The Best Cardio Intervals for Fat Loss: Part 1
July 18, 2011
By: Craig Ballantyne, CSCS, MS
Is there really a best interval training system for fat loss?
Do intervals really work as well as regular cardio for fat loss?
I’m going to cover these, and many more questions in Part 1 of your lessons on interval training.
But this is not just interval training 101. Today, you’re going to leave this email with a graduate degree in interval training for fat loss.
I’ll answer both questions upfront before the lesson begins, and I’ll give more details on each as we go along:
- Conservatively, intervals are at least as effective as regular aerobic training for fat loss. Personally, I believe intervals are far superior. And there is no denying that intervals allow you to get your workouts done a lot faster than slow, boring cardio workouts.
- I have to admit, there is no best interval training program for fat loss. But that is a good thing, because there are so many ways that you can change your interval training to keep your fat loss results coming week in and week out.
By changing your training program every three to four weeks, you are using one of the key principles of Turbulence Training –
variety. It is essential to change your workouts this frequently, otherwise you might suffer from a dreaded fat loss plateau.
And if that is the case for you now, I’ll show you dozens of alternative interval training workouts you can use to kick-start your metabolism and fat loss.
Now what many people don’t know, or perhaps just fail to recognize, is that interval training is not just for advanced fitness superstars. No way. In fact, intervals are an effective and perhaps even the most effective method for beginners to get fit and lose fat.
First you have to understand that interval training is based on relative performance. While my intervals would be much too hard for a beginner, my intervals would be a joke for Lance Armstrong.
So even for those men and women that are just dipping their toe into the fitness waters for the first time in months, years, or dare I say, decades, they too can do interval training.
If you are a beginner and you can walk at 3.3mph for 20 minutes, then your intervals will start at a walk at 3.6mph for 30 seconds to a minute. That is interval training.
It doesn’t have to be high-intensity, sprint-to-the-death activity.
Instead, just increase the intensity slightly more than you can normally handle, and do so for a short time, and intersperse that with periods of easier exercise for twice the duration.
So if you did 1 minute at 3.6mph, drop down to 3.0mph for 2 minutes. Do that up to 6 times, and you’ve had yourself an interval session.
Now for those of you that have been doing only slow, traditional cardio, switching over to interval training 2-3 times per week is going to be the fat loss equivalent of throwing a lit, gasoline soaked rag on a pile of dry kindling.
Here’s why…research has given us a lot of evidence that intervals are superior to traditional cardio. First, a study from Laval University in 1994 compared interval training to aerobic training – straight up – over a 12 week training period. Subjects that used interval training had better results. They lost more fat. You can’t argue with that.
And second, interval training causes metabolic turbulence – also known as boost in your metabolism. Due to the high-intensity nature of intervals, there is more "turbulence" applied to the muscle. That means more muscle breakdown and more adaptations in the muscle.
Now I know that sounds very technical, but all you need to understand is that when all this extra activity goes on at the muscle level, it requires a lot more energy to return your muscle back to normal (i.e. to get out of turbulence and back to a normal resting state).
And when your body uses more energy, it means, in laymen’s terms, that you are burning more calories.
So it’s important for men and women not too get hung up on the calorie counters in the gym. First, because the calorie count of the workout is not the only factor in determining fat loss (intervals burn far more calories after the workout – more on that later).
And second, a report on CBS showed that the calorie counters on some machines are often significantly inaccurate.
Doesn’t that boil your blood when you think back to all those times you did slow, boring cardio and patiently watched the calorie counter creep up to your goal of 250, 300, or even 400 calories? And who knows if that was even accurate?
With intervals, you can forget about the calories on the machine. Just work hard, do the intervals, then leave the gym and let your muscles continue burning calories on its own while it recovers from exercise.
OK, time is up, so I’m going to leave off here for Part 1.
I apologize, you don’t have your Master’s of Science Degree in Interval Training yet, but you will after Part 2.
So your homework between now and next week’s class is to start incorporating interval training into your fat loss program. For beginners, see the outline above. Make sure to include a 5-minute specific warm-up and cool-down.
And if you truly did just peel yourself off the couch last week and you have not exercised in years, I insist that you see a doctor before you take up any exercise program. Believe me, you’ll thank yourself for it.
For more advanced fitness levels, let’s start with 60 second intervals.
Do a 5-minute specific warm-up, then exercise for 60 seconds at a slightly harder than normal cardio pace.
Follow that with 90 seconds of exercise at a very easy pace. (Don’t exercise too hard in the recovery period – that is one of the biggest mistakes people make with interval training!). Repeat this sequence for 3 more intervals (let’s just do 4 intervals for your first session).
Through trial and error, find an intensity that allows you to work to near fatigue – but not complete fatigue, there should still be some "gas" left in the tank – by the end of the 60 second interval.
In the next newsletter, I’ll discuss at least 6 different interval durations and when you should use them, as well as the best interval training methods – and don’t miss when I expose the most ineffective machine in the gym.
Hint – It is also the most common machine these days, yet I’ve yet to see a single person change their body by using this machine for their cardio and intervals.
About the Author
Craig Ballantyne is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist and writes for Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, Maximum Fitness, Muscle and Fitness Hers, and Oxygen magazines. His trademarked Turbulence Training fat loss workouts have been featured multiple times in Men’s Fitness and Maximum Fitness magazines, and have helped thousands of men and women around the world lose fat, gain muscle, and get lean in less than 45 minutes three times per week. For more information on the Turbulence Training workouts that will help you burn fat without long, slow cardio sessions or fancy equipment, visit www.TurbulenceTraining.com
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