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Why Slow and Steady Does Not Win the Race


I stick to training from the comfort of my own home.

It beats the cost of expensive gym memberships and I don’t have to wait for the knucklehead to finish some ridiculous drop-set-of-death, bicep-curl-a-thon with the one set of dumbbells that I need.

Definitely beats waiting for the logjam at the cardio machines to clear up, too. If I actually ever used the cardio machines.

 You see, I guess this leads to the perfect time to let you in on a little secret. I’m coming clean here and must totally confess: I hate cardio. Hate it. Loathe it.

Lets be clear, though. There is a time and place for cardio. And I don’t hate all forms of cardio. Just the long, boring, slow, steady-state, jogging for 20, 30 minutes or more cardio.

Yep, I’m a fitness professional and I can’t stand jogging on the treadmill … or cycling on the stationary bike … or doing whatever that would be called on the elliptical. And I’m going to help you overcome your potential love affair with it, too. Why? Because for fat loss purposes, steady-state cardio is simply just not as effective as other methods.

Look, I get it. We’ve all been at that point when we jump on the scale, hate what we see and then immediately think it is time to start pounding the pavement – or worse, the treadmill – for hours on end because that will get us back into shape faster than anything.

But instead, we should substitute those longer cardio sessions for shorter ones. It’s time to dig a little deeper into more effective and time-efficient strategies for fat loss.

Interval training can be defined as short-burst intense work followed by some form of a recovery period. The period of recovery allows your body to prepare for maximum performance in that next period of intense work. And that is what we should all be aiming for: maximum performance.

We aren’t going to burn fat, we aren’t going to gain muscle, we aren’t going to succeed at anything unless we are focused on improving our performance every single time we train.

Pretend we are all 10-pound males (scary, I know). Interval training workouts of 20 minutes may only burn about 200-250 calories for us, while a more traditional cardio routine of 30 minutes would burn closer to 400 calories – yes, these are estimates, not set-in-stone-one-size-fits-all numbers, so don’t go calling the fitness police on me. The easy choice here would be the longer steady-state cardio training, right? Not so fast.

It all has to do with that feeling you get when you’re flying through a huge vertical loop on a roller coaster – adrenaline. And this same hormone assists in stimulating fat burning in the body.

A 2007 study by the University of New South Wales in Australia found that interval training has been linked to an increase of adrenaline (or epinephrine as it is referred to in the science world). Without getting all sciency and stuff, one of the factors that adrenaline brings to the table is the breaking down of fat stores and burning of fat. Another added benefit is that adrenaline helps reduce appetite.  

Interval training has also been widely considered as a boost to calorie burning throughout the remainder of the day. In other words, that 20-minute interval training session may burn 250 calories, but it keeps the body in a fat-burning state through the rest of the day, whereas steady-state cardio does not. This is called Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC), some call it Afterburn.

Me? I like to call it the awesome sauce for fat loss pancakes (editor’s note: Is that a thing? Can that be a thing if it isn’t? I mean, that sounds amazing).

The actual timing of the interval can be varied – although, anything over 60 seconds and we start drifting into the cardio training land (again, we want to maximize performance using short-bursts of work). For beginners, try starting with something as quick as 30 seconds of work, followed by 90 seconds of recovery.  Even three rounds of this type of activity can prove effective for those with a lot of weight to lose. To avoid overtraining, never perform more than six intervals in a workout and no more than four interval training sessions in a week.

Overtraining can be worse than not training at all, and it can lead to injury. So, don’t do that.

We are also going to be basing the level of exertion for each interval on your own perceived rate of difficulty. Let me explain.

Using a scale of 1 to 10, a completely sedentary individual’s 8 out of 10 will be a lot less than an NFL football player’s 8 out of 10. So, for beginners, aim for a 6 out of 10 on the work intervals, 3 out of 10 for the recovery. Advanced trainers can go for an 8 or 9 out of 10, also scaling down to a 3 for the recovery period.

There are many different types of interval training. Here are a few of my favorites:

  1. Sprinting on a hill – run up the hill at full speed and walk back down the hill to the starting position (the hill saves the pressure placed on the knees and hamstrings)

  2. Wind Sprints – find a manageable distance (basically anything less than about 400m) and sprint the distance, making sure to incorporate a decent recovery period in between the sprints

  3. Treadmill Sprints – increase the speed on the treadmill to the perceived rate of difficulty that presents the best challenge to you, then reduce that speed after the interval period has concluded

  4. Exercise bike – increase the rate of difficulty, not the speed (we aren’t in a spinning class, after all)

  5. Bodyweight Intervals – no equipment needed here, just combine a bunch of bodyweight calisthenic-type movements into short bursts periods with little rest. You could try alternating 20 seconds of pushups and 20 seconds squats for four minutes, resting just 10 seconds between each exercise

How many times have you been to a gym and noticed people reading a magazine while knocking out their latest cardio session? If you can get caught up on the latest in celebrity gossip, it is not a workout. Period. Drop the latest issue of People, incorporate those interval training methods into your routine and kick the fat in the gut for good.

And while you’re at it, save some of those fat loss pancakes for me.

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Pete Cataldo is a former television sports anchor that has taken his passion for fitness and turned it into his career. As a Certified Fitness Trainer, Certified Turbulence Trainer and Precision Nutrition Certified Coach, Pete is an expert in helping clients burn fat, lose weight and get in the best shape of their lives.
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