When it comes to cardio training, I think of two different ways to train: endurance training and HIIT (high intensity interval training).
I’ve never really been a fan of endurance training, and maybe it’s simply because I think it’s boring and I’ve never liked it; to me, the negatives outweigh the positives. While endurance training can get your heart rate up, it rarely reaches a level in which you can effectively start advancing your training. In other words, you may run more one day than the next, but will your overall fitness levels vastly improve? In my opinion, no, not really. Endurance training isn’t even that great for fat loss either because most people end up burning more muscle and gaining more fat when training for an endurance event. In fact, when doing research to list some of the benefits of endurance activities, I stumbled upon more sites that discredited the exercises for wearing down one’s body and even causing heart irregularities later in life. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to bash endurance activities. Hello…aren’t most of our mud-runs, marathons, and triathlons endurance events? I’m just giving you my honest opinion on how to train harder–smarter–and more effectively. Some people love a long cardio training session and the highs from the mega endorphin release. That’s awesome! They care about their heart and it’s probably nice and strong. But don’t we all? I sure hope so! And in my opinion? We can make it even stronger, your endurance even better, and all by adding interval training to the routine.
So if you’re ready to take your cardio training to the next level–that is, condition your body to withstand extreme stress without breaking under pressure–it’s time to add HIIT to your workouts.
High Intensity Interval Training increases your speed, decreases your fat, strengthens your core, gives you more power, allows for greater agility, and even builds muscle. And guess what else? It too, strengthens your heart. To me, it’s a no-brainer when it comes to choosing my training. Most endurance training can be hard on the body and I’ve seen many athletes hobbling upon too many injuries to allow me to think that endurance training is going to be “good for my body.” Yes, it burns mega calories. But so does a lot of stuff–especially training through intervals. Moving on.
The workouts required for interval training are intense and much more challenging than one might expect. They’re tough both physically and mentally. But the workouts are also much shorter (15-20 minutes long) and should only be completed 3-5 times a week–max. And of course you can start slow and build up–though intimidating, once you complete an interval workout, there’s no greater feeling of accomplishment. And the best news about interval training (besides the fact that it only takes 20 minutes?!) is that it burns twice as many calories as most other workouts. Once your twenty minutes are over, the body will actually continue to burn calories for up to 24-48 hours post-workout. When you endurance train, the calories stop when you do. Simple as that. But with interval training, the intense effort in which you put into your workout will cause your body to stay fired up for much longer. Hello awesome metabolism!
Here are some other benefits of HIIT training:
- Interval training helps your heart rate peak which will improve overall fitness, lung capacity, and muscle endurance.
- Interval training burns both carbs and body fat for fuel.
- Interval training burns calories longer than almost any other exercise.
- An interval workout is not only a quicker workout, but it works to burn fat quicker.
- In case you missed the last bullet, interval training helps you get leaner, quicker!
For me, it’s a “no duh” answer on how to train. And quite frankly, it is how I train. Short, hard, and fast–that’s it–and no other way.
So how do you start?
Lucky for you, there are many options on how to train in this style. Thinking of writing about them all makes me a little paranoid that I’ll forget something. There’s really so much you can do! I’ve just got to make sure I don’t leave anything out!
Many people don’t have an excessive amount of time to train every week, and some don’t have more than thirty minutes a day. No problem. Find hills, sprint up and walk or jog back down. Hill sprints will advance your cardio just like that (imagine that I’m snapping). Do you have a treadmill? Interval sprints on a treadmill boost your heart rate, burns fat (especially belly fat), and improves your endurance and speed. My favorite format for a treadmill interval workout is the following 15 minute plan:
- Jog 30 seconds, sprint 20 seconds
- Jog 1 minute, sprint 30 seconds
- Jog one and half minutes, sprint 40 seconds
- Jog 2 minutes, sprint 50 seconds
- Jog 2 and a half minutes, sprint 1 minute
- Jog 3 minutes sprint 1 minute and 10 seconds
Total: 15 minutes. You should feel out of breath, and possibly like vomiting when done. It’s complete hell but it’s also guaranteed to work. Besides, wouldn’t you rather do cardio for 15 minutes instead of an hour?
Another great option for intensifying your cardio would be by jump roping. A jump rope can be one of the cheapest pieces of cardio equipment that you can buy and it will work your total body from feet to shoulders. Try these two hoppin’ combos guaranteed to get your heart rate bouncing:
The Fat Blaster:
- Double unders for 30 seconds. (The rope must pass under your feet twice before you touch the ground. You want to jump a little bit higher than normal, but whip the rope around fast enough to get it under your feet twice each jump. If you can’t do double unders, perform double leg high knees: Launch yourself off the ground with both feet at once, bringing your knees to your chest. This one is tough!)
- Alternate leg jumps for 30 seconds. (Alternate leg jumps: Jump over the rope with one leg at a time. Only one foot should be kept on the ground at all times. This will make your calves stronger.)
- Drop to the floor and perform 20 clapping (or regular—depending on your fitness level) push-ups.
Repeat the circuit two more times (3 total), rest for 60 seconds, then do it 3 more times. You’ll end up completing the circuit 12 times with three rest periods.
The Heart Breaker
- 2 Minutes: double-unders (or regular jump rope)
- 2 minutes: hold a plank (If you can’t hold a plank on your toes for 2 minutes, rest one or both knees down for no more than 3-5 seconds at a time. Keep your belly up!
- Repeat this cycle for 90 seconds each, 1 minute each, and finally 30 seconds each.
If jump roping isn’t your thing, one of my favorite ways to strength train AND boost my cardio performance is the Tabata method. A tabata can be done with ANY exercise, and I mean ANY! And it only takes 4 minutes per exercise. I usually pick four exercises so that I can get a good 16 minutes in. Let’s say I choose kettlebell swings, burpees, bodyweight squats, and pushups. I start with the swings, and I swing for 20 seconds and rest for 10. I repeat (8 times total) for a total of four minutes all together. I move straight into the next exercise. It sounds much easier than what it is. The first time I ever did this with body weight squats, my quads were sore for a week. Tabatas RULE. And I use them almost every time I teach my kettlebell classes. And because you can choose whatever exercises you do with them, your workout will never get boring. Try box jumps, triceps dips, pullups, deadlifts–it doesn’t matter. You’ll advance your cardio and improve your strength and endurance. Isn’t that what matters?
Need More Options?
Here are four pyramid-style interval workouts designed to leave you fitter, faster, and well, totally flustered when done.
- For time: Complete 100 Jumps with a jump rope, 75 body weight squats, 50 pushups, and 25 burpees.
- For time: Complete 10 burpees, 10 sit ups; 9 burpees, 9 situps; 8 burpees, 8 sit ups; 7 burpees, 7 situps….all the way down to 1 and 1.
- For time: Complete 10 pushups, 10 body weight squats, run 100 meter sprint; 9 pushups, 9 squats, 100 meter sprint…..all the way down to 1, 1, and the last 100 meter sprint.
- For time: Complete 21 Body weight squats and pushups, then 15 squats and pushups, then 9 squats and pushups.
Here are five “3-Rounds for Time” workouts equally designed to kick your booty:
Complete 3 rounds of each of the following workouts for time:
- 2o Jumping jacks, 20 burpees, 20 body weight squats
- Run 400 meters, 50 body weight squats
- 30 pushups, 30 second handstand hold, 30 alternating lunges (option is to hold a weight overhead while lunging)
- Run 200 meters, 25 pushups, 25 squats
- 20 squats, 20 burpees, 20 pushups, 60 second plank
And last, my absolute favorite way to train in an advanced cardio format is through CrossFit. I go to my CrossFit gym every morning at 5:45 and “go hard” and then “go home.” I strength train later—the best of both worlds for me. If you’ve got the time, it would totally be worth your while to check you’re your nearest affiliate and try it out. Most gyms will offer you a free drop-in to help you figure out if CrossFit may be a good fit for you. Click HERE to find a CrossFit gym near you!
The good thing about interval training is that it’s extremely flexible and can be done with almost any exercise. The goal is to get the heart rate elevated to its peak–ensuring max effort on your part–and then bringing it back down to recover. This constant work/rest fluctuation is what makes the body stronger and more efficient. If you’ve never tried interval training before, or especially if you’re new to working out at all, please start slow! The last thing you want to do is scare yourself away from what can be one of the best ways to workout. I’ve seen it happen before–a person works SO hard on his first HIIT session that he decides it was “too” hard and never does it again. It’s totally ok to start slow. We all learn to doggie paddle before jumping off the high dive.
One way to ensure that you aren’t over-working yourself–even for the most advanced athletes–is to monitor your heart rate. If you subtract your age from 220, the number you get is the number that your heart rate should never exceed. When interval training, your goal will be to reach this number during your periods of “work” and then rest only long enough to drop the number back closer to where you started. Sooner or later, the time it takes to lower your heart rate back to normal will get shorter and shorter–showing you the effective results of interval training on the body. Your heart will get stronger and your recovery time will decrease. Supreme fitness, eh?
Feature image by Impicard.