My fitness goal was to add more cardio to my regimen. Granted, I didn't wait until Jan 1, 2005 to make this change, but nevertheless, it was something a little newer for me.
I typically did some cardiovascular work a few days a week, but I dreaded that 30-40 minutes on the machines. It wasn't hard to find excuses to nix the cardio sessions.
I think it was Dennis Leary who said it best "why is it that we all get in our cars, drive 30 minutes to the gym, only to walk in place on a machine that gets us nowhere. We then turn back around and drive 30 minutes home." I'm paraphrasing, but you get the gist.
No wonder people's goals fall between their fingers; cardiovascular exercise, just like anything in life, can be monotonous and boring if not varied.
The Body's Energy Systems
Before we start, I think it's good to provide a bit of background. For those who aren't interested, sorry, I've been in school for 10+ years and the opportunities I have to discuss this information are very limited.
First of all, remember that ATP is the muscle's energy currency. It's like cash. Second, muscle cells store limited amounts of ATP. Therefore, because muscles need a constant supply of ATP for energy, there has to be a system(s) in place to provide this energy.
There Are Three Metabolic Pathways That Can Do So:
- Formation of ATP by phosphocreatine (something stored in the muscles) breakdown.
- Formation of ATP via the degradation of glucose (carbohydrate in the blood) or glycogen (stored carbohydrate). This is called glycolysis.
- Oxidative formation by use of oxygen.
The first two pathways are called anaerobic ('an' meaning without and 'aerobic' meaning oxygen). Therefore, those two pathways do not need oxygen to function.
The phosphocreatine system provides energy for muscular contraction at the onset of exercise and during short-term, high intensity exercise (typically around 5 seconds). Activities like sprinting 50 meters, weight lifting, or a football player exploding off the line, would all primarily use this system. Then, the body rests and reformation can occur. Keep in mind that during these types of activities, you're huffing and puffing because you do not have enough oxygen to breath with a normal rhythm.
The second system capable of producing ATP fairly rapidly without oxygen is called glycolysis. This involves the breakdown of glucose (blood sugar) or glycogen (stored carbohydrate) to produce ATP. Once the activity becomes too demanding (with increasing duration or intensity), the body "shifts" into the third system to continue to provide the necessary energy (ATP) to the working muscles.
The third pathway is called aerobic (remember, 'aerobic' means oxygen). This pathway needs oxygen to work, which subsequently, means the body is working at a much lower intensity (think treadmill walking or jogging) so you can still breath at a fairly normal rate.
This is all important so you understand why you're doing what you're doing and not just following the herd.
If you're reading this and wondering "so how do I vary my exercise? My gym only has treadmills, bikes, and elliptical machines. That leaves very few unique options." Well, my friend, a great way to burn blubber, is to burn rubber! No, not in your car-unless yours is one of those Fred Flinstone deals where the feet go through the floor. I'm talking about sprinting!
If you've been stuck in the same cardio rut for sometime now, get outside (or if you live in the north like me and being outside with negative wind chills is dangerous, get to a treadmill).
WARNING: Sprinting will cause you to be short of breath, weak in the knees, and so fatigued you'll want to collapse. Do not incorporate sprinting into your workout if you are a novice; sprinting is for intermediate and advanced trainees.
Sprinting is more of an anaerobic type activity and will get your heart thumping like no other. Studies have shown that short duration, high intensity activities actually burn more energy (calories) post-workout than do longer duration, lower intensity activities, like walking.
In fact, picture the physique of a marathon runner compared to a sprinter; sprinters are super lean and very muscular. To me, that's the quintessential great physique.
So here's what I want you to do to begin your interval training: Eliminate all slow, aerobic training at this time. Begin by adding sprints two times per week to your normal resistance routine. Now, I am far from a qualified track coach, but I can tell you to stand up as tall as possible when running (rather than hunching over when fatigued, which is common). Use your hamstrings to propel you forward, meaning your heels should kick off the ground rather high and look straight ahead the entire time.
Notice the different bodies of a sprinter, marathon runner & walker.
For a warm up I prefer walking a lap around the track and then jogging one lap around the track. Another very wise idea is to take exaggerated strides during the end of your walk to help stretch the hip flexors (top part of the front of your legs).
At the end of your final sprint, walk slowly to catch your breath; stretch all areas of your legs. If you are not accustomed to sprinting, the next day (or two) your entire body will be sore. You will feel this in your abs, obliques, hamstrings, quadriceps and hip flexor area. These sprinting days can either be coupled to a resistance training workout, or completed on an entirely different day on their own.
Sample Four Week Plan
- Week 1:
Days 1 and 2: Start with a 60 second jog, followed by a 15 second sprint, 60 second jog, etc. Allow 3 days of "active recovery," between sprints. Repeat these 60,15 cycles 6 times each (6-60 second jogs and 6-15 second sprints). Allow 3 days of "active recovery," between sprints.
- Week 2:
Days 1 and 2: Start with a 60 second jog, followed by a 15 second sprint, 60 second jog, etc. Repeat this cycle 8 times. Allow 3 days of "active recovery," between sprints.
- Week 3 (notice, there are 3 sprinting days this week):
Days 1, 2, and 3: Start with a 60 second jog, followed by a 15 second sprint, 60 second jog, etc. Repeat this cycle 10 times. Allow 2 days of "active recovery," between sprint days.
- Week 4:
Days 1, 2, and 3: Start with a 60 second jog, followed by a 15 second sprint, 60 second jog, etc. Repeat this cycle 12 times. Allow 2 days of "active recovery," between sprint days.
That's it for this month. In the near future, I'll outline a different program to continue making that body into a fat burning inferno. Never forget the importance of diet. It doesn't matter how hard you train; if you're not following a sound diet, you will not efficiently lose weight.