I've written about interval training and steady-state cardio in previous blogs including my most recent blog on how to combine interval training with steady-state cardio for the best fat loss results. However, I wanted to revisit the issue since it causes much confusion when someone is trying to lose fat or increase conditioning.
If you are limited in the amount of time you have to train, and you want to maximize your fat loss, then you will need to address your diet and resistance training program first.
As mentioned in the Hierarchy of Fat Loss, if you only have 3 hours to train each week, your diet and metabolic resistance training program will be the most important thing to address. However, if you have more time, you would want to include interval training and so on and so forth as described in the article.
As I've mentioned in previous blogs, I've also used the Tabata method. Although Tabata's may not be ideal for fat loss (although there could be that benefit over time), they are good for anaerobic conditioning. That's one reason why I recommend using them as a finisher after a weight workout. Tabatas are short, but intense and won't interfere with your weight training or strength and hypertrophy goals.
If your goal is to gain strength or size while maintaining your body fat levels (or possibly losing some fat), then short conditioning workouts like Tabatas work well.
I have also used the various methods posted in the Metabolic Acceleration Training blog for conditioning benefits. These are the methods that Alwyn Cosgrove has used with phenomenal results with his clients. And when it comes to research vs. real-world results, the real-world results prove their effectiveness.
There are also countless studies showing the benefits of intervals for fat loss and conditioning over traditional steady-state aerobic exercise. In fact, Alwyn Cosgrove put many of those studies in his Real World Fat Loss manual and DVD (many of which are also posted on his blog).
The reality is that there are not as many studies proving the effectiveness of the various metabolic acceleration methods he (and others) has used - but again, real-world results trump what the research says. And if he is training more than 200 people each year at his facility and has been doing so for more than 10 years and has found those methods to be the most effective for the thousands of people he's trained, that says something!
Not only that, but from my own experience and experience training others, these various methods work far better than what I see the majority of people doing in the gym.
Putting It All Together
Designing a HIIT workout shouldn't be too difficult. You're going to alternate periods of high intensity with periods of moderate or low-intensity for your recovery. This, of course, will be dependent on your fitness level and is fully adjustable as needed.
For example, if you can't sprint for the time required, you could jog or perform a fast walk for your "intense" portion of the interval and then walk for your rest or recovery portion.
Another benefit to interval training is that it doesn't require a lot of time. Many people will start out with as few as three intervals for a total workout time of 9-10 minutes (after your 3-5 minute warm-up). As for how often to perform interval training, I recommend anywhere from 1-3 days each week depending on the time you have available and your goals.
You can use a variety of methods for interval training (sprinting or jogging, jumping rope, weight circuits, bodyweight exercises, stationary bike, stair climber, rower, etc.) and you can use different work-to-rest ratios to make them more or less intense.
Typical work-to-rest ratios will be 1:2, 1:1.5 or 1:1. Which one you use will depend on your level of conditioning and goals. It would be a good idea to start with a 1:2 work-to-rest ratio and progress over time to 1:1.
Some of the most common work-to-rest ratios include the following:
- 30 secs "hard" (8-9 out of 10) with 60 secs "easy" recovery (4-6 out of 10)
- 30 secs "hard" with 45 secs "easy" recovery
- 30 secs "hard" with 30 secs "easy" recovery
- 45 secs "hard" with 90 secs "easy" recovery
- 45 secs "hard" with 75 secs "easy" recovery
- 45 secs "hard" with 45 secs "easy" recovery
- 60 secs "hard" with 120 secs "easy" recovery
- 60 secs "hard" with 90 secs "easy" recovery
- 60 secs "hard" with 60 secs "easy" recovery
- 90 secs "hard" with 180 secs "easy" recovery
- 90 secs "hard" with 90 secs "easy" recovery
- 120 secs "hard" with 120 secs "easy" recovery
A sample interval training program for someone new to this type of exercise would be as follows:
- Warm-up: 3-5 minutes (fast walk, jog, bike, bodyweight circuit, etc.)
- Interval 1: Perform 30-second "hard" (8-9 out of 10) interval
- Recovery 1: Perform 60-second low-to-moderate-intensity (4-6 out of 10) recovery period
- Interval 2: Perform 30-second "hard" interval
- Recovery 2: Perform 60-second low-to-moderate-intensity recovery period
- Interval 3: Perform 30-second "hard" interval
- Recovery 3: Perform 60-second low-to-moderate-intensity recovery period
- Cool down: Perform 3-minute walk, slow jog, bodyweight circuit or bike
In addition, here's a good article that John Berardi posted on his blog today about the topic of interval training, steady-state cardio and how to progress: Exercise Progressions
If you have any questions, let me know!