No matter your goal, cardiovascular exercise is an important aspect of any fitness program and is vital to maintaining good health in the long term.
If you are new to exercising you may be tempted to simply go for a walk a few days a week. Without a doubt, this is a good start and it is definitely better than doing nothing…BUT if you are going to invest your time, you might as well get the most bang for your buck.
After a brief discussion of the benefits and styles of cardio, you will have the opportunity to get a free cardio program allowing you to take action today.
There are many benefits associated with improving your cardiovascular fitness. This type of exercise improves or maintains the health of your heart and lungs. It is a great way to burn calories, making it a key aspect of any weight loss plan. Regularly engaging in cardiovascular exercise reduces stress, improves the way you feel, and boosts your confidence in your appearance.
High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT, is a form of cardio that alternates between a period of high intensity exercise and low intensity active recovery. For example, you may run at 75% intensity for 2 minutes followed by a light jog or walk for 2 minutes and repeat this process several times.
In very basic terms, HIIT trains your muscles to use the oxygen in your blood more efficiently, thereby increasing performance. In addition to boosting performance over time, HIIT workouts can be an important part of a weight loss plan. HIIT is a great way to increase the calories you burn during a workout, aiding in weight loss.
HIIT is usually used by individuals with a medium or high level of fitness. If you are just starting out, it may not be appropriate, but in some cases HIIT can be adapted for beginners.
Steady State training is a form of cardio where you maintain a low or medium level of intensity over an extended period. This type of training is great for boosting endurance. Sure, you may be exercising at a lower intensity, but you will be doing it for an extended time (or distance) giving you more time to keep your heart pumping and burn those calories!
In running circles, this is referred to as Long Slow Distance or LSD runs. Occasionally, steady state training gets a bad rap because of something known as General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS). GAS is the process by which the body adapts to stress. Simply put, the body adapts to the stress that it is put under during physical activity. The thought is if you do steady state exercise, the body will only adapt to a medium or low level of intensity. This would be true if you only ever did steady state exercise, but if it is used as a tool in a broader fitness plan it can provide many benefits. Steady state is a great endurance booster because you can exercise longer, maintaining the same intensity while the oxygen demand is able to be met by the oxygen you consume. Over time, as your body becomes more efficient, the intensity you can maintain will increase. Another benefit of steady state is that it puts less stress on your body, allowing it to be done the day after a more intense workout such as HIIT. It isn’t safe to always exercise at a high intensity. Your body needs time to recover and repair muscles and steady state training allows you to keep moving, while also giving your body the time it needs to recover.
Steady state training is a great place for beginners to start, but is also shouldn’t be ignored by those with higher levels of fitness. It belongs in most fitness plans.
No matter the type of cardio you choose to do, learning to gauge intensity is vital. Easy workouts need to be easy and hard workouts need to be hard.
A simple way to gauge your intensity is by how easily you can hold a conversation or how long you can continue at that level of intensity.
Easy/Low Intensity- You should be able to do this all day long, almost indefinitely. At a low intensity, you should be able to easily talk and carry on a conversation.
Moderate Intensity- You should be able to maintain this intensity for a reasonable amount of time. You will be able to speak 4-5 words in a row and be able to carry on a simple conversation, but it will be more difficult. Your heart rate and body temperature will rise. You may begin to sweat.
Hard/High Intensity- This is hard work. You will only be able to maintain this level of intensity for short periods of time. You will be breathing hard and sweating like a pregnant nun in confession. Talking will be difficult, grunting, screaming, and crying are acceptable and to be expected.
Intensity is largely personal. Your high intensity will not be the same as everyone else’s high intensity. Let’s say a workout calls for 5 rounds, alternating 2 minutes hard, followed by 2 minutes easy. The high intensity of the hard intervals should be able to be maintained for the whole 2 minutes, but going any longer wouldn’t be possible. The same is true for moderate intensity workouts, if your program calls for 40 minutes at a moderate intensity, you would pick a pace that you could maintain the entire 40 minutes, but making it to 50 minutes at the same pace wouldn’t be possible.
Like most things in life gauging intensity takes time and needs to be practiced.
Speed- The faster you move, the higher the intensity. This is the easiest way to change intensity, but it isn’t the best choice for everyone.
Elevation change- On most treadmills, changing elevations is as simple as the click of a button. While maintaining your pace, you can increase the angle of your treadmill to increase your intensity. If you are exercising outside, you can plan your route to include hills, just be sure to maintain the same pace. Another option to increase elevation is to use stairs. Moving up stairs is a fantastic way to increase intensity without increasing speed.
Jumping- This activity takes a great deal of energy and can be very intense. The speed and height of the jump will dictate just how high the intensity is. You can use box jumps, jump rope, or even bunny hops or skipping to increase intensity. Many people use jumping between strength training sets, but you can easily work them into walks or runs.
Adding Weight- I almost never recommend adding weight for runners. Running under a load can alter posture and very often leads to serious injury. If you are only walking you can carry light weight dumbbells, use a weight vest, or if you are a hiker carry your pack with you on walks. I also only recommend this when walking outside. Treadmills tend to screw with balance a bit and adding weight while using the treadmill increases the risk of a fall.
This information is worthless unless you use it.
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Go get your cardio on and start reaping those benefits today!