“…I was just changing out of my running shoes and into my lifting shoes (yes, I wear different shoes for different activities, lol) and they were loud. Very loud.
And it was all I could do to just change my shoes and not open my mouth–because I know that free advice is worth all you pay for it AND no one asked for my input.
It was still REALLY hard to shut up on this one.
One woman was complaining to the other that no matter what she did, her body just wouldn’t change.
- That she had horrible genetics.
- That she worked out TONS throughout the week–biking or spinning a few hours a week, running a bunch, then putting in long-duration efforts on the weekends–you’d think with all the calories she was burning, she’d lose more weight (her words)!
- That she used to really follow a strict eating plan, but that after a while, she ‘just couldn’t hack it.’
- That she was now considering adjusting her caloric intake, increasing it from 1200 calories because she wasn’t making any progress and she was starving all the time.
The one commiserated with the other. She just couldn’t, despite her best efforts, get her body to budge either….”
This was a real conversation I overheard in the locker room at the post gym in March of 2015 and wrote about in this blog post , but it’s a conversation I hear happening all the time: ‘I can’t get my weight/body fat to budge, so I’ll so more cardio’….OR ‘I’ve been doing so much cardio/so many classes/running so much and I STILL can’t lose weight/lose inches…’
Initially when we start working out, our bodies NEED that aerobic cardio base—and we need the gentle, repetitive movement that classically makes up cardio workouts (using the elliptical, going for jogs, riding the bike, using the stepmill) to help us condition our cardiovascular system AND help our muscles and connective tissues adapt to—get used to and handle well–the new workload.
This adaptation is important to respect: we can’t just hop off the couch and start doing HIIT or Insanity workouts suddenly without some kind of injury happening in the first couple of weeks; it’s just not how our bodies work, especially as we get into our 30s and above.
So longer, steady-state cardio is important and works well for us…at least in the beginning.
But after we’ve been doing the same kind of workouts for a while, workouts that use the same movement patterns without an increase in the workload (either speed or added resistance), our bodies get used to that amount of effort and they get more efficient.
And when the body gets more efficient, it means that it finds ways to do the same job with less effort—less effort translating to using fewer calories to do the same thing.
So we can spend the same amount of time on the elliptical or jog for 30 minutes and get fewer results after just a few months. Naturally, the instinct is to just make the workouts longer—if 30 minutes isn’t enough, then maybe 45…then maybe 60. Then maybe 2 spin classes or step classes instead of just one…
What needs to change isn’t the length of the workout, but the intensity of the workout.
One of the greatest discoveries I ever made was the power of interval training, first through taking Coach Kitty’s (Katherine Kaufman) KUT class in Seattle way back in 2001, and then cementing the lesson while building my fitness and my body back up after baby #2 in 2008-2009.
When you’ve got two kids under 4, and only a limited amount of time to work out, you try to find the most economical ways to do it!
Enter: interval and circuit training.
First I used the 4:4 ratio, then as my fitness improved, I started using the 3:2 ratio and 2:1 ratio, which meant that I would work hard (what I like to call ‘huff and puff’) for the first # of minutes in the ratio, then recover at a slower pace for the second # in the ratio.
It was incredible how sweaty I got, how much faster the time went by, and how much leaner I got—in just a few weeks.
This effect was amplified when I added weights and some ‘sprint’ efforts in different workouts during the week, too!
Strength Training + (Cardio) Interval Training =
Best. Results. Ever.
In less time, with fewer aches and pains (repetitive cardio often yields repetitive aches and pains), and less impact on my overall appetite—because doing hours of cardio every week will make you HUNGRY.
This increase in appetite is not very helpful when your body is starting to burn fewer calories in those same hours of cardio workouts.
So how can you start to make your workouts, and cardio sessions, start working better for you—and spend less time at the gym, too??
By swapping out a couple of your current longer, steady-state cardio workouts or classes for interval training sessions. And by adding some short, intense strength training sessions or circuit training sessions to the mix, too.
==>If you’re still a newer exerciser or just getting back into exercising, starting with a 4:4 work: recover interval ratio will probably be best for you, and give your body time to adapt (2-4 weeks, generally). Because the work intervals are longer in the 4:4 than in the other intervals, the intensity will be lower—which means the impact is better controlled.
==>If you’re already pretty fit and looking to kick it up a notch, then you’ll want to try the 3:2 or 2:1 approach, which are a little more intense in nature—meaning more work in a shorter amount of time!
On a treadmill, a 3:2 approach might mean running at a fast pace for 3 minutes, then jogging for the next 2 OR it might mean walking up a really steep incline for 3 minutes, then reducing the incline for 2 (that’ll wake up the glutes—trust me!).
A 2:1 approach on the treadmill would be closer to a sprint effort—but not quite there. It usually means that you’ll run at a VERY fast pace for 2 minutes then jog for 1.
Repeat these intervals for 30 minutes, or whatever you have the time for, and cool down and stretch afterwards, and you have a sweet, short, EFFECTIVE workout under your belt.
One of the biggest perks of training intensely for shorter periods of time (as in 40 minutes or less per workout) is that it is so agreeable with our busy schedules and the demands of daily life.
These shorter, focused workouts keep us consistent with our workouts since they aren’t overwhelming. They keep us feeling successful, and they lend to some pretty fantastic post-workout endorphin highs.
Intense effort workouts = the release of more happy hormones, which is why although some of my clients and class participants might not love how they feel during a sprint interval, HIIT session, or tough conditioning workout (because hard work is hard!), they are ALL smiles afterwards.
So if you’re someone who’s been struggling to get results doing long workouts, OR if you’re someone who’s turned off from going to the gym because it’s too time-consuming to get in a workout, then maybe it’s time to give interval and more intense circuit-style strength training a try.
I’m telling you, I’m getting the best results ever from shorter, more intense strength and cardio workouts—at 42 years old 🙂