The Goal: A Time Efficient Workout of Adequate Intensity
I recently decided I wanted to start a cardio program to get better at running. There is unfortunately a mountain of advice on how to structure a cardio program. Should I run? Do burpees? Swim? Join an endurance race? Run at low speed for 40 minutes every day? Join a soccer team?
I am not a fan of spending a lot of time doing cardio. It just isn’t that interesting to me. Sure, I can make it less annoying with audio books or podcasts, but in the end I just don’t like it. So how can I get the most out of a cardio workout without spending a significant amount of time doing it?
I looked into the 7-minute workout, and did it for a while, but the problem is is that it is not really well tailored to one’s fitness level. I’d like something that I can precisely measure out the dose of exercise I’m getting and tailor it to my current physical condition.
Instead, I decided to look through the research literature to find the most time efficient treadmill workout. I want to use a treadmill because I already have one and running is something I can do anywhere without equipment. I also wanted a workout that was tied to heart rate. That way, it wouldn’t be too hard or too easy, but would match my current condition.
The Norway Studies
A recent study from Norway shows that improvement in cardiovascular function can occur in only 19 minutes 3 times a week.
The protocol is as follows:
10 minutes at 70% Maximum Heart Rate
4 Minutes at 90% Maximum Heart Rate
5 Minutes Cool Down
Performed 3 times a week. According to the study, the maximum heart rate was the peak value achieved during the exercise period, so I view it as an upper limit. One can calculate maximum heart rate using many free heart rate calculators online. The researchers also tested another workout that consisted of a longer training period of 40 minutes of HIIT training interspersed with 3 minutes breaks.
The results after 10 weeks showed that VO2 max, the measure of the maximum amount of volume of oxygen an athlete can use, increased by 10% in the 19 minute group and 13% in the 40 minute group. Stroke volume, the amount of blood ejected by the heart’s left ventricle in one contraction, increased by 14% and 15% respectively. Work economy, defined as the oxygen cost of a 5-min walk at a 4 km/h on a leveled treadmill, improved by 14% and 13% respectively.
The 40 minute workout was more effective at reducing blood cholesterol and body fat (3.2% v 5.2%).
In doing this workout it’s important to precisely measure one’s heart rate. I use a chest strap heart rate monitor. Two models that work well for me are:
JARV – Works with Smart Phones and Low Energy Bluetooth Compatible Treadmills
POLAR-H1 – Works with Life Fitness Treadmills
The best app I’ve found for keeping track of heart rate, if one doesn’t have a treadmill that can talk to the heart rate sensor is iCardio.