When I first started working out my cardio workouts used to be pretty long – an hour on average. I took the “more is better” approach.  For the last ten years or so I’ve been doing what’s commonly referred to as high-intensity interval training, which is a “less is more” approach to cardio training.  And I’ve found it to be the most effective & efficient way to burn the most calories and stay lean, particularly if lean doesn’t come naturally to you. I’ll share with you what’s involved – and why it works, if you care. :)

High-intensity interval training is cardio that involves alternating segments of high intensity training (where you push pretty much as hard as you can), followed by a recovery period, typically of the same amount of time.  The only kind of cardio I do is outdoor running and it’s the kind I recommend for this type of training (I’ll run on a treadmill only if it’s snowing).  I start my run with a slow jog for 5 minutes (my warm up). When I hit the 5 minute mark, I start the timer on my watch – I have it set to beep every 30 seconds. I basically sprint flat out for 30 seconds, and then take 30 seconds to recover, usually jogging at a slow pace. You can walk if necessary, but it’s important to keep moving; when do you a sprint your body compensates by sending more blood to your legs, and if you suddenly stop moving your legs, the blood pools there. Once I’ve completed 10 intervals I cool down for 5 minutes by jogging at a slow pace.

The workout only takes 20 minutes. If you’ve never done this type of training before, you’ll probably throw up if you do it properly. I always run on an empty stomach, but that’s just me. You probably won’t even be able to get through 10 intervals at first.  But I guarantee that you’ll get results. You can technically do it with any kind of cardio, but I find that it’s difficult to ramp it up to the level you need on a stationary bike or elliptical climber.  Stairclimber, or outdoor stair climbing have also worked for me.

The reason this type of cardio training is so effective, and in my opinion more effective than a long cardio session is this: although you may burn fewer calories in a 20 minute time-span than you do in a 45-minute workout, high intensity interval training increases the rate at which you burn calories throughout the day, basically turning you into metabolic powerhouse.  The other benefit of interval training is because it only lasts 20 minutes, your body is less likely to go into a catabolic state, meaning that your body starts to essentially breaking down muscle for energy. Not a big fan of that.

High intensity interval training is not for the faint-of-heart.  You need to be willing to push hard and get your ass kicked in return. But you will get great results if you can get through it, and stick to it. If you choose running, you’ll also end up a much faster runner. Don’t forget though, that if you’re not fuelling your body with the right energy, the impact of your efforts will be significantly diminished.

Now get out there and start sweating!  Look out for me on the seawall in the morning and wave if you see me :)