Detailed article on cardio for fat loss and overall conditioning: HIIT.
For more than a year now all my cardio has come in the form of mountain biking. As I work towards my two goals of 7% body fat and getting in the best cardio shape of my life, more structured targeted cardio training is required. At this early stage in my cut I’ll be doing cardio four days per week (on non-lifting days), and as I get closer to my goals I will probably increase the amount of cardio I’m doing to seven days per week. “Two-a-days” are also not out of the question if I feel they are necessary. I’m not kidding around about my cardio goal; it’s as important to me as my 7% body fat goal. Back in 2003 and 2004 I was doing cardio every day, and my conditioning was absolutely phenomenal. In 2004 my resting heart rate was 38 BPM and I was able to go all out for fairly long periods of time and then recover very rapidly. After 2004 my goals began to shift away from general conditioning and more towards building mass. That’s not to say I wasn’t in good shape–I was–but from a strictly cardiovascular standpoint I was nowhere near my potential.
As I mentioned on Wednesday, for Tuesday’s cardio I did a 26-mile ride through the Wekiwa forest. The sugar sand, elevation changes, roots and fallen leaves combine to make this run a fantastic cardio workout. Yesterday afternoon I decided to do a HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) cardio session on the recumbent bike, and I banged out my very first indoor cardio session in more than a year. The workout was brief, but intense: 14 minutes in total, 2 minutes warm-up followed by alternating intervals of 30 seconds @ 100% effort/45 seconds “active recovery”. “Active recovery” simply means you reduce your effort, but don’t stop working. I generally reduce my effort to around 60% during the recovery intervals. The “100% effort” intervals means just that: all out with absolutely nothing held back. Imagine that you are being chased by a pack of wild animals that wants to kill and eat you.
HIIT cardio is awesome for several reasons: it aids fat loss by boosting your metabolism (you continue to burn calories at an elevated rate long after you complete the workout), it quickly improves your cardiovascular conditioning, the workouts are relatively brief and they are never boring.
I feel that in order to get the most out of HIIT cardio you’ve got to constantly challenge your body. That means you can’t keep doing the same thing week after week. That 14 minute 30/45 (max/recovery) workout I did yesterday? That will seem like child’s play compared to what I’ll be doing in a few months. How you increase the difficulty is up to you, but here’s how I might do it. Note that the below would assume 2-3 HIIT cardio sessions per week. Intervals are expressed as max/recovery (in seconds).
Week 1: 14 minutes 30/45
Week 2: 18 minutes 30/45
Week 3: 22 minutes 30/45
Week 4: 14 minutes 45/45
Week 5: 18 minutes 45/45
Week 6: 22 minutes 45/45
Week 7: 14 minutes 60/45
Week 8: 18 minutes 60/45
Week 9: 22 minutes 60/45
Week 10: 14 minutes 60/30
Week 11: 18 minutes 60/30
Week 12: 22 minutes 60/30
If you don’t cheat yourself by slacking off on the all-out intervals you will find these workouts to be absolutely brutal. You’ll also be rewarded with the metabolism of a highly caffeinated rabbit and, with enough hard work, your conditioning will approach that of an elite athlete.
I should note that I don’t recommend HIIT in a fasted state. Not only will fasted HIIT lead to muscle loss, you can’t put forward the effort required with an empty tank. That said, don’t jump into a HIIT session right after eating – you’ll puke. I recommend that you give yourself an hour or two after a meal before you do a HIIT workout.