When I do cardio I want to get the greatest fat-burning effect in the shortest amount of time possible and get it over with fast. I want to burn a TON of calories and get the greatest “afterburn” for the time I put in.

Essentially, I want to do the most EFFICIENT cardio I possibly can.

 And I’ll be honest with you right up front…I don’t do a whole lot of cardio. Cardio USED to be my thing back in high school, when I was a long distance runner, speedskater, cross-country skier, swimmer and soccer player.

Now my thing is lifting heavy things and putting them down again 🙂

That’s why the cardio that I do perform now is primarily in the form of what I call “Near Maximal Interval Training.” It allows me to work at near-peak levels for extended periods of time…and I’m talking 80 to 90% of my maximum pace for a period of 15 to 20 minutes.

And I have to tell you, the metabolic effects of this training style are INSANE. It burn RIDICULOUS amounts of calories and cranks your metabolism up long after you’re done. The fat loss you’ll get from it is extraordinary.

I’ll warn you right up front, though…as you can imagine, it’s hard work (VERY hard work) when done properly.

But when you do it right and do it regularly, it will help you burn fat incredibly fast and accelerate your cardiovascular capacity faster than ANY other form of cardio I’ve ever found.

I’m not going to go into the whole debate about which is better for fat loss…interval training or long-duration slow training. The best form of cardio is the one you’re actually doing to DO and if you hate the type you’re doing, you won’t put your best effort into it or do it regularly. Case closed. So do what you enjoy and stick to it.

For me, I actually enjoy interval training and using it to really push my limits. I don’t want to sit on a bike and mindlessly pedal in place while reading a magazine for an hour. If you prefer hard work, too, THIS is a technique you’re going to love…

How to Do Near Maximal Interval Training for Rapid Fat Loss:

This interval technique is going to allow you to work at near-peak levels for long periods of time. This has the benefit of burning a tremendous amount of calories for longer periods of work time than is possible with normal intervals.

The work intervals themselves are short but the rest periods are much shorter! Instead of pushing yourself to the max on every interval, you work at a pace somewhat short of your max (about 80 to 90%). This type of training allows you to perform near your max for longer periods of time. It is a VERY challenging and unique form of interval training.

So before I give you the nuts and bolts, I want to introduce you to your “Anaerobic Threshold”…

This is the point where your body switches from burning fuel aerobically (with oxygen) to burning fuel anaerobically (without oxygen). When you burn fuel aerobically, there is minimal build-up of waste products in the muscles…your body isn’t working so hard that it can’t deal with them and you can keep up that pace for longer periods.

This threshold is generally accepted to be at about 85% of your maximum work output.

When you go ABOVE that 85%, that’s when the waste product build-up begins….this threshold is also known as your “Lactate Threshold”…and yes, I’m talking about Lactic Acid.

When you’re training at that higher level, lactic acid builds up in your muscles as a waste product of anaerobic metabolism and your body can’t clear it out fast enough to keep up with that pace.

You get the burn, your blood pH decreases and your muscles don’t function very well.

What Near Maximal Interval Training does is take you over that threshold then brings you back under the threshold…under just enough to clear out some of that lactic acid before you go right back into the work interval and back over it.

And you repeat this for a period of 10, 15 or even 20 minutes.

Which means you’re working at a pace that is only just a bit short of your maximum workload for a time period 10 to 20 times greater than you normally could at that level if done straight through.
And I’m sure you can just imagine the calorie burning and fat burning you’re going to see as a result of that level of workload!

So here’s a sample of how to do it. I would recommend performing this type of training no more than 2 to 3 times a week.

•Start with a work interval of 10 seconds and a rest interval of 5 seconds. Your pace should be one that you would only be able to keep up steady for about 1 to 2 minutes before having to stop.
•Do that pace for 10 seconds then go very slow for 5 seconds. After 5 seconds, jump right back in and do that same pace for another 10 seconds then very slow for 5 seconds.
•Keep this cycle repeating for a designated period of time, e.g. 10 minutes, 15 minutes, etc.
This is the level I would recommend starting at…it’s a ratio of 2:1 work to rest. It’s the “easiest” level of intensity to learn how this exercise works. I also recommend starting here because you’ll need to use a progression of workload to develop your endurance.

•So the first time you do this training, start with a 10 seconds work to 5 seconds for a total period of 10 minutes.
•Repeat this for the second session.
•On the third session, increase your work time to 15 seconds while keeping 5 seconds rest for a 10 minute block. Repeat on the fourth session.
•On the fifth session, increase your work time to 20 seconds on 10 seconds rest for a 10 minute block and repeat this for the sixth session.
•At that point, we’re going to increase the total work time to 15 minutes and go back to the 10 seconds work and 5 seconds rest. Then repeat the progression as I talked about above, going to 15 sec work, 5 sec rest then 20 sec work, 10 sec rest every second session.
•When you finish your last 20:10 session on 15 minutes, then you’re ready for the big time :)…
•The work to rest interval is going to be 5:1…you’ll do 25 seconds work to 5 seconds rest…you’ll do it for 15 minutes for two sessions. Then, if you’re feeling good, you can increase that to 20 minutes for two more sessions (or you can just stick with 15 minutes).

This type of training works very well with cardio machines that allow you to switch resistance instantly or very quickly (stationary bikes, stair machines or elliptical trainers often allow this).

Machines that must cycle slowly through their speeds as they change do not work as easily for this (treadmills fall into this category, unless you feel comfortable hopping on an off the treadmill while it’s going full speed…if you DO decide to try this on a treadmill, hold onto the rails with both hands any time you hop on or off until you’ve got your balance and pace).

It can also be done with running fast then walking (which is the way I like to do it), cycling then pedalling slowly, or even swimming hard then doing a slow stroke.

You’re going to find it VERY challenging to be having to constantly restart your momentum from almost scratch on every interval, which is actually part of the benefit of this type of training…you work hard not only during the work interval but you also work hard to get up to speed for that work interval!

On a side note if you’re familiar with the Tabata Protocol, the framework will look similar to you. The difference with the Tabata Protocol is that you’re going as hard as you can during the work interval and doing it only for about 4 minutes.

Tabatas are also VERY good for conditioning and fat burning…I prefer Near-Maximal Training because of the ability to extend the time you’re operating at that higher workload to maximize the fat-burning effects.


If you’re looking for some serious cardio training for the purposes of fat loss of increasing your cardiovascular capabilities, look no further. This Near Maximal Interval Training is EXTREMELY effective for achieving both goals.

It’s tough but it will absolutely give you the payoff you’re looking for for the effort you’re putting in.

  1. Will Brink 13 years ago

    Calorie “burning” hell there! 🙂

    • Author
      Nick Nilsson 13 years ago

      You ain’t kidding!

  2. Joe 13 years ago

    “Lactic Acid”? “your blood pH decreases and your muscles don’t function very well”?
    Try to get the basic physiology theory right before writing an article like this. Or leave the science out entirely and just describe the training.
    You don’t have to understand what’s going on at the cellular level in order to prescribe an effective fat loss protocol, but if you are going to explain the underlying mechanisms, at least refer to theories that haven’t been discarded years ago.

    • Author
      Nick Nilsson 13 years ago

      Hi Joe, I admit it was a bit of a simplification since the main focus of the article is on the technique itself. Feel free to post the full details from a phyioslogical perspective, though!

      • Joe 13 years ago

        Hi Nick, sorry to sound so critical, and thanks for taking my post in the spirit it was intended.
        The term ‘lactic acid’ is misleading. It is, as far as I know, still used in literature, but it shouldn’t be. A more accurate term would be “lactate and associated protons”, but it’s easy to see why that didn’t catch on, especially with the public, for whom it is easy to link the idea of acid with the burning sensation felt in the muscles during intense exercise. For this reason, lactic acid may continue to be talked about and referred to even in scientific circles, even though it is plain wrong. Lactic acid virtually doesn’t exist, physiologically. The scientists who use the term know this. The journalists who report on their findings do not.
        As for the effect of low pH on muscle function, when it was observed, many decades ago, that muscle function declined as pH dropped it was assumed that the low pH was causing the reduced contractile function. This is under discussion, and while inducing acidosis in isolated muscles does appear to cause a moderate reduction in muscle function (although not as much as once thought, as physiological temperatures reduce the effect), it has also been shown that lactate and acidosis have a protective effect against the large negative impact of increased cellular potassium concentration caused by intense exercise. It is important not to mistake correlation for cause and effect. It’s like noticing that it tends to rain when people have their umbrellas up, and thinking “I wish all those people would get rid of their umbrellas and then it wouldn’t rain so much”. The umbrellas appear in response to the rain in order to attenuate its negative effects.

        • Author
          Nick Nilsson 13 years ago

          Thanks Joe! That’s a great explanation there. And yeah, I do my best not to have an ego about things like this…if I’m wrong or if there’s a better way to say things, I’ll definitely admit it!

        • Ray 12 years ago

          But really at the end of the day, who cares. The jist of the article was to give us a great fat burning routine. Do we want to check his grammar as well? Great article Nick

    • Will Brink 13 years ago

      Joe, I cover the lactic acid myth in a few prior blogs, such as:

      • Joe 13 years ago

        Hi Will,
        First of all, I’d like to say thank you for your great website and your fantastic e-books. You have helped, in part, inspire me into a career in Muscle Physiology research. I first read Bodybuilding Revealed 10 years ago and started my first degree soon after that, and I am now doing my PhD.
        Secondly, thanks for the link, but I have to say that I find it simplistic to attribute muscle fatigue to any one cause, in this case calcium leakage from the sarcoplasmic reticulum. I think it probably plays a part, but then again so does intracellular potassium build-up in the case of intense exercise, depletion of inter-myofibrillar glycogen has been shown to cause decreased calcium release from the SR at least in highly trained endurance athletes, and then of course there are central factors; as Tim Noakes likes to say, the limiting factor of the speed of a racing car is not the engine or how much fuel is in the tank, but the brain of the driver.
        It’s only a suggestion, but maybe you could write a new blog addressing muscle fatigue and have a look at a few of the central, neural, and peripheral factors and the mechanisms behind them without relying so heavily on external articles written by the popular media. When you do I’ll be the first to read it.
        Keep up the good work,

  3. Doug 13 years ago

    Incorporating “balls out” interval sprints into my workout routine has made it a LOT easier to keep my body-fat levels low year-round

  4. OldDog 13 years ago

    Seriously 5 secs of rest? You cant even transition from work to rest in that short a time period. I would even be willing to bet that if you put a heart rate monitor on people that during the 1st 5 rest sets their HR would still be increasing if it is not already maxed.

    • Author
      Nick Nilsson 13 years ago

      I know it sounds a bit crazy but it’s actually not only possible but very effective. 5 seconds goes by fast but it is longer than you think. With regards to the threshold, I’m not talking about heart rate – that absolutely doesn’t come down in 5 seconds. I’m talking about giving your body a few moments to clear some waste products in order to keep going at a high rate during the work intervals, delaying fatigue.
      The IDEA is to keep your heart rate elevated, giving your body just enough time for very slight recovery, which allows you to keep performing at that high level longer.
      Definitely give it a try, especially on a “manual” form of cardio like bench or stair stepping where you can from work to rest to work just by stopping and starting.

  5. Deborah Delany 13 years ago

    Tried this… SUPER HARD WORKOUT! Good article.

  6. Ray 12 years ago

    I’m a bit confused as to the schedule….is Session 1 = Day 1….Session 2 = Day 2 etc? or are we grouping sessions together.

    • Author
      Nick Nilsson 12 years ago

      I’m basically talking about sessions being separate workouts. It doesn’t necessarily mean Day 1 in terms of an overall workout. If you do this training once a week, then you’ll do session 1 in week 1. Then the next time you do it, that’s session 2, etc.

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