Nearly 80 million US adults have cardiovascular disease (CVD), resulting in a 314 billion dollar price tag. So it is no wonder that those in the fitness industry are on a constant mission to improve those statistics. Unfortunately, not much has changed since I entered this industry over 20 years ago. When I was lecturing at Colorado State University, I remember sharing the message that CVD was responsible for one death every 34 seconds. Today, the American Heart Association (AHA) reports that number is now one death every 36 seconds, which is nearly 2,400 deaths per day. With only a two-second change over the past decade, we have room for improvement!


Stop the Cardio

Stopping the cardio is a message I have been arguing and lecturing about since I finished my doctorate over 10 years ago. Now, I certainly am not advocating removing exercise modalities that improve the cardiovascular condition quite the opposite. Instead, I want health care professionals to get better educated on this topic and, in turn, help the population to become more effective in improving their cardiovascular condition, losing their excess fat and improving their overall health.

Unfortunately, in the fitness industry, cardio exercise is synonymous with low- to moderate-intensity continuous exercise (LMICT), which is the mundane, repetitive, television watching, book reading, 20 to 60 minute workouts everyone has been indoctrinated into thinking is necessary to be cardiovascularly healthy as well as to lose weight. The education of personal trainers has improved considerably from when I was first espousing this message at fitness conventions in the mid-1990s; however, there is still a long way to go in educating the general public, medical community and many in the fitness industry.

I still consistently overhear personal trainers telling their clients that they also have to do their cardio following a personal training session, which typically involves lifting weights, often while sitting, using a compartmentalized muscle-group approach. Even more experienced trainers who recognize the cardiovascular benefits of multi-joint resistance exercise are often still unable to resist prescribing a cardio regimen to their clients. One would think that, after experiencing a few sets of 60-second Turkish Get-ups, common sense would prevent any trainer feeling the need for such a prescription, but it typically takes more than common sense to break the dogma they have been hearing for so long.

The cardio message that you have been hearing is not necessarily incorrect; rather, it is not the most effective at its goal and, most importantly, is not very time efficient. Moreover, there are actually some negatives along with the positives of LMICT. The early guidelines of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) still ring load today: engage in aerobic rhythmical activities, such as walking, running, biking and swimming, for 20 to 60 minutes at an intensity of 50 to 85% of ones maximal aerobic capacity, three to five times per week. Of course, it was the research coming from the universities that influenced these recommendations, and there is no doubt that, in the early sports science era, more research focused on LMICT than high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or sprint interval training (SIT).

Part of the bias towards this mode of exercise came from the fact that it was easier to examine oxygen consumption from LMICT than HIIT and trust me when I tell you from first hand experience that all graduate students in the early days of sport science research wanted to use the metabolic equipment to measure oxygen consumption. I also do not think it is a coincidence that the subjects for many of these early exercise studies were students, who had classes three to five times per week that were of a sufficient duration to collect data for 20 to 60 minutes. The recommended 50 to 85% intensity is merely a default of the selected duration; anyone exercising for that length of time will maintain that level of intensity, plain and simple.


Focus on HIIT

Research on LMICT simply demonstrates that it can induce a training effect. It is rather ironic, however, that one of the pioneers of exercise physiology, Per-Olof