Most people wouldn't call cardio "fun," but believe it or not, sometimes increasing the challenge makes it more, well, maybe not fun, but more interesting. Enter the no-frills challenge.
The good news is that it's very brief and gets results quickly. The bad news; it's hard. I'm not talking hard as in checking your pulse to make sure you're in the target heart rate zone while watching CNN on the treadmill. Nope, I'm talking hard as in total, all-out effort on par with running for your life.
Now that we've got that straight, let me say right now that human beings are, by their very essence, goal-seeking creatures. They thrive on challenges and pushing the boundaries. I also believe you fall into this category, whether you know it or not. If your normal cardio routine is getting a bit stale, try this one on for size. The first week or so you'll be hating life, but if you get past the initial shock you'll love the quick results and intrinsically fun nature of this program.
The essential elements
Whatever terminology you choose to use, here's what you've got to have in place to get the best results from your cardio:
1) Minimal redundancy: This means your cardio workouts will vary in intensity, duration and mode of activity. This strategy increases results by improving recovery, minimizing boredom, and reducing the chance of repetitive overuse injuries.
2) Maximal intensity: The bread and butter of this program is interval training brief, maximal efforts followed by longer periods of lower intensity work. In addition, 25 percent of your workouts will be aerobic in nature. These "contrasting assignment" workouts accelerate recovery by stressing antagonistic energy systems. Think of these workouts as light days.
3) Progressive overload: You know how you're supposed to keep adding weight from workout to workout in the gym? Well, cardio is no different! The workouts that initially are sufficient to improve your fitness levels will be insufficient as you become fitter. Therefore, your training program must have a mechanism in place to ensure that your workouts are continuously more difficult as your fitness levels increase.
Reading isn't cardio, so here is your training program!
The program I'm laying out here will serve as an example of how to set up your weekly split. Basically, the objective is to perform three anaerobic interval sessions each week, on non-consecutive days (in this example we'll be using Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays). Each interval will last 60 seconds and will be composed of a one-to-three ratio of work to rest.
In other words (using rowing as an example), you'll row all-out for 20 seconds, and then back off to about half that speed for 40 seconds, and repeat for the indicated number of intervals.
Ideally, I want you to run for two of these four workouts, and here is why:
1) Running guarantees intensity. You can swim, bike or climb the Stairmaster lazily, but when you run you'll be working hard no matter what.
2) Running is convenient, simple and requires no special equipment or facilities.
3) Through mechanisms that have yet to be identified, trainees who run seem to have less abdominal body fat than those who perform other modes of activity.
Intensity requires variety
Now, despite my fondness for running, I want you to use two other exercise modes in this program. Why? Mainly to avoid overuse injuries that could result from pounding the pavement three to four days a week. Remember, your cardiovascular system and endocrine glands don't really know what activity is causing the stress, but your joints sure do. So we'll rotate activities to maximize the benefit and minimize the risks. Also, from a psychological standpoint, having a variety of activities in your program is a lot more interesting, which will help you adhere to the program.
When choosing your exercises, lean toward activities that are as dissimilar to running as possible. The ones I'll use here are rowing (on a Concept II rowing ergometer) and cycling (either on an ergometer or on a bicycle outdoors). You can choose alternatives to these choices, just make sure the exercises you choose allow quick and easy tempo changes. For example, stairclimbers are not usually the best choice because its hard to reduce your speed quickly and easily. On the other hand, elliptical ergometers work fine for this purpose, as do Versaclimber machines.
In addition to the three interval workouts, you'll also perform an EDT (escalating density training) workout that will be more aerobic in nature. Position this workout on the weekend (either Saturday or Sunday). This workout will always consist of a 15-minute time period where you'll run/jog/walk a fixed distance, and try to improve upon your time every time you repeat the workout.
Here is your weekly training split please take a moment to familiarize yourself with the basic structure of the program, then I'll meet you on the other side with more detailed instructions and tips on how to perform the various workouts.
Week one Mon Wed Fri Sat
Cycle Run Row EDT
(5 Intervals) (6 Intervals) (7 Intervals)
Week two Mon Wed Fri Sat
Cycle Run Row EDT
(6 Intervals) (7 Intervals) (8 Intervals)
Week three Mon Wed Fri Sat
Cycle Run Row EDT
(7 Intervals) (8 Intervals) (9 Intervals)
Week four Mon Wed Fri Sat
Cycle Run Row EDT
(8 Intervals) (9 Intervals) (10 Intervals)
Week five Mon Wed Fri Sat
Cycle Run Row EDT
(9 Intervals) (10 Intervals) (11 Intervals)
Week six Mon Wed Fri Sat
Cycle Run Row EDT
(10 Intervals) (11 Intervals) (12 Intervals)
Performing the interval workouts
Regardless of the activities you've selected for your intervals, the workouts are all performed the same way. You'll first perform a 10 to 15 minute warm-up session, executing the days chosen activity at a very easy pace until you start to break a sweat; at this point you're ready to go.
Once you're warmed up, it's time to complete your intervals for the day. Using your wristwatch to time yourself, simply go all-out for 20 seconds, and then back off to half that speed for 40 seconds, and repeat for the indicated number of intervals. It's really that simple (I'll have a few more detailed tips for you in just a bit).
Performing the EDT workouts
On the weekend, you'll perform a running workout that's a bit different from the interval workouts. I want you to pre-measure a 1.5 mile stretch of road (using your cars odometer is the easiest way to do this. Also, look for a tree or similar landmark that will be easy to recognize when you run the course) that you'll use every time you repeat this workout. The first time out, simply jog/walk for 1.5 miles, and then turn around and do the same thing coming back. (No need to warm up for this one).
I'm not really concerned about how fast you go the first time. In fact, if you're feeling busted up from the week's interval workouts, you can walk the entire distance. What I am concerned with is that you cover this same distance faster every time you do it! Other than that one requirement, use your intuition on this workout; be sure to time yourself accurately and beat your time each time out.
Here are some important suggestions that will help you get the most out of this program:
1) When performing either of the two running workouts, wear good shoes and land on your forefoot rather than your heels. This will allow your calf muscles to absorb the impact and will save your knees in a big way.
2) When performing the interval run, the best way to ensure that your rest segment is half the intensity of the sprint segment is to mark out a starting line, and then after your 20-second sprint, turn around and get back to that line in 40 seconds. Walking probably will not be fast enough, so may have to jog-walk.
3) The program outlines here starts with five intervals. If you're in poor shape and/or you haven't been running for a long time, you might want to start out with fewer intervals (just maintain the three steps up, one step back pattern outlined in the program). Conversely, if you're in great shape, you may choose to start off with more intervals. However, once you get up to 15 total intervals per workout, I think the costs start to outweigh the benefits.
4) I'll assume you will be resistance training at the same time you're performing this program. If this is the case, reduce your lower body lifting to once a week, and position it soon after the running interval workout (i.e., later the same day or early the next day), and don't train your calves. This will facilitate the best recovery and minimize the chance of overuse injuries.
5) The great thing about interval training is that it's so brief. Nevertheless, results depend on working hard; there's no way around this. So on those 20-second segments, really bust your tail!
Charles Staley is known as the Secret Weapon by his Olympic and professional athletes for his uncanny ability to see what other coaches miss. You can order Coach Staley's new book The Ultimate Guide to Massive Arms by calling (800) 519-2492 or by logging on to www.EDTSecrets.com.