In late 2012, I made a YouTube video announcing my decision to begin working out. That sentence still makes me giggle… just the fact that I created a YouTube video to keep my promises accountably by my audience. Working out and getting fit was my new year’s resolution at the time, so it was a big deal for me! 5 years later it’s become a huge part of my life.
Now, I’m a very go-go-go kind of person, so lengthy cardio workouts were never my thing. I would try to hop on the treadmill and run for 30 minutes, but I’d usually call it quits early. Let’s be real, typical cardio isn’t exciting for anyone.
Being 18-years-old when I started, my metabolism was pretty good, so cardio took a backseat. I mean, I used to go straight to the dessert section at my university cafeteria and still fit into my high school jeans (what a life!!!). 5 years later, and I have a slightly slower metabolism. Essentially, I can’t eat whatever I want, and I need to integrate cardio into my fitness routine. So how did I do it?
I want to outline how my cardio routine has grown in the last year. If you’re a beginner to cardio or exercising, no fear – I have workouts that you will LOVE.
Starting as a beginner – INCLINE WALKING!
I hate running for long periods of time. I feel like I’m galloping, panting, and hating every aspect of my life (relatable?). So instead of running for 30 minutes, I would speed walk – with an incline!
Now, I’m a bit of a paranoid gym-goer, especially when I first started. I would think that everyone was watching every move I made, so I was careful to not look like an idiot. There’s no worse place to feel that feeling than a treadmill – people to your left, people to your right, all eyes on you! Incline walking was a perfect way to start my cardio regimen because it was something I was familiar with, something that made me feel at peace.
Incline walking is an amazing way to raise your heart rate and burn calories. I like to call incline walking, “mindless exercise”, because it’s easy to get lost in your music. It’s a simple concept, but essentially you’re setting the speed on the treadmill to a quick walk, and sharply raising the incline. After 30-40 minutes of incline walking, you’ll be in a heated sweat, trust me! Try my recommendations for speed and incline, depending on your fitness level.
Absolute Beginner: 3.8 Speed, 8.0 Incline
Comfortable Beginner: 4.0 Speed, 10.0 Incline
Moderate: 4.1 – 4.2 Speed, 13.5 Incline
Ready for a Challenge?: 4.3 – 4.4 Speed, 15.0 Incline
Once you reach the moderate or challenging level, you’ll be able to burn 400 – 600 calories per 30 – 40 minute workout! Get yourself a solid playlist, and cardio just became a lot more exciting.
You’ll see solid results with incline walking for about 2-3 months until you hit your plateau.
Hitting your plateau – RUN OUTSIDE!
Everyone reaches this point – a plateau. A plateau is a point in your fitness journey where you won’t see anymore noticeable results. This occurs because your body is smart, and it learns how much energy to store for any given activity. After 2-3 months of incline walking, your body understands how much energy to store for a typical cardio workout. This means that you’re not challenging your body anymore, even though you’re still burning calories. If you’re happy with your fitness results, this is a great workout to sustain longterm! If you’re looking for further results, you’ll have to change and adapt.
Now that you’ve been doing cardio for a few months, you probably feel a bit more comfortable running outside of the gym. “Outside of the gym” can be around your neighbourhood block, or even at the track inside your local community centre!
When you run on ground, roughly three times your body weight runs through your leg muscles (this weight is absorbed by the treadmill at the gym). Essentially, be prepared to last less time outside than you would at the gym. It’s important to become comfortable with running, because it’s the most effective way to get your heart rate up.
Pro tip: pending you live in a save environment, running at night can be a great way to introduce yourself to outdoor cardio! At least in my experience, running at night calmed my nerves that every driver or pedestrian was watching me. I know I might sound paranoid, but until you’ve ran outside you don’t know the feeling! I would slowly start pulling back my outdoor runs until I was running during daylight hours. At that point, I had lost a few pounds and became a lot more comfortable with cardio and running.
Time for a challenge – HIIT Workouts
You’ve mastered the incline speed walk, and you’re a comfortable runner. Now it’s time to merge those two together and get back to a treadmill for the most effective cardio routine – High Intensive Interval Training (HIIT).
First off, let’s explain what HIIT is exactly. Remember a few paragraphs ago when I talked about how our bodies learn how much energy to store? HIIT’s primary responsibility is to continuously confuse our body, stopping it from learning how much energy to store. In this way, you’re constantly challenging your body. In my opinion, HIIT is the only long-term cardio workout that you can adapt and avoid the plateau.
A classic HIIT workout should only last between 15 – 30 minutes. So while you might think you have to increase your cardio as time goes on, you’re actually doing the opposite. Here’s an example of a starter HIIT workout:
Workout Time: 15 minutes
Minute #1: Walking speed, 3.4 – 3.7
- The purpose of the first minute is to set up your “resting period” – ensure that you’re not challenging yourself during this time
Minute #2: Light run, 5.2 – 5.7
- The purpose of the second minute is to tire yourself out before your sprint
Minute #3: All out sprint, 7.5 – 11.0
- The purpose of the third minute is to utilize all energy you have left and sharply raise your heart rate; while I call this a “sprint”, it should be whatever speed feels the most doable AND challenging to you
Perform this FIVE times, for a total of 15 minutes
Trust me, after 15 minutes you’ll be in a heavy sweat, and your heart rate will be at a great level to burn increased calories throughout the day. By adjusting your speed every 60 seconds, your body will have no time to store energy. There are some days where I hit the gym for 15 minutes and only do a HIIT routine. It’s short and effective!
Getting bored? Mix up your HIIT Workout!
This is the point where I’m currently at! I’ve been performing the classic HIIT workout for about 2 months, and I’m starting to integrate different exercises to keep things interesting. I might replace the sprint in round #3 and #5 to a slightly different exercise. See below for a few ideas:
Start & Rest & Start & Rest: Instead of a simple 1 minute sprint, try slowing your legs down until your 3/4 of the way down the treadmill (imagine you’re about to fall off – but don’t!!), then sprint your way back to the front. This routine requires a lot of hand-eye-leg coordination, so be careful with a workout like this! However, it’s been an amazing addition to my HIIT routine, and helped keep things interesting and new.
Side-to-Side Shifts: After your 1 minute light run, replace the sprint with side-to-side shifts. Start by facing the left of the treadmill, and shift your legs side-to-side while keeping your legs slightly bent. After 30 seconds on each side, your legs will feel the burn. I recommend doing this during your 4th or 5th cycle.
Increase Incline: This one is simple, but effective! If your HIIT routine becomes slightly easier, but you’re not ready to go faster, try adding 2.0 to your incline until you feel challenged.
That’s just about it, at least for now. I’m at the point where I’m mixing up my HIIT routine to keep things interesting. It’s taken me about 12 months to get to this point, so don’t worry if you’re stuck at the incline walk stage, or running outside – you’ll get there!
I truly hope this blog post helped you get excited about cardio, and maybe even set your own new year’s resolution!