Cardio a.k.a cardiorespitory training is one of the key components to a balanced training program; the other two being resistance training and flexibility. It refers to the ability of a client to perform large muscle, repetitive, moderate to high-intensity exercise for an extended period. The goal should be to raise your heart rate and breathing to place an appropriate physiological stress on the cardiorespiratory system.
What are some of the benefits of performing cardio? Some may automatically say “weight loss” and if you performed enough cardio at a pretty high level, coupled with a healthy diet, then you would be correct. But if all you did was cardio, here are some of the benefits The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) cites:
- decreased risk of premature death from all causes and specifically from heart disease,
- reduction in death from all causes,
- increased likelihood of increased habitual activity levels that is also associated with health benefits,
- improvement in cardiovascular and respiratory function,
- decreased anxiety and depression,
- enhanced feelings of well-being, and
- enhanced performance of work, recreational, and sport activities.
When you are heading out for your cardio session consider the fact that it is a three-part process. Warm-up phase, endurance phase and cool-down phase. The warm-up and cool-down should consist of 5-10 minutes of easy to light activity, with some dynamic stretching for the warm up and some static stretching for the cool down. If you are unclear what each type of stretching is, check out my earlier post “Personal Trainers Guide to Stretching” for more tips and guidelines. Next comes the endurance phase which is where all the hard work comes into play.
How do you decide how hard you should work at in the Endurance phase? One of the best ways is to calculate your targeted heart rate zone with the help of some personal data and a formula. If this is the method you really want to use, I suggest speaking to your physician or ask a Personal Trainer to help calculate it for you. For the average person I would suggest using the RPE scale (rating of perceived exertion) which can also be very effective.
For those new to exercise, begin with walking at a comfortable pace with a fairly light level of exertion (RPE of 2-3) for 10-15 minutes. Then after a couple of weeks you can increase the pace slightly to a moderate level of exertion (RPE of 3-4) for 20-25 minutes. From here you can increase the difficulty as you feel more comfortable, followed by the length of the sessions. Each time you make a change, do it in small increments to allow the body a chance to adapt. If your main goal is to lose weight, increasing your activity levels to 45-60 minutes per day may be required.
How often should you be performing cardio? For a sedentary person or some one new to exercise, incorporating even a couple of days per week can start making improvements in their cardiorespiratory fitness. According to the ACSM, the optimal frequency is 3-5 days per week, although those individuals who are training for competition or performance will likely be training more than the suggested 3-5 days. If an individual is very deconditioned, multiple short daily sessions may be more appropriate in the beginning.
The best way to make sure you get your session in each day is to set an appointment for yourself and keep each appointment. Hold yourself to it!