuing to work the program.


When you are starting a running program, the goal is to run the number of minutes that your body can tolerate and no more. If you over do it, you will join the ranks of the couch potatoes.

Here is a plan that worked for me.

Walk thirty minutes. Then run 1 minute. Then walk home.

You continue running just one minute until one minute becomes easy for two weeks. Then start running for two minutes. Going from one minute to two minutes took me two months to accomplish.

When two minutes becomes easy for a two week period of time, then go for three minutes.

Gradually increase your time. Give your body time to adapt to the new demands that you are placing on your body. Do not be in a hurry. Let the body determine when it is ready to increase to an additional minute of running.

If you slowly adapt to the running life style, you will be successful like me. If you attempt to go from running one minute to 60 minutes in a two month span of time, your body will rebel. Signs are sore muscles and injuries. Your body will force you to quit if you over do it.

It took me four years to go from one minute runs to sixty minutes runs. I allowed my body to tell me that it was ready to increase the time.

My body feels okay. I have not experienced any injuries. I do not walk around with sore muscles. I allowed my body to slowly adapt to the running life style. My age is 57.

Right now, I run three days a week, 60 minutes a run. I do not plan to run more than 60 minutes per run, because I have other goals in life that I want to spend time achieving besides running around the neighborhood.

If you slowly adopt the running life style, you will be successful.
Otherwise, you will join the ranks of the couch potatoes.


60 minutes is the magic number when glycogen stores are usually depleted (depends on conditioning) and MORE fat is burned as an energy source. That should be the goal, but let's step back first and look at four ideas.

  1. Variety is important
    Running the same time every day of the week is a recipe for injury. You need to vary time/distance.

  2. Recovery is important
    In order for muscles to grow, you need easier days. In weightlighting, these are usually off days. In runnng, at first these are off days but eventually they become easy days. For what it is worth, never run under 20 minutes as this really doesn't help your body but that is a post in itself.

  3. Speed isn't important
    At first, just worry about being in motion. Don't worry about your time per mile/km. Just get your body used to being in motion.

  4. Speed is important
    Short speed is very important for a) teaching proper form, b) recovering, and c) gaining running specific strength.

Putting this all together, here is a short 4-week progression. I will use a 3-day-a-week base with 1 short, 1 medium, and 1 long run. The idea is to progressively build for slow but long term adaptation. This would be for an in-shape person with limited to medium running experience. Adjust duration to your fitness but understand the principles.

Week 1 - get used to being in motion
1 - Short - 20 mins easy
2 - off
3 - Medium - 30 mins easy
4 - off
5 - Long - 40 mins easy

Week 2 - increase duration, add some speed
1 - Short - 20 mins easy with last 10 seconds fast
2 - off
3 - Medium - 35 mins easy with last 5 minutes medium, never over 85% effort
4 - off
5 - Long - 45 mins easy

Week 3 - increase duration, add another day
1 - Short - 20 mins easy. Rest. 2 reps of 10 seconds fast preferably uphill (to prevent injury) with 3 minutes rest between.
2 - Recovery - 20 mins easy
3 - Medium - 40 mins easy with last 5 minutes medium, never over 85% effort
4 - off
5 - Long - 50 mins easy

Week 4 - increase duration
1 - Short - 20 mins easy. Rest. 4 reps of 10 seconds fast preferably uphill with 3 minutes rest between
2 - Recovery - 20 mins easy
3 - Medium - 45 mins easy with last 5 minutes medium, never over 85% effort
4 - off
5 - Long - 55 mins easy

Over the next weeks, continue to build the long run by 5 minutes a day until you get to 90 minutes. Once you get to 90 minutes, try to run faster.

  • Medium days
    Build to 60 minutes and then try to increase the amount of medium to 20 minutes. 85% effort is the aerobic threshold that will help with weight loss.

  • Easy days
    Add up 10 reps total of short speed and focus on good form, possibly even barefoot. Can add 10-20 minutes of easy cool down running afterwards as you really progress.

  • Recovery
    Can add as many recovery days as you like but recommend keeping easy and at 20 minutes until all the other runs are progressed to their recommended maxes above.

P.S. All of the above was learned from articles and DVDs at the Coach Running website and a few other running science websites.

EDIT: 1st sentence was edited to be more correct following the discussion below.

  • 1
    Your comment about switching at 60 minutes is flat out wrong. Your comment #2 is wrong for beginner runners (re 20 minutes), and #4, speed doesn't necessarily teach proper form. If you have horrible arm form when you are working easily, you will have horrible arm form when you are working flat out.
    – JohnP
    Jul 17, 2012 at 17:49
  • Thanks for the lashing John. #1)if time permits i will find support for the 60 min comment. There isn't a "switch" that says glucose off, fat on but generally speaking 60 minutes is where fat stores are tapped. This is with well trained athletes (Olympic, Elite) so perhaps there is some difference with average joes. #2)as stated, "that is a post in itself" but I will concede that beginners would be served with 20 minutes of activity (walk/run). #3)arm movement comes from leg movement. Fix the stride, fix the arms. In my experience, short fast uphill repeats usually clean up the stride.
    – csi
    Jul 17, 2012 at 19:15
  • Sorry, I guess that did sound harsh, didn't it? That's what I get for writing in a hurry. Your body generally uses fat as a substrate all the time, it is during the first couple of minutes of activity where there is more CHO than lipids being used, but that pretty much ends by 8-10 mins. Fat is the primary fuel used (At ~ 50-65% depending on training and effort) until you get around 75% max effort. Then CHO pathways start becoming primary. The harder the effort, the more CHO stores are used, unless you're 100% all out, there is always some combination. There's no magic switch.
    – JohnP
    Jul 17, 2012 at 20:27
  • No worries. Fat is 60% of the fuel source when exercising at 60-70% of max. Fat becomes the primary fuel source when glycogen stores are depleted. Again, depends on the runner, but most runners become glycogen depleted around 60 minutes. Training can change this so it isn't a hard, fast rule but a general guideline. Here is some support. livestrong.com/article/…
    – csi
    Jul 17, 2012 at 20:34
  • You're arguing my case for me. :D If you are getting 60% of your energy from fat in the sub 70% range, fat is the primary fuel source.
    – JohnP
    Jul 17, 2012 at 21:26


There will always be conflicting information with any aspect of exercise. You are correct when stating that you should only lift weights every other day. When you lift "micro tears" form in the affected muscles. When those muscle groups heal, they build a little bigger and a little stronger and need the 48 hours of rest to repair. However, it is acceptable to lift consecutive days provided you are using varying hemispheres of your body (upper Monday, lower Tuesday).

To preface this next statement that I think sums up all of the other points made here. ATP = adenosine triphosphate (bodies energy currency) Glucose (blood sugar) and Glycogen (muscle sugar) is easier for the body to use and will try to use these stores first.

"Fat Metabolism So to recap, the oxidative system can produce ATP through either fat (fatty acids) or carbohydrate (glucose). The key difference is that complete combustion of a fatty acid molecule produces significantly more acetyl coenzyme A and hydrogen (and hence ATP) compared to a glucose molecule. However, because fatty acids consist of more carbon atoms than glucose, they require more oxygen for their combustion (2).

So if your body is to use fat for fuel it must have sufficient oxygen supply to meet the demands of exercise. If exercise is intense and the cardiovascular system is unable to supply cells with oxygen quickly enough, carbohydrate must be used to produce ATP. Put another way, if you run out of carbohydrate stores (as in long duration events), exercise intensity must reduce as the body switches to fat as its primary source of fuel." Source link for this information

To summarize... I agree with everyone's statements. The point is, the more you put into exercise the more you get out of exercise. Olympic swimmers don't train for the 1500m freestyle by only swimming 1000m well. If you are able to run at 80% of your VO2 max for an hour that is wonderful. If you are just starting and you are able to walk at 60-70% of your VO2 max, that too is wonderful. You need to build up to your goals. The longer you walk at 60-70% of your VO2, the easier it will be and the more you need to increase the intensity of your workout. Know your limitations, and remember it is "exercise science" not "exercise absolutes."

Make sure you eat properly and give your body the fuel it needs for harder workouts.

Don't plan exercise around your life, plan life around your exercise.



  • 2
    So to summarize, what advice do you have for the frequency of training?
    – Ivo Flipse
    Jul 17, 2012 at 20:15
  • Again, it depends on what you want to get out of the exercise, and where you are starting. To really see the minimum benefit one should exercise at least 3 days a week for at least 30 minutes each time. This ensures that your cardio-respiratory system is receiving benefits from your exercise. I hope this addresses your question Ivo
    – BryceH
    Jul 24, 2012 at 18:53

Go with 3 x 50 minutes. In addition to what Mischa said in the comment, you also need to allow your body to recover and grow some new muscles.

  • Care to explain why? Because why not 45 or 55? Why 3 and not 4?
    – Ivo Flipse
    Jul 17, 2012 at 12:46
  • 3
    Those were the hypothetical confines of the question. She asked about choosing between "Running 25 minutes 6 days a week" or "Running 50 minutes 3 days a week". While the numbers don't matter in particular, I assume Sam is just using the same numbers for consistency's sake.
    – user3085
    Jul 17, 2012 at 21:28
  • Yes indeed, what Sancho said.
    – Sam
    Jul 18, 2012 at 11:49

One variation of cardio traning - to the fixed or variable sets of distance and time- is "fartlek" (speed play), see Wiki entry on Fartlek. Basically, it is a mix of low and high speed training.

The training form was developed in the 1930s in Sweden. In the Wikipedia entry, there is an example of a typical training session, its historical background and an example of where it has been used in the US.

Here is an example of a futuristic "speed play" training session, Fartlek w "google glasses"

"Speed play" can be appropriate for you when your goal is to lose weight since part of the concept is to run at full speed for part of the session. This will help you to get closer to high intensity training which seems to be better for losing weight than prolonged low intensity training.

Personally, I did this training in school in Sweden, in the military service and part of the physical training when playing basketball. Now, when I am older and have more problems with my knees - which stops me from running any longer distances - I like the "speed play" concept since it makes me more conscious of how I feel and not focused on the distance or time.


The fact which I see in some workout plans is lack of focus on the muscles recovery, your one doesn't seem to be like that, but I believe running long distance without any break will results in increase in the time taken by muscles for recovery. If you're beginner and you're just starting your workout routine then don't try to overuse your muscles which will be helpful in maintaining your fitness throughout the journey. Good luck

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.