Non Boring Cardio aka Interval Training

Imagine yourself walking into the gym after a long day of work. The last thing you want to do is move mindlessly on a treadmill or elliptical for an hour or so to burn off those unwanted calories from the cookies you ate last night. But you have to get that weight off for the big cruise you have set in two months, so off to the treadmill it is.

What if there was another way you could burn those calories and maybe even more and do it in half the time? Not possible right? Wrong.

Interval training can be a exciting alternative to a monotonous cardio workout.

Over the past 5-10 years there has been a lot of research and application with another type of workout known as interval training. With intervals, an individual is working at a very high intensity for short periods of time and allowing the body to recover in between, causing the heart rate to increase to near maximum levels and then relax back to a near resting base.

Still unsure about it? Well, a 2001 East Tennessee State University study followed two groups of overweight women through 8 weeks of either long, steady-state cardio, or high intensity intervals. Each group exercised until they burned the same amount of calories. After 8-weeks the Interval Group was the only group to see improvements in body composition. That same group was also able to increase resting metabolic rate for more than 24 hours post-workout.

Looking at a different aspect than weight loss, Martin Gabala, PhD, of McMaster University composed a study looking at time and performance. One group completed four to six 30 second sprint intervals with four minutes of recovery time in between while a second group spent 90-120 minutes of steady-state cardio. He concluded that there was no difference in exercise performance between the two groups. So, one group spent 2.5 hours per week while the other group spent 10.5 hours per week with no differences. Not only does interval training result in better body composition but results are seen in a shorter period of time.

One form of interval training is the use of circuits. Circuit training is a method used where a group of exercises are completed back to back before rest is taken. Circuits can range from strength exercises to body weight movements. Many times a circuit will be a much better option of an interval workout than something like running because a larger area of muscle will be worked and with many individuals movement imbalances can be improved.

When creating a circuit workout there are a few things to take into consideration.

First, each movement pattern should be involved. This includes both upper and lower body, pushing and pulling movements, rotational movements, and possibly a full body movement. An example of pushing would be a push-up or a squat; pulling would be a row or deadlift; rotational could be a cable twist; and full body would be a mountain climber. Along with the movements, time and rest also need to be considered. At a beginner’s level, the intervals should be longer and intensity should be lower. As an individual improves strength and stamina then intervals can be altered to be more intense. This could include more demanding movements or even increased resistance used for each exercise.

When to incorporate these workouts can be the most confusing part of it all. There are a few different ways they can be used, it all depends on what each individual’s main goals are in the gym as well as available time. If you’re already doing strength training 3-5 days a week these workouts are going to be used more for a fat-burn/cardio workout. In this case completing a small circuit following a strength training routine, even on non-training days, will help burn a few extra calories, burn fat, and increase the strength of the cardiovascular system. If you’re  only able to attend the gym a few times a week and are really focused more on weight loss than strength gain, circuits would replace your regular workout. These circuits would need to be tailored more to increase strength as well as heart rate. Using more weight bearing exercises and a higher intensity would be ideal.

Circuit training is a great way to take care of a lot of different goals within the gym. Cutting down time, increasing strength, and burning fat can all be accomplished with a properly designed circuit. Start out slow and work your way up the intensity ladder by increasing weight and decreasing rest intervals. Try to start with basic movements and as strength is gained, incorporate more advanced moves to make time at the gym even more effective. Check out a couple example circuits below.


3-6 sets of 15 with 1:00 rest Bodywieght Squats Pushups Cable Row Lunges Plank Cable Twist


10 sets of :30 work with :20 rest Squat to Shoulder Press Single Leg Pushups Pull-ups Reverse Lunge Woodchops Mountain Climbers

Chance Cianciola is owner/strength coach at the Complete Performance Institute in Louisville. While studying to get his master’s degree in exercise physiology, he spent  time working with the strength and conditioning programs at the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky as well as spend some time in rehab centers learning about movement . After graduating, Chance started working with the general public and has delved into the world of powerlifting as well. His philosophy consists of bringing the aspects of sports and powerlifting to the general population to teach people that it is OK to train hard and train heavy.