Cardiovascular Training, also known by its clinical name "This F’n Sucks," is the key ingredient to almost every health and fitness goal. Whether it be weight loss, fat loss, lean muscle mass, endurance training, sports performance, or just overall health, cardio should be… no, must be an integral part of your training. Most of you know this, some of you know it and just can’t stand that it’s true, and almost all of us want to know what’s the best damn way to get it done. I’ll explain to you the benefits of cardio and why studies have shown that High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is far surpassing the benefits of standard steady state cardio training.
The benefits of consistent cardiovascular training go far beyond the increased ability to just perform more cardiovascular training. I think many of us, approach cardio as the “oh, just get it done” part of our training. Some others, known as “Cardio Bunnies” make it the staple of their training, and I have witnessed some damn near kill themselves with hours and hours of steady-paced cardio. No matter who or what you are, I am definitely one for working smarter and not harder in my training (I actually prefer to go just as hard, but in the right direction). So, let’s take a look at why cardiovascular training is so important and how HIIT can maximize the results we are trying to get out of it. By having a regimented and consistent cardio plan you’re increasing the strength of your heart by thickening the heart muscle and increasing the size of the left ventricle. This results in increased stroke volume or the amount of oxygenated blood that can be pumped. The more oxygenated blood that can be pumped, the higher the maximum oxygen consumption or VO2 max is. With increased oxygen and increased mitochondria density, another benefit of cardio, comes the increased ability for the muscles to produce energy. The increase in energy increases the muscles ability to contract with more force, and thus returning more blood back to the heart; the viscous cycle of cardio. Ok, so what does all this really mean? It means, whatever level you’re trying to get to cardiovascular training is going to take you there, and HIIT is the best way to do it.
Your VO2 max, is your maximum ability to take in and use oxygen for energy. The body needs to uptake oxygen for muscles to produce energy and fat oxidation to take place. Subsequently the more oxygen the body can take in at higher levels of cardio training will result in a higher level of fat burning to occur. Studies show that there is a greater increase in VO2 max with HIIT exercise over steady state cardiovascular training. A study in 2008 showed fat oxidation to be significantly higher and carbohydrate oxidation to be lower after six weeks of HIIT exercise. A similar study in 2011 resulted in an increase in VO2 max and a greater loss of subcutaneous and abdominal fat in High Intensity Intermittent Exercise (HIIE) versus steady state cardio.
Skeletal muscle adaptations happen as well during a solid and consistent cardio program. One of the biggest being the increase in mitochondria. These are the energy systems within the cells that utilize oxygen to breakdown fat and carbohydrate nutrients use to produce ATP (energy). The more mitochondria the muscle cells contain the more energy the muscle has to offer. An increase in the density and number of mitochondria results in a more powerful muscle that can contract for a longer period of time. Just as stated before, HIIT increases the ability to burn more fat efficiently. Since mitochondria require oxygen to use fat for energy, the increase in both areas of the ability to take in oxygen, and the increase in mitochondria results in an increase in the ability to metabolize fat for fuel during exercise. The metabolic benefits of HIIT don’t stop after exercise. That’s right, HIIT exercise has shown to increase post-exercise energy expenditure as well. Excess post-exercise oxygen consumption or EPOC, is the effect of extended levels of oxygen consumption (caloric expenditure) to remain elevated after exercise. HIIT has shown in several studies to have higher EPOC levels over standard cardiovascular training.
So, if we take this information and break it down into the simplest of terms, we can conclude that HIIT cardiovascular exercise should be a part of everyone’s fitness regimen. If you’re looking to lose weight, the overall calories burned and amount of fat burned is just better with a HIIT program, than conventional steady state cardio. The extended calorie burn (EPOC) after your HIIT session will have you burning more calories post workout as well. Since your heart is stronger and you can take in more oxygen, you will be able to burn more fat during your resistance program as well, because you will be able to perform at higher levels of intensity during training. End State: HIIT is better for fat/weight loss.
If you’re a performance athlete of just about any kind, HIIT is the best way for you to train, period. No matter the sport and no matter the athletic requirements, every athlete can benefit from an increase in oxygen and energy producing muscles. The increase in VO2 max, stroke volume, and mitochondria result in a skeletal muscle system that can perform harder, longer! Show me a sport where that’s not beneficial… End State: HIIT is better for sport performance.
If you’re a bodybuilder, aesthetic athlete, or lifestyle fitness enthusiast, HIIT is the most scientific approach to reducing overall body fat while maintaining lean muscle mass. Research indicates that HIIT programs are significantly higher in fat oxidation and over carbohydrates, resulting in a higher percentage of fat calories burned during cardiovascular training. These results indicate a less likely need for carbohydrate depletion, or fasted cardio programs to achieve extremely low body fat percentages. These studies indicate a higher level of overall calories burned in a shorter period of time in relation to steady state cardio as well. End State: HIIT is better for bodybuilding, aesthetics, and lifestyle training.
High Intensity Interval Training Examples:
Sample 1: Track workout (35 min)
- Warm-up: Light 5-min run around track
- Interval: 400-meter runs at approximately 90% of maximal heart rate. Each 400-meter interval should be timed
- Rest Interval: Light jog or walk for same amount of time it took to run each 400 meter
- Work/Rest ratio: 1 to 1 ratio. The time for the interval (400 meter) and rest interval should be the same
- Frequency: Complete 5 repetitions of this sequence
- Cool Down: 10-min easy jog
Program 2: Sprint training workout (36 min)
- Warm-up: 5-min of light running
- Interval: 20-second sprints at maximal running speed.
- Rest interval: 10 seconds of rest between each sprint. Walking
- Work/Rest ratio: 2 to 1 ratio. The work interval is 20-sec and rest interval is 10-sec
- Frequency: 3 sets of 10 intervals. Take 3 min of rest between each set
- Cool Down: 10-min easy jog
Program 3: Treadmill workout (37 min)
- Warm-up: 5-min of light running
- Interval: Set treadmill incline at 5% grade and speed at 2.5 to 3 mph (fast walking speed). During each high intensity interval increase speed to 5 mph – 10 mph (80-90% running speed), while keeping grade at 5%. The length of the interval should be 1 min
- Rest Interval: 2-minute rest interval with the walking speed set to 3 mph. Do not adjust incline
- Work/Rest Ratio: 1 to 2 ratio. The work interval is 1-minute and the rest interval is 2-minutes
- Frequency: 8 repetitions of this sequence
- Cool Down: 10-minutes easy jog