When I posted my beginners lifting series a couple of months ago, I promised that I would write a follow-up post containing my thoughts on valuable cardio.
Whenever I post my thoughts about cardio, the discussion tends to get a little heated so I will keep my recap brief (you can read this post or this post for more): I, like many other fitness professionals, firmly believe long distance steady state cardio is a waste of time – unless your goal is to be a marathon runner.
To function most efficiently as a human being and also look good while doing it, the only form of cardio you need is short bursts of high intensity exercise. I know a lot of people worry that lifting weights alone will not be enough to keep your heart healthy, but one intense cardio session per week will get the job done.
The benefits of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) have been widely promoted in recent years. Most people think of sprinting when they think of interval training, but there are other ways to get your heart rate up if you do not like to or are unable to run. I honestly can’t even remember the last time I put a client of mine on a treadmill.
Here are my favourite forms of effective and time-efficient cardio:
- Interval sprints: You can perform sprints on any piece of cardio equipment you like, or outside on the pavement or track. Adapt the workout to suit your ability. For example, a beginner might start with a 30 second jog followed by a 90 second brisk-paced walk, and then repeat. Someone with a greater fitness level could try a 2 minute run followed by a 1 minute jog. A great middle point is following a 1:1 sprint/recovery pattern. Follow your pattern of choice for 15-20 minutes, ensuring you warm up and cool down for a few minutes either side.
- Hill sprints: A great way to hit the glutes and hamstrings! Find a hill that is at least 30 metres in length and sprint as fast as you can up it. Use the walk back down the hill to recover, and repeat 10-15 times.
- Sled pushes: I’m fortunate enough to have access to a sled at work, but I bet my clients wish that I didn’t! These start off easy but become increasingly brutal as the lactic acid builds up in your legs.
- Battle ropes: I remember the first time I saw someone doing these and how stupid I thought they looked…. and then I tried it. Don’t be fooled by appearances – these are tough! These are a great way to engage your upper body moreso than other traditional forms of cardio. They are also a lot of fun as well as a great core workout.
- Strength-based circuits: This is my favourite approach for myself as well as clients. I create circuits of 3-4 exercises such as box jumps, kettlebell swings, jumping rope, burpees, kettlebell snatches, pop squats, tuck jumps, high knees, mountain climbers, jump squats and farmers walks (just to name a few, haha!). Try three rounds of 15-20 repetitions of each exercise.
- Complexes: A complex is a series of exercises performed back to back, where you don’t put the weight down. For example, try 8 barbell cleans, followed by 8 military presses, followed by 10 front squats, and then 10 bent over rows. The barbell cannot touch the floor until you are completely finished! Stick to 8-10 reps for 4-5 exercises and, for heaven’s sake, use a moderate weight!
You will notice that many of these ideas are still based in pushing around heavy weights. Most people find this far more enjoyable and challenging than slogging it out on a treadmill!
Keep HIIT sessions between 10 and 20 minutes. The sessions are short but they must be intense: you should not be cruising through your HIIT like it’s a leisurely stroll through the park; you should be about ready to pass out at the end of your session!
Ideally, I think you should perform two sessions of HIIT per week. If you are trying to build muscle, limit it to one session. If you have more fat to lose, you may perform three HIIT sessions per week – but never more than that. Always remember to keep weights as the main focus of your workout!
What is your favourite form of cardio?