Whether you’re an athlete, trying to lose weight, or rehabilitating from an injury, cardio is an essential part of your program. Despite that however, many people are often confused about how much cardio to do, and what type of cardio is best for them.
Before going further I would like to investigate, “The what?” “The why?” and, “The how?” of cardio to help you better understand the best cardio regime for you.
What is Cardio?
Cardiovascular conditioning is a measure of how well your body is able to meet the energy production demands you are placing upon it.
To put it more simply: the more conditioned you are, the better you will be at producing energy.
Why do Cardio?
I get asked quite often why our body needs cardio (or cardiovascular conditioning) and my answer is multifaceted.
Most of us do cardio to achieve one of the following:
- Burn calories for fat loss
- Improve general endurance so that daily activities are easier
- Increase sport performance
- Your doctor prescribed it for general health
- You’re suffering from a medical condition that cardio can help you with
These are all great reasons to add cardio to your life, but if we dive a little deeper cardiovascular conditioning can also help you:
- Produce energy more efficiently
- Drop fat – since we use fat as a fuel during aerobic exercise
- Improve the efficiency of your heart so that it’s able to pump more blood per beat
- Recover more quickly after exercise
How Cardio Benefits your Body
We all have 3 energy systems that our body relies on to produce energy.
- The aerobic
- The anaerobic lactic
- The anaerobic alactic
To keep it simple the important thing for you to know is that when you start to exercise ALL three of your energy systems turn on simultaneously; and regulate depending on how intense your exercise is.
Generally the more “intense” an exercise is the more anaerobic it is. While lower intensity, longer duration activities, (like running) rely more on your aerobic system.
How Much is Enough Cardio?
The amount of cardio you should do depends entirely on the level of fitness you are at. As with any workout, you don’t want to go too hard too fast – as doing so will do your body more damage than good.
So choose the level that best describes you and start incorporating more cardio into your fitness regime.
If you currently do not exercise then your goal should be to complete 30-minutes of continuous exercise each day. Once you can tolerate 30-minutes, start to increase the intensity by about 10% each week for 4-6 weeks.
Since your goal is to improve your general fitness, you should be able to talk and maintain a constant breath while exercising. So try to keep your heart rate below 150 beats per minute.
Recommended Cardio Activities:
To boost the intensity of each of the activities below, simply increase your pace.
If you can tolerate 30-minutes of low intensity exercise, (i.e. walking, swimming, or cycling) your next step is to improve how well your heart pumps with each beat. In order to do this effectively, you should spend 4-6 weeks performing sustained activity for 45-90 minutes 2x per week.
This amount of exercise will help increase the size of your left ventricle, (the part of your heart that pumps blood to the rest of your body) which will enable you to effectively increase your stroke volume – or the amount of blood your heart can pump to the rest of your body with each beat.
Depending on your age try to keep your heart rate within the 120 to 150 range. If you are 30 or under, you should aim for the lower range, while if you are over 30 you should aim for the higher range.
How do you know if you’re advanced? Well if your resting heart rate is below 50 beats per minute, then you are advanced; and I will save your cardiovascular prescription for another post. So stay tuned 😉
The Truth About High Intensity Interval Training
Before I sign off I wanted to quickly touch on shorter bursts of exercises, such as High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) or Tabata—aka anerobic energy system training—as I often get asked about both of these types of exercise.
High Intensity Interval Training and Tabata are effective for burning calories and making you sweat. Code for: they accelerate your fat loss. But it is important to recognize that high intensity training puts a lot of stress on your body and nervous system, so they should only be part of your conditioning regime.
Most of us live in a constant state of stress, (due to work and personal matters) so your exercise regime shouldn’t add additional stress to your life. I am not saying don’t do high intensity training, but your fitness program should be balanced. So if you are currently doing or would like to add high intensity training to your fitness program, remember: training your aerobic system helps your body to be able to recovery quickly between workouts, between sets, and even between reps. So if you are not doing longer durations of lower intensity, sustained activity, (like cardio) you are missing out on a very important part of your training.
For optimal balance I suggest 2 days of general endurance and 2-3 days of a mixture of strength and/or interval training; but preferably a mixture of both.
Let me know if you have any questions about cardio and/or high intensity training. I encourage you to leave your questions below, or come see me at the BIM studio.
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