I am ashamed to say that I used to be considered a “Cardio Queen.” Though if you read my post on breaking the “cardio cycle” you know just how miserable I had become with it. I endured hours on the treadmill, stairmonster and spin bike in last ditch efforts to shed fat leading up to a figure competition or photo shoot. Though not an ideal way to lose fat since logging long hours of cardio is a sure-fire way to burn up hard-earned muscle, many a day spent on the treadmill forced me to find ways to not only spice up boring workouts, but to challenge myself to generate real results (and attempt to hold onto muscle!).
Some Treadmill Tips
Before beginning any cardiovascular program, it is wise to assess your current fitness level and obtain your physician’s green light. If you are a beginner, remember to listen to your body during the workout and react accordingly, even if it means slowing down or stopping prematurely. It is a much smarter approach to wade in slowly rather than diving right in, since attempting too much too fast can land you right back on the couch watching Fit TV.
When walking or jogging on the treadmill, stay aware of your exertion, constantly assessing how you feel and if you can push a little harder. This means that reading or zoning out to your favorite television show is out. Stay focused on what you are doing and consciously think about how every workout should feel—challenging but not painful, yet definitely not comfortable either!
The following 10 treadmill protocols can be progressed or regressed through a change in speed or incline. If you are an intermediate exerciser, you should be able to attempt each one as it is written. However, at any time if you feel like it is too tough, simply decrease the speed to a place where you feel challenged but not overwhelmed. Likewise, if the program seems too easy, do not hesitate to bump up the speed for added exertion.
Each of the following treadmill workouts is designed interval-style, which means they alternate between “working” and “resting” segments. The most effective way to perform any interval program is to truly push as hard as possible for a given sprint segment and then really and truly rest during the recovery segment. Think about every sprint segment as a chance to generate breathlessness and force the body to react and change.
Likewise, just because speed 2.0 seems too easy during a recovery segment, it does not mean the speed should be increased. If you increase the speed beyond what is indicated during a rest period, then the recovery will be compromised and so will the exertion during sprints as well—in other words, a faster pace during a recovery segment will yield a slower pace during a working segment.
Another way to think of this concept is working at “peaks” and “valleys” so that each sprint is as fast as possible and each rest is as slow as possible. Creating a large difference in the working and resting phases will enhance the caloric and fat burning effects of the workout. The closer in speed that the working and resting segments become, the more like a steady-state workout it becomes.
Finally, every one of these protocols is less than 30 minutes in duration because if you are truly pushing hard, you will not need longer than 30 minutes. They are short, intense and above all, effective. Get the biggest bang for your cardio buck with these fun treadmill workouts that minimize muscle burning and increase fat burning for hours afterward.
Workout #2: Add Walking Lunges: Perform the above routine but instead of simply walking the resting minutes at speed 2.0, bring the speed down to 1.2 and perform walking lunges on the treadmill instead. After lunging your way through your recovery minute, immediately move into the next sprint segment.
Workout #4: Extend the Sprints: An easy way to progress the above workout is to elongate each sprint segment to 1:15 min and decrease your rest to 0:45 min. The workout is the same total duration but the work-to-rest ratio is increased, forcing the body to recover quicker and dig into its cardiovascular stores to find that extra 15 seconds of sprint.
Workout #6: Ladder the Speed: Try the above workout but instead of fixing the sprint segments at 7.0, begin at 6.6 and increase the speed 0.1 every segment so that during the 10th and final sprint, the speed is 7.5. Ladder sprints not only make the workout less boring, but it allows you to conserve some energy at the beginning of the workout so that by the end you are able to maximize your speed to a pace at which you cannot not possibly perform the entire workout. Only one segment has to be at that nearly-impossible speed.
Workout #8: Ladder the Incline: Perform the above workout but start the incline at 1.0 for the first sprint segment and increase the incline 1.0 for every subsequent round so that the 10th and final sprint is at incline 10.0. Beginners and even some intermediate exercisers will have a tough time with 45 seconds at incline 10.0 and speed 10.0 so be sure to lower the speed to a manageable pace if need be. Listen to your body and adjust accordingly.
Workout #10: Switch it up: If you don’t want to walk the recovery minutes during the above workout, bring the incline down to 0.0 during the recovery segment and carefully exit the treadmill leaving it running on a very slow speed. Perform 30 seconds of jumping lunges, reaching metabolic failure several times. Use jumping lunges instead of recovery walking to building leg and bone strength as well as agility, power and coordination. If they are too intense, simply alternate reverse lunges for 30 seconds. Jump back on the slow-moving treadmill and get ready for the next sprint minute which should be about to begin.
Finish each protocol with a slow walking cool-down for 5-10 minutes, followed by flexibility training focusing on the legs: hamstrings, quadriceps, calves and glutes.
Interval cardiovascular workouts should be a staple in any results-based fitness regime, but are not the final word in comprehensive exercise. Because of their strenuous nature, limit these protocols to every other day at most. In addition, incorporate traditional weight-training sessions, 1-2 longer cardio bouts such as a long walk or hike, along with regular flexibility training each week. Good luck! ox Jill