Ask The Trainer

How do I vary cardio workouts to get more results?

January 31, 2015

Q: I have been working out for six months and have been quite successful. I’ve lost a total of 15 pounds, but I am now at a standstill. I do cardio three times a week for 15 minutes, but I am getting bored because I have not experienced any tangible results in over three weeks. I recently read an article that said I need to change up or cycle my routine. Can you give me a couple of pointers on how to do this? Any response would be appreciated.

A: Cycling your cardio means constantly changing the difficulty of your workouts to keep from getting stale and unproductive. Therefore, to get results you have to cycle or change the intensity of your workouts so they continue to be challenging. Most people add time and frequency right away, but there is a progression you must follow for best results. There are several ways to accomplish this goal. Here are a few to help you get started.

Find the right level

Adjust the difficulty of the machine. If you’re using the elliptical machine on level 2 for the first three weeks and your workout is becoming easier, then it’s probably time to move up to level 3. Continue to change the level every three to four weeks until you reach the level that’s best for you. At this point you can use other techniques to make your workouts more intense.

Adjust the intensity

Monitor your intensity. Cardio intensity can be measured in speed, RPMs, strides or watts, but you have to find the level that’s best for you. As your body gets in better shape, you will be more capable of doing tougher workouts.

Therefore, you will need to increase the speed/strides/watts/RPMs at which you are exercising to keep your workouts challenging. Try adding five to 10 RPMs - reps per minute - to each of your cardiovascular workouts until you find the level that gets you out of your comfort zone. Trust me, you will immediately notice the difference.

Burn more calories

Keep track of the amount of calories you are burning. If you had been burning 200 calories per workout for the last six months and you are no longer seeing progress, it’s time to change the intensity. Try increasing your calorie burn to 300 calories per workout for the next two weeks and see if you begin to make progress again.

Increase the time

Now that you have established difficult workouts that keep you out of your comfort zone, you need to add time to your workout. If you’ve been doing 15-minute cardio sessions since 2005, it’s time to step it up. Why not try going to 20 minutes? The extra time will force you to work harder, and you will automatically burn more calories. When you feel comfortable with 20 minutes you may want to go to 25 minutes. I usually keep my clients between 10- and 45-minute sessions depending on their fitness level and goal of their workouts.

Do cardio more frequently

Add an extra session to your routine. If you are burning 400 calories per workout and you’re doing three sessions per week, you are obviously burning a total of 1,200 calories. Adding a fourth session at 400 calories will bring your total to 1,600 calories.

This might not seem like much at first, but over a period of six months you will burn 9,600 more calories than your previous routine. Adding a session might be what you need to take your body to the next level. I like to start my clients out with three sessions per week and slowly work them up to four to six sessions per week to get results over a 12-week period depending on their goals.

It’s important to remember that you should only change one variable at a time when cycling your program. Cycling will allow you to adjust the difficulty of your program. It will also keep your workouts from getting stale and boring. Most importantly, it will allow you to continue making progress.

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