Sunday, March 30, 2014

Cardio That Doesn’t Suck

As its name obviously implies, strength and conditioning is comprised of two components: (1) strength and (2) conditioning. Despite the many years I spent training in the pool, I’ve always been more of a fan of the strength part, with the conditioning coming as a byproduct. This meme explains it best:

Photo courtesy:

Despite my bias towards resistance training methods for both strength AND conditioning, I do — on occasion — subscribe to more traditional forms of conditioning. I’m even perfectly happy with individuals choosing whichever piece of equipment they find most enjoyable (treadmill, elliptical, stationary bike, stair master, etc.). No one of them is really that much better than another.

But what I’m NOT talking about is slogging away on the damn thing for an hour. Although there may be a time and place for long, slow, steady state cardio, now probably isn’t itInstead, the focus should be on interval training, whereby we alternate periods of easier and harder effort. In fact, each of the workouts I describe below takes just 20 minutes, of which only 10 minutes are actually strenuous, since each session begins and ends with 5 minutes easy.

How do we get away with such short workouts? The middle 10 minutes are really strenuous! By repeatedly revving up to near max heart rates (~180 beats per minute) and then resting back down to typical HR’s observed during steady state cardio (~130 BPM), we get all the benefits of steady state and then some. The 10 minutes go by pretty quickly, too, since we’re constantly engaged in monitoring the time and switching up our exertion.

Below are a few of my favorite intervals workouts, organized by their work-to-rest ratio, or the amount of time spent going hard compared to the amount of time spent going easy. Remember to begin and end each workout with 5 minutes easy. During the middle 10 minutes, on the hard segments, really crank up the speed/resistance/incline on your cardio piece. On the easy segments, go as slow as your want, or even stop altogether.

I. Work < Rest

a. 10 rounds of {:15 hard, :45 easy}
b. 10 minutes of {:15 hard, easy until heart rate returns to 120 beats per minute*}

*The easy segments will likely increase in duration after each successive hard bout.

II. Work = Rest

a. 10 rounds of {:30 hard / :30 easy}

III. Work > Rest

a. 10 rounds of {:45 hard / :15 easy}
b. Two times through 8 rounds of {:20 hard / :10 easy}, with 2:00 easy in between (these are called “Tabatas”)

Endless Combinations

Conditioning, even on a treadmill or elliptical, need not be boring. In fact, when employing intervals, the combinations are endless. The time frames provided above are just a starting point. Feel free to switch things up however you like. For instance, if you prefer longer intervals, try 5 rounds of {:60 hard / :60 easy}. Or say you fancy shorter intervals and more frequent switches, then go with 20 rounds of {:15 hard / :15 easy}. Experiment to find your favorite work-to-rest ratios.

Perform the conditioning workouts immediately following strength training or on separate days/sessions. To reap all the benefits, just be sure to devote time to training in each of the three work-to-rest categories.

These ladies appear to be enjoying cardio that doesn't suck!
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