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How to Safely Get Started With Exercise - Part 1 Cardiovascular Exercise

New to exercise? Want to know how to start doing cardiovascular exercise in a safe progressive manner? This is your guide!
How to Safely Get Started With Exercise - Part 1 Cardiovascular Exercise

Pick your schedule. Any schedule first.

Break up training weekly, however it makes sense to you.

If your schedule isn’t 150 minutes of moderate activity weekly. Then try to add duration to those training sessions (5-10 min. at time) or add training sessions next.

If you hit a snag and can’t keep adding minutes, add intensity at that point (numerous progression examples listed in the post below). i.e. make the exercise, you have time for, harder.

Vigorous activity is roughly good for a 2:1 ratio so you can get away with 75 min. instead of 150 min. weekly. i.e. every 15 minutes of high intensity training ≅ 30 minutes of moderate intensity training.

Limit high intensity or vigorous training sessions to a maximum of 30 minutes per session and only do them every other day.

3×25 min. of vigorous activity will meet the weekly recommendations.

If you hit 150 minutes of moderate weekly activity awesome, you can keep adding if you like. Or add intensity if you like.

I prefer to start with walking and/or biking. Less impact/joint stress, and less technique required. Resistance Training will be covered in a follow up.

I know that exercise is good for me but what if I don’t do it right?

I’ll have wasted all of this time?!.?!..

What if I hurt myself? I know that bad technique or implementation could cause injury…

What if the program I do, isn’t the best? Or the most optimal?

All of these are very real, very pressing concerns. No one wants to waste their time, get injured, or not do something the ‘correct’ way.

They are all also needless anxiety inducing false rationalizations. It’s your lizard brain giving you an excuse not to change. It wants to keep things the same.

There is an easy way to establish a safe exercise routine and I'm going to lay it all out for you step-by-step.

Don’t Buy-In

One skill I haven’t talked much about on SBF is the ability to silence your inner critic. Well, not really silence, that’s too strong a sentence. More like manage or learn to live with.

You’ll never be able to truly silence your inner critic. There will always be this voice in your head telling you not to do things, or coming up with logical reasons why you can’t or shouldn’t do things.

That won’t stop, but your reaction to that critic can be harnessed for better outcomes.

Hear it out, and let it pass. Acknowledge the criticism, but know that you don’t need to react or respond to it. In fact, if you haven’t already, meditation has been my best practice for this skill.

I highly recommend it, because that critic is holding you back from getting started.

You have to get started and the only way you’ll truly learn anything is through some form of trial and error. You have to figure out what works for you and that will take time and practice.

You also have to learn how to get back up on the horse. A skill you can't practice until you've started.

Fleeting thoughts are always a challenge to push through. You will have setbacks, come across roadblocks and things will even feel impossible.

Change is hard. Change requires a time investment. Change is uncomfortable. The critic doesn’t want you to change, it wants you to stay the same. Don't let it.

As I write this, I’m in Mexico and for the first time ever I’m taking private Spanish lessons with my wife. Who is far more accomplished in this regard, having lived in Costa Rica for a few months and having taken Spanish in University?

I haven’t felt this uncomfortable in a very long time. I haven’t felt this dumb in a long time. You have to practice getting comfortable with discomfort.

I suck. I sweat through the lessons. Seriously. My brain is slow to react and respond to what I’ve learned. It doesn't think in Spanish.

I’m constantly saying the wrong things, using the wrong verbs, or enunciating poorly. I use bad grammar and I can’t for the life of me roll my rrrr’s...

Is it bueno or bien? Did she just ask me my name or my age? How do I use the correct tense here?

I can’t hide behind written Spanish on Duolingo or Rosetta Stone.

You know what though? It’s good. It’s forcing me to practice and improve. My teacher is here, I’m paying her, I have to make use of the time. Each time she comes, I’m a little less anxious and a little more confident.

I find either hearing the critic out and letting those excuses linger/exist but not reacting is an ideal way to keep going.

Or you can respond in kind with a positive spin on the critic. That works too.

A Positive Spin

Obviously I’m biased but this highlights the benefits of hiring a coach or finding a mentor. And that doesn't have to cost you money.

The important thing is to try an exercise (or language) and then get feedback on its execution so that you can improve it’s technical execution and thus ‘safety’ by extension.

If you’re worried about executing a lift properly, how will you know if you’re doing it wrong without some kind of feedback?

You won’t and you’ll likely stick to things you know you’re already good at — i.e. you won’t change.

Need Feedback?

If you don’t have a coach or a mentor, then submitting video to an online community is the next best thing.

Join the private SBF Facebook Group

If your inner critic is telling you not to exercise because you might get hurt.

How can you respond?

  • “Well doing something and dealing with an injury is better than doing nothing…”
  • “Maybe I will have to deal with an injury, but this will just make me better at overcoming obstacles…”

If your inner critic is telling you not to exercise because it might end up being a waste of your time or it will be too much trial and error. How can you respond?

  • “Learning something new is never a waste of time…”
  • “Practice via some trial and error is really the only way to learn…”
  • “I can learn from my mistakes just as well or better than I can learn from my successes…”

If your inner critic is telling you not to exercise because you might do it wrong or not optimally. How can you respond?

  • “Not doing something optimally now, doesn’t mean I won’t be doing it optimally with practice in the future…”
  • “Optimal training is something you have to practice, it doesn’t just happen…”

You will simply have to overcome the critic to get started with exercise. And without further delay, let’s get to those specifics…

Cardiovascular Exercise in Nature
Walking in nature is also restorative.

Part 1 – Cardiovascular Exercise

AKA Energy System Development. At least that’s what I prefer to call it.

In the common tongue, it’s ‘cardio.’

There will be a Part 2  on Resistance training. If cardio doesn’t interest you, you can mosey on over to that post instead.

Table of Contents

  1. Don’t Buy-In
  2. A Positive Spin
  3. Part 1 – Cardiovascular Exercise
  4. The High-Intensity Starting Point
  5. Scaling Cardiovascular Exercise
  6. Increased Intensity = Less Duration
  7. Start with Increased Duration
  8. Step #1 – Find the time.
  9. Step #2 – Make a choice.
  10. 2A – Moderate Intensity Training Is For You
  11. Example #1
  12. Example #2
  13. Example #3
  14. 2B – Higher Intensity Training Is For You
  15. Example #1
  16. Example #2
  17. Example #3
  18. 2C – A Mixed Approach
  19. Example #1
  20. One Final Example
  21. Summary

If you’re brand new to exercise, getting started with some form of cardiovascular activity is likely the easiest starting point. Please keep in mind that I don’t mean best, just easiest.

It’s less technically demanding that resistance training and much harder to mess up or get injured doing.

Depending on the method…

What type you choose is up to you really but the two most approachable methods for people just trying to establish a routine without much worry over injury are:

  • Walking
  • Biking (especially a stationary bike)

It’s pretty hard for most people to screw up walking, you’ve been doing it your whole life. It’s low impact, and the likelihood of injury is low but the ease at which you can establish a routine is high.

Low risk, high reward.

The High-Intensity Starting Point

Get outside if you want, but a stationary bike is just as good if you’re concerned about falling off

The bike is pretty hard to screw up. Most people know how to ride a bike. So long as you take a little time to learn how to adjust the bike to your body. That takes a little practice, but not much. It's a low barrier to entry.

Nearly every gym on earth has stationary bikes. A stationary bike for home is typically much cheaper than a treadmill. They have fewer electronic components, no motors and incur significantly fewer maintenance costs. They’ve even got decent folding ones these days that you can tuck away in a closet while not in use.

An indoor stationary bike is a great investment that eliminates your dependency on weather. By having an option at home there are no travel excuses either. You've eliminated two common lizard brain excuses in a snap.

Biking is low impact like walking. But unlike walking, it will eventually permit you to achieve much higher intensities for your heart. The majority of high-intensity interval training research has all been done on stationary bikes.

Walking will never be more than a low to moderate form of cardiovascular exercise. Although incline walking is a great aerobic activity, it still not what would be considered 'vigorous exercise.'

The only real way to create a walking intensity that is at a more vigorous level is to turn it into a run.

Frankly, the impact and joint stress of running can be tricky as a starting point for anyone who hasn’t been active in more than a year. I typically don't recommend it unless running distances is the goal and running volume is progressed slowly.

In the context of cardiovascular exercise, higher *intensity = higher speeds. Anaerobic means without oxygen, aerobic means with. Aerobic is less intense and can done for extended periods of time. Anaerobic means you need intermittent recovery to maintain the intensity. i.e. interval training.

*Note: This is in contrast to resistance training, where intensity = higher loads/weights.

Intensity in this context is typically expressed via heart rates or oxygen exchange. Both of which are hard to measure without a heart rate monitor or other forms of specialized exertion.

The easiest way to track cardiovascular intensity without those tools is via the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE).

Read the first part of this article for more on that.

Basically use a scale of 1-10 based on how you feel. It’s free.

Walking will almost always feel like a 4-5 out of 10 or less, but you can get up to a 10 on a bike.

Please Note:

Low impact doesn’t automatically make something better. It just makes it more approachable as a starting point if you haven’t been doing any impact related activity for a while.

I do recommend eventually progressing to impact related activity, if/when you’re ready for it. But I suspect the average person reading this article is probably just looking to get started as safely as possible as soon as possible.

Impact needs to be introduced more gradually as bone/tendon adapt much slower (months) to a stimulus than the cardiovascular system (weeks) does. If you would like to run you can, but I would use a fairly lengthy period (months) of resistance training (to be discussed in Part 2) to more adequately prepare your body for impact.

I will likely at some point, write a separate article on how I'd safely get started with running. Stay tuned.

Scaling Cardiovascular Exercise

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology (CSEP) recommend that adults work up to a minimum 150 minutes of moderate cardiovascular activity per week.

≤6 RPE is considered moderate activity, while ≥7RPE is usually classified as vigorous activity.

“Moderate” cardiovascular activity will be about a 4-7 RPE (out of 10).

Another easy way to monitor exertion levels is the ‘talk test.

If you are breathing harder but can still talk in complete sentences, you’re in the moderate zone of exertion (~≤6/<7 RPE).

If you’re out of breath and can only speak a few words at a time, you’re likely at a vigorous level of exertion. (~≥7/>8 RPE).

When You’re Ready For More…

A 7 RPE is associated with that transitionary area between aerobic (with oxygen) energy output and anaerobic (without oxygen) energy output.

It’s a bit of a grey area. In more advanced cardiovascular training this would be considered close to “race pace” or “tempo training.” It’s the optimal exertion level for long-duration endurance activity performance.

What the ACSM/CSEP don’t recommend well; is a plan of action for working up to their recommendations.

If you’re currently doing nothing, 150 minutes a week is a gigantic leap from zero to nothing! You have to break it down a bit into stages and meet yourself realistically where you’re at.

That can be 10-minute bite-sized chunks if you want. What the kids these days are calling ‘exercise snacks.’

A 10-minute walk in the morning, a 10-minute walk at your lunch break, a 10-minute walk when you get home from work is 30 minutes a day. It all adds up.

Do that Monday-Friday and you’ll hit 150 minutes a week easily.

It doesn’t matter if you can’t do that this week, just get moving. 10 minutes this week is better than 0 minutes last week.

Getting moving is the important first step and thinking in ten-minute chunks is one of many excellent ways for you to get started.

Rather than starting at 150 minutes, simply figure out your ideal starting schedule and training frequency. Read this article for more on that.

Once you’ve done so, you have two ways to scale your exercise up, or a combination thereof:

  • Increase the duration of exercise (i.e. the time you spend)
  • Increase the intensity of the time you have already committed

Increased Intensity = Less Duration

It’s better to start by determining your most appropriate schedule.

Then find more time as you get better at scheduling and managing your own time.

I still like 150 minutes a week as a general guideline but not everyone has an easy time prioritizing 150 minutes a week.

The way to go?

If you can’t find more time or really struggle to get to that 150-minute recommendation. Increasing the intensity of your effort will halve your recommended time investment.

Instead of 150 minutes, vigorous activity (8-10 RPE) can get similar results with only about 75 minutes per week.

Vigorous activity gets more done with less time, hence the appeal of interval training and HIIT training as of late.

Of course, higher intensity exercise generally increases injury potential and plenty of people are afraid of that. That’s why it’s probably not the ideal starting point. Build a base first.

However, on a concentric-only tool like the bike, that risk remains pretty low.  That’s why I like it as a starting point. No impact and your body doesn’t have to slow anything down quickly as it does with running.

Higher intensity exercise usually has an abrupt eccentric or slowing down period. Eccentric is the opposite of concentric.

For instance, every time you foot hits the ground while running, you must absorb that force eccentrically. This doesn’t happen on a bike, your force down just swings the pedals back around.

If you can get to 75 minutes of moderate-intensity activity, then you can slowly ramp that intensity up. I’ll tell you how, below.

Start with Increased Duration

Let’s say your little scheduling exercise (figuring out your ideal frequency) yields that you can commit to five days a week of 10 minutes of walking/biking a day.

And you’re confident that you can do that consistently 9 times out of 10. i.e. you have a high degree of confidence in that chosen schedule.

At first, that’s 50 minutes of exercise. Substantially better than zero exercise.

However, it’s still off from the minimum 75 minutes of vigorous exercise recommended above.

Step #1 – Find the time.

If you’re not at 75 minutes with whatever routine you’ve chosen, try to add duration before intensity. Get to that minimum vigorous recommendation, first.

Once you’re at 75 minutes weekly, with your routine, then think about increasing intensity.


Duration is easier and will be kinder to your body as someone new to exercise.

75 minutes is 3x a week of 25 minutes of walking or biking.

Or it’s 4x a week of 20 minutes of walking or biking.

Or it’s 5x a week of 15 minutes of walking or biking.

If you add 5 minutes once a week to each of your existing 10-minute exercise bursts, you’ll be at 15 minutes 5x a week in only 5 weeks.

When you break it down like this, it should feel more approachable. Choose the most approachable breakdown for you.

Find your minimum commitment time, then add 5 minutes per week. Or if you’re up to it, add 5 minutes each time you train. You’ll get to that minimum recommendation pretty quickly.

Even if your initial commitment is a lower frequency. For instance, 2x a week for 20 minutes. You should still add time or frequency somehow. You could add a third 20-minute session, or slowly add 5 minutes to those two sessions.

Another reason to like walking/biking is that adding too much frequency or duration at once won’t result in injury. You don’t have to scale or ramp it up the way you do with something like running. So doing too much at once, isn’t a concern.

Make it your goal to get to 75 minutes total per week first. I’ve yet to have a client who couldn’t reach this.

Step #2 – Make a choice.

If you’re already there or are confident you can start there with ease then you have a choice to make.

Should you, or perhaps more importantly could you, add more time?

Does more moderate activity sound more appealing at this moment in time? Or does harder higher intensity training sound more appealing?

This is the fork in your road.

2A – Moderate Intensity Training Is For You

If your leaning towards moderate intensities then you’re looking at 75 minutes 2x a week on the weekends, perhaps a couple of hikes. My favourite kind of walking.

Maybe it’s just one 75 minute hike on the weekends after you do your 75 minutes during the week?

It’s 50 minutes 3x a week.

37.5 minutes (40 minutes if you want something cleaner) 4x a week.

That’s 30 minutes 5x a week.

It’s 25 minutes, 6x a week.

And well, I don’t really recommend 7x a week, I like people to have some kind of day off each week where nothing is deliberately planned.

That’s not to say you can’t do it, rather one unplanned day a week goes a long way for your sanity. If something comes up (like a hike, or skiing or whatever you’re into, go for it).

There are no ‘hard’ rules here, just the routines we create for ourselves based on our own schedules. If you can’t train on Tuesdays because it’s crazy, don’t try. Just schedule your other days more effectively.

Let’s be honest, it’s likely your schedule will change periodically. Therefore improving your scheduling ability is a good skill to develop long-term. It will help you plan and mix up your exercise routine according to your life and vice versa.

You simply want to ramp up your time commitment from where ever it is currently, by adding training days (if you can) or by extending your existing training days, or both.

Example #1

You’re currently training 3x a week for 25 minutes.

  • Week 1 Increase = Try 30-minute sessions
  • Week 2 Increase = Try 35-minute sessions
  • Week 3 Increase = Try 40-minute sessions
  • Week 4 Increase = Try 45-minute sessions
  • Week 5 Increase = Try 50-minute sessions

Boom! You’re at 150 minutes. If that’s too fast, take 12 weeks to bump up one session at a time.

Example #2

You’re still currently training 3x a week for 25 minutes.

  • Week 1 Increase = Add a 25-minute session
  • Week 3 Increase = Add another 25-minute session
  • Week 5 Increase = Add another 25-minute session
  • Week 7 Increase = Add a sixth 25-minute session

Now you’re training 6x a week for 25 minutes. It took a little longer to get there because you only added a session every two weeks but arguable this will be a little harder for some people.

Example #3

A hybrid. Same current time commitment.

  • Week 1 Increase = Go up to 30-minute sessions
  • Week 3 Increase = Add an extra session
  • Week 5 Increase = Go up to 35-minute sessions
  • Week 7 Increase = Go up to 40-minute sessions

Or however, you fancy changing your schedule to suit your needs. It doesn’t have to be this linear. Maybe you have more time on the weekends, so do some longer sessions on the weekends.

I have several clients who do their big workouts on the weekends and only a handful of shorter workouts during the week.

Maybe you get off work early once a week, so that could be a longer session.

Harness your problem-solving skills like it’s a muscle.

2B – Higher Intensity Training Is For You

I’ve yet to have a client who couldn’t find 75 minutes a week, but 150 minutes can be a little trickier for some people balancing kids, pets, work, volunteering, etc…

Or at least it certainly feels that way to them.

Scaling intensity is a bit trickier. There are more ways to do it and sessions can’t be as long as moderate activity exercise either. You may have to consider a hybrid system between the two.

I see no strong need to do more than 90 minutes of exercise at any given time. Even with moderate-intensity work. The exception being elite athletics but that’s likely not you.

On the other hand, I typically wouldn’t recommend more than 30 minutes of vigorous activity in one go. At least not until you’ve achieved a certain level of cardiovascular fitness.

I know that’s confusing. On the one hand, I’m telling you that you can do half the amount of vigorous-intensity work for the same benefit. On the other hand, I’m saying I wouldn’t recommend more than a third of the duration.

Higher intensity training generally needs more recovery time. You can train at moderate intensities daily but high-intensity training will require more time off.

Anything anaerobic like that near the upper threshold (30 minutes max) will likely need ~36 hours of recovery time between efforts.

That basically means you may as well take a day off between doing it. The maximum number of times you could train it in a week is 4 in one week, and 3 in the next.

For this reason, I generally prefer and recommend that you shoot for 25-30 minutes of vigorous activity three times a week. That’s it.

Maybe four times every other week, if you don’t mind a wonky weekly schedule, or you’re especially keen.

A Volume Exception

If you’re going to do it at durations closer to 10-15 minutes then you might be able to get away with more frequency. 15 minutes x 5x a week = 75 minutes

<15 minutes per session is such low volume that you may be able to recover from it. At least at first.

However, 5x a week of 10-15 minutes is probably the maximum frequency I’ve ever seen work, and it’s usually short-lived. i.e. it works for a month or two but burns people out (if they are truly training HIIT) eventually.

I still think you’d be better off alternating high intensity training days with moderate intensity training days.

In any case, I recommend that you add shorter vigorous training sessions within your existing sessions and finish with moderate work.

Over time you could also add vigorous sessions into the mix or a combination but it’s more complicated. Whenever possible, it’s best for beginners to avoid too much complication.

Example #1

You’re currently training moderately 3x a week for 25 minutes on a bike.

What I like about the 10 minute McMaster protocol (detailed here) is that it has a built-in warm-up and cool-down, so it’s a great protocol to start with.

  • Week 1 Increase = Do the 10 min. McMaster protocol, one day out of three. Finish with 15 min. of moderate training, keep the other two training days moderate.
  • Week 2 Increase = Do the 10 min. McMaster protocol two days out of three. Finish with 15 min. of moderate training, keep the third-day moderate.
  • Week 3 Increase = Do the 10 min. McMaster protocol all three days. Finish with 15 min. of moderate training for all three days.
  • Week 4 Increase = Add an interval or two to the McMaster protocol and finish with 11-13 min. of moderate work each training day
  • Week 5 Increase = Add another interval or two to that McMaster protocol and finish with 7-11 min. of moderate work each day
  • Week 6 Increase = Add yet another interval or two to that McMaster protocol and finish with 5-9 min. of moderate work each day
  • Week 7 Increase = Add yet another interval or two to that McMaster protocol and finish with 3-7 min. of moderate work
  • Week 8 Increase = Add yet another interval or two to that McMaster protocol and finish with 1-5 minutes of moderate work
  • Week 9 Increase = At this point you could be doing ~12 rounds of 20 seconds on, 2 minutes off for a total of ~28 min. of interval work, with 5 min. of warm-up/cool-down.

That’s 2 months of training right there and a safe/smart way to increase intensity.

Notice the lead-in phase of only one interval session in week 1, then 2 interval sessions in week 2. Before you finally do three interval sessions in week 3. Then add more high-intensity work.

You could also scale this even slower and only add 1-2 intervals per session after week 3, rather than per week.

The easiest thing to do for most interval protocols is deciding on the interval method you want to use, then add 1-3 intervals each week or each session.

Once you’re consistently at 3×25 for a while, you’ll have built up a tolerance. At that point, you can start playing with other interval methods at that frequency and duration.

Example #2

You’re currently training only twice a week on Mon/Thur, but longer durations of 45 minutes each (90 min. moderate weekly total).

  • Week 1 Increase = Do the 10 min. McMaster Protocol for one day out of two. Finish with 35 min. of moderate work. Do 45 minutes of moderate work the other day.
  • Week 2 Increase = Do the McMaster Protocol two days out of two. Finish with 35 min. of moderate work for both days.
  • Week 4 Increase = Add an interval or two to the McMaster protocol and finish with 28-33 min. of moderate work each training day
  • Week 5 Increase = Keep adding 1-2 intervals to each session (or week) and rounding out the rest of your sessions with moderate work
  • Week 6 Increase = Only stop adding interval sessions once you get to 12-13 work intervals (28-31 minutes of vigorous work)

You get the idea. It will likely take longer than six weeks. You may only be at 60 minutes of vigorous work at the end of your progression.

However, the extra 15 minutes of moderate work takes you to moderate level recommendations. 60 minutes of vigorous = 120 minutes of moderate. 120 + 30 minutes of moderate = 150 minutes of total “moderate” work.

You didn’t commit any more time to your routine, but by slowly increasing the intensity just twice a week to ≤30 minutes. You’re now hitting the recommended moderate recommendations!

Example #3

You’re currently training 5x a week for 15 minutes each week, Mon-Fri (75 minutes total weekly work).

  • Week 1 Increase = Do the 10 min. McMaster Protocol Monday. Finish with 5 extra min. of moderate work. Keep doing 15 minutes of moderate work the other four days.
  • Week 2 Increase = Do the 10 min. McMaster Protocol Monday and Wednesday. Finish with 5 extra min. of moderate work both days. Keep doing 15 minutes of moderate work the other three days.
  • Week 4 Increase = Do the 10 min. McMaster Protocol Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Finish with 5 extra min. of moderate work both days. Keep doing 15 minutes of moderate work for the other two days.
  • Week 5 Increase = Keep Tuesday/Thursdays moderate for recovery purposes. Add 1-2 intervals to each interval session (or week) slowly until you can do 5-6 work intervals (~13-17 min. total time commitment)

You got me, the McMaster protocol doesn’t smooth so well into 15 minutes. The basic scheduling holds true though. Here you’ve accumulated ~45 minutes of vigorous activity.

45 x 2 = 90 minutes of moderate activity. 90 min + (2 x 15 minutes) = 120 minutes of moderate activity.

Okay, so here you’re not at that moderate recommendation. However, 120 minutes is still a 60% improvement over 75 minutes and you didn’t spend any extra time exercising than you already had.

If you can make the Tuesday/Thursday sessions 30 minutes each, you hit 150 moderate minutes.

2C – A Mixed Approach

I’d recommend doing increasing either duration or intensity. Focusing on one or the other is the easier way to safely do more exercise over time.

However, it is possible to blend the two methods. As I hinted to in that last example. If you increased the intensity of three days, and slowly increased the duration of the other two. It becomes possible to hit the 150-minute recommendations fairly easily.

Yes, increased intensity can halve your time commitment. However, plenty of people will find three times a week of 25 minutes of true high-intensity intervals, a bit much.

One or two interval training sessions or blending shorter interval sessions with moderate work after may still be more approachable for some.

There is no reason you can’t combine interval training with moderate training. In fact, I’d say you absolutely should if you can.

As detailed above, longer bouts (20-30 minutes) of high-intensity interval training need more recovery time. Limiting them to ~3x a week.

Now when or if you blend this with resistance training down the road. Three times a week of interval training will likely be overkill.

Depending on how much you resistance train and what your goals with training are. More than twice a week of true high-intensity work will become difficult as your HIIT or SIT (sprint interval training) performance improves.

Yes, this is all very confusing but it opens up doors to mix things together into a balanced routine.

Example #1

Let’s say you are doing 3×25 minutes on Tues/Sat/Sun (75 minutes total) of moderate work.

  • Week 1 Increase = Do the 10 min. McMaster Protocol Tuesday. Finish with 15 extra min. of moderate work. Add 5 minutes of moderate work to your weekend training days.
  • Week 2 Increase = Add 1-2 intervals to the 10 min. McMaster Protocol Tuesday. Finish with 9-13 extra min. of moderate work. Add 5 more minutes of moderate work to your weekend training days.
  • Week 4 Increase = Add another 1-2 intervals to the 10 min. McMaster Protocol Tuesday. Finish with 5-9 extra min. of moderate work. Add 5 more minutes of moderate work to your weekend training days.
  • Week 5 Increase = Keep adding intervals to Tuesday until you reach 25 minutes of vigorous work (~11-12 work intervals). But also keep adding 5 minutes to your weekend training days until you reach 50 minutes on the days you probably have more time.

That one 25 minute interval session is approximately 50 minutes of moderate-intensity activity. While simultaneously increasing the duration of your less chaotic weekend days to 50 minutes each.

Without adding any days you’ve gone from 75 minutes to 150 minutes.

One Final Example

This time you’re doing 2×15 minutes on Tues/Thur and one 30 minutes Saturday or Sunday (60 minutes total) of moderate work.

Your schedule on the weekends is a little up in the air so you don’t feel confident that you can train both weekend days. Kids sports, amirite?

  • Week 1 Increase = Do the 10 min. McMaster Protocol Tuesday. Finish with 5 extra min. of moderate work. Keep the other days moderate, but add 5 minutes to your weekend walk/hike.
  • Week 2 Increase = Do the 10 min. McMaster Protocol Tuesday and Thursday. Finish with 5 extra min. of moderate work. Add another 5 minutes to your weekend walk/hike.
  • Week 3 Increase = Add 1-2 intervals to the 10 min. McMaster Protocol to the one-weekday session or both. Finish with a couple of extra mins. of moderate work. Add 5 more minutes of moderate work to your weekend training days.
  • Week 4 Increase = Add 1-2 intervals to each interval session (or week) slowly until you can do 5-6 work intervals (~13-17 min. total time commitment). But also keep adding 5 minutes to your weekend training days until you reach 90 minutes on that day you likely have the most time.

If you add 5 minutes each week to 30 minutes, you’ll hit 90 minutes in 12 weeks. You’ll hit the interval levels faster. You could do 10-minute bumps instead for a 6-week ramp-up, given the moderate intensity, that’s doable.

By ramping up the intensity of your short 15-minute sessions you end up with 60 minutes of moderate training.

Once more we’ve easily hit 150 min., up from 60 min. A 150% improvement!


Well, that was certainly a lot to digest. I wanted to cover a variety of possible routines so I hope that sparked a little creativity in you.

Hopefully, it highlights that getting started with exercise has far more to do with logistics than it does with motivation.

As a result mindset skills are the most important:

  1. Scheduling
  2. Planning
  3. Managing Your Environment
  4. Managing Your Inner Critic

The exercise part is actually kind of simple. Add 5-10 minute chunks of moderate cardiovascular activity until you can’t anymore.

Then add intensity to fill in the gaps. Starting with 10 minute chunks and adding 1-2 intervals per session (at first) or week to a maximum of 25-30 minutes 3x a week.

Step by step…

Step #1 – Choose your schedule.

As you can see above, that can literally be anything.

Step #2 – Ramp up duration in 5-10 min. chunks as best you can first.

Duration before intensity is generally the better way to start.

Step #3 – Once you max out moderate minutes (even if you don’t hit 150 minutes), consider increasing intensity.

If you hit 150 minutes and want to stay there, awesome. Some intervals may help you mix things up in the future and train something other than the aerobic energy system.

If you struggle to hit 150 minutes, then higher intensities become a bit of a must to try and improve.

Step #4 – Keep tweaking your schedule and exercise as your schedule changes or as you develop better planning, scheduling, environment and inner critic management skills.

It’s OK if you never hit 150 minutes of work. I’m not judging you. Do the best you can with what you have to work with.

This isn’t a process that just ends and there will always be the opportunity to improve upon it. Or to reduce your commitments in times of need. During high-stress periods at work or at home for instance.

Stay tuned for the follow up on resistance training and maybe one on mobility training, we’ll see.

If you didn’t see your schedule with a plan of attack listed, join the Facebook Group and ask about it.

Also, don’t forget to check out Part 2 – Resistance training.