Challenge Your Cardio

By Michael Scholtz, M.A., Best Life fitness expert

If you’ve become an aerobic zombie, someone who jumps on the treadmill and walks or runs a set distance or time, every time, then you’re probably missing out on the true calorie-burning benefits of a cardio workout. To really torch calories, you have to push yourself to exercise at a high fitness level. (Another perk of working out harder: You’ll accomplish this greater calorie burn in a shorter amount of time.)

Two great ways to turn up the intensity are tempo training and interval training. Both are good for beginning power walkers and experienced runners alike. (The lone exception: Those who are brand new to cardio. If you’re just starting out, stick with your current routine for about six to eight weeks to let your body adapt to new activity. Being able to do a steady, light-to-moderate effort for 30 to 60 minutes is a pre-requisite for beginning these workouts.)

You can do either workout two to four times per week—not on consecutive days. And remember, always give yourself a day off or an easy day in between tough workouts. Below you’ll find explanations of each workout, and sample routines. Get ready to feel the burn.

Tempo Training
Tempo means keeping a steady pace, but at an intensity you could not maintain for an entire 30- to 60-minute workout. It takes you out of your comfort zone just enough to improve your fitness level more quickly and to a greater degree than you could ever accomplish by doing more of the same old pace.

A sample routine:
• Warm up for 5 to 10 minutes, gradually working up to your normal pace.

• Increase your pace until you’re a 8 or 8.5 on the perceived exertion scale (where 7 to 8 is your normal workout pace, and 10 is the maximum; see How Hard Are You Really Working?). You could also use your heart rate: Aim for 75 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate.

• Maintain the pace for 15 to 20 minutes.

• Cool down for 5 to 10 minutes at a slow pace.

Interval Training
Interval training means doing much shorter spurts of more intense exercise followed by short periods of recovery at an easier pace. Because the intensity is elevated so far above what you can maintain at a steady clip, intervals increase your energy expenditure and overall fitness level more than any other cardio workout. Here are two sample workouts.

Cruise Interval Sample Routine
• Warm up for 10 minutes, gradually increasing your pace. The final 2 to 3 minutes should feel like a tempo workout.

• For 2 to 3 minutes, return to an easy pace, or an effort of 6 to 7 on the perceived exertion scale (again, where 7 to 8 is your normal workout pace.)

• Increase your pace until you’re an 8.5 to 9 on the perceived exertion scale and/or at 80 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate.

• Maintain this pace for 5 minutes.

• Return to a slow pace for 1 minute.

• Increase your workout pace again for 5 minutes followed by the 1-minute rest pace. Repeat this cycle 5 times.

• Cool down for 5 to 10 minutes at a slow pace.

High Intensity Interval Sample Routine
• Warm up for 10 minutes, gradually increasing your pace. (Again, the final 2 to 3 minutes should feel like a tempo workout.)

• Slow down to an easy pace (about a 6 or 7 on the perceived exertion scale) for 2 to 3 minutes.

• Increase your pace until you’re a 9 on the scale and/or exercising at 85 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate. Maintain this hard effort for 1 minute. (Note: This 1-minute period will not always get your heart rate up to the recommended percentage of maximum heart rate. Therefore, the rate of perceived exertion may be a more accurate measure than heart rate for these shorter intervals.)

• Return to a slow pace for 1 minute.

• Increase your workout pace again for another minute followed by a 1-minute rest period. Repeat this cycle for a total of 10 times.

• Cool down for 5 10 minutes at a slow pace.