A cardio workout is part of every solid fitness routine, but how do we know if we are getting the most out of the cardio sessions? I want to share with you how I have not only answered this question, but how I have been able to measure my results. Two years ago, I took my first VO2 test, which is a fitness test to measure how much oxygen your lungs can take in and how well your body is able to process that oxygen during exercise. The results can tell you what heart rate ranges you should be training in and how many calories you are burning in those heart rate ranges. Based on the results I got from this testing, I have made some deliberate changes to my cardio routine to see some serious results. What did I change, you might wonder? I began consistently doing High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) three times a week on top of my normal strength training routine with 2-3 days of moderate cardio in between strength/HIIT sessions. Even though I have always been fit, since I made this adjustment to my cardio routine, I have reduced my body fat by 3%!
This last February, I went to a fitness conference and learned all the ins and outs of the cardio fitness trends, and how people are achieving results. If I could sum up the lessons of the weekend in one sentence, it would read: we need to train at higher intensities to maximize our results. This affirmed what I have been doing and is why I want to share it with you. High intensity interval training is great for building and retaining lean muscle and bone and can also lead to more growth hormone production (this can offset changes in estrogen production that women going through menopause experience). In addition, HIIT has been proven effective in burning that infamously stubborn belly fat! Yes, your heard me correctly…BELLY FAT! But, how?
Our body can do amazing things when we let it work properly. You can burn an additional 100-150 calories over the 24-48 hours that your body is recovering from exercise. Even better, most of these calories come from visceral (fat surrounding the organs) and belly fat. This extra calorie burn may not seem like much, but this can equal an additional 5 pounds a year! To take advantage of this “after burn”, you have to be working at or above 75% of your VO2 Max. If you have not done a VO2 test, the other way to know if you are working hard enough is called the Talk Test. While doing your cardio, you should not be able to talk properly. Now I’m not talking about grammar here, I’m talking about your speech pattern. If you are only able to put together about 3-4 words before having to stop and catch your breath, you are at about 75% of your VO2 Max.
But…that’s hard! Yes, yes it is. HIIT is emotionally and physically exhausting, but let me tell you, the results speak for themselves! To see the benefits of HIIT, you want to perform 20-30 minutes of interval training 3 times per week maximum. More is not better in this case! If you do HIIT more than 3 times per week, you can actually reset your metabolism so that the moment you take your eye off the ball, you will quickly regain what you have worked so hard to lose plus some! That being said, consistency is key. Set a cardio schedule that works for you and stick with it!
Here are some example HIIT workouts to get you on your way to fabulousness:
• Beginner: 20 seconds at full speed (90-95% VO2 Max-can’t speak!), then 60 seconds active rest (walking, but still only able to put together 3-4 words at a time)
• Intermediate: 20 seconds at full speed (90-95% VO2 Max-can’t speak!), then 40 seconds active rest (walking or jogging, but still only able to put together 3-4 words at a time)
• Advanced: 20 seconds at full speed (90-95% VO2 Max-can’t speak!), then 20 seconds active rest (walking, but still only able to put together 3-4 words at a time)
Repeat the cycle for 10 minutes, then walk or jog for 5 minutes (at or above 75% VO2 Max-Only being able to put 3-4 words together at a time when speaking) and repeat the cycle again for one killer workout! Sweat will pour, mascara will run, and fat will burn! So like the start of a great musical performance, let’s get up, get ready, and “HIIT it”!