How to do Cardio More Efficiently

Chances are when you think of cardio, you picture running, rowing, swimming, cycling etc. You may think of the hours spent on a treadmill or a machine, plodding away trying to improve your stamina.

There’s not a great deal drastically wrong with this approach, but there is a way to do cardio more efficiently. Let me explain to you how…

gym equipment

What does more efficiently mean?

Cardio is mostly performed in what’s known as a ‘steady state’, whereby you maintain a single pace of work for the entire workout. This is the way most people will go for a run – they’ll run at a moderate pace until they’ve completed their route or required time/distance.

It’s a relatively effective way to burn calories, but the fitness gains are limited by the approach. When people first start doing some steady state cardio they’ll notice fast improvements because it’s a new stimulus. After a relatively short period of time though, these improvements will tail off and the performance will largely stabilise. The reason for this is because the body quickly gets used to the work, reaches a point of efficiency and maintains it.

In order to reach beyond those levels, we have to mix up the cardio work and take a more varied approach. An approach that pushes the body beyond what it’s normally capable of, what it’s used to and what it has done before.

HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) Cardio

For the non-specialist exerciser (someone who isn’t looking to be a better runner, swimmer etc), the most effective form of cardio is HIIT. It’s varied, much higher intensity and produces results faster by making the trainer work harder.

The great thing about using HIIT in your workouts is that you can combine various forms of training. If you’re not a massive fan of cardio machines, you can use all kinds of other training approaches, such as bodyweight training, resistance training, sprints etc.

There’s an argument that HIIT is better for you anyway as the more varied training prevents overuse injuries. If you always run for your cardio workouts for example, you’re more likely to pick up injuries by repeating the same movement pattern over and over again. Unless you lack creativity, you’ll never do too much repetition if you use HIIT as your go-to cardio training!

For examples of HIIT workouts, try these resources…

The Ultimate HIIT Workout Guide – 52 HIIT workouts that can be taken to the gym with you on your phone.

The HIIT Bible – A description of HIIT and how it works, with a few workouts added in.

Why is HIIT More Efficient Than Steady State Cardio?

When you perform HIIT cardio properly, you push your body harder, so your raise your heart rate far beyond what you normally would if you were exercising at a lower intensity. This means you burn more calories than normal, illicit a larger training effect and force physiological changes in your body as a result.

By working harder and at a higher intensity, you can also reduce the amount of time you spend training. Physically, you’re unlikely to be able to work at a high intensity for a long time anyway. You can test this for yourself – try to sprint as fast as you can and see how long you can maintain the pace for. Compare that to your ‘jogging’ speed and how long you can maintain that pace.

high intensity interval training

From a training efficiency point of view, mixing resistance training into your workouts also means that you can get the benefits of weight training at the same time as you improve your cardiovascular system. It means you could potentially (depending on how hard you work) cut your training time down considerably, whilst still achieving great results.

Remember, it’s not how long you spend training that matters, it’s what you do when you’re training that counts.

How to Get Started With HIIT

The basic principles are that you mix periods of high intensity work with rest and recovery periods. It doesn’t need to be complicated, so here are a few examples of simple, effective and good quality HIIT workouts….

Rower: Row as fast as you can for 100m, slow down to a gentle pace for the next 100m. Alternate this sprint/recovery for 20 rounds.

Kettlebell/Push Up: Perform 20 kettlebell swings followed by 20 push ups. Rest for 20 seconds, then do 19 kettlebell swings and 19 push ups. Repeat, dropping by 1 each set until you reach 1 kettlebell swing and 1 push up.

Hill Sprints: Find a steep(ish) hill that will take around 10 seconds to run up. Sprint up the top of it, then walk down. Repeat x 20.

These are all really simple HIIT workouts, but they’re very effective and will improve your cardiovascular system, help build a little muscle and will burn a lot of calories! Oh, they’ll also take a lot less time than those hour-long runs or the 4 hour bike rides that some people go out on!

So, use HIIT as your cardio and make your entire cardio workout more efficient!

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