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Fat-Burning Cardio


Whether it's sleet and snow or the fact that you can cover up an expanding waistline with a bulky sweater, excuses for not working out proliferate when the sunshine subsides.

As a recent study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology confirms, physical activity tends to decrease in the winter. The research, which examined 580 healthy adults living in Worcester, Mass., found that women's total activity levels were higher by one metabolic equivalent (70 calories per day) during the summer in comparison with winter.

On the other hand, people who do keep up their exercise habits tend to take their workouts inside at this time of the year. According to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, in 2000 the number of gym memberships increased by an average of 9 percent during the fall and winter months.

So, to keep you on the right track, we asked exercise physiologist Paul Robbins to create three indoor cardio programs that cater to your most important fitness goals. "When people stop working out it's because they're not seeing results and (in the winter, especially) they also get bored with the same old routine," Robbins notes. "Instead of just punching in your usual cardio program, these plans will help you focus on a concrete objective, so you'll really get what you want out of your workout."

Do you want to blast off the extra calories you're consuming when you're stuck inside? Maybe you're hoping to break through a plateau and keep that winter rut at bay? Or perhaps you'd like to increase your endurance so you'll have more energy? Simply select the program that best matches your mission and chances are, you'll start to see results soon. And, with options for beginners and more advanced exercisers built into each plan, you can individualize your program even further.

In addition to doing your cardio three times a week, you should also include a total-body strength-training program at least twice a week. (It's OK to follow the cardio plans up to six times a week, but because Robbins' plans are so results-oriented, you probably won't need to exceed the recommended three times a week.) So, pick a machine--any machine--and sweat your way to a sleeker, sexier body this season.

The plan

Do the cardio plan of your choice three times a week. If your goal is the same each day, stick with one program -- however, Robbins suggests that changing your goals occasionally will ensure that your mind and body stay stimulated, and you'll maximize your results.

You'll be monitoring your intensity using a Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) -- see the chart below for an explanation and comparable heart-rate monitoring. Simply set your favorite machine on manual; then, each time your program calls for an increase or decrease in your RPE, adjust the speed, resistance and/or incline -- whatever it takes for you to feel like you're at the correct RPE.

Warm-up/cool down: An easy-paced warm-up and cool-down is built into each program. Finish each cardio workout with some stretches, particularly focusing on the muscles of the lower body. Hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds without bouncing, and remember to keep breathing.

The Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)

Use the RPE scale to estimate the intensity of your workout session. Here's how the four levels are defined.

RPE 3-4 Easy to moderate; you should be able to maintain this level and carry on a conversation with minimal effort.

RPE 5-6 Moderate; you can maintain this level and have a conversation with some effort.

RPE 7-8 Difficult; maintaining this level and having a conversation requires quite a bit of effort.

RPE 8-9 Peak effort; you won't be able to maintain this level for more than 3-4 minutes; no-talking zone.

GOAL 1: Easy Calorie Blaster

Eating a little extra this season? This 45-minute, moderate-intensity workout is designed to burn maximum calories at a moderate intensity. According to Robbins, the steady increases in intensity on the three intervals, combined with the three peak pushes, don't just give you the added calorie burn you're craving -- they'll also really work the legs for an incredible lower-body blast.

Basic option

Warm-up -- 6 min. at RPE 3-4



Interval 1 -- 2 min. at RPE 5; 2 min. at RPE 6; 2 min. at RPE 7; 2 min. at RPE 8



Peak push 1 -- 1 min. at RPE 9



Recovery 1 -- 5 min. at RPE 3-4



Interval 2 -- 2 min. at RPE 5; 2 min. at RPE 6; 2 min. at RPE 7; 1 min. at RPE 8



Peak push 2 -- 30 sec. at RPE 9



Recovery 2 -- 5 min. at RPE 3-4



Interval 3 -- 2 min. at RPE 5; 2 min. at RPE 6; 2 min. at RPE 7; 1 min. at RPE 8



Peak push 3 -- 30 sec. at RPE 9



Cool-down -- 5 min. at RPE 3-4



Calories burned: 412*

Beginner option

Omit recovery 2, interval 3 and peak pushes 2 and 3 for a total workout time of 32 minutes.

Calories burned: 285

Advanced option

On peak pushes 2 and 3, do 1 full minute (instead of 30 seconds) at RPE 9, adding an extra, high-intensity minute to your workout. To maximize your calorie expenditure, reduce your warm-up and each recovery period by 1 minute, and add an extra minute to each of the RPE 5 segments at the beginning of the three intervals.

Calories burned: 435

GOAL 2: Plateau Buster

If you're stuck in a rut and aren't seeing results, this 45-minute, higher-intensity workout will help you get over that troublesome plateau with a series of five sprints in each interval. "Most people spend most of their workout at a 5-7 RPE," Robbins says. "An RPE of 8-9 is overloading the body, which you must do to improve." Because this plan raises the metabolism during and after the workout, you'll really start to see the results of your cardio once again, Robbins adds.

Basic option

Warm-up -- 6 min. at RPE 3-4

Interval 1 -- 1 min. at RPE 8-9; 1 min. at RPE 3-4; 1 min. at RPE 8-9; 1 min. at RPE 3-4; 1 min. at RPE 8-9; 1 min. at RPE 3-4; 1 min. at RPE 8-9; 1 min. at RPE 3-4; 1 min. at RPE 8-9

Recovery 1 -- 5 min. at RPE 3-4

Interval 2 -- 45 sec. at RPE 8-9; 1 min. at RPE 3-4; 45 sec. at RPE 8-9; 1 min. at RPE 3-4; 45 sec. at RPE 8-9; 1 min. at RPE 3-4; 45 sec. at RPE 8-9; 1 min. at RPE 3-4; 45 sec. at RPE 8-9

Recovery 2 -- 5 min. at RPE 3-4

Interval 3 -- 30 sec. at RPE 8-9; 1 min. at RPE 3-4; 30 sec. at RPE 8-9; 1 min. at RPE 3-4; 30 sec. at RPE 8-9; 1 min. at RPE 3-4; 30 sec. at RPE 8-9; 1 min. at RPE 3-4; 45 sec. at RPE 8-9

Cool-down -- 5 min. at RPE 3-4

Calories burned: 443

Beginner option

Omit the second recovery and third interval portions of the program to reduce your total workout time to 32:45.

Calories burned: 325

Advanced option (Not to be done more than once a week!)

Make intervals 2 and 3 the same as interval 1, so that you're spending a minute (instead of 30 or 45 seconds) at RPE level 8-9 in all three intervals. To really give your plateau a kick in the butt, add an extra sprint to each interval on top of that (i.e., an extra minute at RPE 3-4, followed by an extra minute at RPE 8-9).

Calories burned: 507

GOAL 3: Endurance builder

Want to send your energy level soaring this season? This 45-minute workout incorporates four intervals that take you just above your anaerobic threshold (slightly beyond your aerobic zone). As a result, your endurance will improve. A lot of people get frustrated when they put in a long, hard workout regularly, but only seem to maintain their fitness level. "With this program, you're working out at a higher level for a longer period of time -- but also giving your body time to recover -- so you'll see a noticeable improvement in your endurance," Robbins says.

Basic option

Warm-up -- 6 min. at RPE 3-4

Interval 1 -- 1 min. at RPE 8-9; 5 min. at RPE 6

Recovery 1 -- 3 min. at RPE 3-4



Interval 2 -- 1 min. at RPE 8-9; 5 min. at RPE 6



Recovery 2 -- 3 min. at RPE 3-4



Interval 3 -- 1 min. at RPE 8-9; 5 min. at RPE 6



Recovery 3 -- 3 min. at RPE 3-4



Interval 4 -- 1 min. at RPE 8-9; 5 min. at RPE 6



Cool-down -- 6 min. at RPE 3-4



Calories burned: 378

Beginner option

Omit intervals 3 and 4 and the recovery time in between for a total workout time of 30 minutes.

Calories burned: 260

Advanced option

Reduce the warm-up by 1 minute, do all 4 intervals with 2 minutes instead of 1 at RPE 8-9 and remain at RPE 6 for the 3-minute recovery periods. (When you get to this point, be sure that you're taking at least 2 days off from your cardio workouts to let your body recover.)

Calories burned: 440

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