Maximizing your Cardio Workouts: The Benefits of High Intensity Interval Training
By Rachel Morrison
VIDA Fitness City Vista, Personal Trainer
Most people know that an effective fitness regimen means combining weight training and cardio. However, often cardio becomes the time when people zone out. Getting on a machine where you can watch TV or read while mindlessly pedaling or letting the elliptical carry you may make the time pass quicker, but it is also not going to produce the kind of concrete results you want. Cardio capacity is defined by your ability to get your heart rate higher, not just the endurance to stay on a machine for 45 minutes. So if you want to maximize your body’s ability to burn fat and hang on to that hard earned muscle, try introducing high intensity interval training to your cardio regimen.
There are three heart rate training zones for cardio training, ranging from 65-95% of your Heart Rate Max. A quick estimation of HRmax can be calculated by subtracting your age from 220. So, if you use a 30 year old as an example, their HRmax would be 190, and their training zones would be as follows:
1) Zone 1 = 65-75% HRmax = 123.5 – 142.5
2) Zone 2 = 76-85% HRmax = 144.4 – 161.5
3) Zone 3 = 86 – 95% HRmax = 163.4 – 180.5
Often when people do steady state cardio, they only work in zone 1, or maybe 2. But if you have been doing that for a while, it is high time to push yourself if you want to advance your fitness. To do an interval workout, start by pushing into your zone 2 heart rate range for 1 minute and then bring it back into zone 1 for 3 minutes to recover and repeat that 10 times. You can increase intensity to achieve the higher heart rate by increasing resistance, speed or incline for example. This can be done on the bike, treadmill or stair climber, all of which have heart rate sensors. Once you can handle that, try true high intensity intervals or sprints. This means a ratio of 1 to 3 time wise, so that the 1 is all out effort and 3 is recovery. So your all out effort should take you well into heart rate zone 3 and you should be breathing hard and feeling like you can’t make it. This will be a shorter interval so a good starting example would be 30 seconds all out sprint and 1.5 minutes of recovery where you allow the heart rate to come back down. Again, repeat 10 times, or go for 20 minutes. The faster your heart rate drops during recovery, the fitter your heart is getting so look to this to measure your progress.
The effort of pushing your body to the max, recovering, and then doing it over again will place the highest demand on your cardiovascular system to seriously boost your capacity over time and contribute to any goal whether it be weight loss, body fat reduction or just plain getting and staying lean. This quick demand for energy puts the body in what is called an anaerobic state where it metabolizes stored energy from carbohydrates or glucose. But because the intensity is higher, the overall burn will be higher so your body will also metabolize a higher percentage of fat than it would in a low-intensity bout of steady state cardio activity. When you challenge your body this way, it will also cause your metabolism to function at a higher level for an extended time after you finish your workout. Sometimes this is referred to as “after burn,” or it’s more technical name, “excess post exercise oxygen consumption.”
Another way to achieve this would be using the battle ropes. Using more of what’s called a Tabata style of interval training, go as hard as you can slamming the ropes for 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat until you get to 4 minutes total.
The bottom line is that interval cardio training to your regimen has the greatest capacity to alter body composition and get you results you can see and feel. The body constantly needs new challenges in order to achieve new results. Is it time for you to step it up?