Cardio Training Tips

By Mark Malhiot, CPT –

We all have a general idea what cardio training is:  Get the heart rate up, and burn some calories. But for many of us, that leaves us with more questions than answers.  How long should I go and at what intensity? What type of cardio? Cycling?  Running?  Swimming? The list goes on.

As kids, it was easy and fun.  We didn’t even think about the cardiovascular benefit, weight control or even cognitive performance benefits.  We just wanted to go outside and play!  Kick the can and tag were fun, and then we moved on to school sports like soccer, football, basketball, volleyball and of course, track and field. All of those provided ample cardio exercise as we practiced every day after school with our revved-up metabolisms, but even those of us who have moved on from baseball to adult softball leagues, for example, may have started to notice that maybe playing softball once a week (and possibly partaking of some cold adult beverages while we’re at it) isn’t keeping us as lean as we once were.  So, what’s next?  We have a slower metabolism and less free time, so we’re doomed, right?  Not necessarily.

Back to our original questions: Which activity, how long and at what intensity?  Simply put, vary it.  People who choose only one form of cardio exercise are more likely to end up with overuse injuries – although swimming has the least impact –  so try alternating between different types of cardio.  Try cycling, either stationary or outside, work on the treadmill the next time and maybe throw in an elliptical session, rowing machine, stair climber or recumbent bike on another day, depending on what’s available and what you prefer.  That will reduce injury, boredom and work muscles a little differently.

As for intensity, you guessed it – vary it!  This time, though, have planned periods in your cardio session that are at higher intensity and then slower periods or recovery.  After a warm up period of about five minutes, try going faster, much closer to your max effort, then slowing back down.  A good ratio of work to recovery is 2:1, so for example, if normally one goes for a walk, try going for a walk for five minutes, then jog for 20 seconds and go back to walking for 10 seconds.  Repeat three to four times.  Now you’re doing tabatas, which is just a fancy word for how many times you repeat the work and recovery parts. You can adapt it to your fitness level, too.  If you’re already jogging, try sprinting then back to jogging for your tabatas.  You can also add more tabatas as you improve, always challenging yourself.  Then slow way down for the final few minutes as your cool down. What I have just described is known as high intensity interval training or HIIT.  HIIT is a very effective way to make the best use of your cardio time, and you can adapt it for whatever form of cardio you are doing that day.

That leads me to my next acronym for the day, which is EPOC. EPOC is excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.  This is nothing more than the extra calories you burn after you finish your exercise, as your body does everything it needs to do to recover from your work out.  It is directly related to the intensity of your work out, so in order to maximize your EPOC, really challenge yourself.  EPOC can last 36 hours after the completion of the exercise, but to be clear, you do not have to run a four-minute mile for EPOC; you just have to stay within the limits of your personal fitness level but give good effort.

Give it a try, and I think you will be amazed at how quickly your body adapts!