By Chadd Scott
Most of us don’t have the luxury of scheduling our day around the gym. It’s much more likely that you incorporate your training into a busy schedule and, with so many demands on your time, it becomes more and more difficult to find several hours each week to drive to the gym, warm up, strength train, cardio condition, go to the grocery store … you get the point.
And while we can’t do anything lessen the demands of work and family obligations, we can save you hours each week by dramatically decreasing the amount of time you’re spending on cardio conditioning. With our methods, not only will you spend less time working your cardio, you’ll actually burn more calories and fat and build muscle to boot.
High intensity interval training (HIIT) and sprint interval training (SIT) describes a strategy that has been in practice for decades among elite athletes and strength and conditioning professionals to achieve maximum conditioning and performance results through brief, maximum effort training sessions.
“High-intensity interval training is twice as effective as normal exercise,” said Jan Helgerud, an exercise expert at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. “This is like finding a new pill that works twice as well … we should immediately throw out the old way of exercising” [Associated Press 2/25/2010].
There are volumes of research to support Helgerud’s fantastic assertion.1 Scientists across the globe have found benefits from interval training sessions of 10 minutes or less matching and exceeding those lasting 10 times as long.2 Increasingly, that research shows interval training need not be done at maximal intensity to generate remarkable benefits.3
It’s been demonstrated that interval work can be performed at less than top-end intensity while still yielding satisfying results, it’s no longer necessary to dedicate entire training days to cardio work. This new freedom and flexibility with how we perform our cardio conditioning opens a world of possibilities that allows us to become more creative in scheduling it.
One of those possibilities? Eight to 12 minute cardio intervals performed at moderate intensity levels (sustained effort at 65 percent to 70 percent of maximum heart rate) added to the back end of your regularly scheduled strength training sessions to sculpt your physique while improving both your aerobic and anaerobic work capacity. One way to do this is with a StepMill.
The first thing to know about using a StepMill is to not hold on to the sides of the machine while stepping if you are able. When the machine, and not the user, supports the users’ weight, the benefit of performing weight-bearing resistance exercise is eliminated. Not having to bear your weight is great when you’re watching a baseball game; during exercise it’s crucial in reaching the stimulus level required for the body to initiate new bone growth. You want to make your workout as effective as possible, not as easy as possible, and an effective routine demands weight-bearing resistance.
Refusing to balance yourself by bracing against the machine activates the anti-gravity muscles in your core. As your abs, lower back, and hips are called to action by steadying your weight on the constantly shifting steps, a surprisingly effective core workout becomes a welcome byproduct of interval cardio training. With the demand of weight bearing placed back on the user, bone growth is stimulated and muscular growth is promoted through greater resistance.
StepMills provide an endless array of interval conditioning prospects. From traditional sprint interval workouts, which most machines have pre-programmed in, to create-your-own interval routines such as alternating between taking one and two steps at a time for a given length, the variety of workouts possible is limited only by your imagination. Additionally, the use of weighted vests or stepping while carrying dumbbells provides even more variation, and more muscle and bone generating resistance.
Try the following StepMill interval training routine after each of your weightlifting sessions for a week. While it sounds easy, performing it in a fatigued state you’ll be in following strength training and the bursts of intensity it demands will provide plenty of difficulty. This routine is short in duration, but will have you burning more fat and calories and building more muscle than those tedious steady-state cardio sessions of old. Adjust the times and weights to suit your fitness level and challenge yourself to consistently progress and adjust to increased levels of difficulty.
While holding 5-pound dumbbells, perform eight minutes of interval exercise where you’re elevating your heart rate to a moderate level for 30 seconds, followed by 30 seconds of rest. When you can comfortably handle eight minutes of interval training, add one minute to each session until you hit 12 minutes. If you find using the StepMill while not holding the sides initially uncomfortable, perform your intervals without dumbbells alternating between holding and not holding the rails.
Once you hit 12 minutes, you can progress in one of three ways or each way simultaneously:
- Increase the weight of the dumbbells being held. Try 10 or more pounds in each hand.
- Increase the speed of the StepMill. If you’re working at level five, advance to level six and repeat the progression starting back at eight minutes.
- Increase the amount of time spent working at a moderate heart rate while reducing the rest interval. Work in the moderate heart rate zone for 35 seconds, and rest for 25 seconds. Add five seconds to your working interval until you reach 50 seconds and then increase the speed on the machine.
2 Tabata I, Nishimura K, Kouzaki M, Hirai Y, Ogita F, Miyachi M, Yamamoto K. Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2max. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 1996; 28(10):1327-30.