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High Intensity Cardio Workouts: The Benefits

There are all sorts of different motivations that can prod you into getting more exercise. Maybe you want to slim down and fit into the clothes you wore ten years ago. Maybe you want to build up muscle and enjoy the benefits of weight lifting. Maybe you simply want to feel (and be) healthier. Maybe your doctor has told you that you have to take steps to be more physically active. The point is that no matter what your ultimate fitness goals are, cardiovascular exercise will be vital when it comes to reaching them. Today, high intensity cardio workouts are becoming increasingly popular. Simply put, these workouts provide you with a highly efficient and effective way to get the cardio exercise you need in order to see results.

The Importance of Cardio

There’s never really been any doubt that cardiovascular exercise is extremely important when it comes to your overall level of fitness. Cardio is typically paired up with strength training (e.g. resistance training, weight lifting) to ultimately improve both your strength and stamina. As suggested by its name, cardiovascular exercise improves your circulation and helps strengthen your lungs and heart. This has both direct benefits – it lets you work out harder and longer – and indirect ones – it greatly improves your general health.

One of the key problems many people have with cardio work is that the traditional way to do cardio is time consuming. Ordinary stead-state cardio, which involves raising your heart and respiration levels above normal and keeping them there for a sustained period, typically requires individual workouts of at least thirty minutes. Hour-long workouts are not uncommon, especially as you improve your stamina and need to push harder to get the same results. This can put a real strain on your already-crowded schedule and leave you scrambling to find time for other parts of your fitness regimen.

High Intensity Cardio Workouts Are Different

What makes high intensity cardio workouts different is immediately apparent when you see the name. Instead of simply aiming for an exertion level that’s above normal, you push hard to try and reach the absolute maximum you’re capable of. The best way to accomplish this is with what’s known as high-intensity interval training, or HIIT.

HIIT workouts involve short bursts of very strenuous activity separated by gentler cool-down periods. When you first start out, you’ll spend more time at lower intensity levels, but one of the common goals to assign yourself is building up to an even ratio of high and low intensity. Many people push themselves until they’re spending more time at the highly intense level than at a lower one.

We’ll get into the benefits of HIIT cardio in a little bit but for now, here is the main benefit; high intensity cardio workouts also makes your exercise routine more efficient. For the best results, you’ll want to limit your high intensity cardio sessions to a half-hour at the very most. Improving your stamina typically results in making the workouts even shorter as you require less down time between high-intensity sets, resulting in daily workouts that take only 15-18 minutes.

Advantage: More Efficient and Faster Fat-Burning

Even though the accepted wisdom used to be that the key to burning off unwanted body fat was sustained moderate-duration cardio exercise, the latest research is exposing flaws in this theory. When you examine the effects of short high intensity workouts in more detail, you’ll see that they help your body burn fat in a number of highly efficient ways.

Over time, high intensity cardio work will train your muscles to burn body fat for the quick bursts of energy you need from them. This makes it much easier to lose weight even as the total amount of time you spend exercising goes down. Another long-term benefit of taking your cardio workouts into the high intensity zone is that it will gradually raise your metabolic level – not just when you’re exercising, but for at least 24 hours afterwards. That translates into a faster, more efficient around-the-clock metabolism that’s processing energy more efficiently and creating less unneeded fat.

Advantage: Build Muscle

Despite the fact that both forms of exercise are essential to all-around fitness, there’s always been friction between those who want to focus on cardio and those who want to concentrate on strength training. HIIT training is finally bridging the gap between these two camps, and it’s gained a lot of popularity with bodybuilders and other fitness enthusiasts who are more focused on building muscle mass and gaining strength.

As noted above, high intensity cardio changes the way your muscles use energy. As it turns out, acclimating them to short bursts of extreme activity is a perfect way to encourage them to grow more rapidly. High intensity training combined with proper nutrition can create an anabolic effect, encouraging your body to consume energy and build tissue. This is in stark contrast to traditional long-duration cardio, which often has the opposite effect.

Advantage: The Ultimate Flexibility

You may have noticed that this article discusses the advantages of high intensity cardio workouts without laying out any kind of specifications for the actual exercises. This is because you can do effective high intensity work with virtually any sort of exercise; it’s more about your pacing than the particular activity you choose to perform.

High intensity interval training was originally developed for runners, and the earliest HIIT workouts involve nothing but sprinting and jogging at fixed intervals. Fitness experts soon found that the same benefits could be unlocked using any sort of cardio exercise as long as the principle of mixing high and low-intensity effort was adhered to. This means you can find an effective high intensity cardio exercise plan to suit virtually anyone’s situation. Examples of possible HIIT workouts include biking, rowing, swimming, or running.

Getting Started with High Intensity Cardio Workouts

High intensity workouts often get extremely specific in the times they lay out for maximum exertion, low exertion, and cool down. Many plans dictate your exercise schedule down to the minute, or even the second. When you’re first starting out, you don’t have to worry about getting that precise.

You can get off to a great start by picking out your favorite form of cardio and dedicating yourself to a 15-minute high intensity workout. A beginner can start by using a 1:4 ratio of high to low intensity levels. This means, for example, sprinting for fifteen seconds and then jogging for one minute. Repeating this alternation 12 times will get you through 15 minutes, and if you’re pushing yourself hard enough during your high intensity intervals you should feel a tremendous burn.

Ramping Up Your High Intensity Cardio Workout

As with any form of effective exercise, you’ll need to increase the challenge of your high intensity work over time. Unlike other forms of cardio, you can do this without dramatically extending the total length of your workouts. Instead, you’ll focus on two primary goals: lengthening the amount of time you can stay at maximum intensity, and reducing the amount of rest time you need in between peak intervals.

Make your improvements gradual; you should also be reducing the time in between your high intensity sessions as well as making them more strenuous. When you’re doing high intensity cardio workouts correctly, they should always be extremely challenging. This means you shouldn’t start by trying to do three or four HIIT workouts in a week. Take your time and work up to that level.

Dietary Advice for High Intensity Cardio Workouts

Besides the obvious lower intensity levels, there are some other ways in which traditional long-duration cardio is easier than high intensity work. Nutrition is one of these. While long-duration cardio exercise will deliver the same sort of results regardless of your eating habits, to get the most out of HIIT work you need to be fueling up properly before and after your workouts.

The recipe for success here is a combination of easily-digestible proteins and carbs. You should aim for roughly a 3:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein. Take one modest meal about three hours before you plan to exercise, and follow it up with a smaller high protein snack within an hour of finishing your workout. Keep fats to a minimum you’re your goal is weight loss, you’ll likely want to reduce your carbs intake and increase your protein intake.

High Intensity Cardio Workouts: Important Cautions

When it comes to introductory workouts for people who haven’t been exercising much, cardio is normally the “safe” option presenting minimal risk. You should be aware that this is not the case with high intensity cardio workouts. You’ll be pushing yourself to the limits of your endurance, and this can be risky if you’re not ready for it. A basic medical checkup prior to starting your new exercise plan is a good idea.

You should also be realistic about your capabilities. If you haven’t been doing any sort of exercise, don’t leap into a full HIIT regimen right off the bat. Fortunately, you’ll find many different “slow start” exercise programs available that can help you improve your general fitness levels in preparation for a high intensity workout regimen.