Have you reached a weight loss plateau? Do you find yourself bored with your cardio workouts? Are you running around on gym auto-piliot? Sounds like its time to think outside the box and MIX.IT.UP. Cardiovascular training has many health benefits but if your goal is to burn fat, beat boredom, or overcome plateaus you need to constantly add variety to your workouts. One of the best ways to do that is through interval training. Interval training is a training technique that alternates between speed and recovery intervals to increase the intensity and quality of your workout.
This type of training means pushing outside your comfort zone so you can grow stronger, better, faster from your time in the gym.
Interval training benefits include increases in strength, stamina, endurance and fat burning. During high intensity intervals, a person consumes more oxygen than in slower, distance exercise, which can increase post-exercise metabolism. The real advantage of interval versus distance training is that you can get the same benefits – fat loss, improved muscle cell function, increased oxygen consumption and improved anaerobic capacity – but you don’t have to exercise as long. In fact, according to Tremblay et al, interval training can burn up to 3 times more fat in 1/3 less the time. This is great news for all of us who don’t have hours to spend at the gym but still want results.
You can be as creative as you want with interval combinations. Typically intervals are can performed anywhere from 10 seconds to 2 minutes. You just want to make sure your intensity remains high and your form stays clean to prevent injuries. Remember quality over quantity – here are a few fun interval workout ideas to get you out of a cardio rut:
Creative Cardio Interval Examples: Make sure to include a 5-10 minute warm up and a cooldown before and after each interval set.
30 seconds work interval: 30 seconds rest interval – repeat 8 times
15 seconds work interval: 15 seconds rest interval – repeat 10 times
20 seconds work interval: 10 second rest interval – repeat 8 times
60 second work interval: 60 second rest interval – repeat 12 times
1:40 second work interval: 20 second rest interval – repeat 8 times
30 second work interval: 10 second rest interval – repeat 8 times
You can use intervals in any form of exercise you enjoy, but I highly recommend stepping out of your cardio comfort zone if you have plateaued and want to see results. If you run, try swimming. If you spin try boxing. Here are some other great ways to get your cardio and use intervals:
1. Jumping Rope: Get a jump rope and you have a simple, cost-effective way to add high-intensity interval training your workout routine. Done right, jumping rope can improve cardiovascular fitness, balance, agility, and strength. And you dont need much time to see results – jumping rope is tough!
2. Stair Running or Stair Climbing: Stairs provide an excellent interval workout without much time or equipment. Simply find a set of stairs or a step machine and you are off! I typically do a 1/2 mile warm up jog and then 2-6 stair repeats. My favorite stair courses are the Lyon Street Stairs in San Francisco and the convention center stairs in San Diego!
3. Shuttle Sprints: Shuttle sprints are a standard agility and speed drill used by athletes who play stop-and-go sports such as soccer, hockey, basketball, and tennis. To do shuttle sprints, simply set up two markers about 25 yards apart. Sprint from one marker to the other and back. That’s one repetition. Try for 10 sprints at a time. You can do shuttle sprints forward, forward and backward or side-to-side.
4. Spinning: Join a spin class and you’ll probably do some high intensity spin intervals. But you can use your home bike trainer or head to the spin room during the off hours and create your own interval workout. Using a stationary or spinning bike is one of the most popular forms of indoor exercise that provides a low-impact, high intensity cardiovascular workout and builds both strength and endurance. To get you started cycling strong, check out my “Cycling 101” post – great tips on getting the most out of your spin workout!
5. Hills. In San Francisco we have LOTS of these. Hills are a great way to challenge your heart and legs with a quality cardio workout. You can do intervals as hill repeats: run or walk up the hill and cruise down (then repeat as many sets as you have time for!) Here is my Caroline Jordan Fitness “I left my heart in San Francisco Hill Workout” to give you an idea of a great way to exercise intervals on hills 🙂
6. Aerobics. Jumping jacks, high knees, speed skaters – all of these high impact, high intensity moves are great interval training ideas. You can choose one exercise (ie:high knees) and perform it tabata style (8 rounds of 20 seconds on 10 rest) or combine aerobic moves in an interval format (one exercise at a high intensity interval, rest, new exercise at high intensity). This allows you to really get creative with your workouts and the options for high intensity drills are ENDLESS. Check out my youtube fitness 5 minute lean legs circuit video for a sample of how you can combine these moves for an intense and effective workout.
7. Burpees: Burpees are my all time favorite exercise. This tough, simple exercise works the total body and cardiovascular system quickly. Start by standing tall, then squat down and place your hands on the floor in front of you. Quickly kick your feet back to a push up position. While here, you can perform a push if you want a really tough exercise, or just jump your feet back to start position, jump high in the air and repeat. Check out this burpee video to learn some tips on burpees.
8. Swimming. Take your workouts into the pool for a non-impact and challenging wet workout. My favorite pool intervals combine strength drills (pulling with the bouy or kicking) with freestyle swimming. Check out swimplan.com or swimmingworldmagazine.com for sample workout plans customized to ability level and goals.
9. Elliptical. Many gym enthusiasts enjoy the elliptical machine. I can totally see why – its low impact and can be a good option for a cardio workout. Just make sure you amp up the intensity as the machine’s caloric output numbers can often be incorrect (the average woman burns enough calories in 30 minutes on the elliptical machine for ONE Reses peanut butter cup – sigh***) Heres an example of a tough way to work intervals on the elliptical machine to help you reach your fitness goals…. and hopefully burn enough calories for more than just one reses peanut butter cup 😉
10. Running. This is one of my favorite ways to work with intervals. Intervals are an incredible way to become a faster, stronger runner. Here are SEVEN Kick BUTT Treadmill interval workouts to get you started.
Its a good idea to mix up your workout routine every 2-3 weeks to avoid plateaus, injuries, or burnout. Be sure to include strength training and flexibility training in your weekly workout regimen. Remember, always check with your doctor before making any fitness or nutrition changes. Your workouts should feel challenging and strong, but NOT cause any pain. Modify or intensify the above intervals to meet YOUR needs, challenge yourself, and most importantly, have FUN with it!! Sample one of the interval combinations above next time you run, bike, swim, walk, or jump rope and mix things up with new high intensity cardio workout. You’ll sweat like a pig, sleep like a baby, and look like a fox when you get in the gym and get AFTER it with quality cardio workouts. Be safe, have fun, and Go for it!
Yours in health (and burpees),