As a lifelong runner, these words are hard to admit, but here goes: I kissed cardio good-bye.
Now, before you panic and think this fitness writer has traded her workout time for couch-surfing sessions, let me define “cardio.” I’m talking about steady-state cardiovascular exercise: jogging, cycling, swimming, treadmilling, ellipticalling and other activities you do at a steady pace, usually for a longer period of time.
It was that “longer period of time” that was getting to me. Like you, I’m a typical busy American. I was chalking up 30 to 60 minutes of cardio—and then trying to squeeze in strength-training on top of it. In the words of Sweet Brown: “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”
What is HIIT?
Then, I came across research suggesting that HIIT-style workouts (High Intensity Interval Training) incorporating strength-training and plyometrics can tax your aerobic system (which steady-state cardio targets) just as efficiently in half the time—and can work nearly every muscle in your body while doing it. What’s not to love?
See also The World’s Best Exercise.
Well, for some people, the intensity part is the deal-breaker. Originally, when people talked about HIIT exercise, it meant super-intense cardio intervals, such as sprinting or biking all-out for 20 seconds—which is not very pleasant or realistic for us non-Olympics-bound mortals. Fortunately, over time HIIT has morphed to incorporate calisthenics, strength-training, plyometrics, ab exercises—just about anything that can follow a work-rest interval pattern.
Adapting Your Intervals to Suit Your Ability
I’ve also found that to get results, you don’t have to go all out in every interval—just hard enough to challenge yourself. Don’t hesitate to modify an exercise—step instead of jump, perhaps, or use a lighter weight or no weight—or skip an interval if you need to. If you stick with it, you’ll improve quickly. Opt for workouts—preferably anywhere from seven to 30 minutes long—that tone your whole body and can be adapted to your fitness level (here’s one of my favorites, for starters).
Since exchanging steady-state cardio for HIIT, I’ve sprouted muscles I didn’t know I had and maintained a high level of cardio fitness—all in 45 to 60 minutes a week.
If you love steady-state cardio, by all means stick with it. But if you’re tired of the “cardio” slog, join me on the HIIT bandwagon to reach your fitness destination doubly fast.
Now, everybody’s got time for that.
Kellee Katagi is one of those strange souls who actually enjoys working out for the sake of working out. She’s spent most of her 20-plus-year writing and editing career covering fitness, nutrition and travel, as well as outdoor sports ranging from skiing to spelunking to street luge (yes, that’s a thing).