The Basics of Cardiovascular Training
We’ve come across so many people who do not know the basics of cardiovascular training. For example:
- How long should I exercise?
- How intense?
- How many days a week?
- What are the basic types of cardiovascular training?
- What kind of cardio is the best?
- What are three heart rate zones?
- How to calculate your target heart rate range?
- Why cardio and weight training go hand in hand?
- When is the best time of day to perform cardio training?
- What activities are more intense than others?
In this post we’ll introduce you to the basics of cardiovascular training.
What is cardiovascular training?
“Cardio” (also called aerobic exercise) is any exercise that elevates your heart to your target or training level and sustains it for 20 minutes or more.
Your heart is a muscle, and it also needs to work harder than it normally does to get stronger, but you don’t want to overwork it. You should work at a pace that is challenging but not exhausting. Cardiovascular exercise strengthens your heart and lungs, and helps your muscles better utilize energy and rid themselves of waste products. It also promotes fat burning.
Examples of aerobic activities
The following list includes activities such as running and bicycling that are considered aerobic exercises under the right circumstances, as well as activities such as tennis and boxing, which aren’t actually aerobic, but can provide a rigorous workout that promotes weight loss.
- Jogging, fast walking
- Riding a stationary bike
- Riding a recumbent bike
- Using elliptical trainers
- Rope jumping
- Walking/running on a treadmill
- Using rowing ergometers
- Aerobic dancing
- Racket sports
- Using stair climbers (stair steppers or stair mills)
- Ice or roller skating
- Cross-country or downhill skiing
- Brisk walking
The Two Basic Types of Cardiovascular Training
The two basic types of cardio that we recommend are:
- Low-Intensity Steady State (or ‘LISS’), which is equivalent to 30-45 minutes of walking/slow running or any other form of low-intensity cardio.
- High-Intensity Interval Training (or ‘HIIT‘), which is equivalent to a 30-second sprint (defined ad ‘work’), followed by a 30-second walk (defined as ‘rest’). These ‘work’ and ‘rest’ periods are then repeated for a designated amount of time, usually 10-15 minutes.
Burning Debate: What kind of cardio is best?
Cardiovascular training varies in its degree of impact, level of intensity, and duration of exercise. You should pay close attention to these factors before you select a fitness routine. The current condition of your body will help determine the proper type of cardio training for you. For additional information read our post “Burning Debate: What kind of cardio is best? Steady state or HIIT?”
However, we strongly recommend HIIT over steady-state cardio. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) has many benefits over low-intensity steady state cardio training. You may have heard of EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), or as it’s commonly known, the “afterburn” effect. This is one of the biggest advantage HIIT has over steady state cardio.
Low-impact vs High impact cardio activities
Any aerobic exercise that involves running, jumping, or heavy stepping is considered a high-impact activity that can eventually take its toll on your knees and other joints. Exercises like swimming, cycling, rowing, and skating, on the other hand, are low-impact aerobic workouts that provide great cardiovascular benefits and burn a significant amount of calories without putting stress on your bones and joints.
Timing of cardio training
Serious lifters worry that cardiovascular training will impede their ability to recover from intense strength training. That all depends on when and how you do your cardio. The best possible solution is to keep your cardio days and strength days as removed from each other as possible. That way your cardio won’t hinder gains in strength and size. Check this post for more information: The best time to do cardio when lifting weights.
Understanding heart rate zones
There are three heart rate zones that focus on specific aspects of cardiovascular performance. These three zones are endurance (lower intense fat-loss zone), aerobic, and anaerobic. By targeting any one of these zones, you can control the benefits you get from cardiovascular exercise. The following table illustrates the range of these zones and their benefits.
Understanding heart rate
I. Determining your resting heart rate
The best way to obtain an accurate resting heart rate it to measure your heart rate when you first wake up in the morning. Measure it as soon as you can after waking, before you situp and exert yourself in any manner. Do this for several mornings and then calculate the average for all of the mornings included in your test period.
For example if your resting heart rates for days 1, 2 and 3 are 77 beats per minute (bpm), 71 bpm, and 74 bpm respectively your average resting heart rate will be: (77 + 71 + 75)/3 = 74bpm
A typical resting heart rate will be between 60 and 90 beats per minute.
II. Calculating your maximum heart rate
Probably the most accurate way to obtain your maximum heart rate is to go through a cardiac stress test under the supervision of your doctor. However, a widely accepted method to determine your maximum heart rate is to subtract your age from 220 referred to as your age-predicted maximum heart rate. For example if you are 40 years old your age-predicted maximum heart rate is:
220-40= 180 bpm
Obviously, this doesn’t take into account your particular fitness level or genetics which when factored into the equation might adjust this number by a factor of 10 or more in either direction. But for most the simple age subtraction calculation is probably close enough. However, this should not be viewed as a substitute for an evaluation by your physician.
III. Calculating your heart rate reserves
This is simply the difference between your maximum heart rate and your resting heart rate.
Heart Rate Reserve = Maximum Heart Rate – Resting Heart Rate
Continuing our example: Heart Rate Reserve = 180 – 74 = 106 bpm
IV. Calculating your target heart rates
Target Heart Rates are sometimes referred to as Training Heart Rates and refer to a range of heart rates that correspond to various levels of aerobic exercise (look at the table above). These are sometimes broken up into zones such as one might find on the dial of a treadmill.
Heart rate Vs Pulse
The pulse is felt in the body’s blood vessels and reflects the heart’s beat. The heart rate and the pulse are the same rate in most instances. The pulse is felt with a slight delay after the heart rate, with those pulses farther from the heart, such as in the foot, taking longer to pulsate.
The pulse can be measured from your fingertip or earlobe with a pulse meter. These devices contain a photoelectric cell sensor.
Because indoor and outdoor light and body movement can interfere with these devices, pulse meters are often not as reliable (as direct assessment of the heart rate from the chest – heart rate monitor) during physical activity but are useful during rest or on stationary devices.
Breakdown of Cardio Versus Weight Training
The respective importance you should give to each form of training depends on your goals. Consider the following:
- If your priority is to lose body fat, you should mainly perform cardio training. However, do not neglect resistance training to preserve your lean mass. It is best to spend two thirds of your time performing cardio exercises and only one third performing weight training.
- If you mainly want to tone your body, devote two thirds of your time to weights and one third to cardio.
- Furthermore, If you desire to tone up and lose fat at the same time, divide your training time equally between weights and cardio.
- If you are too skinny, you can skip cardio as you attempt to gain as much muscle as possible.
Why cardio and weight training go hand in hand?
Here are 4 most important benefits of cardiovascular training for bodybuilders:
- stronger heart;
- increase in circulating blood volume;
- increase in the number of blood vessels;
- stronger mental and physical relaxation;
Read our post “The Benefits of Cardiovascular Training for Bodybuilders” in order to find out how exactly each of the benefits mentioned above affects weight training.
Closing Thoughts: Cardiovascular exercise basics
In simple terms, aerobic exercise is any extended activity that makes you breath hard while using the large muscle groups at a regular, even pace. Aerobic activities help make your heart stronger and more efficient. They also use more calories than other activities. If you stop and start again, as you do when you play basketball, you’re not getting a true aerobic workout because your heartbeat doesn’t stay in your target range long enough.
Everyone, no matter how thin, needs to do some aerobics in order to strengthen the cardiovascular system and build endurance. Bodybuilders who have a tendency to get too heavy may always need to do more aerobics than thinner people. Everyone is different. Success in bodybuilding depends on customizing both your weight training and your aerobics program for your physique.
Excessive cardio work can also make it difficult to retain muscle mass. If you are thin by nature, you may already have trouble gaining quality weight. If you add in too much cardio, you can sweat off your muscle as well as your fat. Be smart, and pay attention to your progress.