Add intensity to cardio workouts

Question: To challenge myself in the New Year, I plan to add more intensity to my cardio workouts. I’m not sure where to start, and how hard I should push myself? Any tips are appreciated.

Answer: In order to prevent overtraining, the intensity must be appropriate for your current state of health and how accustomed you already are to physical activity. A beginner should start with a lighter effort workout, one where they would have little difficulty talking, whistling or singing during the activity.

Those who perform cardiovascular exercise on a regular basis often do so at a moderate intensity level, where they feel somewhat out of breath but can still carry on a conversation. It’s not unusual for an advanced cardio workout to be performed at a huffing and puffing pace, where one would be too short of breath to carry on a conversation. This vigorous intensity level is normally used by athletes or exercisers looking for the ultimate challenge. The point is to test your capabilities in a safe manner and avoid setbacks. Ideas to increase effort level and add variety include:

Interval training: Here, short bursts of high intensity exercise are combined with light and moderate intensity activity during the same session. For example, starting with a light pace for a minute, followed by a somewhat winded pace for a minute, followed by an all-out effort pace for a minute. You would repeat this cycle until your planned number of total minutes is achieved. The number of minutes per segment can vary, and generally speaking, 20 total minutes or more per workout is recommended.

Stair Climbing: This is a fantastic exercise if your goal is to firm, strengthen and tone the lower body. Beginners might start with taking stairs one at a time initially, and once adapted, try increasing the number of steps, speed or taking them two at a time when ascending. Focus on pushing through the heel of the front foot, which will help lessen stress on the knees along with working the glutes to a greater degree.

Treadmill, Elliptical or other types of cardio equipment can be a valuable way to obtain cardio benefits. Varying goals can be utilized such as speed, distance, number of minutes, calories burned, etc. Instead of choosing the same workout over and over, challenge yourself, mix it up by choosing one variable and increasing it. Upping the degree of incline is especially useful. The greater the degree of gravity your body must work against, the greater the calorie burn and the more strength is gained. Don’t make the mistake of upping the incline drastically because this can bring about shin splints and other problems. Instead, increase over time to give your body a fair chance to adjust. Tip: Unless there is a good reason for doing so, such as issues with balance, try not to hold on to rails or lean forward when using a treadmill.

Marjie Gilliam is an International Sports Sciences Master certified personal trainer and fitness consultant. She owns Custom Fitness Personal Training Services LLC. Send email to

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