Interval Cardio: Short but Sweet

Cardiovascular exercise a/k/a “cardio” is the type of physical activity that requires the lungs to supply the body with oxygen. In other words, anything that involves a lot of repetitive movement that makes your lungs work. Lung strength and the body’s ability to use oxygen is a necessity for any athlete of any sport. Cardio, where you run or cycle at the same pace for 30+ minutes, because it is repetitive, can be boring. Not this form of cardio!

challenge your body

The cardio I’m talking about is High Intensity Interval Training often called HIIT. Interval training mimics the “on/off” pace of most sports. What I mean by this is an intense sprint, as hard as you can, for a short amount of time (around 30 seconds), then rest for several seconds up to a minute before repeating. This really conditions your cardiovascular system (heart and lungs) and trains your body to supply the muscles with oxygen under high demands, in a short amount of time. This is just what an athlete needs.

A real life example would be the 20 seconds of a football play. There is a short time of giving an all-out effort then resting as the players reset formation before the next play all to repeat this again.

Another example would be the down court dribble when on offense while playing basketball, which slows when the offense reaches the defense. And another would be a 45 second shift in a hockey game.

Steady state cardio uses mainly fat for fuel and the calorie burn after the activity comes to a halt. High Intensity Interval Training uses about the same amount of calories from fat, but also uses glycogen, the stored form of carbohydrates.. Glycogen is the reserve source of energy for emergencies to fuel the body when food is not available. Glycogen is derived from eating carbs and this is why you see athletes “carb load” leading up to a competition. Everyone’s “glycogen tank” holds different amounts, which is dictated by your activity level and lifestyle, so there is no generic number.

Remember, steady state cardio burns muscle along with body fat!  If you are an athlete this is NOT want you want. Since the duration of HIIT is so short, your body will be less likely to turn to muscle for fuel


Body fat loss is more than just burning calories from actual fat, but burning calories in general. HIIT burns around the same amount of calories from fat as steady state cardio, however, up to 3x the amount of calories from glycogen unlike steady state! So the end result is more calories burned. HIIT also brings about an “afterburn effect” known as Excess Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption. Simply, even though your breathing returns to normal, your muscles and cells are still working and burning calories up to a day later.

do-your-tabatasTabata Training, devised by a Japanese scientist for the Japanese Olympic speed skating team, is a method that consists of a sprinting portion (which can be done running in place or by substituting jumping jacks or any body weight cardio) for 20 seconds followed by a mere 10 seconds of rest. You repeat this for total of 8 times or 4 minutes total. The 10 seconds of rest is where the true challenge is because it is so short, is almost does not exist.

Anyone can interval train and the beauty of it is there is no right or wrong.

If you aren’t feeling high energy you could do:

- 3-4 rounds of 20 second sprints and 20 seconds of low intensity or rest.

On the other hand, if you are feeling strong you could do:

- 4-8 rounds of 45 second of sprints followed by 20 seconds of slow pace.
Another benefit of this type of training is that it only takes 10-30 min.

The shorter the rest time the more challenging this is.

The more you put into it, the more gains you get – greater stamina, lung strength and calorie burn!


WITHOUT CARBOHYDRATES IN YOUR SYSTEM, THIS WORKOUT WILL BE VERY VERY DIFFICULT. Make sure you eat a form of carbs at least an hour before trying this type of exercise.


ALSO DRINK WATER! Not just before the training but after as well because your body temperature will raise a lot during this. To keep your organs safe your body has to be hydrated. Plus you probably will sweat much more than usual so replace the water that is lost.


Examples of interval cardio:

~ Jumping Jacks (body weight, so no equipment is needed)

~ Mt Climbers (a very challenging body weight exercise when done at high speed)

~ Running on land or a treadmill

~ Cycling on a bike or recumbent bike

~ Burpee (this is VERY demanding and VERY effective, as it works your chest, shoulders, triceps, quads, core and cardio)

(You could use any HIIT timer app on a smart phone, and place it on the ground in front of you as it has a siren that notifies when the intervals are up. Also, you can always set your phone on a stop watch app, place it on the ground in front of you and look down at it from time to time.)

Sample HIIT workout:

Circuit: Each exercise is back to back until all are done once. Do this 4 times with 30-45 seconds rest in between each set.

~ Jumping Jacks: 30 seconds

~ Crunch: 30 seconds

~ Mt Climber: 30 seconds

~ Plank: 30 seconds

Here is an intense Tabata workout that follows the protocol: 20 seconds of work for the exercise, 10 seconds of rest, then repeat for the next exercise.

~ Push Up

~ Jump Squat

~ Crunch

~ Mt. Climber

~ Diamond Push Up

~ Lunge

~ Plank

~ Jumping Jacks


Photos from and


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