MIRROR FITNESS COLUMNIST
Burning excess calories and fat during cardio is just the icing on the cake, and not the excuse to eat it. It may sound funny, but in my time as a trainer and nutritionist, I’ve heard many people say they do cardio just so that they can eat and drink what they want. That motivation is fine to start, but they should only expect minimal results.
Anyone committed to being fit, or simply healthy, must dedicate themselves to cardiovascular exercise at least three days per week. No matter what a person’s motivation, goal, or fitness level is, their results are largely determined by the quality of cardio rather, than the quantity.
The mistake people make day-after-day and week-after-week is doing the same cardio routine while using minimal effort to improve conditioning. This inefficiency of time and effort translates into a mediocre attempt at achieving a higher level of fitness and health.
More commonly, cardio has become something that people “do” when instead it should be something that they “train.” Doing cardio and cardio training are different. “Doing” is just about getting it done, while “training” is about applying oneself to reach a high level of fitness. Which category has your approach to cardio been?
The cardiovascular system, like our muscular system, grows stronger when it is trained intensely with variation; it plateaus when it is not, and becomes de-conditioned altogether when stimulus is removed. A stronger cardiovascular system means that our body will utilize oxygen and remove metabolic waste more efficiently, and therefore we will have more energy. That surplus of energy will benefit us in countless ways, including less sugar cravings, more productivity at work, and overall better personal well-being, which will translate into your relationships with family and friends.
Keep these benefits of quality of life and longevity in mind as motivation to “train” for better cardiovascular conditioning and not “doing” it to get it over with. Nike’s slogan “Just Do It” doesn’t cut it with getting faster results in less time.
If you’re not making incremental adjustments in the quality of your cardio, there will be little or no change in your conditioning, or how you look. I encourage you to stop spinning your wheels by putting your body to sleep doing the same thing. Splice in variety by choosing a multitude of “high quality” movements, challenging your heart and lungs with interval training, and plan active recovery cardio days.
High quality movements are those that recruit the maximum number of muscle fibers in order to produce the greatest results. The more muscle fibers involved, the more the nervous system is involved. That combination will yield the best results when larger ranges of motion, balance, and total body awareness are required. That means you have to let go of using the handrails on machines.
To create a safe progression for the body you can choose a variety of surfaces. Starting off on a treadmill is ok, but make the move outdoors for more challenging environments such as a track, grass, dirt trails, and sand. Running hills can also be intermingled to add gravity resistance, which also recruits more muscle. Some other ways to incorporate variety and progression are to add multi-directional movements in your running or walking such as moving laterally and/or using a rotational component.
Using a variety of exercise choices, also known as “cross-training,” is essential to achieve long-lasting results because it stimulates our body to work harder by having to constantly adapt to a different stimulus, and also minimizes the risk of overuse injuries. Other high quality exercises are biking, swimming, stair stepping, jump roping, kickboxing, rowing, and a plethora of group exercises – even “Zumba” dancing classes!
To challenge your heart and lungs to improve your cardiovascular conditioning, interval training has proven to work best. Unlike standard steady state cardio where you keep your heart rate relatively the same, and where longer duration equals better results, interval training requires intermittent 30-60 seconds full sprints, followed by 60-120 seconds of recovery, for a total of 30 minutes. In this case, less time equals a better result.
Steady state cardio can last longer because lower intensity exercise can utilize the steady supply of oxygen. However, since interval training is done at higher intensities, it has to rely more on sugar for fuel, which is in limited supply in our body, and therefore less duration is possible. Working at high intensities has tremendous benefits not only to the cardiovascular system, but also our hormonal system in a way that not only boosts our metabolism but also has anti-aging benefits.
A general recommendation to improve cardiovascular conditioning is to get in at least two interval training workouts each week: one at high intensity and the other at moderate intensity. From week to week, there gets to be steady manipulations in the intensity level (exercise heart rate), and duration of the intervals to make improvements. Otherwise the body will adapt, and plateau.
The interval sprints and active recovery can occur using any cardiovascular exercise mode. If you are just starting out, I recommend using a stationary bike so that you can easily monitor your intensity level and duration of intervals to help you to learn your perceived level of effort and know your limits in a safe environment. For more advanced levels, go to your local track to do sprints and training methodically to improve your fitness. The track makes it easy to measure distance by using the markers for sprints and active recovery intervals, and also easy to measure progress.
I suggest you start by making a list of the cardio exercises that you enjoy doing, and schedule that variety throughout the week. Then choose two to three days that you will concentrate on interval training, and two to three days of standard steady state cardio as recovery workouts. Each day keep a journal of what you do, and make adjustments to challenge your body differently from the week prior.
Applying higher quality, and intensity cardio training is great opportunity to reach your goals faster and with less wasted effort. With it, you can really enjoy the process of competing with your own best workouts and gain a higher level of satisfaction from your hard work.
*Before engaging in any high intensity cardiovascular exercise, make sure that you are good health, and get cleared by your doctor to participate.
Adam Friedman, CSCS, CN, CMT is a kinesiologist, certified strength & conditioning specialist, certified nutritionist, and certified massage technician. He is the founder of Advanced Athletics, Inc. located right next door to the world famous Gold’s Gym in Venice, on the corner of Sunset Ave. and Hampton Drive, one block east of Main Street. To schedule a complimentary assessment, please call 310.396.2100 or e-mail Adam at [email protected] Otherwise, to learn more, visit www.advancedathletics.com.