Last Updated: October 19, 2017

Cardiovascular Training 101

Overview

Another key component of any well-structured workout program is cardiovascular training. Cardiovascular training refers to any form of exercise that elevates your heart rate and keeps it elevated for a longer duration of time. There are numerous forms of cardio training that you can choose, which we’ll explore; each offers its own unique benefits. By assessing your current fitness level and what your goals are, you can determine which is the ideal form of cardio training for you to perform.

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The Benefits Of Cardio Training

Lower Resting Heart Rate

If you’re looking to improve your heart health, cardiovascular training is going to help. Your heart is a muscle in the body and, like your other muscles, needs to be worked regularly to maintain good shape. When you do cardio training, you’re going to cause the heart to start contracting and relaxing at a rate faster than it normally would, improving your conditioning level.

As this conditioning level improves, the heart won’t have to work quite as hard in everyday activities to move blood throughout the body, so you’ll see your resting heart rate decline.

Improved Cardiovascular Function

A second heart health benefit that you’ll get when adding strength training into the mix is improved cardiovascular function. As you perform your cardio training your heart will improve its ability to draw in more blood with each contraction it takes, improving its effectiveness.

These benefits will be seen after just a very short time period of performing regular cardiovascular training, a virtually immediate training benefit.

Greater Weight Control

One of the primary benefits of cardiovascular training that most people know about is the impact it has on weight control. If you’re hoping to maintain your body weight, cardiovascular training can make this easier.

Since your body weight is determined by how many calories you consume on a daily basis versus how many calories you expend, cardiovascular training can help to increase the number of calories you expend during the day, tilting the scales in favor of weight loss.

While cardio should never be used to compensate for bad food choices, the additional calories that you burn while doing it will help to offset any excess calories that you consume through your food intake.

Stress Reduction

As with strength training, cardiovascular training can also offer clear stress reduction benefits. Those who participate in this form of training will experience a strong release of endorphins in the body, which will put you in a calmer, stress-free state.

In addition to this, many people use the time they spend during their cardio training to “zone out”, clearing their mind of whatever happens to be stressing them out. Running is an especially good form of exercise for giving you time to think out your problems, so if you lead a high-stress lifestyle, it may be a form of workout that you want to consider.

Improved Circulation

A natural benefit of cardio training is improved circulation. As you continue to move throughout your cardio training, your body moves blood to and from the muscles at an accelerated pace. This is going to provide faster delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the muscle tissues, enhancing their recovery and allowing you to get fit faster.

Less Daily Fatigue

Cardiovascular training leads to a noticeable reduction in daily fatigue. As your body becomes more conditioned to handle the higher level of physical activity, you’re going to find that you’re not nearly as exhausted performing routine tasks that once wore you out.

Since you’ll also enjoy the heart-strengthening benefits I described above, this also means your body will have to work less hard to complete your normal lifestyle activities. Together, this will leave you feeling more energized throughout the day.

So there you have the primary benefits that cardiovascular training will provide. Now let’s look briefly at the different types of cardio training that you can perform.

Types Of Cardio Training

Moderate Paced/Steady State Cardio Training

The first type of training that you might want to perform is moderate paced or steady state cardio training, which is performed at a moderate intensity level (at around a 5-7 on a scale of 1-10 in terms of exertion). When doing this cardio training, you’re going to be maintaining that steady pace for an extended period of time, usually around 20-60 minutes.

This form of training is a great option for beginners because it won’t cause too much physical discomfort and eases you into cardiovascular activity. It’s also great for those who are doing multiple intense strength training workouts per week, since it’s less intensive on the body and central nervous system, requiring less recovery time.

Moderate intensity cardio training can be performed 4-6 days per week, or however often your schedule permits.

Interval Cardio Training And Sprint Cardio Training

Interval cardio training and sprint cardio training are often referred to interchangeably as they typically refer to the same protocol. That protocol is to perform an intense bout of exercise, going at a near maximum pace, and then supplement this with a rest interval where you will lower the intensity level and work at a more moderate pace.

The only difference to note between them is that with sprint training, your intense bouts will last for just 20-30 seconds and have you working on a 9 or 10 effort level on a scale of 1 to 10, while with interval training the intense bouts will last for 30-60 seconds and have you working on a 7 or 8 intensity level.

Sprinting is therefore the more intense type of cardio training between the two, despite the fact they are still very similar in nature.

The rest intervals that are coupled with intense intervals should be two to three times the duration in length – long enough so that you can make a good recovery before moving on to your next intense interval.

These workout sessions typically only last for about 20 minutes; since they are so intense in nature, you shouldn’t be able to sustain them for lengthy periods of time.

Both interval and sprint cardio training should be performed, in most cases, a maximum of three times per week. Also, you will require more rest time for recovery after each workout than you would with the lower intensity, steady state cardio workouts.

Circuit Training

Finally, the last form of cardio training that you can consider is circuit training. This is more like a hybrid form of training that combines strength training with circuit training, as you’ll be performing strength-based activities one after another until 10-12 are completed, before taking time to rest.

When doing these strength-based activities, you’ll typically lighten your weight load slightly to keep up the fast pace of this workout protocol. It’s important to note that you don’t want to lighten the load too much, however, as you still do need to feel challenged. You’ll be aiming for 10-15 reps per set, so choose a weight that has you fatigued by that point.

Circuit training is excellent for those who don’t want to do traditional forms of strength training and who would rather combine their cardio training while receiving some strengthening benefits as well.

This form of workout will require you to take at least one day off between sessions to allow the muscles time to repair and recover, making it very similar to that of interval training in this regard.

So there you have the three main types of cardio training. Keep in mind that you don’t have to choose just one form of cardio training. You can add a couple sessions of a few different varieties if that’s what works best with your overall workout plan and schedule.

Who Should Perform Cardio Training

Every single person will benefit from including cardio training into his or her lifestyle. Remember that cardio training can be as simple as going for a brisk walk around your neighborhood, so regardless of your current physical conditioning, you can still include this into your day.

Here’s how various populations will benefit from this form of training.

Older Adults

Older adults will benefit from cardio training because it can help them maintain or improve their heart health, as well as maintain their mobility. Our joints and muscles will tighten up with age if we become inactive, so regular cardio training will keep the body loose and limber. This will then make it easier to perform everyday activities, improving quality of life.

Cardio training is also important to fend off weight gain that occurs due to aging.

Adults (20-60 years of age)

Adults who are in their early and mid-adult years will benefit from cardio training from a weight control point of view, improved fitness level and in the ways that it helps with any sports they happen to participate in.

Those who are more athletic in nature will really want to consider adding sprint or interval cardio training into the mix as this is the form of training that provides the greatest overall conditioning benefits.

Teenagers

Teenagers should certainly add cardio training into their weekly routines. Some teens get this training already through sports that they play, while others will need to consider adding it if they aren’t involved in planned sports. This training can reduce the risk of body fat gain that can happen during this time period if they adopt a more sedentary lifestyle. It can help improve their self-confidence as well.

Kids

Finally, kids will also benefit from cardio training, possibly throughout their lives since it establishes healthy habits of leading an active lifestyle, promoting good heart health and also helping to enhance the growth process taking place.

Most kids will get a good amount of cardio training without it having to be planned, since they run and play as part of their normal lifestyle. The important thing at this point is simply to encourage physical activity at this age, because then it will carry over into their teen and young adult years.

Whoever you are, cardio training will provide benefits to your health and fitness level. So there you have everything that you need to know about cardio training. If you combine cardio training and weight lifting, you will have a top-notch workout that is designed to bring you the best physical benefits possible.

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Shannon Clark, CPT

Shannon Clark is a certified personal trainer with over a decade of experience in the industry. Her passion for fitness began with figure skating as a child, leading to the Western Canadian Championships as a teenager. After retiring from skating, Shannon earned a bachelor’€™s degree in exercise science and began her career as a fitness trainer and writer. Her professional advice has been published in numerous magazines and websites.