Hey Angels and Alphas!
Being a trainer, athlete, and gym-lover for so long has taught me one undeniable fact – if you dedicate your time to a particular type of training, you might as well make the most of it.
Cardio is something that we haven’t talked about in much detail, but that’s about to change.
Today, we’re going to talk about the what, the why, and the how on the topic of cardiovascular exercise.
I believe cardio is a detrimental part of your long-term health and progress in the gym. When it comes to getting lean, we know diet is more important, but cardio goes way beyond just helping you burn calories.
That’s why you have to find the type of cardio you enjoy doing the most – once you start seeing the benefits of aerobic exercise on your life (and on your routine), you won’t want to stop!
This article will help you understand cardio better, and allow you to choose a type of cardio that you will both enjoy and see results from!
Let’s get started.
How do you define cardio?
Cardio is like slang. You’ve also heard it as cardiovascular exercise, aerobic exercise, maybe even cardiovascular activity.
Essentially, any activity can be cardio if it fulfills these three requirements:
- It raises your heart rate and respiration
- It uses large muscle groups
- It’s rhythmic and repetitive
Which is why doing cardio is like exercise for the heart, lungs, and the circulatory system. And just like any exercise, by progressively exposing yourself to more and more challenges, you’ll start to improve your performance.
Cardio can be heavily categorized.
We’re going to take a look at the two categories of intensity a bit later, but now, let’s talk a little bit about high-impact and low-impact cardio.
High-impact cardio is exercise in which at some point, both of your feet are planted on the ground. This includes jumping rope, box jumps, even dancing. In this type of cardio, you’re primarily supporting your own weight against gravity (by using your limbs).
Low-impact cardio is cardio in which one foot is always kept on the ground. This includes walking, hiking, and other forms of cardio that are generally low-intensity.
What’s the best type of cardio for your goals?
No type of cardio can qualify for the best type of cardio. Everyone has different goals, strengths, and weak points.
But what we can do is find a type of cardio that we enjoy (while getting results).
I want you to remember that, in fitness in general, it’s not that much about what’s theoretically optimal. Instead, you should focus on finding activities that you can sustain in the long-term.
The most common cardio activities include walking, running, cycling, swimming, rowing, and HIIT, to name a few.
Depending on the type of cardio, you’ll have to perform different routines and exercises to make the most of it.
That being said, there are three keys to cardio training that you absolutely must remember – they are fundamental guidelines that you must be conscious of when you’re training.
- The first cardio guideline is to start gradually, working your way up toward your desired heart rate.
Start out by slowly introducing cardio into your routine, increasing the intensity of your workout, and building your way up to your working heart rate. Even though there’s no such thing as a “fat-burning zone,” generally, the higher the intensity of your workout, the more energy you’ll be expending, the more calories you’ll be burning.
- The second cardio guideline is to do enough to get your desired effect, and not more than that. Don’t over-do it with cardio. Even though the point is to find a cardio type you enjoy doing, you can still get burned out if you’re constantly working out. If you combine it with a weight-training regime, you’ll be achieving all the benefits of total fitness. However, you should make an extra effort to make sure you’re not overtraining (especially those who choose to do HIIT).
- The third and final guideline is to drink water before, during, and after cardio.
The Importance of Combining Cardio and Weight Training
In order to make the most out of cardio, you should always include some form of resistance/strength training to your regimen – period. This helps you not only burn more calories but enables you to develop a strong base of strength that your body can utilize to progress. Remember – cardio should be a part of your routine. Not your entire routine.
*What if I work all day?
In the case of having a full-time job where you’re active all day, you have to decide for yourself whether or not you need extra cardiovascular work or not. However, I believe that in order to fully utilize the benefits of cardio, you need to perform at least one dedicated workout where all your attention goes toward getting the most out of your exercises.
The Two Main Types of Cardio
Now that we’ve learned what cardio is and how to do it, let’s move on to the different types of cardio you can choose from!
Keeping in mind the things we’ve said so far, choose the type of cardio that best fits your goals, needs, and availability. Remember – it’s all about finding what’s sustainable, not what’s theoretically the most effective.
Low-Intensity (or Steady-State) Cardio
When you hear “cardio,” what do you imagine? Someone jogging or running on a treadmill? Or someone who is doing interval training with crazy intensity?
Low-intensity cardio is all about keeping your exercise difficulty low but performing it for extended periods of time (like 30-45 minutes).
It’s like the slow, long-distance brother of HIIT, and it’s best for the individual who needs to bring a little structure to their workout. It’s for the people who prefer longer, almost therapeutic cardio sessions. It’s also an excellent option for those who aren’t really used to regular exercise, but want to start getting into more intense routines.
The options for low-intensity cardio are endless! Cardio machines, treadmills, bikes, you name it. Pretty much any activity that keeps you active and going while being able to hold a conversation.
If you want to start implementing low-intensity cardio to your workout, start with two sessions a week and track your progress accordingly.
Lower-intensity cardiovascular work (50-70 percent of maximum heart rate) will:
- Keep your joints safe, making it perfect for those who aren’t active throughout the day.
- Burn more fat in long morning cardio sessions.
- Can be performed on rest days as a method of active recovery.
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
HIIT is the other side of the spectrum. By definition, a harder type of cardio, the goal here is to get your heart rate up to safe peak intensity to stimulate the maximum amount of energy expenditure.
The higher the physical effort, the higher the intensity.
One of the most significant benefits of HIIT is that it’s really schedule-friendly. You can have a HIIT workout done in 15-20 minutes. They definitely take less time than their low-intensity counterpart does.
All you need for a great HIIT is a quick warm-up and a few minutes of cardio intervals that get your heart racing, then rest, then repeat.
They are perfect for the people who don’t have as much time to work out, but still want to reap all the benefits of high-level cardiovascular activity.
But in order to perform HIIT the right way, you need to have a good foundation for your conditioning. If you haven’t done any cardio recently, it’s probably not a good idea jumping right into HIIT.
For most people, the tools of choice when it comes to HIIT are their feet and their bikes. It’s more of a training modality than it is a method of exercise. The idea is to get your heart pumping and progressively challenge yourself more and more.
HIIT (70-80 percent of your maximum heart rate) will:
- Help you burn more total calories and fat.
- Will help you improve endurance and strength.
- Will help you burn more calories for the rest of the day, even after you’ve finished working out.
No matter what cardio you prefer – low-intensity or high-intensity, what’s important is for you to choose a sustainable regime.
Strengthening your muscles, your respiration and lung function, allowing more oxygen facilitation in your body, reduced stress and tension, improved heart efficiency… you’ll get all of this from cardio.
And while HIIT will be shorter and more intense, low-intensity cardio will take more of your schedule, but give you therapeutic and stress-relieving benefit.
What’s most important is getting yourself to do it consistently and make it an activity you look forward to, instead of looking at it as a chore.
If you can get yourself doing it consistently, all the results will come – trust me on that!