ICE - Intense Cardio Exercise is a science-based approach to exercise, to maximize fat loss and fitness at the same time. The cornerstone of ICE is structuring high intensity intervals in the workout. The incorporation of high intensity intervals into your ICE workouts is probably the best piece of advice one can give when it comes to getting the most out of your time spent exercising.

When it comes to getting started, folks are often hesitant to have someone who is out of shape perform intense exercise. I understand the thinking; the “I don’t want to kill myself” attitude, but what you need to remember is that intensity is a relative thing. Even for YOU.

Members of learn a simple, but science-based method to regulating intensity so that it is safe and effective no matter what your starting level is. Be sure to read ICE - Cardio that burns 3x more fat!

Now that we have things in a bit better perspective and realize that we are not going to kill anyone with this recommendation, let’s look at what the science says about high intensity intervals and its benefits.

Did you know that the first experiments with high intensity intervals were actually done back in 1979? Yes, 1979. Heck, that was probably before some of you were even born!

The studies were done not on healthy young volunteers, but on patients with cardiovascular disease. They found that if the intensity was high enough and the duration long enough that this form of exercise actually reduced the likelihood of myocardial ischemia- or the cutting off of oxygen to the heart muscle.

Yes, exercise was a treatment for heart disease -- in 1979!

Fast-forward 34 years.

Looking at a meta analysis investigating the effects of moderate intensity continuous training and high intensity intervals on persons with cardiometabolic disease we see that high intensity interval training produces results conducive to reducing the effects of the disease while moderate intensity continuous training does not.

Cardiometabolic disease is an inclusionary term for poor life style choices. Folks with cardiometabolic disease are overweight (typically centrally obese), insulin resistant, have high blood sugar (or are diabetic), have high blood pressure, and have a poor lipid profile (low HDL, high LDL, high triglycerides).

The modality of exercise used most often were intervals of walking or running on the treadmill. Work intervals ranged from 30 seconds to 3 or 4 minutes. Each protocol was slightly different some utilized 4 minute work intervals with 3 minutes of recovery, while others used 3 minute work intervals followed by 3 minutes of recovery or as little as 30 seconds of work followed by 30 or 60 seconds of recovery.

Bet you didn’t realize that mitochondrial malfunction is at the heart of many chronic diseases; many of which are included in the umbrella of cardiometabolic disease. Wouldn’t you know that after just one bout of high intensity intervals, a really cool thing called PGC-1alpha is increased!

PGC-1alpa is an activator of things. It stimulates the mitochondria and promotes the remodeling of muscle tissue into a more metabolically active type. It also plays an important role in carbohydrate and fat metabolism.

So after just one bout of ICE we see improvement in mitochondrial functioning, and carbohydrate and fat metabolism!

After just one bout of ICE your health is improving!

Sounds great, doesn’t it?

The benefits don’t stop there. Here is a table highlighting some important benefits of incorporating high intensity intervals into your ICE:


Increase  VO2peak
 Systolic and Dyastolic blood pressure
 High Density lipoproteins
Tryglycerides and fasting glucose
Oxidative stress and inflammation
Insulin sensitivity and B-cell function
Cardiac function
Enjoyment of exercise
Quality of life
*adapted from Weston KS, et al. Br J Sports Med 2013;0:1–9. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2013-092576

In a nutshell, high intensity intervals can have a big effect on things like obesity, diabetes, and cardiomyopathy.

Yet another stand out payout from high intensity intervals is that it can improve ejection fraction (the amount of blood pumped from the heart with each heart beat) in people with heart failure to the same degree as ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers. Yes, you read that right.

So what constitutes high intensity intervals?

A typical 10 minute warm up may be followed by 3 or 4 bouts of 4 minutes of work at 85-95% peak heart rate and 3 minutes of passive rest allowing heart rate to reach 70% peak. This protocol should be followed by a 5 minute cool down.

While the typical protocols utilize cardio equipment, they are not required to. In fact, this high intensity intervals that we have been talking about may resemble any of the ICE sessions that you have already performed!

That’s right, each time you do it you are decreasing the likelihood that you will ever develop cardiometabolic disease. If you have cardiometabolic disease, with every ICE session you perform you are making yourself a healthier person, reducing the risk of suffering from further complications of the disease.

What are you waiting for?

As with anything consult a physician if any of the following contraindications are present:

▸ Unstable angina pectoris
▸ Uncompensated heart failure
▸ Recent myocardial infarction (<4 weeks)
▸ Recent coronary artery bypass graft or percutaneous
coronary intervention (<12 months)
▸ Heart disease that limits exercise (valvular, congenital,
ischaemic and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy)
▸ Complex ventricular arrhythmias or heart block
▸ Severe chronic obstructive pulmonary, cerebrovascular
disease or uncontrolled peripheral vascular disease
▸ Uncontrolled diabetes type II
▸ Hypertensive patients with blood pressure >180/110 (or
▸ Severe neuropathy

* Reference: Weston K. Wisloff U. Coombes J. High-intensity interval trainng in patients with lifestyle-induced cardiometabolic disease:a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med 2013;0:1–9.

Further reading

Alongside 14 years experience in personal training and a stack of certifications, Michelle Adams has a Bachelor’s and Masters degree from the University of South Carolina. Michelle is an accomplished athlete, having won the 2006 IFBB Toronto Figure Championships and has now moved into marathon and ultra marathon running. Michelle is a MP Level 1 Certified Metabolic Nutritionist and enjoys nothing more than helping people learn the truth about nutrition and living a healthy lifestyle. Read more from Michelle here.

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