Cardio: Are You Doing it Wrong? The Skinny on High Intensity Interval Training

Last Updated: June 16, 2019
Cardio: Are You Doing it Wrong?

Your cardio routine may be doing more harm than good for your body. The common wisdom is to perform long, steady sessions of moderate cardio for 60-90 minutes. But recent studies show that this form of cardio provides limited benefits with regard to burning fat and sculpting the nice, lean physique that most people are striving for.

High intensity interval training, on the other hand, requires short bursts of intense work for 60-90 seconds per exercise. The number of exercises you perform will vary depending on your goals and the amount of time you have to work out. However, even after the cardio session is over, your body will continue to burn extra calories for several hours. This infographic does a great job of breaking the facts down and explaining the science behind it.

So why is there still a debate? Why do some people prefer to wake up at the crack of dawn to jog for miles when there is a better way? Below, we'll go into some of the finer points of contention. Afterwards, you'll hopefully have some new perspective on this increasingly popular and highly effective way to burn fat and keep your body healthy.

HIIT Cardio - Burn Fat All Day in Half the Time

Traditional aerobic cardio, like the kind mentioned above, is very time consuming. To get any sort of fat-burning benefit at all, you have to engage your body for at least 60-90 minutes at 65% of your average resting heart rate. It takes a long time for your body to enter "Fat-burning mode" too; a 90 minute jog, for example, only prompts your body to burn fat for 50 minutes. And once you stop the workout, your body stops burning those extra calories.

HIIT cardio, on the other hand, is anaerobic. Depending on the routine you do, you can squeeze a workout into your busy schedule in as little as 20 minutes, although some workouts tend to run longer (and burn more calories as a result). The short bursts of intense activity with brief recovery periods in between trains your body to use energy more effectively. This can result in a higher metabolism, because even after the workout is over, your body is still burning a higher amount of calories than it normally would with aerobic cardio, or no exercise at all.

Different Types of HIIT Cardio Routines

There are many different ways to mix and match your exercises and intervals for an effective HIIT cardio workout. The overall goal is to hit a level of intensity during your high intensity interval that your feel short of breath and reach a high BPM heart rate. The purpose of your resting interval is to recover enough that you have mostly caught your breath and your energy is still high. But try your best to recover quickly. If your resting interval lasts too long, you won't be getting the full benefits of a HIIT routine.

Below are just some suggestions - they aren't written in stone, but they're a great place to start:

The Tabata Method. The Tabata method is great for anyone who wants an intense, fat-burning workout but who is seriously short on time. Here are the details:

  • Total workout time: 4 minutes
  • Cycles: 20 seconds high intensity/10 seconds rest (repeat for a total of 8 cycles)
  • Frequency: 2-4 times per week

The Little Method. If you're new to HIIT training, or maybe a little more out of shape than you'd like to be, the Little method is a great start. The workout is a little longer, but the rest periods are a little more generous.

  • Total workout time: 27 minutes
  • Cycles: 60 seconds high intensity/75 seconds rest (repeat for a total of 12 cycles)
  • Frequency: 3 times per week

Turbulence Training. Turbulence training throws a little variety into the HIIT routine by letting you throw some weights into the mix. You basically get the benefits of a cardio workout and a strength-training workout all in one.

  • Total workout time: 45 minutes maximum
  • Weight Training Cycles: 8 reps of high weight
  • Cardio Training Cycles: 1-2 minutes of cardio in between weight-lifting sets
  • Frequency: 3 times per week

Feel free to experiment with whatever callisthenic exercises work best for your body and your current fitness level. Push-ups, squats, mountain climbers, or running in place are good for HIIT workouts at home. If you're converting from a lifelong jogger to HIIT cardio, you can do sprints and brisk walking for your high intensity and rest intervals.

However you go about it, incorporating a HIIT routine into your current fitness regimen will help you get a lean, sculpted body in no time!

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