5 Minutes, Ratios, and Intensity

I’ve been struggling a little lately with cardio. I’ve never particularly enjoyed it, but fortunately the sport I do enjoy - parkour - has cardio kind of ‘baked in’. By doing parkour, you’ll work cardio, without really having it be the focus. You won’t be as good as someone who runs, sprints, cycles, etc, as their actual focused training method, but you will at least be able to go up a flight of stairs without throwing up. And hey, I’m not trying to run any marathons, so a basic level of cardio fitness is fine. I want to be able to sprint for a bus when I need to, maybe knock out a slow but steady 5k on occasion, and keep a fairly healthy heart, and that’s about it.

The trouble has come now that I’m not really doing parkour that much anymore. Not for any particular reason - it’s just been difficult to find a place for it in my life right now. It happens - you move house, start a new job, or in my case, up-end your entire life to start again by going to university at 31. I’ve still been training, but it’s been in the gym at uni, which isn’t exactly bleeding edge in terms of equipment or massively blessed with space, so my training has been in turn limited.

So I’ve been getting in my calisthenics - levers, muscle ups - and some basic weight lifting. But, well, I’m not a lover of static cardio machines - treadmills, bikes, rowers. And those are kind of my options in this gym. I could go outside and run once I get home, but ideally I want to wrap my training all up in one session so I can get on with my day. And, considering that I don’t enjoy it anyway, having to psyche myself up to train again at some other time is setting myself up for failure.

All this is a long way of explaining that I tried the video below and it fucked me right up.

Athlean-X is a great Youtube channel to check out. I think it’s focus is not exactly in line with mine, but I’ve yet to see anything on there that I consider bad information. They’ve got a few of these short, blast-it-out workouts videos. Perfect, I thought. Tack one of these on at the end of a normal gym workout and I’ll get a little cardio hit to just top me up.

And hey, I’m not really doing anything right now, why not test it out? What’s five minutes going to do?

Well that was an hour ago and I’m still feeling queasy. That’s not the fault of the video - I went HAM at this, not really taking into account that I had been slacking on cardio lately. But it does go to show how effective such an approach is - you’re only going for five minutes, so make it a hard five minutes. Pick an intensity that works for the workout your doing. A common complaint I hear is not having enough time in a day to train, but that’s only really true if you approach a five minute workout as if it was a half hour workout. Resting between sets for 30 to 60 seconds will render a five minute workout useless, sure - but it’s five minutes! Rest for 5 to 10 seconds instead and you’ll quickly feel the same level of intensity.

Think of work to rest instead as a ratio. Example - say you set a work:rest ratio of 2:1. You work in some capacity for 2, and rest for 1. So in a 45 minute running session, that’s:

  • 30 minutes of running
  • 15 minutes of rest

That could be:

  • 10 minutes run
  • 5 minutes rest
  • repeated three times

Five minute is a nice long time to recover in! The exact same ratio of 2:1 in a five minute workout would give you - well, the maths is a bit imprecise*, but let’s pretend it’s:

  • 3 minutes 30 seconds work
  • 1 minute 30 seconds rest

Split it up into three sets again and that’s only 30 seconds of rest at a time - a much higher intensity workout! So, adjust your workout so that intensity scales to your time limit, and you can squeeze a lot more out of a lot less time. As for myself, I'll be repeating the video workout linked above many more times - I've got buses to catch, after all.

*technically, the following is a ratio of 2:0.87, nerds.