Cardiovascular exercise is essential for achieving and maintaining weight loss and to maximize your overall fitness level. There are many benefits to cardio training:

  • Increases aerobic capacity
  • Strengthens the heart
  • Decreases resting heart rate promoting longevity of the heart muscle
  • Promotes a decrease in blood pressure
  • Increases the body’s ability to get fuel to the muscles
  • Helps to increase muscular endurance
  • Promotes fat loss
  • Reduces risks of some cancers
  • Helps to reduce stress

 

Basic Theory of Cardio Training and its Effects

There are three main different types of cardio training programs. To achieve the overall best results it is important to utilize at least the first two types. The third type of cardio exercise is primarily for athletes. Using both methods makes your body more adaptable and therefore more efficient. The different types of programs and there effects on the body are as follows.

  • Steady Pace Aerobic Training – medium to long duration, constant intensity
  • Interval Training – short to medium duration – variable intensity
  • Anaerobic Training – short duration – high intensity

Steady pace aerobic training is excellent for building a base fitness level and training for events of longer duration. This type of training is done at a constant intensity. It is an excellent way to train if you are a beginner, as there is a low risk of injury due to the lower intensity and constant pace. With this type of training the body becomes more effective at delivering oxygen and energy to the muscles that need it.

Interval training combines short, high intensity bouts of exercise with lower intensity recovery periods and is excellent for seeing large improvements in heart function and efficiency. It forces the body to become more efficient at recovering from high intensity bursts while still working.

Anaerobic training builds power and explosive sprint ability and is used primarily for athletic training.

Provided you are working at the correct intensity, and for the right duration, the type of cardiovascular activity you do (i.e. cycling, running, walking, stair climbing) has little bearing on the results you will achieve. If you want to be a good cyclist, then yes, you should cycle more, but if you just want to get fit, the more variety the better. Some exercises burn slightly more calories than others, but the benefits of forcing your body to adapt to many types of exercise outweigh this slight difference in calories burned.

During the Workout

Fitness gains are achieved by consistently challenging your body to progressively perform more work during your workouts.

  • Progressive overload results in an increase in your body’s function and efficiency.
  • To achieve results, workouts must be done at intensities higher than what the body is accustomed to.
  • You can vary the amount of overload by changing factors such as: the frequency of workouts during the week, the intensity of the workouts, the duration of the workouts, or changing the type of activity you are doing.
  • This progressive overload can be used by everyone from beginner to advanced clients.

Although workouts may feel quite challenging at first, there is a steep progression curve with cardio exercise. You will find that in a relatively short period of time, usually no more than a few weeks, you will be able to perform at higher intensities, for longer durations with relatively less effort.

After the Workout

After a workout that challenges the body there are several things that will occur:

  • You will have an increased blood flow resulting in more fat metabolism and the production of more fat metabolizing enzymes.
  • The body will attempt to minimize the use of carbohydrates (glucose) for fuel and maximize the use of fat.
  • Your heart will become larger and stronger, giving it the ability to pump blood more efficiently. This leads to lower stress on the heart muscle itself.
  • The body will become more efficient at extracting oxygen from the air you breathe in and getting it to the working muscles that need it.
  • You body will attempt to replace the blood sugar (glucose) that you have used during your workout resulting in an increased metabolism for several hours

Recovery from cardio workouts will generally happen much faster that recovery from resistance training workouts. You may not feel much soreness at all unless you were trying a new activity or one that you have not done for a long time. It is especially important to ensure that you consume carbohydrates within an hour after you complete your workout so that your body can replenish used fuels.

Exercise Intensity

There are two primary ways to monitor your intensity while doing cardio activities. They are Heart Rate Monitoring and Rating of Perceived Exertion:

Heart Rate Monitoring – monitoring your heart rate involves taking your pulse while exercising. This can be done at several locations, the easiest being the carotid artery, at the side of the neck, or the radial artery on the wrist, just below the thumb. Once you find your pulse you want to take a count of how many beats there are in a 10 second span. You can then multiply this number by 6 to give you your heart rate in beats per minute.

To monitor your intensity using your heart rate it is important to first of all know what your maximum heart rate is. This can be estimated using the formula 220 – your age. For example, a forty year old would have an estimated maximum heart rate of 180 beats per minute (220 – 40 = 180). The correct training zone is expressed as a percentage of your maximum heart rate. Typically this zone will be between 65% and 85% of your maximum. That means that for the same forty year old, they will want to train between 117 and 153 beats per minute or 12 – 15 beats per 10 second count.

Training at slightly higher heart rates (70% – 85%) will produce better results. Lower heart rates cause your body to burn a higher percentage of fat for fuel, but do not burn off enough calories to be of great benefit (see example below). As well, to increase your cardiovascular fitness level and make your body more efficient, you need to sustain heart rates beyond what your body is used to on a daily basis. Beginner will still achieve results at heart rates closer to 65% but will want to progress within a few weeks. The following is an example of 2 typical workouts at different heart rates:

Workout 1 Workout 2
Type of exercise Cycling Cycling
Intensity 60% – 70% of max HR 75% – 85% of max HR
Duration 40 minutes 40 minutes
Fuels used 60% fats / 40% carbs 50% fats / 50 % carbs
Total calories burned 200 calories 300 calories
Fat calories burned 200 x 60% = 120 fat calories 300 x 50% = 150 fat calories

As you can see from the example above, even though in Workout 1 they are using 60% fat for fuel compared to only 50% in Workout 2, the end result is still that there are still more fat calories consumed in Workout 2 due to its higher overall calories requirement.

Rating of Perceived Exertion – a rating of perceived exertion (RPE) is a simple subjective estimate of how hard you are working. The easiest method is to use a scale of 1 to 10. 1 represents an exertion level that you would equate to resting quietly and 10 equals a maximal exertion level. The ideal range for your workouts would be between 7 and 8. This level of exercise would mean that you should be feeling quite warm, probably sweating, definitely breathing deeply but not gasping, and not able to carry on a normal conversation. You should still be able to talk, but just haltingly, not in complete sentences. An RPE of 7 to 8 should roughly equate to a heart rate of between 70 – 80% of your maximum heart rate.

Program Progression

As your body adapts to the exercise, you will find that you are capable of doing activities at a higher level, while still maintaining the same intensity. You need to work at these higher levels as your body adapts. If you find that the same workout you did a week ago no longer gets your heart rate or RPE to the level it should be at, then you need to increase your workload. This is a sign that your body is becoming more fit, and your cardiovascular system more efficient.

A few examples of how to progress are as follows: If you are currently walking and would like to progress to jogging or running do not try to “jump” up to it all at once. Start by incorporating a short interval of jogging into your walks. For example, walk for 5 minutes and then jog for 1 minute. After doing that for several workouts you can then begin to lengthen the time you jog for and gradually shorten the walks. It may take several weeks to progress to jogging continuously but you will minimize any risk of injury and maximize your enjoyment of the activity.

To progress an interval routine where you are alternating short, high intensity bursts with longer lower intensity recovery periods, start by gradually increasing the intensity of the recovery period. This may involve simply walking or jogging at a slightly faster pace, or if you are using a treadmill, adding a bit of incline.

Workout Consistency

Simply put, if you do not maintain a consistent cardiovascular workout, you will not get the results you desire. Without a consistent overload, your body will have no reason to adapt. While your body does adapt and progress quite quickly with consistent cardio workouts, it will also “de-train” rapidly without regular workouts.

If you have been consistent for several months and find that you need to take a week of for illness, or vacation that should not pose a problem at all. You may find your first workout or two once you start again a bit more challenging than usual but that is all. On the other hand, if you are missing workouts every week you may see much more of a loss of cardio fitness.

Remember to be as realistic as possible with your goals. If you have set a goal of exercise 6 days a week and your schedule just cannot accommodate it then reduce your goals slightly and simply ensure you are exercising intensely and consistently. This will generally lead to better results than always falling short of an unrealistic goal. More is not always better. Be realistic and stick to it consistently.

© 2011. Real Life Health Management Inc. All rights reserved.

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