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 their 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.
Your 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 than 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.
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. Beginners 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|