Fitness tips: Losing holiday pounds with interval cardio training

This can be a tool for weight loss, but like any tool, it's only as good as the person who uses it.

All hail the New Year’s resolution.

Or dread it.

It all depends on your track record when it comes to keeping those resolutions. One of the biggest subjects of Jan. 1 goal setting is fitness, or more specifically, weight loss.

I see it every year, and I will see it again when I drop into my gym. Unmet fitness goals, plus the bloat of the holiday eating season, drive people to the gym to work off all those extra calories and reinvent their physiques. Memberships are bought. Classes are signed up for. Equipment is purchased. Treadmills, ellipticals, striders and bikes will be filled to capacity in fitness centers, YMCAs and gyms everywhere.

Folks will give it an honest try. But the vast majority will fail miserably.

There are so many reasons for this, but in this post I just want to tackle one glaring problem. Most people do not have an understanding of cardio workouts.

Most people will get on a machine for 10 to 30 minutes, or maybe even an hour, and plow away. They get a good sweat, the calorie counter says they’ve burned off a lot of bad weight. And then they do this for weeks on end with little results. I call these people the cardio drones, and most of them won’t last two months.

All because no one taught them how to do effective weight loss cardio.

If that’s you, have no fear. You can do effective cardio and in less time and actually make headway on your weight loss goals. It’s all about interval cardio, or more precisely, high intensity interval training.

Intervals are nothing new. Trainers and athletes have used interval training for a very long time.  Bill Phillips in his book “Body for Life” made it the cornerstone of his cardio exercise regimen (mixed with weight training and proper diet). Programs like P90X, Insanity and any number of Crossfit variations all use interval training techniques to get people shredded.

But that doesn’t mean you need to buy a book, DVD set or go sign up for some boot camp-style class of those things are not for you. The concept is easy. Let’s tackle this in two ways: Inside the gym and outdoors (my preference).


A basic interval cardio workout can be done in 20 minutes. So let’s say you’re on the treadmill. Start out at a walk, 3.5 mph. Do that for a minute, then increase speed to a slow trot. After a minute of that, go up to a decent pace run for another minute. Once that has elapsed, go up in speed again to a challenging run pace. After a minute of that, drop it back down to walking speed and repeat this cycle until your 20 minutes are up.

To recap:

  1. 1 min 3.5 mph
  2. 1 min 5 mph
  3. 1 min 6.5 mph
  4. 1 min 8 mph
  5. Go back to 1 and repeat.

You can also do this on other machines, like the elliptical. That might look something like this:

  1. 1 min 105 strides per minute
  2. 1 min 115 strides per minute
  3. 1 min 130 strides per minute
  4. 1 min 165 strides per minute
  5. Go back to 1 and repeat.

On the stationary bike:

  1. 1 min 14 mph
  2. 1 min 17 mph
  3. 1 min 20 mph
  4. 1 min 25 mph
  5. Go back to 1 and repeat.

Adjust the speed/pace to your fitness level and adjust it again if the level you’re at becomes too easy.

This could also work on stairmasters, using steps per minute, or any other machines where you can measure your pace. This is particularly effective when bad weather forces you to stay inside.

But if you’re like me, the idea of being cooped up inside to get your exercise fix is somewhat like popping open a skunky beer and forcing down all 12 ounces. I can be done, even endured, but it’s not something I prefer. So…


For this, you’ll need a watch that can let you keep track of time in one-minute increments. For this, I’ll just look at the run.

It will go just like the format I described above, but you’ll have to guestimate on the intensity you choose as each minute passes.

  1. 1 min, brisk walk
  2. 1 minute, light jog
  3. 1 minute, medium-pace run
  4. 1 minute, fast-pace run
  5. Go back to 1 and repeat

The key to making this or any of the other interval cardio workouts function correctly is to push the intensity on step 4. You really need to push yourself on that step. You can do this on your normal running paths or do it on a soccer field.

Over the years, the evidence has shown that this type of cardio work does more for weight loss than your typical “slow burn” cardio that you commonly see in the gym or out on the jogging trails. You can lose weight in any number of ways, but interval training has proven to be the most effective.

That said, interval training alone will not help you win a marathon, a triathlon or a long bike race. Those events are different goals that are focused more on performance than weight loss. But if your primary goal is to lose weight, don’t mimic the cardio drones. Try interval cardio training at least three times a week for 12 weeks, and mix in a reasonable weight lifting program and a better diet and you will see tangible weight loss within 12 weeks.

Try it out and best of luck in making a resolution mean more than just words.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088


2 thoughts on “Fitness tips: Losing holiday pounds with interval cardio training

  1. Pingback: Fitness: Be wise with your time at the gym « proactiveoutside

  2. Pingback: Interval Training Tips for Cardio Machines

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