Cardio training, you usually hate it or learn to live with it (or you must be some kind of masochistic psycho if you like it)! Picture yourself on the stationary bike, cycling away as if you were getting ready for the Tour de France… You’re pushing and pushing; 15 minutes have passed and, your legs on fire, you look at the screen to find out you’ve burned the whole of 30kcals! Rings any bell?
I know, cardio sucks! But it’s a necessary evil on the road to getting ripped as your diet will only get you so far. You need to get your calories down without cutting too much into your food intake.
Wait, don’t run away! I was being overly dramatic to emphasize the point. There’s no need to cry or be scared. The truth is that, contrary to most people’s experience, cardio training does NOT have to be a chore you’d be happy to trade for a date with your dentist.
No, even though you may choose to run on a treadmill, use the elliptical, the rowing machine or the bike, you don’t have to. Cardio can be fun! In essence, any activity can become a cardio session; it doesn’t have to happen in a gym, with your butt locked indoors.
Say you like basketball, why not call up a few friends and go and shoot hoops? You like walking? Put on your trekking shoes and go for a few miles in the forest or the park! The bottom line is that you need to move to burn calories. It doesn’t matter how. What does matter though is that, to make a habit out of it, it will always work better if you pick an activity you like/love.
Two Ways to Skin the Cardio Cat
As I implied, there’s a gazillion ways to do cardio. But if we had to categorize them, we could argue that there are 2 main groups to which they can all be linked. And those categories represent two different ways to approach your training.
First of all, you can go at it with low to moderate intensity. That’s where most activities belong and that’s probably how you envision cardio when I utter the word; that is, long and continuous effort like jogging. And as I mentioned, if you like it that way, then by all means stick with it… But a lot of people get bored pretty fast because, let’s be honest here, it’s not the most exhilarating thing in the world! Slow and steady wins the race but, look at the turtle, is she having any fun?!
Worse, as the output remains low throughout, the number of calories burned per unit of time will follow the trend. Which brings us to another issue people have expressed towards this type of cardio: it requires hours per week to
show any visible results. And, with their busy schedule, most folks don’t have that amount of time to dedicate to it.
Enter the second way to perform cardio, which takes the complete opposite view: high intensity training.
High Intensity for Maximum Results:
The first time I heard about high intensity training, I must admit I was kind of skeptical. I had been so brainwashed by the common wisdom – that has it that you must be ready to do cardio for hours on end to get any kind of result – that it seemed like BS to me. Lose fat with only a few minutes of work? And Halle Berry would be bringing you a fresh towel after that? Sounded like those miracle diet pills that always end up being a scam.
Anyway, that’s what HIIT proposes: for only 10-15 minutes of your time, it will provide maximum calorie expenditure.
How is that possible? How can you get any result with such low time under pressure?
The principle is simple; you will alternate all-out effort with resting periods until the allotted time is up. Those periods of extreme intensity will have you burn calories as you perform the exercise… but, if that was it, then you’d be right in thinking that it can’t get you to lose much fat.
Where high intensity work really outshines the competition
is in its ability to have you continue to burn calories hours AFTER you’re done and you’re back home enjoying a well- earned rest. It will significantly ramp up your metabolism in what is known as the “afterburn effect”!
Thus, for a much shorter training time, you’ll consume more calories overall. Also, the fact that you can’t go at it half-assedly and need to give it your 100% makes it both fun and challenging. Try to get bored as you push your body to its limits… Not going to happen! High intensity sessions can therefore keep you motivated where other more leisurely activities would stop presenting any allure after a while.
By keeping the sessions brief and sweet, HIIT will also preserve muscle mass. I won’t go into much detail here but I’ll simply say this: compare the physique of sprinters (or CrossFitters, for that matter, as they also train with severe bursts of energy) with that of long-distance runners. On one hand, you have ripped and muscular guys who are also extremely explosive. On the other, you have fast guys with stamina who look like sticks.
No option is ultimately better than the other but, if you’re looking to build a physique that sets you apart from the average Joe, I guess you’ll be more likely to lean towards the first type, won’t you be?
In short, train little but train hard and reap the rewards.
High Intensity Routines
If you insist on following a low intensity training routine, there’s not much explaining that needs to be done. Schedule at least 1h at a time; start running, cycling or whatever, and bite the bullet until it’s over. Good luck!
Some experts would recommend that you stay within 60% of your maximum heart rate, what they call the “fat burning zone”, but I call BS on their claim… If you’re not training at high intensity, your heart rate won’t change much to how much fat you end up losing.
If, on the other hand, you want to give high intensity training a try, here’s how to proceed. I’ll take sprints to illustrate the concept as that’s the most common form and the easiest to put into practice:
- Use an Olympic track if you got one nearby or simply find a flat road/path that’s clear of any object/obstacle;
- Run for 100-150 meters as quickly as you can;
- Walk back to your starting point to catch your breath, and restart the cycle;
- Alternate between this sprinting and walking for 10 minutes;
- (Crawl back home if you still got enough strength or call an ambulance to come and pick you up, ha ha.)
As the training becomes easier, to keep the intensity high,
you can either up the time to 15 minutes, increase your speed, reduce your recovery time by jogging back to your starting line, or change terrains for a steeper slope.
Yep, no rocket science either. Go balls to the wall, rest, and go at it again. That’s the essence of high intensity training.
That principle can be applied to nearly any physical activity, like the other approach. Some drills that I like to use in my own program include:
- Jumping rope: if you got a rope lying around, you can get one heck of a good workout. Jump and bring your knees to your chest fast for about 20-30 seconds, then take about the same time to rest by jumping slowly (or stopping altogether if you’re too tired) until you repeat the maneuver, again and again, till the 10 minutes are off;
- Rowing: same thing with this one, provided that you got access to a rowing machine. Row as quickly as possible for 20 seconds (or give yourself a distance to cover), catch your breath, rinse and repeat;
- Bag work: I like to mix things up and often put on my boxing gloves for some bag work high intensity training. I will punch the bag with all my speed and power for intervals of 15-20 seconds. It will have your arms beg for mercy;
- Stairs: got no equipment at hand and don’t feel like doing sprints? Take it to the stairs and run up the flight again and again!
- WOD type of routine: another great way to approach HIIT is with basic calisthenics moves like burpees, tuck jumps, air squats, pushups and mountain climbers… Accomplish intervals of around 8-12 repetitions. Deadly effective.
How Many Sessions per Week?
How to strike the best balance between too little and too much as far as cardio training is concerned? HIIT can be taxing on the body if performed too often… You need to let your organism rest but, on the other hand, doing it only once a week won’t burn enough calories to be worth your while.
As a rule of thumb, I like to go for 3 sessions – or once every other day – that you can execute at the same time as your abs training.
Now, is it better to start with the cardio portion or to wait until after you’ve worked out?
There are proponents of both methods, and I can understand where they’re all coming from as, no matter which part you begin with, that’s the one that’ll get your best effort. The exercise you’ll save for the end will get the least output as you’ll be tired already.
It’s for that very reason that some people would have you train cardio and muscles on separate days… but, like I said, that’s not a good idea. If you have too much to do and it takes up too much of your free time, there’s a higher risk you’ll end up quitting altogether. We need something we can live with, and 3 workout sessions a week seems to be the sweet spot; it ensures enough stimulation for growth while offering a frequency that can be maintained in the long run.
So, what are we going to start with? In my eyes, the most important part of our training will be the abs. We will need every bit of strength we can muster to graduate through the progressions; thus, I would recommend you do the cardio at the end of the session. Sure, you’ll have less energy but, on the other hand, your glycogen stocks will already have been hit, which means you’ll burn even more fat!
Extra Tips for Losing More Calories
In the battle against flab, every little calorie we can manage to burn eventually adds up; it’s like those droplets that fall and fall, and don’t seem to make any kind of difference… until the last one makes the cup run over!
In addition to our diet and cardio training sessions, there are a few habits we can take up that don’t demand much efforts but that can weigh in the balance. All they require is that you get out of your lazy mood and make the decision to be more active in your everyday life.
Start doing the following and regain control over your waistline:
- Walk: it doesn’t get easier than this; walk and watch the pounds slowly drop. This is the number one tip I would advise you include in your daily routine. Whether you choose to go to work on foot, to park a little further away to have a good 10 to 15 minutes of walking time, or to stop taking the car altogether whenever you need to go to the butcher (the hair salon or to get the newspaper), walk more. I can guarantee your health will thank you;
- Take the stairs: the elevator is to buildings what the car is to outside transportation; a fast, convenient but lazy way to reach your destination. As you decide to increase your daily walking time, make a resolution to also take the stairs whenever you can;
- Stand up: before we became Sapiens Sapiens, we were Homo Erectus – the man that stands upright. Pay homage to your ancestors and leave your seat to pregnant women and old folks while on the bus or waiting at the post office for your number to be called. Standing straight, instead of slouching in a chair, will make your legs, butt and abs work overtime;
- Do more chores: here’s a piece of advice that will earn you extra points with your significant other. Don’t let her do all the chores. Consider doing the dishes and using the vacuum cleaner like light cardio activities. Whether you live in an apartment or a house, there’s never any shortage of things to do. Mow the lawn, clean the windows, dust the shelves… Just put some music on and move with a smile!
See, cardio training doesn’t have to rhyme with boredom. It’s all about the mindset and finding a few routines you can stick with.