Updated: Jul 25, 2019
Cardio is a word which has lots of people running for cover (if you’ll pardon the pun…). A lot of people associate it with those horrible school days of being told to run around a field or your local town in shorts, t-shirt, shoes and white socks (I never understood why they had to be white socks?!) in the freezing cold and pouring rain. You may have been one of the slowest and felt humiliated, or been one of the ones who sneaked off and tried taking the short cut, before being caught by the teacher and getting royally told off. I personally detested physical education at school. I feel the way they taught it was so backwards, giving you little choice of what you want to do, and simply forcing you to participate in a sport you had no interest in.
Whilst this may tick the government guideline boxes to help children get a couple of hours of exercise each week, it’s detrimental to children in their learning of exercise, and deters them from doing exercise later in life. I actually believe it is actually contributing to the obesity crisis rather than helping it!
In my PT training, they constantly drum home the fact that for a client to stick to the programme, they need to enjoy it. This means that you should never impose a programme on someone - instead you should develop a programme with someone based on their likes, dislikes, goals and abilities (none of which was taken into account in my school days).
Cardio doesn’t have to be horrible though. All cardio means is that you are improving your aerobic fitness by working in the cardiovascular heart-rate zone. You can do cardio training in many different sports and in many different ways.
To improve cardiovascular fitness, you want to be performing in a heart rate zone of 70 – 80 % of your max heart rate. A crude measure to work out your own max heart rate is to do 220 minus your age. So for me, my max heart rate would be roughly 194 (220 minus 26 – it will drop to 193 in just over a week’s time when I turn 27). Therefore, my cardio zone is about 135 bpm (0.7*194) to 155 bpm (0.8*194). As you train more, and get used to your own body, you will however be able to get a better idea of your max heart rate and how your heart rate responds to exercise.
The reason working out in the heart rate zone increases your cardiovascular endurance more than a lower heart rate zone, is that it pushes your body further. As you train for sustained periods of time at higher intensity, your body learns how to operate more effectively (this is by a more efficient use of oxygen, and this type of training can even increase heart size and pump more blood for trained athletes – I’m not a trained athlete but even I have managed to increase the size of my heart from training… Don’t worry, this is healthy - however alarming it sounds!). Anyway, lets get down to business and discuss the pro’s and cons of different types of cardio - one of which will hopefully work for you!
If you’ve never tried boxing, then you would most likely be surprised as to how energetic it actually is. Even just shadow boxing (throwing punches but against the air) will get you puffed out very quickly. This will quickly get your heart rate up.
- Very good for all-round fitness, keeping you moving and on your toes, with a constantly elevated heart rate.
- It can be pretty fun, especially if doing it with someone else.
- It will increase your speed and agility.
- It increases strength and power.
- Due to the high intensity it may not be appropriate to start with if you are very unfit.
- If you aren’t used to boxing, your shoulders may get fatigued very quickly so cannot sustain for a long period of time.
- It can put strain on joints, so can cause injury relatively easily.
- May have a tendency to box with only your dominant side – make sure you use both equally!
2) Interval running
Interval running is what it says on the tin, running at high intensity in intervals. It means you can increase intensity but in a sustainable way. An example of interval running would be to start jogging slowly on the treadmill, then increase the speed up to running speed for 30 seconds, then lower it back down for 30 seconds and repeat doing that
- It allows you to go at higher intensities than may be possible for continual running
- Having short term goals may be easier mentally to achieve, therefore may be more likely stick to it.
- You will be able to keep increasing your heart rate and pump your muscles harder than continual running which will leave an after burn – meaning you will continue to burn calories after you’ve finished.
- Improves muscle strength and speed in the legs.
- The only focus is on the leg muscles – so it will not improve the upper body muscles.
- The intensity may not be suitable for some unfit people due to increases strain on heart.
- It involves high impact on the knees, so could aggravate any knee problems you may already have.
Rowing is a great low impact cardio workout. You can either do this outside if you have the luxury of access to a rowing boat and a river/lake. Or like most of us, you can do it in the gym. The majority of gyms will have a rowing machine.
- It is low impact, so the majority of people will be able to do some form of rowing.
- It is easily to measure – you can see distance and time and improve upon it over the weeks.
- It’s a full body workout, it will work all your muscles in some way.
- You can get relatively affordable rowing machines – so you can do this at home if you want.
- It can be difficult to continue rowing for long periods of time, especially if you are first starting out.
- If you do have an injury in one part of the body, you may not be able to use the rower at all due to it using your full body.
- It takes some learning to ensure you are using the correct rowing technique.
4) HIIT weight circuit training
For those of you who really do just love to do weights, then the good news is you can do cardio with weights! All you have to do is ensure you have little to no rest periods and high reps!
- You can tailor it to take account of any injuries to avoid those movements.
- It will greatly increase strength.
- It can be done with just some resistance bands or dumbbells.
- Will create a great afterburn effect, burning calories for long periods of time after you’ve finished.
- Easy to not use enough weight or to use too much. You want to be doing around 15 reps per exercise, so choose the weight accordingly!
- You need to know how to perform multiple exercises properly to do a whole circuit.
- You can fatigue quickly if incorrect weights used.
- It is quite easy to get injured.
Another great all-rounder. It uses all the muscles and has the great benefit of being no impact – you are floating in water after all! You can even do it on holiday – hurray!
- Resistance is imposed by the water which increases muscle strength.
- Low/basically no impact on the joints.
- Can be good rehabilitation for some muscles or joints.
- Can vary in intensity.
- Need to be able to swim (this is pretty essential).
- Need to have access to a swimming pool / sea which may not be readily available.
- Can be daunting for some people.
- Swimming for sustained periods can very quickly tire people who are not used to swimming, so may not be able to continue for a long time.
Hopefully this has gone some way to breaking down the fear of cardio you may have had at first! Trust me, I thought I hated cardio, until I found the right cardio! I now do shadow boxing, HIIT weights training and interval training. I also occasionally swim – but that’s only when I’m on holiday and sometimes do the rower to warm up in the gym.
As always drop us a message if you want any help at all, we are always happy to hear from you!