Get back on track with cardio

Cardio benefits

Looking to shed some of those extra kilos? Well, dust off your Nikes because cardiovascular exercise is a key part of shaping up for summer.

Research has shown interval training to be one of the most effective tools for kickstarting serious fitness upgrades. Interval training (IT) isn’t exactly new – professional and elite athletes have been using IT for nearly a century to maintain their peak performance with the least wear and tear on their bodies.

So, what’s IT training?

An IT session involves alternating periods of high and low-moderate intensity, or bursts of hard then easier activity. The high intensities give the body the overload stimulus required to affect noticeable physical changes. The effort to stay at those intensities is difficult to maintain, so low-moderate sections allow some recovery without stopping the exercise.

IT can use large amounts of energy in a short time, and has a significant effect on metabolism after exercise completion. Regular exercisers who have stopped seeing gains in fitness often find the technique can help break past such plateaus.

For fitness professionals, IT is a science of specific time periods and work rates. To achieve optimal intensity levels, monitoring heart rate zones is practiced, ranging from 60 percent of the maximum heart rate, up to 90 percent and greater.

Where do I start?

Consulting a trainer is recommended in order to assess the right IT type for you and, importantly, if you are ready for it. The style of training is generally unsuitable for people starting exercise or with certain health issues.

IT is easily performed outdoors or indoors. Cardio machines such as treadmills, cross-trainers and bikes are practical options. Most have pre-set interval programs and the variables needed to monitor the stages on screen – time, heart rate, speed, resistance and elevation. Manual control of intervals allows for fine tuning of sessions, and it can really connect the exerciser to the activity, rather than just going through the motions.

A simple interval session of treadmill walking or running using elevation to control intensity is as follows:

1. Five-minute warm up at a comfortable, moderately paced walk or jog speed
2. Increase elevation to an incline that is challenging but manageable for three minutes (high intensity)
3. Lower elevation half way for three minutes (medium)
4. Elevate again for three minutes (high)
5. Lower to flat for three minutes (low)

Repeat the three-minute intervals for 30 minutes, building to one hour over a number of weeks. Allow recovery days after each session. This non-specific example does not refer to the heart rate zones or other measures used for a more individually suited IT session.

Make sure you seek advice from a trainer or even read up on the subject to ensure interval cardio training provides a real boost towards your personal fitness goals.