Your Guide to Maximizing Cardio Workouts for Faster and Better Results

Your Guide to Maximizing Cardio Workouts for Faster and Better Results

We all love the endorphin hormone release we get from a cardio workout. The buzz can be addictive. But, there’s no gain without pain.

It's not only physical endurance that can make getting our cardio fix at the gym such a challenge. The valuable time and sheer willpower it takes can be enough to put off the most seasoned of fitness fanatics.

So, what changes can you make to your cardio workouts to get a greater return for all the effort you put in? Read on to discover how to get more bang for your buck the next time you work up a sweat.


HIIT Explained

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a broad term used to describe workouts that consist of short bursts of intense exercise alternated with recovery periods.

A typical HIIT workout will last between 10 and 30 minutes. That makes it a really attractive option if you’re short of time and trying to fit an effective workout into a work break, for example.

HIIT workouts can give you health benefits similar to twice as much moderate-intensity exercise.


Key Advantages of HIIT

Here are some of the ways HIIT can help you get more from your workout:

With HIIT, it’s possible to experience changes to your physical and mental health in a matter of weeks. You’ll leave the gym feeling a new level of power and productivity.

You should always stick to the guidance related to HIIT that experts agree on. That is to limit HIIT to two to three times per week. You should allow your body to recover for at least 48 hours in between your HIIT sessions.


Adapting Workouts to an HIIT Style

A difficulty with some cardio workouts can be the toll they take on our joints, particularly the knees.

Your workout does not necessarily have to involve sprinting outdoors on a concrete surface. There are plenty of low-impact options that can be as effective as running and walking.

You can adapt an HIIT workout to a type of exercise that’s far less likely to cause any physical damage. That means using the theory of HIIT when you're swimming, boxing or cycling on a stationary bike.

There are several accepted work-to-ratios you should consider:

  • To improve aerobic fitness: 1:1 (eg: work for 30 seconds & rest for 30)
  • To train anaerobically for power: 1:5 (eg: work for 15 secs & rest for 75)

The key to making HIIT work lies in the intensity. You mustn’t coast during the work periods. Here are our 5 HIIT favorites:


Workout 1: Rowing

Rowing works most of the major muscle groups on each stroke. It can burn around 600 calories an hour, making it an ideal choice for an HIIT workout.

If you haven’t rowed a lot recently, it’s best to start out with a few days of easy to moderate rowing before embarking on an HIIT workout.

The rowing damper is the adjustable tab on the side of the machine. Set the damper to between 3 and 5 on its scale of 1-10.


The Workout:

Duration: 30 minutes

1. Begin your session with a 5-minute warm-up:

Start rowing gently, gradually building up pressure during the first two to three minutes. After this, row 10 strokes moderately hard, 10 easy, 15 a little harder, 15 easy, 15 hard, 15 easy and 15 very hard. After this, row gently until you hit the 5-minute mark.

2. 10 x alternate 1 minute of hard rowing followed by 30 seconds of easy rowing:

Imagine measuring your rating of perceived exertion (RPE) on a scale of 1 to 10. Your RPE for the first minute should be between 7 and 9 and then between 1 and 2 for the subsequent 30 seconds.

Total time: 15 minutes

3. 3 x 2 minutes of hard rowing followed by 2 minutes of easy rowing

Total time: 12 minutes

4. 3 minutes to cool down at a  gentle, comfortable rowing pace.

You can adapt this workout in various ways. For example, you could turn it into a pyramid workout that offers a useful variety of interval lengths.
Work out for: 1 minute, 2 minutes, 3 minutes, 4 minutes, 3 minutes, 2 minutes, 1 minute. You should take 1 minute of rest in between each work piece.
You should stick to a pace that’s moderately intense on the way up the pyramid, and then aim for maximum intensity on the way back down.


Workout 2: Elliptical

An elliptical trainer or cross-trainer enables an excellent cardio workout without causing excessive pressure on the joints. The upper movements help to keep the shoulders and arms toned.

Using this machine can help strengthen the heart, lungs, and muscles. It will build up stamina and endurance.

Set the machine at a mid-level effort position.


The Workout:

Duration: 30 minutes

1. Start the  session with an 8-12  minute warm-up:

Warm-ups are crucial and should last a minimum of 8 minutes. Gradually increase the intensity so that by the end of your warm-up, your RPE should reach 7 out of 10.
By the end of the warmup, you should be breaking into a sweat. This helps to increase body temperature, blood flow and fat burning.

2. 4 x work pieces with easier rest periods in between:

1 x 1 minute of RPE training between 7 and 10 then 1 minute at an RPM of 1-2

1 x 2 minute of RPE training between 7 and 10 then 2 minute at an RPM of 1-2
1 x 3 minute of RPE training between 7 and 10 then 3 minute at an RPM of 1-2
1 x 4 minute of RPE training between 7 and 10 then 4 minute at an RPM of 1-2
Again you can adapt this kind of training to the pyramid method as in the rowing workout above.


Workout 3: the Treadmill

A key advantage of using this machine is that it lessens the potential for harmful impact on the knees compared with running outdoors.

You’ll need to adjust the speed and incline throughout the workout.


The Workout:

Duration 30 minutes

1. As ever, start the session with a warm-up:

Keep the incline at 0 percent or flat and walk at a pace so that you're working at an RPM of 4 for 4minutes.

2. 4 sets of high intensity running followed by brisk walking as follows:

3 minutes at RPE of 8 with a 5 percent incline then 2 minutes of brisk walking
4 minutes at RPE of 8 with a 6 percent inline then 2 minutes of brisk walking
5 minutes at RPE of 8 with a 7 percent incline then 2 minutes of brisk walking
6 minutes at RPE of 8 with an 8 percent incline then 2 minutes of brisk walking


Adapt this training session by varying the incline or by doing consecutive 2-minute high-intensity sprints followed by a minute of brisk walking in between.


Workout 4: Spinning or Cycling

Spinning lets you work out in a low-impact, high-intensity training session. It’s ideal for HIIT and lets you burn off fat and calories effectively. Some spin classes, for example, claim to burn off up to 900 calories an hour.

Music can really help to make this kind of workout more appealing, particularly dance tunes with fast beats. You can adjust the level of resistance to suit your fitness level.


As a starter, try this 10-minute session:
  • Begin with a 2 minute warm-up at an RPE of 5
  • 20 seconds with maximum effort pedaling
  • 1-minute recovery cycle at an RPE of 1-2
  • 30 seconds with maximum effort pedaling
  • 5-minute recovery cycle at an RPE of 1-2
  • 45 seconds maximum effort pedaling
  • 2-minute cooldown at an RPE of 1-2
  • 30 seconds with maximum effort pedaling
  • 1-minute cooldown at an RPE of 1-2

You can adapt this workout for a longer session by using the pyramid technique from the rowing workout.


Workout 5: Advanced Upper Body HITT

This dumbbell workout is going to help you to tone your chest, arms, and back at a very brisk pace. If you’re not toast after 15 minutes, you’re superhuman. Rest after each exercise for the same period ie: on a 1:1 ratio of work v rest.

    1. Close-grip style bench press: 20 seconds
    2. Close-grip style bench press with crunch: 30 seconds
    3. Close-grip style bench press with crunch and leg lowers: 60 seconds
    4. Renegade row from a weighted walkout: 30 seconds
    5. Renegade row from a weighted walkout to Knee Raise and Twist: 60 seconds
    6. Squat hold: 45 seconds
    7. Renegade rows: 30 seconds
    8. Squat hold: 45 seconds
    9. Dumbbell over-the-shoulder wood chop: 30 seconds
    10. Squat and over-the-shoulder wood chop: 45 seconds
    11. Squat thrust and over-the-shoulder wood chop: 75 seconds
    12. Cooldown stretch: 60 seconds


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