By Darin Steen
Have you tried doing standard cardio workouts faithfully, yet found you still haven't reached your fat loss goals? I believe that interval cardio, is the 30-minute fat loss solution! I have used it almost exclusively for my personal fitness routine for the last 14 years. Most of my clients perform their interval workouts on a treadmill.
Because it works so well for me, I have had 95 percent of my personal training clients use it too, with great success. That's a lot of people considering I've had over 500 graduates from my 12-Week Fat loss Lifestyle Body Transformation Program.
They did it. And so can you.
Advantages of Interval Cardio
There's increasing amounts of evidence supporting the notion that you can cut your workout time significantly while reaping better benefits, and if this appeals to you, then interval cardio is your ticket to success.
Although I describe using a treadmill in this article, Dr. Mercola's favorite is the recumbent bike and the elliptical. You can easily perform the Peak Fitness exercises on those pieces of equipment.
There are numerous advantages to using this technique:
- You burn extra calories for up to 8 hours after your interval session. With jogging you stop burning extra calories when you stop exercising.
- Your heart and lungs become bigger, stronger, and able to take on sudden intense challenges more easily and recover quickly. With jogging, your heart and lungs actually become smaller. Having a bigger and stronger heart and lungs is very important in order to live long and strong.
- Your body changes the way you store your carbs in the future. To help fuel future intense interval challenges your body will become more efficient at converting carbs into glucose and glycogen, which means that you will have more fuel for short bursts of intense challenges like lifting weights or running 100 yards quickly.
- Another side benefit is that glucose and glycogen is anabolic. It burns energy just sitting there. Fat does not.
- With low-intensity jogging-type cardio your body becomes more efficient at converting carbs to body fat in order to get ready for future low intensity jogging sessions. Fat is your body's preferred source of fuel for jogging, whereas glycogen is the preferred source of fuel for interval-type cardio.
- Interval cardio is much more time efficient. You only need about two to three 30 minute interval cardio sessions per week. Traditionally many have jogged for between four and 8 hours per week. As fast paced as most people's lives are these days, less is better.
- In order for most people to stay consistent with exercise, it can only consume three to five hours per week, including cardio, resistance training, stretching and flexibility work.
Well, whether you adopt my interval cardio program, outlined below, or go with Dr. Mercola's Peak Fitness exercise, which is an even higher intensity, burst-type interval training, you'll only need to spend a fraction of that time in the gym.
High-intensity interval training (Peak Fitness exercises) will also naturally boost your body's production of human growth hormone, which is a very important factor in aging and overall health.
Advantages of Interval Cardio Performed On a Treadmill
- Most people stay more consistent with interval training because you can control the climate and the variables (speed and incline), which can be very helpful. Because you can control the variables, your interval cardio session can be more precisely carried out.
- It's safer on your joints, tendons and ligaments because of the shock absorption of the tread on the tread mill. In addition, you can alsokeep your body tight and have proper technique so that the majority of the pounding goes into your muscles (which is good) and stays out of your bones, ligaments and tendons (not good).
- It is simply not possible to hold your body tight during 60-90 minutes of jogging. Therefore a lot of the pounding goes into the bad places.
- It's more functional than a stationary bike or elliptical. On a bike or elliptical your legs get worked more, and balance and stability does not, whereas sprints on a treadmill tie your upper body to your lower body through your core.
- Most sprinters have incredible abs because of this benefit. Sprinters get their abs from sprinting, not from doing sit ups.
The Warm-Up Routine
It is very important to warm up before getting into the challenges.
Perform a power walk stride for 10 minutes.
Three technique reminders for a proper power walk stride are:
- Stand tall with shoulders back (soldier stance)
- Heels hit the tread first
- Long stride challenge (legs stay relatively stiff and lengthen stride out as long as possible on each stride)
Start the warm up with a speed that does not feel too fast or too slow. Increase the speed by 0.1 mph every minute during the warm up while keeping the incline at 0.
Lengthen your stride throughout the warm up. Your height and your experience with power walking will usually dictate how fast you start off.
I am 5'9 and 3.5 mph hour feels about right for me. If you are around 5'4", try starting at 3.0 mph. If you are 6 feet tall, try 4.0 mph. Over the course of the 10 minute warm up I go from 3.5 mph to 4.4 mph.
After the 10 minute warm up, bring the speed back down to the speed you started with. We call it baseline. That's the speed you go back to after each challenge, to rest and recover.
At this point get off the treadmill and stretch your quads, glutes (buns), hamstrings, and inner thighs, and calves.
Doing so will allow you to be more symmetrical during the intense sprinting phase of the more advanced challenges. It's just like a car that is out of alignment. At 20 mph you won't notice a problem. But increase to 100 mph and something is going to break. That is what the stretching will do for you. It will more properly align your body so you can run better and safer.
Guidelines for a Successful Interval Cardio Routine
Now you are ready to start your first challenge.
You have many options for Interval Cardio on a treadmill. I'll cover two versions here. My own, followed by Dr. Mercola's Peak Fitness exercise which can be done with or without exercise equipment, such as a treadmill, elliptical, or recumbent bike.
The one that works well for me and my clients is:
- Each challenge is a 60 second power walk followed by a 30 second jog, and then a 15 second sprint.
We have already discussed the technique reminders for the power walk stride used for the warm up. Use this same technique for the first phase (power walk) of each challenge.
The technique for the 30 second jog is to lean forward, keep your core tight and bounce softly off the balls of your toes. Your heels may not hit the tread at all. This assures that more of the jolt of your stride will go into your muscles rather than your bones, joints, and ligaments.
To create a sprint type feeling for the last 15 seconds, simply drive your knee's high while you squeeze your upper body muscles tight. The sprint is merely a more intense version of the jog by driving the knees as high as possible.
At the end of the 15 second sprint hop onto each side rail with your feet as you hold on to the handle bars. Reduce the treadmill's speed to baseline. Let the tread slow down a few seconds before you start walking on the tread to recover.
Make sure to bring your incline down to 0 for the recovery phase.
- 4-8 challenges. In between each challenge, keep walking at a nice slow pace to aid in recovery.
Each repetition gets incrementally more challenging than the one before.
For your first challenge take the speed up 0.5 mph higher than your baseline, and the incline to 1.5 for beginners, 2.5 for intermediate, or 3.5 for advanced.
At the 60 second mark, break into a traditional jog technique, then increase your speed to 2.0 mph faster than baseline.
On each progressive challenge, increase the 60 second power walk by 0.5 degrees higher and 0.1 mph faster.
Increase each 30 second jog by 0.2 mph faster than the one before. The speed for the sprint stays the same as for the jog. Simply intensify the jog technique with high knees.
- The rest periods get longer as each progressive challenge gets more intense. The length of each challenge stays constant but the length of each rest increases.
- Before you start your next challenge, make sure that you totally have your breath back. Also make sure that your energy level comes back to 9 out of 10. Just ask yourself, am I ready to take on the next 90 second challenge?
- Rest longer than shorter. One of the main keys to a successful interval cardio session is intensity during each challenge. That's why it is important to be as recovered as possible before each challenge.
You know that you are ready for your next challenge when all three of the following occur:
- You've recovered your breath
- Your energy level is a 9 out of 10
- You feel strong and you are ready for the next repetition, which will be slightly more challenging
Another Option: Sprint 8, for Even Greater Benefits
You can perform Peak Fitness with any type of exercise you choose. While having access to a gym or exercise equipment will provide you with a larger variety of options, you don't require either. You can just as easily perform this by walking or running on flat ground.
You'll want to start slow and work your way up, but ultimately you want to exercise vigorously enough so you reach your anaerobic threshold, because this is where the growth hormone release is triggered.
Since Sprint 8 exercises are an even more intense version of interval cardio, it requires even less time.
The actual sprinting totals only 4 minutes!
Here's what a typical Peak Fitness routine might look like using a recumbent bike:
- Warm up for three minutes
- Push yourself as hard and fast as you can for 30 seconds. You should feel like you couldn't possibly go on another few seconds
- Recover for 90 seconds
- Repeat the high intensity exercise and recovery 7 more times
As you see, whereas my guidelines call for a 60 second power walk followed by a 30 second jog, finished with a 15 second sprint (increasing your output by increments), Sprint 8 goes right into a 30 second exercise at maximum capacity.
With Sprint 8, by the end of your 30 second exercise period you'll want to reach these markers:
- It will be relatively hard to breathe and talk because you are in oxygen debt
- You will start to sweat profusely. Typically this is occurs in the second or third repetition unless you have a potential thyroid issue and don't sweat much normally.
- Your body temperature will rise
- Lactic acid increases and you will feel a muscle "burn"
Since this is a bit more extreme, do be mindful of your current fitness level and don't overdo it when you first start out.
If you are not in great shape and just starting this you may want to start with just two or three repetitions, and work your way up to eight. You may even need to start with just walking and when you do your 30 second bursts your legs would be moving as fast as possible without running - and your arms would be pumping hard and fast.
The Earlier the Better, When it Comes to Exercising
I strongly suggest that you do your interval cardio first thing in the morning before you eat your first meal. Your body will then burn up to twice as much body fat, since you have not eaten for 6-10 hours.
Cardio sessions done later in the day do not burn as much body fat. The main reason why is because of the carbs ingested earlier in the day are turned into glucose and used to fuel the cardio session.
In addition, cardio sessions planned for later in the day don't get done as consistently. Something invariably is going to come up that will conflict with the work out time. Bottom line is that you will burn more fat and skip less work outs if you make exercise part of your morning routine.
Interval cardio is one of the most effective workouts I have ever had my clients use. It leads to staying consistent long term. It is one of the more safe and effective interval cardio sessions you will ever come across.
Accompanied with this article is our "Interval Cardio Cheat Sheet". After you've watched the video above, take the cheat sheet with you and put in the cup holder of your treadmill. Refer to it and chart your variables.
Within a couple of weeks the first challenge will feel much easier. That's because you are more athletic, and you've increased your lung capacity.
If any of the starting variables we have discussed seem to fast or too slow, just adjust accordingly. Listen to your body!
If you do not feel like you are ready to go for the next challenge after walking at baseline for 3-4 minutes, then you are probably done until the next time.
Two or three interval cardio sessions per week, first thing in the morning, should be your goal. This cardio session will be an integral part of you working out less and getting more results.
Anyone and everyone does have the power to change!
Your Healthy LifeStyle Coach,
Darin L. Steen