The Best Cardio Intervals for Fat Loss: Part 2
July 19, 2011
By: Craig Ballantyne, CSCS, MS
If you don’t have variety in your program, you are more than likely to end up at a fat loss plateau soon rather than later. Variety is one of the keys to keeping that fat loss coming.
So not only should you have variety within your training week (i.e. alternate between two different interval training workouts, rather than just doing the same interval workout each time), but you should also change these workouts every 4 weeks.
So you need to change your training program every 4 weeks. To modify your interval training workouts, you can…
- switch exercise methods (and even use bodyweight exercises for intervals)
- increase or decrease the length of the interval (while decreasing or increasing the intensity, respectively)
- increase or decrease the number of intervals per workout
- increase or decrease the rest time between intervals
First, let’s take a look at the interval methods. Here is my list of preferred ways to do your intervals, ranked in order from best to worst, based on my experiences…
- Sprinting outdoors (and hills might be the absolute best)
- Strongman movements (Farmer’s walks, tire flips, car pushing)
- Bodyweight interval circuits
- Treadmill running
- Stationary cycle (upright preferred)
- Swimming (only works for competent swimmers)
- Elliptical & Crosstrainer machines
Okay, so how long should you do intervals and how the heck do you do bodyweight exercises as interval training?
First, I stand by what I said in Part 1. There does not seem to be a “best” interval training program. But that is good because it allows us to use variety in our approach. (So perhaps the best interval training method is simply the one that changes every 4 weeks.)
Interval recommendations have ranged from 15 seconds (from Muscle Media waaaay back in the late 90’s), to 5 minutes (these are known as aerobic intervals). So let’s take a look at each interval recommendation and all those in between.
The great thing about 15 second intervals is that you’ll be able to work at a very high rate (almost near your maximum power output), as long as you get adequate recovery between work intervals. The downside is that it is very difficult to do 15 second intervals on machines, because it takes a long time to “build up” and “bring down” the machine settings to the correct speed.
If you decide to use these short, high-intensity intervals, you should do so only if you already have an above average level of fitness. Your rest interval should be at least 15 seconds long, and can be as long as 60 seconds. The longer you rest, the harder you will be able to exercise in each interval.
20 seconds on, 10 seconds off
This method is known as the Tabata protocol, after the Japanese scientist that published a study on this routine. It is very demanding (obviously), and while some trainers have suggested this is the best method for interval training, I don’t think there is any proof that you will get better results.
Clearly, the pro’s with this method (as well as the 15 second intervals) is that you’ll get your workout done faster (provided you do the same number of intervals as any other workout). Again, it would be very difficult to perform this type of interval training on a machine, due to the time lag as you increase or decrease the settings. And finally, these too should only be performed by above average fitness levels.
The Turbulence Training workouts tend to use a lot of 30 second intervals. Beginners will rest up to 90 seconds between intervals, while advanced fitness levels will rest 30-60 seconds. The longer (relative) rest allows you to work harder in each successive interval (i.e. you’ll almost be able to match your performance in the first interval with each following interval). Short rest intervals (as in the Tabata protocol) will lead to a dramatic drop-off in performance with each interval. You can easily do the 3-second intervals on any machine.
These intervals are proven for fat loss, in addition to being effective for many team sports (such as hockey, soccer, basketball, and rugby). I have used 45 second intervals extensively in both areas of training. Not only will these tax your muscles, they will also tax your will to complete each interval (if done at the right intensity). Use 45-90 seconds of recovery between intervals. Do 3-6 intervals per workout. Your fitness and fat loss will skyrocket.
60 second intervals
Similar to the 45 second intervals in benefits and toughness. Use 60-120 seconds of recovery between each.
120 second intervals
These are now officially aerobic intervals, and can be used for both fat loss and improving aerobic capacity for sports and running. A great way to achieve two fitness goals at once. Exercise for 2 minutes and then recover for 2 minutes. Repeat 6 times. These workouts take longer (obviously), but can have a role in changing your body and improving your performance.
5 minute intervals
Same strategy as with the two minute intervals. This really increases your workout time, so these are only used with serious endurance athletes.
Beginner vs. Advanced
If you are thinking that these intervals all sound “too intense” for you, please don’t worry. Interval training is all relative. You don’t have to sprint for your life in each type of interval. Instead, just work at a slightly harder than normal pace. By the end of the interval, you should be getting tired, but you shouldn’t be gasping for air. Start conservatively and you will get the hang of it.
For example, if you regularly use level 5 on the stationary bike for 30 minutes continuously, you might try doing a 1 minute interval at level 7. Try that for an interval workout and let me know how it goes.
My favorite intervals for fat loss are between 30-60 seconds. These have been the staple intervals in my Turbulence Training workouts since the first workout was designed back in 2001. But again, I think you will get your best fat loss results if you vary your interval training workouts – just like you must vary your strength training workouts.
Intervals are the secret to success!
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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