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Posted 22 May 2013 by Nick Nilsson

HIIT: 8 Week Cardio Interval


Training Progression

8 Week Cardio Interval Training Progression Guide

Interval training is one of THE most effective ways to burn fat while preserving muscle. It's also one of the most effective ways to improve your cardiovascular capacity as well!  But the trick is where do you start? You can't just jump in and start sprinting without knowing what you're doing. That's a good way to not only to hurt yourself, but exhaust yourself as well!

So I've got an interval training progression plan that gets you started with more basic types of interval training then gradually moves you into more intense cardio training.  I'll lay out how many intervals to do, which style of interval training to do, and how long to do it for. This progression plan will also give you good variety in your cardio training, which can get dull if you keep doing it the same way over and over.

And just like with weight training, you need to constantly challenge and even shock your body in order to keep making progress. This plan will do it for you!

The overall goals with this cardio program are fat loss and improving cardio capacity. This type of training is not a plan I would recommend if you're trying to build muscle. When training to build muscle, you want to keep cardio training to a lower maintenance level and this is not a program that does that.

It's based on doing cardio 3 times per week and can be applied to pretty much any method or apparatus of cardio training, be it running, cycling, elliptical, etc. Any cardio based sports activity will work as well (e.g. swimming).

Choose whatever method works best for you, that you enjoy the most or that you'd most like to improve your performance in, e.g. if you're a runner, using running as the activity for your interval training.

Here's a summary of the types of interval training we'll be using…

1. Aerobic Interval Training

Aerobic Interval Training is very beneficial for rapidly improving your aerobic conditioning as well as burning fat. It will even help you build up your endurance faster than long-duration cardio! It is also a very good introductory format for starting interval training. If you are new to interval training, I highly recommend beginning with Aerobic Intervals.

This type of interval training involves relatively long work periods and shorter rest periods. Work periods are generally 2 to 5 minutes long in this type of training. The idea is not to take it easy for that work time but to work at a speed that challenges you to be able to make it to the end of that work interval. Your 2 minute interval pace is, therefore, going to be significantly faster than your 5 minute interval pace.

The rest interval for this type of training is between 30 seconds to a minute. Naturally, the shorter the rest period, the tougher the training will be. Too much rest will allow your body to recover too much, lessening the overall training effect of the exercise.

Here are some examples of a number of different intervals you can use in your training:

Work Rest
2 min. 30 sec.
5 min. 1 min.
3 min. 45 sec.
2 min. 1 min.
5 min. 30 sec.

 

When using these intervals, you can choose to stick to the same time intervals (e.g. do 2 minutes hard and 30 seconds slow for the duration of the workout) or mix it up with different time intervals as you go through your session. This type of training can generally be done for about 20 to 30 minutes.

2. Maximal High-Intensity Intervals

This type of interval training is VERY high intensity and is VERY effective for fat loss and cardio training. You essentially push yourself to the maximum on every single work interval you do! This type of training is extremely effective when training for sports that require all-out repeated efforts, such as football, soccer, hockey, etc. If you want to get faster and recover faster, this is the type of training for you.

This type of training sends very powerful signals to the body and the metabolism. In addition to dramatically ratcheting up the body's metabolism, maximal-effort training also causes large amounts of Growth Hormone, one of your body's primary fat burning hormones (the Fountain of Youth Hormone, as it's sometimes referred to) to be released into the bloodstream. This two-pronged effect is very powerful for fat-burning.

Maximal Intervals are much shorter than Aerobic Intervals. Generally, the longest you'll be able to perform a maximal effort is around 30 seconds so all the work intervals are 30 seconds or less.

Rest periods can be short or long, depending how good of shape a person is in and/or how much they want to recover in between intervals. Shorter rest periods make the work intervals more challenging but the speed of the work will also drop quickly after a few intervals. Longer rest periods will allow the body to recover a little more, allowing faster speeds on more intervals. Rest periods should always be at least as long as the work periods. This is to allow enough recovery to be able to perform well on the next work period.

Here are some examples of Maximal work and rest intervals you can use in your training. As I mentioned above, you can stick with one time period through the whole session, or vary your intervals you go through the workout.

Work Rest
30 sec. 30 sec.
30 sec. 1 min.
20 sec. 1 min.
10 sec. 30 sec.
30 sec. 2 min.

 

Since Maximal Intervals are so challenging, a person should not expect or try to be able to jump right in at a high level for a large number of intervals. It is very important to build yourself up gradually.

Start by performing five Maximal Intervals the first two sessions you do the training. The next two sessions, do six Maximal Intervals. Continue adding intervals in this step-up fashion until you are doing intervals for a maximum of 15 minutes straight. The exact number of intervals you do in a session will depend on the times you're using in your work and rest intervals.
Because Maximal Intervals are so challenging, you may find yourself getting too fatigued to perform at a fast pace as you get towards the end. When this happens, try doing Reverse Pyramid intervals. Instead of keeping your work interval the same, reduce it by 5 seconds every couple of intervals.

Here's a sample of how to do it:

  • Interval 1 - 30 seconds hard, 30 seconds rest.
  • Interval 2 - 30 seconds hard, 30 seconds rest.
  • Interval 3 - 25 seconds hard, 30 seconds rest.
  • Interval 4 - 25 seconds hard, 30 seconds rest.
  • Interval 5 - 20 seconds hard, 30 seconds rest.
  • Interval 6 - 20 seconds hard, 30 seconds rest.
  • Interval 7 - 15 seconds hard, 30 seconds rest.
  • Interval 7 - 15 seconds hard, 30 seconds rest.

3. Sub-Maximal High Intensity Intervals

Sub-Maximal intervals are excellent for burning fat and for building up your cardiovascular conditioning. This type of training will do each of these far better than continuous-tempo, lower-intensity training.

This type of interval training is very similar in concept and execution to the Maximal interval style. The difference is, instead of pushing yourself as hard as you can on each work interval, you work at a pace that is somewhat below your max. This allows you to do more total work intervals during the session while still keeping your intensity levels high.
Most Interval programs on cardio machines follow this principle. The resistance/speed is increased to a higher level for a set period of time then reduced for a set period of time. The level is not so high that you must put your maximum effort into each work interval, but it is at a level you could not keep up for long periods.

This type of training is also very effective for fat loss and increasing the metabolism.
Intervals in this style can be longer, since you're not working at maximum speed, but not much longer. Work periods of 30 seconds to a minute and rest periods of 30 seconds to a minute work well for it. Here are some sample intervals you can use in your training:

Work Rest
30 sec. 30 sec.
30 sec. 1 min.
1 min. 1 min.
1 min. 30 sec.
45 sec. 45 sec.

This type of training can be done for about 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the intensity level of the work.

4. Near-Maximal Aerobic Intervals

This is a unique form of interval training that I've been working with that basically combines Aerobic Interval Training with Maximal Interval Training to allow you to work at near-peak levels for long periods of time. This has the benefit of burning a tremendous amount of calories for longer periods of work time than is possible with normal intervals.
The work intervals themselves are short but the rest periods are much shorter! Instead of pushing yourself to the max on every interval, you work at a pace somewhat short of your max. This type of training allows you to perform near your max for longer periods of time. It is a very challenging and unique form of interval training.

Here's how it works:

Start with a work interval of 20 seconds and a rest interval of 5 seconds. Your pace should be one that you would only be able to keep up steady for about 1 to 2 minutes before having to stop. Do that pace for 20 seconds then go very slow for 5 seconds. Jump right back in and do that same pace for another 20 seconds then very slow for 5 seconds. Keep this cycle repeating for a designated period of time, e.g. 5 minutes, 10 minutes or 15 minutes.

Here are some sample intervals you can use with this training style:

Work Rest
20 sec. 5 sec.
25 sec. 5 sec.
30 sec. 10 sec.
15 sec. 7 sec.
40 sec. 10 sec.

 

This type of training works very well with cardio machines that allow you to switch resistance instantly or very quickly (stationary bikes, stair machines or elliptical trainers often allow this). Machines that must cycle slowly through their speeds as they change do not work well for this (treadmills fall into this category). It can also be done with running then walking, cycling then pedalling slowly, or even swimming hard then stroking lazily. You'll find it very challenging to be having to constantly restart your momentum from almost scratch on every interval!

Please note: it's very important that you don't stop completely when you take your short rest period. Keep yourself moving during this time even if you're just moving very slowly!

8 Week Interval Training Progression

  • This basically assumes you're starting from scratch without interval training experience but with cardio and weight training experience. So it's not a total beginner program but it gives you a good place to start if you've not done intervals before.
  • The three training days per week can be done at any day of the week, e.g. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I like to include at least one day off in between cardio days.
  • Cardio can also be done on the same days as weight training. I would recommend doing cardio AFTER doing weights as doing cardio before will affect your strength levels when doing weights.
  • With this program, we'll gradually be increasing the workload, the intensity and decreasing rest periods. We'll also be changing up the different styles of cardio being done.
  • Start each cardio training session with 2-3 minutes of slow to moderate-pace warm-up of the specific activity you'll be using.
  • When the program calls for slow-pace or rest intervals, this basically means dropping back to a very minimal and easy pace or simply walking around - nothing challenging at all.
  • After 8 weeks on this program, take at least a week off cardio training. When you go back to it, feel free to experiment with other combinations of interval training - you're going to be in great cardio shape!
  • Note - These progressions aren't based on any scientific studies, only my own experience with interval training with how to best progress as you do it so that you get the most out of it.

Week 1 - Aerobic Interval Training

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3

2 minutes of faster-pace activity then

1 minute slow pace activity

Perform 7 faster-pace intervals

2 minutes of faster-pace activity then

1 minute slow pace activity

Perform 7 faster-pace interval

1 1/2 minutes of faster-pace activity then

1 minute slow pace activity

Perform 9 faster-pace intervals

• Faster pace in this case means a speed which you could only sustain for about 5 minutes or so, if you had to. • Faster pace in this case means a speed which you could only sustain for about 5 minutes or so, if you had to. • Faster pace in this case means a speed which you could only sustain for about 3 minutes or so, if you had to - basically faster than you did the previous two days.

Week 2 - Aerobic Interval Training

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3

1 1/2 minutes of faster-pace activity then

1 minute slow pace activity

Perform 9 faster-pace interval

2 minutes of fast-pace activity then

30 seconds slow pace activity

Perform 9 faster-pace intervals

2 minutes of fast-pace activity then

30 seconds slow pace activity

Perform 9 faster-pace intervals

• Faster pace in this case means a speed which you could only sustain for about 3 minutes or so, if you had to. • Faster pace in this case means a speed which you could only sustain for about 2 to 3 minutes or so, if you had to - again, a bit faster than you did the previous two days. • Faster pace in this case means a speed which you could only sustain for about 2 to 3 minutes or so, if you had to.

Week 3 - Sub-Maximal Interval Training

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3

1 minute of fast-pace activity then

1 minute slow pace activity

Perform 6 faster-pace intervals

1 minute of fast-pace activity then

1 minute slow pace activity

Perform 8 faster-pace intervals

1 minute of fast-pace activity then

1 minute slow pace activity

Perform 10 faster-pace intervals

• Faster pace in this case means a speed which you could only sustain for not a whole lot longer than a minute to a minute and a half.

• Faster pace in this case means a speed which you could only sustain for not a whole lot longer than a minute to a minute and a half.

• Faster pace in this case means a speed which you could only sustain for not a whole lot longer than a minute to a minute and a half.

Week 4 - Sub-Maximal Interval Training

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3

30 seconds of fast-pace activity then

30 seconds slow pace activity

Perform 10 faster-pace intervals

30 seconds of fast-pace activity then

30 seconds slow pace activity

Perform 14 faster-pace intervals

30 seconds of fast-pace activity then

30 seconds slow pace activity

Perform 18 faster-pace intervals

• Faster pace in this case means a speed which you could only sustain for not a whole lot longer than 45 seconds or so. • Faster pace in this case means a speed which you could only sustain for not a whole lot longer than 45 seconds or so. • Faster pace in this case means a speed which you could only sustain for not a whole lot longer than 45 seconds or so.

Week 5 - Maximal Interval Training

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3

15 seconds of full-out activity then

1 minute slow pace activity

Perform 8 full-out intervals

15 seconds of full-out activity then

1 minute slow pace activity

Perform 10 full-out intervals

20 seconds of full-out activity then

1 minute slow pace activity

Perform 10 full-out intervals

• Full out here means as fast as you can go for the full 15 seconds! • Full out here means as fast as you can go for the full 15 seconds! • Full out here means as fast as you can go for the full 20 seconds!

Week 6 - Maximal Interval Training

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3

20 seconds of full-out activity then

1 minute slow pace activity

Perform 12 full-out intervals

30 seconds of full-out activity then

1 1/2 minutes slow pace activity

Perform 8 full-out intervals

30 seconds of full-out activity then

1 1/2 minutes slow pace activity

Perform 10 full-out intervals

• Full out here means as fast as you can go for the full 20 seconds! • Full out here means as fast as you can go for the full 30 seconds! • Full out here means as fast as you can go for the full 30 seconds!

Week 7 - Near-Maximal Interval Training

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3

30 seconds of fast pace then

10 seconds slow pace activity

Do this for a total of 15 minutes training time - basically keep alternating these work and rest intervals until you've done 15 minutes.

30 seconds of fast pace then

10 seconds slow pace activity

Do this for a total of 18 minutes training time - basically keep alternating these work and rest intervals until you've done 18 minutes

15 seconds of fast pace then

5 seconds slow pace activity

Do this for a total of 15 minutes training time - basically keep alternating these work and rest intervals until you've done 15 minutes.

• Fast pace here means a pace you could only normally keep for about 1 to 2 minutes. • Fast pace here means a pace you could only normally keep for about 1 to 2 minutes. • Fast pace here means a pace you could only normally keep for about 1 minute or so.

Week 8 - Near-Maximal Interval Training

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3

15 seconds of fast pace then

5 seconds slow pace activity

Do this for a total of 18 minutes training time - basically keep alternating these work and rest intervals until you've done 18 minutes.

25 seconds of fast pace then

5 seconds slow pace activity

Do this for a total of 15 minutes training time - basically keep alternating these work and rest intervals until you've done 15 minutes.

25 seconds of fast pace then

5 seconds slow pace activity

Do this for a total of 20 minutes training time - basically keep alternating these work and rest intervals until you've done 20 minutes.

• Fast pace here means a pace you could only normally keep for about 1 minute or so. • Fast pace here means a pace you could only normally keep for about 1 minute or so. • Fast pace here means a pace you could only normally keep for about 1 minute or so.

 

Once you’re done this progression, take at least a week off cardio training completely!

Written by:  Nick Nilsson

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