What’s the Shortest, Most Effective Cardio? We (and Science) Have Your Back

Don't live your life on an elliptical.


today cardio

That’s about as cool as steady-state cardio is going to get.

Every Gym Bro’s Savior

It’s commonplace to hear high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is more efficient than the traditional, steady-state options, but why? The rationale behind it is actually not overly complex, and like we’ve said before: don’t simply believe everything the swole guy tells you; do some research.

HIIT will save you time and dish out the results quicker than enduring 45-minute bouts on an elliptical or stationary bike. However, it’s not going to be a cakewalk. For HIIT to be effective, it requires maximum effort.


Don’t worry, it won’t last long.

The Importance of EPOC

Excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), or for the non-science types — The Afterburn. This is the single most important factor behind the argument for HIIT. EPOC, in it’s simplest sense, occurs when you train at such a capacity that you can’t suck in enough air to compensate for the amount of it your body actually wants and needs (also referred to as “oxygen debt”).


Consequently, the harder you train in a short period of time, the more EPOC increases. This massive oxygen debt (much like your student loans) can’t be paid off all at once, therefore elevating the metabolism for hours after the fact.

It comes down to this:

Steady state cardio technically burns more calories at that point in time, but HIIT will keep your metabolism revved up all day. In the long run, intervals end up coming out on top (and they take about one quarter of the time).

Interval instruction on the next page…

How Do I Step Up My Interval Game?

Luckily for you, there are endless ways to get knee-deep in intervals. The three steps to interval training are:

Pick an exercise

Decide on a work:rest ratio

Go 100% (not 110%; that doesn’t exist)


Sample Routines

These will get you started. After that, get creative.


If you’re on a treadmill, run at a speed that’s very close to your maximum for 20 seconds, followed by one minute of rest either walking or standing on the sides. Repeat this 10 times. That’s the introductory workout. After this initial interval bout, decrease the rest period by 10 seconds every week.

If you happen to be outside on a track, sprint the straightaways and walk the curves. When you want to be more precise, use a stop watch on your wrist to time the sprints and walking. Remember, slow progression each week is the name of the game.


Something Other Than Running (Thank God)

This routine is going to be very Burpee intensive, and when we say Burpee intensive, we mean it’s all Burpees. Set an interval timer (find one on the app store) for 20 seconds of work followed by 45 seconds of rest. You got it, Burpees for the work, standing around for the rest. Ten rounds.

After one week of this ratio, decrease the rest time to 40 seconds and add one round. Keep this progression up until you’re at 20 seconds of work and 30 seconds of rest for 13 rounds. That should be one month. You can do this routine every other day to jack up your metabolism and shed that pop tart and beer weight.


To summarize, HIIT can be applied to any exercise. Whether it’s a barbell complex, bodyweight movements like push-ups and pull-ups, or a row machine; HIIT will get you in and out of the gym quickly. Most of all, it’s applicable fitness. To all of the young lifters: 20-30 year-olds have no business walking an incline on a treadmill unless they’re injured. That won’t help you at all in the real world.

Now get to work.

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