What is "Cardio"?
Depending on who are you talking to, you will undoubtedly get a myriad of responses to this question.
"45 minutes on the Treadmill."
"Early morning walk around the neighborhood."
"Sprint til you puke!! Ahhhh"
Woah woah woah.. little too intense there.. yeah right there.. at the end of the list. whoops.
So which one is correct? Which one should I be doing? Which one is right for my goals?
The short answer is that they are all correct in the sense that they all qualify as "cardio". Literally speaking, "cardio" is shorthand for cardiovascular and anything that elevates your heart rate can be considered "cardio". That term doesn't necessarily have to be tied to a category of exercise equipment, rather just the act of exerting yourself enough to raise heart rate and challenge your body's cardiovascular system in order to strengthen your heart and increase blood flow and lung capacity. In this week's entry I will give you a short guide into what types of "cardio" there are, why and how you should use each one, and what I think is most effective.
"A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination." - Nelson Mandela
Types of "Cardio"
There are 2 types of cardiovascular exercise that are the most common among athletes and weekend warriors alike - Low Intensity Steady State (LISS) and High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).
HIIT cardio uses intervals of intense work and brief rest periods in order to increase VO2 max and get your heart rate higher (while only for a short time) than other types of traditional cardio. An example of HIIT cardio would be setting up 2 cones about 50 yards apart, sprinting the distance between them, slowly walking back to where you started, and repeating that a number of times. I recommend HIIT to improve cardiovascular and muscular endurance for most people regardless of specific goal due to its effectiveness in altering body composition and overall efficiency (exceptions being those above a certain age or those with heart and/or certain muscular issues). These workouts can be done anywhere between 10-30 minutes as standalone workouts but can also be tacked onto the ends of weight lifting sessions as 10 minute interval segments.
LISS is more traditional cardiovascular work that involves a lower intensity for a longer amount of time. An example would be going for a long walk or slow jog wherein your pace is constant but not overly physically taxing. Normally when clients or members ask about "cardio" this is what most are referring to. While HIIT, I would argue, is the more effective form of exercise for your heart, musculature, and body composition, there is certainly a valuable role for LISS in your workout routine. If you are already on a consistent resistance training program, lower intensity cardio will drastically improve the healing and growth processes by encouraging blood flow to damaged muscle fibers while not taxing you physically. LISS is also a great introductory tool for those starting any exercise program for the first time or those at lower fitness levels.
Regardless of goal, any type of cardio structure can be beneficial. That being said, if your goal is losing body fat you should be focused on maximum energy output so higher intensity exercise will be more effective. A strategic combination of both HIIT and LISS is your best bet when it comes to a complete exercise program.
Using Resistance Exercises As Cardio
While there is an place for traditional "cardio", as outlined above, I find that the most effective form of cardiovascular training comes from utilizing resistance exercises. If you are thinking in terms of energy output, which of these requires more energy:
1. Treadmill Walk - 30:00
2. Resistance Circuit:
Sit Up 15
Push Up 10
30 minutes - As Many Rounds As Possible
Try each one and I'll bet you get less than 5 minutes into the resistance circuit before you realize it's not even close.
The overall point I am making (I'm sure there will be many other blog posts about resistance circuits #foreshadowing) is that resistance workouts give you the benefits of HIIT Cardio as well as the reps and volume on your musculature that leads to growth and increases in strength. A well balanced resistance circuit at a manageable pace is more effective than any type of traditional cardio AND more fun and engaging. The trick is to find the structure and combination of exercises that will help you accomplish whatever your specific goals are.
For additional questions or to schedule a session with me to go over what type of cardio is best for you, head to the personal appointments page or contact me directly!
Thanks for reading! See you next week!