Tip: The Most Effective 10 Minute Cardio Workout

Screw those long sessions on the stationary bike or rower. All you need is a few minutes a week. Here's what to do.

Cardio is the Worst

Calling cardio something more serious and high-minded like "metabolic conditioning" doesn't make it suck any less. Either way, it's not just boring, it's downright excruciating. Besides, if we wanted to concentrate on cardio, we'd be Zumba dance specialists instead of weight lifters.

Still, most of us reluctantly agree to do conditioning work because we know that it contributes to our overall fitness, but damn it'd be nice if it didn't take so much time.

That's why this study from some Canadian researchers is so welcome. Their research showed that riding a stationary bike for 10 minutes, if done in a specific way, was as good as riding one the normal way for 45 minutes.

The methodology was really simple. Researchers got 19 healthy men to train in the gym three times a week for 12 weeks. Ten of the men cycled for 45 minutes at 70% of their maximal heart rate (MHR). The other 9 cycled for only 10 minutes each time, but in this manner:

  • 3 minutes of "warm-up," ramping up to 70% of MHR
  • 20 seconds of cycling as fast as possible
  • 2 minutes of low-intensity cycling (70% of MHR)
  • 20 seconds of cycling as fast as possible
  • 2 minutes of low-intensity cycling (70% of MHR)
  • 20 seconds of cycling as fast as possible
  • 2 minutes of low intensity cycling (70% of MHR)

That's 10 total minutes of cycling, interrupted by three 20-second bursts of maximum intensity efforts.

Both groups lost a tiny bit of body fat, but more importantly, the short-interval training sessions improved insulin sensitivity just as much as the longer sessions. The short sessions also increased respiratory fitness and skeletal muscle mitochondrial content just as much as the longer sessions.

Prior to this study, the prevailing guideline regarding aerobic conditioning was 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity per week. This study suggests we can get along with a lot less, particularly if done using interval-training protocols.

Granted, this study used sedentary (but healthy) men, but the lessons learned may well extend to those of us who aren't sedentary but could still use a bit more aerobic training.

You also have the option of taking this concept and juicing it up a bit. For instance, you could do Tabata training, which is a lot like the protocol used in the Canadian experiment, but even more intense (and even shorter).

Simply do 8 rounds of ultra-high intensity sprint cycles. Just peddle your ass off for 20 seconds, go really slow for 10 seconds ("rest"), and then resume peddling your ass off for another 20 seconds before resting again. Continue that for 4 minutes, which equals 8 rounds.

This short workout may well equal or surpass the conditioning you could achieve with much longer (30 to 60 minutes) aerobic conditioning sessions.

  1. Gillen, J., Martin, B., et al., "Twelve Weeks of Sprint Interval Training Improves Indices of Cardiometabolic Health Similar to Traditional Endurance Training despite a Five-Fold Lower Exercise Volume and Time Commitment," Plos One, April 26, 2016.