As a society we’re becoming increasingly pressed for time. With most people facing a 9-5 job with a commute, coupled with family life and occasional socialising, the excuse of ‘not having enough time’ to exercise is increasingly common.
While it’s easy to sympathise with the sentiment, there’s always enough time to do something to improve your fitness levels. People are starting to train a little smarter when it comes to time efficiency, with things like barbell compound lifts taking over from spending hours on isolation exercises.
When it comes to cardio, there are a couple of ways to improve the effectiveness of your training to help get you fitter in less time. While spending an hour on the treadmill or elliptical will help move the needle in the right direction, there are more time-efficient methods of improving your fitness levels.
Here we’ll look at some of the most effective forms of cardio exercise for burning calories, shift body fat, improve your work capacity and increase your overall fitness levels.
Steady State Cardio
Probably the most common form of cardio, this basically involves maintaining a steady pace and a fairly stable heart rate. If you’re not in the habit of doing regular exercise, this is probably the way to go for at least the first couple of months.
The recovery time is far shorter that more intense forms of cardio, and it can complement strength training work by improving blood flow to the damaged tissue. You’ll also be building an aerobic base which will make it easier to progress to more intense workouts.
While the post-workout calorie burn won’t be as high as after an interval training session, you should be able to train more often with steady state. If you can spare 30 minutes 5 days a week you’ll burn around 1500 calories a week, which adds up to almost 2 pounds of weight burned per month.
High-Intensity Interval Training
There has been a range of studies highlighting the effectiveness of interval training for both fat loss and fitness levels. HIIT has been shown to burn higher levels of fat than steady state cardio, and also has a positive influence on muscle retention and growth.
In one study comparing the two forms of workout, the HIIT group lost 2% body fat and gained almost two pounds of muscle, while the steady state group lost 0.3% fat and lost almost a pound of muscle. All this while training for less time than the steady state group.
The effectiveness of HIIT is clear, and it’s an ideal way to get great results in a short period of time. However, you will need a base level of fitness to get through the sessions so it’s worth building up with some steady state work first.
The workouts can also be quite taxing on the body, so you may struggle to get through more than three sessions per week. Aim to do lower intensity, lower impact cardio on your off days to help maximise recovery and prepare you for the next session.
Dr. Izumi Tabata is a Japanese physician and researcher that carried out a study into an extreme interval training session involving a cycle of 20 seconds of activity followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated 8 times. This 4 minute session involved going flat out on an exercise bike, and the sessions proved incredibly effective for improving both aerobic and anaerobic fitness levels.
The study showed that most of the improvements came in the first few weeks before gradually tapering off, making the sessions ideal for some short term conditioning work before transitioning into a less intense program.
Tabata workouts, when done properly, are absolutely brutal. All out sprinting, either on a treadmill, at the track or on a bike is required for the 20 second intervals. Anything involving kettlebells or squats is not a real tabata session, so be sure to actually do the prescribed sessions for maximum benefits.
Once you’ve finished one session you’ll understand why it’s not recommended to perform tabata workouts too regularly. Once a week, ideally before a couple of rest days, will be enough for most people. Aim for one a week with regular HIIT on your other cardio days for maximum benefit.
Maximum Results in Minimal Time
If you can become an early riser, there the benefit of having your workout finished before most people have even thought about getting out of bed! Morning workouts have a range of benefits including improving sleep quality, increasing your metabolic rate throughout the day and improving your mood, as well as freeing up your day for other activities.
If your time at the gym is limited, you should be looking to make the most of your workouts. Interval training has been shown to be the most effective way to improve your fitness levels in the shortest possible time, so by putting in the extra effort required you’ll really notice the difference.