Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Intervals for Cardio Fitness

My favorite way to approach cardio exercises these days is through Interval Training. I love it and I can’t say enough good things about it. I use this same principle with running, stationary bike, elliptical machine, and (by far the most challenging) the StairMaster.

So here’s the basic idea of what I do for a 35 minute session of cardio:

Start with a few minutes (3-5) at a reasonably slow warm-up speed.
Do 30 seconds at a fairly fast pace, followed by 1 minute at a comfortable slower speed.
Repeat the 30 seconds fast, 1 minute slow pattern for 25 minutes. You can lengthen the fast part of the interval to 1 minute, but if you do, increase the slow part also to about a minute and a half or even two minutes if you need to. The length of your fast and slow intervals will depend on how intense your fast periods are as well as whether your slow periods are slow enough to let you recover properly.
Follow by a 5 minute cool down, gradually decreasing your speed.

I find that the first few intervals aren’t too difficult and I start to wonder if I’m even going to sweat. But after about 3 or 4, it catches up to me and it’s amazing!
One thing I really like about it is that it’s high intensity and, at the same time, the slower resting periods allow my muscles and joints to recover so that I don’t seem to get overuse injuries like tendonitis anymore. Also, it seems like it’s by far more effective at increasing cardio fitness and burning calories.
Plus, I NEVER get bored with this approach. It seemingly activates enough good brain chemistry to give me a really nice soaring-through-the-clouds-on-the-back-of-a-flying-tiger feeling that lasts for hours after I’ve finished.
I don’t do this for each and every cardio session. In fact, I never do it two days in a row (to allow time for muscle recovery). On the days I don’t use intervals, I just do the usual steady speed cardio with 5 minute warm up and 5 minute cool down.


  1. I just discovered intervals a little while ago and love them too! It sure beats the 6+ mile runs with little results. The human body seems to adapt to using less energy for a steady state cardio routine so quickly, thus lessening the results. Plus, as a skinny guy trying to keep as much muscle as I can, longer cardio sessions seem to work against me. I have found that interval training "saves" muscle when part of a lifting routine. Maybe because it is more anaerobic? I know the oxygen consumption is a lot higher than long, slow cardio. Thanks for confirming the research I did!

  2. Nice illustration too, by the way. I really like how the wings almost act as a set of parenthesis, drawing your eyes to the important information between them.

  3. Thanks Jeremy! And, yes, interval training is more anaerobic. The bursts of speed are pushing your muscles to grow. Yay!

  4. Its amazing how unimportant a lot of people see cardio.You have to do cardio!.Do you cardio before or after your workout?

  5. Julie, do you find it more beneficial to do cardio upon awakening or after your weight training? I fight with it. I'm a groggy morning person and often am really spent after a heavy lifting session. I do gravitate toward morning cardio, though, as it does get my system going (once I actually get started)! LOL

  6. We used to do cardio after we did our weight training, thinking that it would give us more energy to lift and then the cardio would help metabolize some of the lactic acid in our muscles and we wouldn't end up getting as sore. Maybe it's all true, but a few years ago, Boris and I started doing the cardio first and we found that it actually prepared us better to lift weights (muscles really warm!) and didn't take any energy away from the lifting. And whatever soreness we experience seems to be pretty much unchanged. So I vote for doing cardio first.
    As for Joe's question about cardio upon awakening, I say NO WAY I'm doing that! I don't really believe in what I've heard are the advantages (more fat burn) and if I try to push out too soon before I'm really awake, fed, and moving, I don't get as good of a workout and I end up much more tired later in the day. But if you can handle it and you feel that it gets your system going in a way that you enjoy, I don't see a downside. Just don't expect to see me out there before breakfast, Joe! :)

  7. Great blog Julie :) Its a nice companion to the art blog. In lieu of this particular post, I am a big fan of interval training. I get bored really fast when I run or do any cardio for a set amount of time, so a friend of mine introduced me to intervals and it helped a bunch. It keeps me going and I end up going even farther or doing more.
    Like Joe above, I too am a fan of cardio in the morning. It actually kick starts my day and I feel great! It definitely works for me.
    I am really curious to try the breakfast cereal recipe and the tempeh burgers. I'm as carnivorous as they come, but I love trying new things. Again this is a wonderful blog and the information in it is definitely a great resource. Kudos, madame.

  8. The last marathon I ran, I really cranked up the interval training. It was helpful. I look at it with this metaphor for lifting weights: interval training is like your heavy lifting day, you are building cardio "strength." Regular cardio is like your light lifting day where you build muscular endurance with high reps. But are building cardio enurance. You need both to make progess.

  9. Yes I too am a fan of interval training and have been doing it off and on (between injuries) for years! I agree that varying the type of cardio and or machines keeps the work out fresh...

    I am going to have to try some of your recipes too!


  10. I'm glad to see that this approach is so well-liked, but I guess there's a good reason for that!
    PS about the early morning cardio issue discussed earlier: I do like best to do cardio in the morning, just not before breakfast. But, I have to say that sometimes I get a mid-afternoon slump and doing some cardio at that time can be great for extending your energy later into the day.