Just say NO to LSD!
Don’t worry – I am not talking about Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, a psychoactive hallucinogenic drug popular in the 60’s and 70’s but rather Long Slow Distance. Obviously the former ride would be considered a bad trip. Nonetheless, when deciding on a method of “cardio”, long slow distance is most definitely not where it’s at.
Interval training is the route you want to follow to get fit and healthy.
First, determine your goal. Are you training for a marathon, triathlon or ultra-marathon? If so you will need to do some long slow distance as part of a well designed and individualized training program which also includes training faster and at shorter distances along with a strength and power program.
Most of us are not training for these types of events and, hence, the mainstay of this article will focus on more typical, real life applications.
If your goal is to improve health and fitness, lose body fat and reduce stress, long slow distance will not be the best vehicle for you.
Grinding away on the treadmill, walking at 3.0 mph for hours at a time or a leisurely stroll through your neighborhood will simply not cut it.
Face the facts: most people do long, slow cardio because it’s easy, not due to its magical fat-burning properties. If you want to be as lean and as muscular as possible you need to up your intensity.
How many people do you know that do long, slow cardio several times a week, even with a professional trainer, and still have trouble getting fit and losing weight?
The reason is because cardio doesn’t cut it. High-intensity interval training is where it’s at!
Intensity is a relative term and will be different for each individual by degree not kind. Intervals can be anywhere from 10 to 15 seconds up to 5 minutes. The mode can be walk/jog, walk/run, jog/sprint, bike, row or swim. The training could be as simple as walking for 100 m, then jogging for 100 m performing anywhere from 5 to 15 intervals. The possibilities are limited only by your own creativity.
There should be a thorough warm up taking anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes preparing the body for what is to come and some appropriate drills for more intense modes like sprinting. The actual “work” phase can be anywhere from 5 minutes up to 30. Anything past that is usually self defeating as that type of intensity is difficult to maintain for a longer duration.
Let’s just say this if you can talk, read a magazine or watch television you are most definitely not working hard enough. If you are not sweating you are not working hard enough.
Your breathing should be labored and talking difficult if not impossible. If you are faint, nauseous or dizzy you need to tone it down a bit. You must assess where you are at, begin at a level appropriate to your fitness and build gradually to this type of intensity.
Interval Training in Your Fitness Program
Beginners: warm up thoroughly 5 to 7 minutes. This may be merely a walk or a slow pace on a bike if that is your chosen mode. Start with 4 intervals of 30 s intense (to your level) walking, jogging or biking and 2 min of recovery at a slower or less intense pace. That will take 10 minutes. Cool down of 5 min and some stretching and your entire workout is taking you only 20-25 min. Build from there.
Intermediates: warm up thoroughly 5 to 10 minutes with an activity similar to what you will be doing. An example would be an 800 m jog and some mobility work. Workout could be a 200 m fast run followed by a 200 m walk. Perform 5 to 8 intervals. Cool down of 5 min followed by some stretching. Build from there.
Advanced: warm up thoroughly for 10 min with an activity similar to what you will be doing. An example would be an 800 m run, mobility/agility drills, acceleration build up sprints. Workout could be a 1-2, 400 m sprints w/ a recovery of 1:2, 2-3, 200 m sprints with a recovery of 1:3 and 3-5, 100 m sprints with a 1:5 recovery. Cool down 5 min followed by 10-15 min of stretching.\
If each of these 3 workout examples is done correctly you should not have anything left. You don’t want to–you gave it your all. We are all busy and time is a precious commodity. So use yours wisely.
If you just enjoy long slow distance there is nothing wrong with that once in awhile; it can actually be therapeutic. A nice long walk along the beach, in a park or on a trail with family/friends/lover or by yourself can do wonders for the mind but when it comes to fitness your training of choice should be primarily interval based.
In order to reap the greatest overall benefits in both health and fitness just say NO to LSD – both of them.
Sarah, the Healthy Home Economist
Hi Sarah, you can spend a lot less time exercising with much better results, more muscle and be so much fitter with interval training. Have you tried it? Doing lots of cardio is not healthy. I had an MD get me off of it years ago and I am so thankful she did. Remember that the first guy to run a marathon way back in Greek times dropped dead when he was finished.
I too was a little off-put by the "cardio doesn't cut it" and also the statement that "A nice long walk along the beach, in a park or on a trail with family/friends/lover or by yourself can do wonders for the mind but when it comes to fitness your training of choice should be primarily interval based." Mainly, I think it's a bit of an overstatement and overgeneralization. (And appears to assume that those walks aren't done with any real intensity!)
Interestingly enough, walking, pilates, and classical stretch (along with improved diet) have been my main methods of losing 70lbs and getting back into shape (though I still have a ways to go). I worked with a trainer to improve my walking method (employing some chi walking) and to make sure I was getting the pilates and range of motion exercises right. And, surprise, I've stuck with it for several years (even through a rough pregnancy) and my body has responded! I'm more fit now than I was in my twenties (I'm turning 35 this month.) And, I can take a run, or hike up a straight up hill, with my 25lb baby strapped to my back and still not feel like I'm lagging or out of shape. (Actually, I do it better, faster, and with less panting than a lot of people who look "fitter" than me!) Walking is a whole-family fitness activity for us.
The one thing that has seen me through my weight loss and recovery from 5 months of bed rest in pregnancy and a c-section, not to mention recovery from an eating disorder, is continued waking, hiking and moving. I can walk for 20 minutes 3 times a day, or for 30 to 90 minutes around the neighborhood with my husband at night (baby asleep in the stroller) and it all fits into a lifestyle change that doesn't require a gym. You can get fit and lose weight by walking. I did, I do, I have. But, I will admit, you can't just stroll. I walk fast. But not always to the point that I can't carry on a conversation!
I also now do 45 minutes of Pilates 4 to 6 times a week and Classical Stretch 5 times a week for 20 minutes, so admittedly, I'm spending a lot of time on exercising, but I'm also working to be certified in it! I started out with an hour and a half mixed Pilates and CS program twice a week. And, that's what I did up until last year when I decided to up my activity to prepare to get certified.
I've worked with trainers who did interval training as you describe, some do it better than others, but I have to say, what I do on a daily basis now works better for me and fits better with my lifestyle. I've lost more weight my way. And, I have more stamina. I can go and go all day. (Which is a plus when you are a mom, a person who cooks everything from scratch, loves yard work and gardening, and just plain old likes to feel energetic.)
I think your advice is great for some–for people who need that all at once, instant "I've just done something and I can feel it intensly" kind of program. But it's not one size fits all, not even one size fits all fit people.
I'm more interested in exersise as a means of stress release. I'm happy with my weight, but I'd like to reduce my mood sensitivity and my carb cravings. I haven't found interval training to be a very effective treatment, while I find that long cardio runs are. Do you have any thoughts on this or on using exersise to reduce overly sensitive moods?
Jessica, there are definitely people out there with health issues that I would not rx jumping into a high intensity exercise routine–it would do more harm than good. We are not all the same and everyone must listen to their body.
Walking and yoga are great ways to begin getting back in shape. Little by little is the way to increase the intensity when faced with health challenges. You may want to consider only walking 30 minutes instead of 60 but at a brisker pace thus increasing the distance covered. You can do intervals with walking as well; 2 mins at a brisk pace, 1 minute at a recovery pace etc. Adding in strength training instead of the walking one day is another option; you need only use bodyweight for resistance. There are many ways to increase "intensity" the meaning of the word being relative. In most cases little changes like this will facilitate the healing process.
Anon, most exercises are safe and effective to do while pregnant (provided you were doing them prior to conception). If you are lifting weights it is not a time to go excessively heavy but rather use moderate weights in the 8 to 15 rep range. Bodyweight exercises are safe to perform throughout as well as cardiovascular activites; it is recommended not to elevate your heart rate above 140 bpm.
Thank you, I found this to be very interesting! However, I am expecting & would like to know some safe & effective exercises to do while pregnant
Sarah, the Healthy Home Economist
Mixing it up is critical to keep the exercise regimen rolling for sure. Interval training lends itself to this change of pace and keeping things exciting.
Awesome stuff! I couldn't agree more. And, in my opinion, sprints in interval training fashion are a whole lot less boring that plodding along on the treadmill. 🙂
Jessica @ Delicious Obsessions
Let me just preface this by saying that I do believe that interval training works and is beneficial to overall health. I used to do interval training regularly.
However, while I agree with this to some extent, I also think that there are people out there who suffer from certain health problems where high-intensity, even for a short period, is not an option. I am speaking from personal experience, and while my fitness has improved vastly, just from regular walking and yoga, I am unable to do anything high-intensity (at least at this point).
My ultimate goal is to get in tip-top shape (like I once was. *sigh*), but for now I have to avoid anything that raises my heart rate too high. Brisk walking and yoga has worked wonders for me – I have lost weight, felt happier, regulated some of my body's functions, and feel healthier and more in control. All from brisk walking – 30-60 minutes per day, every day, plus about 4 yoga sessions a week.
I think the key to any fitness routine is to find out what works best for you. The statement that "cardio doesn't cut it" is a little "one size fits all". We all know that one size does not fit all. My main concern is that this post will lead some people to start this type of workout when their bodies are not ready for it and it will cause further health problems.
Just my two cents. 🙂 I've been a follower of your blog for some time and I always enjoy reading your posts!
Sarah, the Healthy Home Economist
I agree .. great post Paula! So many folks are spending so much time on the treadmill or whatnot and it is not getting them fit and toned as they had hoped.
Thanks, Paula. This was great.