Whether you are a fitness professional or a casual exerciser, chances are you know about the importance of cardiovascular training for your overall health.
There are a wide variety of cardio exercises, but in general, all of them fall into one of three categories. Probably the most well-known is slow, steady-state aerobic training, which includes activities like brisk walking, jogging, biking, and rowing.
At the opposite end of the spectrum are anaerobic workouts, which consist of short, intense bursts of energy. Sprints and high-intensity interval training – repeatedly alternating short bursts of energy with brief, low-intensity activity – fall into this category.
The third type of cardio workouts falls somewhere in the middle, balancing aerobic and anaerobic activities to achieve your fitness goals.
3 APPROACHES TO IMPROVING YOUR FITNESS AND REACHING YOUR GOALS
How do you know what type of cardio is best?
There’s no right answer for everybody. But if you begin by understanding your personal fitness goals, it’s easier to choose a plan that’s right for you.
STEADY-STATE, LOW IMPACT WORKOUTS
For those who don’t need to build endurance or speed – and those who simply care about looking good– low-intensity, steady-state cardio is a good option.
For example, bodybuilders preparing for a competition or fitness models fine-tuning their bodies for a photoshoot might be mostly interested in losing body fat. For them, walking or biking would be an appropriate cardiovascular workout, allowing them to burn calories without draining energy, they need to get the most out of their muscle building exercises.
One way to improve recovery when lifting heavy 3-4 times per week is with light activity between workouts. But it’s essential to take it easy during these sessions; don’t treat them like your intense, weight training workouts. Remember: Rest is a good thing. An example plan of attack:
Monday (Lower Body Strength Focus)
Squats – 3 sets of 3 reps, 2.5 minutes rest between sets
Hip Thrusts – 4 sets of 5-8 reps, 2 minutes rest between sets
Dumbbell Lunges – 3 sets of 10-12 reps, 1-minute rest between sets
Romanian Deadlifts – 4 sets of 8-10 reps, 1-minute rest between sets
Sprints – Five 40-yard dashes, 1-minute rest between each
30 to 40 minutes of brisk walking in the park or on a treadmill
Wednesday (Upper Body Strength Focus)
Weighted Chins – 4 sets of 4 reps, 2.5 minutes rest between sets
Barbell Push Press – 4 sets of 4 reps, 2 minutes rest between sets
Cable High Rows – 4 sets of 8-10 reps, 1-minute rest between sets
Incline DB Bench Press – 3 sets of 8-10 reps, 1-minute rest between sets
Face pills – 3 sets of 12-15 reps, 1-minute rest between sets
20 minutes of swimming laps
Friday (Full Body Strength Focus)
Deadlift – 3 sets of 4-5 reps, working up to a top set of 4-5, then dropping weight by 10% for 2nd and 3rd sets. 3 minutes rest between sets
Bulgarian Split Squats – 3 sets of 5 reps, 2 minutes rest between sets
DB Floor Press – 5 sets of 5 reps, 2 minutes rest between sets
Seated Cable Row – 5 sets of 8-10 reps, 2 minutes rest between sets
Sled pushes – 3, 1-minute rest between sets
Saturday – 60 minutes road biking
The cardio sessions on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday should not be intense – you should be able to carry on a casual conversation during these sessions. If you can’t, it’s too intense and may cut into your recovery.
HIGH-INTENSITY INTERVAL TRAINING
Athletes who play sports with short periods of intense activity, such as football, baseball or short-distance track events (sprinting, pole vault, high jump, and long jump), are better served with cardio routines built around high-intensity interval training.
For these athletes, strength and power are essential; the ability to run five miles at a time isn’t. So workouts should incorporate repeated periods of intense work followed by longer periods of rest, much like they would experience playing their sports. Their training might emphasize 40-yard dashes and activities that force them to change direction and movement patterns quickly.
Even if you’re not an elite athlete, high-intensity cardio training can help improve your strength and speed and build your physique. But keep in mind that too much intense training without enough rest can actually slow your progress. A good rule of thumb is to limit high-intensity training to 3-4 days per week, especially for those just starting out.
Keep in mind that weight training is considering high-intensity training, so if you’re already lifting three times per week, you have one day left for conditioning via high-intensity cardio training. Or if you wanted to get some additional cardio while still lifting thrice weekly, you could add a sprint session to your lower body weight training day, and then have a separate day where you push the sled, flip a tire, and do various conditioning drills.
THE COMBO PLATTER
Many people prefer cardio training that combines the two other methods, opting for a mixture of endurance training and high-intensity workouts.
Soccer, lacrosse, hockey and even MMA athletes are likely to adopt this type of regimen. These athletes require strength for violent bursts of energy, but they also need the stamina to compete at lower intensities for longer periods of time.
Combining endurance and high-intensity training is a great way to build variety into a training regimen, which can eliminate workout boredom. Your Monday workout might be sprints at the track followed by intense weightlifting; on Tuesday, you can hit the pool for 30 minutes of swimming laps. A week might look like this:
Monday – Full Body Strength Training
Tuesday – sprints and bike intervals
Wednesday – rest
Thursday – Full Body Strength Training followed by sled pushes
Friday – rest
Saturday 2-3 mile run
Sunday – 60 minutes of brisk walking
WHAT’S THE BEST METHOD?
Every workout approach has benefits and drawbacks, and there’s no one perfect way to get in shape. Some people are genetically geared to be endurance athletes; others are predisposed to strength sports – and we all tend to gravitate to the activities that come naturally to us.
So the next time someone says a certain type of cardio is “the best” for you, remember that your temperament and fitness objectives – not necessarily what someone else recommends – should determine what workout is best. Assess your fitness goals and whether the routine is one you would actually enjoy doing long term. Your answers will help you determine which cardio plan is best for you.