That's right, I said it. Ditch the steady state cardio. That means no more slugging around on the cardio machines for hours at a time thinking it's the only way to keep your heart healthy. If you're asking yourself "what ever will I do with all my new spare time?" I have the answer. It's called HIIT.
HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training and it consists of, well, high intensity training. But it's not high intensity all the time; our bodies can only work at a very high intensity for a short period. I'll save the physiological reasoning of why this is true for another time and get to the meat and potatoes of this type of workout. During an HIIT workout, you perform ~20 seconds of a high intensity movement (around 80-90% of your heart rate max) and then rest for ~40 seconds, which allows you to recover just enough to do it again. You repeat this cycle until all of your given sets are completed. Now I bet you're thinking "Why should I switch to this type of training? What are the benefits for me?".
If you are training for a specific event that requires direct cardio endurance work then you should continue to incorporate steady state cardio in your routine. This includes marathon runners, marathon cyclists, or other similar events. I have a lot of respect for people who do these things but I also have to admit that I think you're absolutely nuts 😂. If you're more like myself and are simply trying to maintain your overall/heart health then you'll be happily surprised by how effective HIIT can be. Recent research has shown that ~20 minutes of HIIT has similar effects on the cardiovascular system to ~40 minutes steady state cardio. That's right, the same health benefits in 1/2 the time! Think of how much more you could get done in your day if your workout took 1/2 the time without having to sacrifice your health. Game changer!
Not only will it give you more time in your day, it's also much more enjoyable. I would personally rather walk over a pile of Legos than hop on the treadmill and run for 40-60 minutes. With HIIT you get to pick what movements you enjoy the most (or hate the least) and perform them full throttle for a short period of time. A list of common choices are sled pushes, sprints, high knees, butt-kicks, jumping jacks, running in place, air-squats, or almost anything else you can think of. The added bonus of this is that you can use all of these movements in the same workout. Try performing one round of a each exercise to mix things up. This will keep boredom at bay while also increasing the variability of your training, which helps prevent injuries. Learn more about why variability helps by reading my blog post "Why Variation is Important to Staying Injury-Free".
This article isn't supposed to make steady state cardio out to be the devil's work. It has a time and place and if you enjoy it, keep doing it. It's just important to understand that you have more than one way to keep yourself healthy. Find what works best for you. Do some research on HIIT for more specific programs and how to calculate your heart rate max. It's been proven to be safe and effective for most populations (older and heart issues included) but make sure to check with a healthcare professional and perform it under their guidance if you are unsure or have any concerns. As always, if you are finding it difficult to complete your workouts due to pain or discomfort, give us a call to learn more about what may be causing your issues.
For those who are not quite convinced that high intensity exercise will be safe for them, I've gone ahead and linked two very recent studies below that show the safety and effectiveness of this type of training in both heart disease and older populations. Enjoy and feel free to continue your own research!
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7275527/ (older population)
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31648826/ (cardiac disease population)