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High Intensity Cardio – Is it Right For You?


By Jessica Smith, CPT


By now, chances are you’ve heard of high intensity interval training (aka HIIT) and Tabata. You may even be incorporating this type of maximum effort training into your regular cardio routine. But is it the best type of training for you? If so, how often should you be doing it?


The long and short answer? It depends on what your goals are, says Jeffrey A. Dolgan, MS, CSCS, an exercise physiologist at Canyon Ranch Hotel & Spa in Miami Beach, Florida. “The bottom line is that there is no one answer as to which combination of duration and intensity is best for everyone.” Dolgan says it’s important to remember that the length and intensity of your intervals has a huge impact on which energy system (anaerobic or aerobic) your body uses.


Anaerobic training (any activity that causes an oxygen ‘debt’ in the body, typically only sustainable for 30-90 seconds -- at most) is important if you are trying to improve your performance in short bursts. Tabata training, for instance, was originally created for Japanese speed skaters – and was perfect for helping them improve their ability to sprint. And keep in mind you probably won’t be able to do a true anaerobic Tabata intervals with exercises like basic push ups – if you want to go anaerobic you need something to get breathless and FAST like plyometric moves. Sure, you’ll burn up more calories in a short amount of time, but how often you should use this type of training still needs to be based on your overall fitness goals. Anaerobic intervals shouldn’t be done more than 3-4 non-consecutive days a week (even that is if you are a very advanced exerciser and well rested).


Aerobic training (activity which needs to be at least 90 seconds to be effective) relies on your aerobic energy system, which has plenty of benefits including improving your endurance and VO2 max. Your VO2 max measures the amount of oxygen your body is capable of utilizing within a one minute period, and is a great tool for measuring your overall fitness level and aerobic capacity. For most of us, aerobic intervals are the way to go, says Dolgan, who says aerobic intervals should be a minimum of 1 minute (but 3 is better) if you are trying to improve your aerobic capacity. Tapping into your aerobic energy system helps your body to maximize capillary and mitochondrial density, says Dolgan.


The bottom line? Don’t ditch all of your lower intensity cardio sessions. High intensity interval training does have its benefits; it just shouldn’t take over your every workout. How often you decide to go high intensity should be based on your larger, longer-term fitness goals and incorporated into a plan that is best for your body.


Tell us.. how often do you use high intensity training during your week of workouts?