Cardio Interval Training on a Treadmill

By June Hathaway

  • Overview

    Treadmills are among the most popular exercise machines today. It's easy to see why. Exercisers can run or walk for miles in any weather without waiting for traffic or dodging stray dogs. The drawback is monotony. If your treadmill workouts make you feel like a hamster on a wheel, cardio interval training may be for you.
  • What is Cardio Interval Training?

    Cardio interval training alternates intense bursts of effort with slower, less taxing recovery intervals. A typical interval workout is to sprint for 30 seconds then walk for four minutes, repeated five times. Total workout time? Twenty-two minutes plus warm-up and cool-down, a much more appealing prospect than loping along for an hour at a moderate jog. It's quick, but not easy. The high-intensity intervals should be hard enough that you can't talk. You should be able to talk but not sing during the active recovery intervals.
  • Misconceptions

    A better workout in half the time might seem too good to be true. Aren't long workouts necessary for fat burning? Actually, no. While it's true that long, low-intensity cardio uses a greater percentage of fat for fuel, interval cardio is a better bet for weight loss. High-intensity workouts burn more total calories in the same amount of time. Better yet, tough intervals trigger changes that make your muscles burn fat more efficiently. After just seven interval cardio sessions, researchers found that exercisers burned 36% more fat even during low- and moderate-intensity activities.


  • Benefits

    Treadmill cardio intervals give all the benefits of traditional sustained aerobic training with a much smaller time commitment. Studies at Ontario's McMaster University showed that people who did cardio interval training for just over an hour a week achieved the same results as those who did five hours of moderate steady-state cardio. Those benefits include weight loss and protection against heart disease, diabetes and hypertension. Interval training is even more effective than sustained aerobic activity for increasing endurance and cardiovascular fitness.
  • Expert Insight

    Dr. Martin Gibala, an associate professor of kinesiology at McMaster University, thinks interval training will help busy people attain their fitness goals. "Our study demonstrates that interval-based exercise is a very time-efficient training strategy," he said, adding, "This type of training is very demanding and requires a high level of motivation. However, short bursts of intense exercise may be an effective option for individuals who cite 'lack of time' as a major impediment to fitness."
  • Routines

    Treadmill exercise intensity is determined by speed and incline. Some treadmills have preset interval programs. These work by steeply raising the incline so that you run or walk uphill for a brief period. Other models require manual adjustment. After warming up for a few minutes, increase the speed or incline on the treadmill until you feel you can't work any harder. After 30 seconds, drop down to a level of effort just a little bit harder than your warm-up pace. Recover for four minutes, then try another 30-second sprint. Four to six sprint/recovery cycles is all it takes. Customize the workout to your personal fitness level by alternating walking with power walking, power walking with jogging, or jogging with running.
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