Ken is a certified personal trainer and strength and conditioning specialist. He graduated from kinesiology at the University of Calgary in 2010 and works as a personal and group trainer. He is currently in school for massage therapy.
Countless times I’ve walked into the fitness center and have seen the same people do the same repetitive cardio workout, going at XX kilometres per hour at a certain level on whatever machine is their favourite for literally hours on end. Day in and day out, these individuals go through the same routine expecting to see amazing improvements in their cardio capacity or a significant drop in body fat percentage. However, they are usually unable to obtain anticipated results.
Why? Repeating the same workout over and over again will mean the body will plateau because it has become used to that type and intensity of exercise. The solution? Change it up!
Frequency, intensity, time and type are principles of training that determine the results of an exercise program. Changing up the intensity of the exercise is one of the easiest and fastest ways to kickstart your body to change. Upping the intensity in any form of exercise will result in higher caloric expenditure in the 24 hours post-exercise — even when just sitting and resting — compared to not doing anything or doing steady-state cardio like a steady five km/hr run.
This type of more intense training, called high-intensity interval training, is perfect for the time-crunched student looking to get their exercise fix. With HITT, you can spend less time in the gym, but gain the same benefits. In terms of aerobic exercise, studies show that HITT will lead to more fat loss, as well as the ability to work harder for longer compared with steady-state exercise. Additionally, since HITT is more metabolically strenuous on the body, you don’t have to spend nearly as long doing it. As few as 10 minutes of intervals is enough to gain the desired results, such as decreased body fat, increased energy levels, improved focus and attention in your studies and a strengthened immune system to combat those nasty bugs floating around during exam time.
How can you incorporate HITT into your cardio workouts? Break your workout into intervals, one for work and one for rest. The optimal ratio of work to rest recommended for beginners is 1:3, with the goal of decreasing the resting time to a 1:1 ratio as you improve. After a light warm-up for five minutes, move into the interval training. For example, simply bike, run, row or do the stairs as hard and fast as you can for one minute, then slow it down to recover for three minutes. Increasing intensity can be as easy as manipulating speed, inclination or resistance. Repeat 3–10 times. After, make sure you do an easy cool down for 3–5 minutes. Challenge yourself every workout by decreasing the rest time or increasing the work time by 15–30 seconds at a time.
This is not to say that steady-state exercise should be abandoned enitrely — it is great for building up your cardio-base, lowering stress and aiding recovery from a heavy weightlifting day. If you have more time and are doing a longer cardio session, 15–20 minutes of HITT training integrated into your steady-state cardio routine will keep your workouts fresh and your body constantly guessing to achieve your fitness goals.