This has to rank as one of the most common questions I would get while I was training clients. As a former manager of a personal training studio but more importantly as just an average every day fitness geek, I’ve fielded tons of questions from people who are unsure if their method activity is right for their goals. Running, Weight-Training, Swimming, Biking, Hiking, Crossfit, Powerlifting, and everything in between, has their purpose. But that doesn’t mean that every one of these methodologies have to be one-dimensional. For example: Running and swimming will likely accomplish the same overall goals of improved cardiovascular health and performance. Just like weight-training and powerlifting will both expand on someone’s overall strength and lean muscle mass. BUT they each have their inherent benefits. So cardio, some people’s form of meditation and bliss and others’ nightmare, should you be doing it?
Lets get this straight
Im a huge advocate for simply moving more. Yup, just start moving more than you already do and you will most likely be healthier and happier. Much like physics teaches us, things in motion tend to stay in motion and I’m a big believer that your physical state directly correlates to your emotional well-being. Speaking in terms of averages, of course. There are always outliers but the average person would be happier if their heart worked more efficiently, which made them feel better, which makes them happier. We can’t escape the effect that our physical bodies have on us at times, good or bad.
That being said, there are a few instances where I believe that cardio has a tried and true track record helping people reach their goals. But before we get into specifics let’s break down the different types of cardio and their effects on the body. While the specifics will vary widely with all of these, these are the basic ideas behind them:
- Steady-State/Low Intensity– Slow speeds to moderate speeds, steady pace throughout. Walking at the same speed for a set amount of time.
- Interval– Speeds may become greater with varying pace throughout. Light jog for 5 minutes then a slightly faster speed for another 5. Sometimes repeating for several intervals.
- High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)– Quick bouts of high speed followed by short periods of restful walking or running. Think- Run at a conversational (Recovery) pace for 1 minute and sprint at a 80%-90% max effort pace for 30-45 seconds.
Now like I said, the numbers and times aren’t exact but the basic premise applies to each of these areas. Each one of these types of cardio can be applied to every single exercise or sport. You can apply this to lap swims, road biking, even Crossfit with adjusting your lifts, volume and time, to achieve the desired level of cardio. What we want to focus on is which one of these types of cardio will serve you best. The answer, as always isn’t always simple but I’ll give you the cliff notes on what to use each of these for.
If your trying to take a few pounds off the waistline, try some steady-state cardio of your choice. Go for long walks and set that base of cardiovascular capacity. Lets say you’re an avid weight-lifter who’s trying to shed a % point off your body fat, get on that stair stepper and knock out 20 minutes at a steady pace at the end of your training sessions. And if you’re already at a point where you’re walking for an hour everyday than step it up and start jogging for 30 minutes and see what happens with that wasitline. The point is to do more and see what works for your body. What about endurance athletes? Odds are, if you’re an endurance minded athlete that you’re probably well versed in the realm of cardio and its uses. Your programming will probably include a mix of all of these types of cardio. But for those that aren’t aware of how endurance athletes build up their aerobic capacity: Interval training and Steady-State will make up the base of their training and HIIT will be sprinkled in during the week to round out their fitness level. They will also sparingly add in some strength based training to help with muscle imbalances, stability, and speed.
As you can see by now, cardio is much like everything else in the fitness world, tons of gray. Theres a ton of gray area that you can fill in how you want. Sure, there are good ways to accomplish goals. A good way to increase your run time. Good ways to increase you personal best on a bench press. But there’s no such thing as the best way to do anything. As your body changes, your training method will have to as well. Think of it as a never ending race to become healthier than your past self. The reward is in the race, not the finish line. So get out there and give on of these methods a try with your favorite activity.