Especially with cardio, there is an emphasis on "low intensity, long duration." You don't work terribly hard, but you work long, burning calories and building up endurance. At least in theory.
The problem that comes with this is to have twice the effect the cardio workout needs to be twice as long. You can see where this goes - you just keep logging more and more time to improve. The workout never improves in efficiency even as your body does.
How to get past this? Up the intensity. Methods like circuit training, complexes, and HIIT are great for this. But sometimes you are dealing with someone - yourself, a trainer partner or friend, or a client - who isn't up to circuit training. Or you're stuck with a limited set of tools and time. Or both.
One simple method you can use to up the intensity for someone not ready for intervals is to just up the intensity a little each time. Keep the same overall time, but aim to get more done in that time. This time-specific method aims at getting more work in the same time rather than getting more time in overall.
On a rower, you can up the resistance of the flywheel.
On a stepper, you can raise the resistance of pushing each step down.
On treadmill, you can raise the incline.
On any of these, you can up your speed - aiming for more distance in the same time.
Outdoors, you can choose a steeper route or just increase your speed.
For example, if you've got 15 minutes to workout, you can start out walking on a 1% incline and 2.5 mph on the treadmill. Next time, 2% and 2.5. Then 3% and 2.5...and so on, until you max out the incline. Or you can alternate - next time 2% and 2.5 mph, but then 2% and 2.6 mph the time after. As long as one of those figures keeps going up, you're getting more work done.
I'm still a bigger fan of intervals and HIIT, but this is a painless way to increase the difficulty on a cardio workout over time. It's not a big jump - you don't go right into Tabata sprints from walking. Instead you ease into more and more work each session. It's progressive, it's simple, and it's always just a little more than last time...and it can be just what someone needs to build up to circuits and intervals!
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