The Top 5 Most Efficient Forms of Cardio

The Most Efficient Cardio You Can Perform

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This is an excerpt from Nick Nilsson’s book Muscle Explosion: 28 Days to Maximum Mass

Interval Training is simply THE most efficient form of cardio you can perform. You can get pretty much ALL the benefits of longer-duration cardio but without the long duration. Moreover, you don’t get the boredom, you don’t spend all your time doing it, and you don’t have nearly the risk of overuse injuries.

In a Nutshell:

Low-intensity exercise is defined as working at a heart rate of about 60 percent to 65 percent of your maximum heart rate (equal to 220 minus your age; thus, if you are 20 years old, 220 minus 20 is 200 maximum heart rate).

High-intensity exercise is defined as working at about 75 percent to 85 percent or more of your maximum heart rate. Using the example of 200 as your maximum heart rate, working at 60 percent of it would be 120 beats per minute. Eighty percent would be 160 beats per minute.

High-Intensity Exercise Burns More Fat AND Builds Muscle Mass

  • Low-intensity training burns about 50 percent fat for energy while high-intensity training burns about 40 percent fat for energy. This is not a huge difference.
  • Say, for example, that walking for 20 minutes burns 100 calories. Then 50 percent of 100 calories is 50 fat calories burned.
  • Now say 10 minutes of Interval Training at a high intensity burns 160 calories. Forty percent of 160 calories is 64 fat calories burned.
  • By doing the high-intensity work, you’ve just burned 14 more fat calories in half the time.

Starting to sound good? There’s more.

Low-intensity exercise only burns calories while you are actually exercising. That means the moment you stop exercising, your caloric expenditure falls to nearly baseline levels. Within minutes, you are not burning many more calories than if you hadn’t done anything at all.

High-intensity exercise, on the other hand, continues to boost your metabolism long after you are done-often up to 24 hours after, depending on the length and intensity of the training session. This means you are continuing to burn many more calories all day long!

Low-intensity exercise does nothing to build or support muscle mass. Maintaining muscle mass is critical to an effective fat-loss strategy because muscle burns fat even at rest. Want to keep your metabolism working to burn fat? Do whatever you can to build or keep your muscle tissue. That’s definitely the goal with this program!

High-intensity exercise has the potential to increase muscle mass. Compare the bodies of a top sprinter and a top marathon runner. The sprinter carries far more muscle mass. You won’t get big muscles from high-intensity training on its own but, from a physiological standpoint, high-intensity training is fairly similar to weight training when it comes to body response.

Different Types of Interval Training

Interval Training is based on a very simple concept: Go fast, then go slow. Repeat. It sounds easy, but within this simple formula are a tremendous number of possible variations and strategies you can employ to take full advantage of the power available to you.

Interval Training can be performed on almost any cardiovascular machine (treadmill, stair machine, stationary bike, elliptical trainer, etc.), as well as with almost any type of cardiovascular exercise (cycling, swimming, running, etc.).

Though the most convenient approach is to use time as a measure for intervals, you can also very easily use distance as your guide. For example, you can sprint between two telephone poles, then walk to the next one. You can sprint the length of a football field, then walk the width. You can even run up a flight of stairs then walk back down. The variations are truly endless!

Here’s a quick rundown of different types of Interval Training:

  1. Aerobic Interval Training
    This type involves relatively long work periods and shorter rest periods. Work periods are to be alternated with rest for the duration of the training. Work periods are generally two to five minutes long. The idea is to work at a speed that challenges you to make it to the end of that work interval. Your two-minute interval pace is, therefore, going to be significantly faster than your five-minute interval pace. The rest interval lasts 30 seconds to a minute. Naturally, the shorter the rest period, the tougher the training will be. Too much rest allows your body to recover too much, lessening the overall training effect of the exercise. Unlike interval sprints, this type of training can be done easily at the gym or at home, using a treadmill. If you decide to invest in a treadmill for cardio training, I recommend reading Nordictrack treadmill reviews before purchasing.
  2. Maximal High-Intensity Intervals
    This type of Interval Training is VERY high intensity and VERY effective for fat loss and cardio training. You essentially push yourself to the maximum on every single work interval you do!It is extremely effective when training for sports that require all-out repeated efforts, such as football, soccer, hockey, etc.If you want to get faster and recover faster, this is the training for you. Maximal Intervals are much shorter than Aerobic Intervals. Generally, the longest you’ll be able to perform a maximal effort is about 30 seconds, so all the work intervals are 30 seconds or less.Rest periods can be short or long, depending on what kind of shape a person is in and/or how much he or she wants to recover between intervals. Shorter rest periods make the work intervals more challenging, but the speed of the work will also drop quickly after a few intervals. Longer rest periods allow the body to recover a little more, allowing for faster speeds on more intervals. Rest periods should always be at least as long as the work periods to allow enough recovery to be able to perform well on the next work period.
  3. Fartlek Training
    Translated from Swedish, “Fartlek” means “speed play.” What is it? It’s simple: Fartlek Training is every type of interval rolled into one workout. You can start by jogging for five minutes, then walk for 30 seconds, then sprint for 30 seconds, then walk again, then run fast for two minutes and so on. The idea is to train at a wide variety of speeds, distances, and times to hit the widest variety of training parameters. This is an excellent way to keep your cardio interesting. You never have to do the same thing twice. This workout can last anywhere from 15 to 40 minutes, depending on the intensity at which you are working.
  4. Sub-Maximal High-Intensity Intervals
    Sub-Maximal Intervals are excellent for burning fat and building your cardiovascular conditioning. This type of Interval Training is very similar in concept and execution to Maximal Interval style. The difference: Instead of pushing yourself as hard as you can on each work interval, you work at a pace somewhat below your max. This allows you to do more total work intervals during the session while still keeping your intensity levels reasonably high.Most interval programs on cardio machines follow this principle. The resistance/speed is increased to a higher level for a set time period, then reduced for a set time period. The level is not so high that you must put your maximum effort into each work interval, but it is at a level you could not keep up for long periods.Your work level should be at about 80 percent to 90 percent of what you could do for a full-on maximum level for 30 seconds. Therefore, if your maximum is level 10 on the treadmill for 30 seconds, set your work interval to between eight and nine. You’ll be doing 15 work intervals with 15 rest intervals.
  5. Near-Maximal Aerobic Intervals
    This form of Interval Training basically combines Aerobic Interval Training with Maximal Interval Training to allow you to work at near-peak levels for long periods. This has the benefit of burning a tremendous amount of calories for longer periods of work time than is possible with normal intervals.With this training, the work intervals themselves are short, but the rest periods are much shorter! Instead of pushing yourself to the max on every interval, you work at a pace somewhat short of your max. This allows you to perform near your max for longer periods of time. It is a very challenging form of Interval Training.Start with a work interval of 20 seconds and a rest interval of five seconds. Set a pace that you can keep up for only about one to two minutes before needing to stop.Do that pace for 20 seconds, then go very slowly for five seconds. Then repeat this cycle for another 20 and five seconds. Keep repeating for a designated period of time, for example, five minutes, 10 minutes, or 15 minutes.This type of training works well with cardio machines that allow you to switch resistance instantly or very quickly (stationary bikes, stair machines, or elliptical trainers often allow this). Machines that must cycle slowly through their speeds as they change do not work well. (Treadmills fall into this category.) You can also do this by running then walking, cycling then pedaling slowly, or even swimming hard then stroking lazily. You’ll find it very challenging to constantly restart your momentum from scratch on every interval!

    Please note: It’s very important that you don’t stop completely when you take your short rest period. To get the most out of the most efficient forms of cardio, you still need to keep yourself moving, even if you’re moving VERY slowly!

Click here to get Muscle Explosion: 28 Days to Maximum Mass from the Amazon Kindle store.

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6 Responses to “The Top 5 Most Efficient Forms of Cardio”

  1. Very informative article. Most people do the same old cardio routine, when they could get much better results by incorporating the things you suggest in this article.

  2. I have found that a combination of intervals working towards minimal rest periods which obvo takes time to build upto is so effective as long as you are eating regularly throughout the day and constantly providing your body with quality fuel. And yes strength training def helps!

  3. Doing intervals is great, but I still find the most effective way to get people to lose fat is to build up their metabolism with strength training. Yes it’s hard, but it works!

  4. Hey Steve and Nick, great read! As a personal trainer, I have done a lot of experimentation on myself in terms of best exercise and diet for fat loss. (BTW, sitting in front of your computer all day does not work so well). I have had the best results when I used high intensity cardio intervals for 30-60 minutes most days of the week. And I have had the best luck on the elliptical and urban rebounder, of all things. I have some repetitive strain issues in my calves so sprinting and such are totally out.

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