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The Ultimate Guide To Cardio

[Updated 06/03/2018]

Cardio seems to have fallen out of favour these days, but that doesn’t stop it from being a powerful tool to help you achieve better health and a more defined body. In this guide to cardio, I’ll tell you why you should definitely be doing some cardiovascular exercise, which types are best for you, and I’ll cover some of the more common cardio-related questions that I hear often as a personal trainer.

Why You Should Definitely Do Cardio

Cardio has a ton of benefits for anyone who wants to look, feel and function better. Better cardiovascular health doesn’t just mean you can run for longer, it means you’ll think more clearly, perform better in other exercise, recover better from all exercise, feel better, and generally be less likely to die.

Cardio is good for you. Given that heart disease cover over one fifth of all premature deaths in the UK, and that cancer covers over two fifths, with a significant portion of those being associated with obesity, there’s really no good argument against keeping your heart healthy and your weight down.

Cardiovascular exercise is like biceps curls for your heart. People bang on about those who skip leg day but then don’t do cardio. Train your whole damn body!

Cardio Benefits

  • Uses up more calories
  • Burns more fat
  • Boosts cardiovascular health
  • Improves mental health
  • Enhances cognitive function
  • May promote growth in some regions of the brain
  • Increases work capacity for other exercise

We lead more sedentary lives than we used to, so a poor cardiovascular base is less noticeable than it would have been 50 years ago. But whether it’s playing sports, working out, or having sex, you don’t want to settle for life with a poor aerobic base.

How Do I Do Cardio?

Cardio is anything that challenges your heart and lungs. It doesn’t have to be a specific movement or exercise and it doesn’t need a piece of expensive equipment. You don’t even need a gym membership if you don’t want one.  You simply move vigorously enough to challenge your heart and lungs. That’s it.

Make sure you pick a form of cardio that you enjoy, or at least don’t hate. I’ve provided a list of cardio exercises below to get you started.

List Of Cardio Exercises

  1. Walking
  2. Running
  3. Hiking
  4. Cycling
  5. Swimming
  6. Rowing
  7. Step Aerobics
  8. Skipping (Jumping Rope)
  9. Star Jumps
  10. Crosstrainer
  11. Stepper machine
  12. Jogging on the spot
  13. Burpee Intervals
  14. Mountain Climber Intervals
  15. Boxing/Air Boxing
  16. Sled Dragging

You’re really only limited by your imagination, anything that gets your heart pumping and your lunges working is great cardiovascular exercise.

What’s The Best Way To Do Cardio?

The best method is the one you stick to. With that said, lets look at a few popular types of cardio.

LSD/LISS Cardio

LSD, in this instance at least, stands for Long Slow Distance, and LISS stands for Low Intensity Steady State. They’re basically the same thing, a low-intensity effort sustained for a fairly long period of time.

While not the most time-effective way to do you cardio, it is the best place for most people to start. It isn’t too hard to recover from and it’s easy enough that you don’t dread your cardio workouts. You improve your fitness not through the intensity of exercise but by enhancing your endurance to sustain the exercise for longer.

In terms of calories burned, it’s pretty effective. You couldn’t sustain the exercise half as long if you doubled the intensity so there’s a greater potential to burn calories with the slower forms of cardio, obviously the actual amount of calories burned depends on how long you sustain the effort and how much time you put in.

Moderate Steady-State Cardio

Moderate Intensity Steady State is a good middle ground when it comes to burning a decent amount of calories. It can be tough and a bit unrelenting at times but it probably comes out on top in terms of calories burned. You want to be pushing your limits a little on this one, it should be hard for you to keep gong but not so hard that you have to stop.

You’ll want to find a pace that has you huffing and puffing, but that you can sustain for at least 15 minutes at a time. This is vary a lot between beginners and advanced exercisers, but that’s fine. Do what you can and aim to improve each time

HIIT

HIIT stands for High-Intensity Interval Training. High Intensity Interval Training is efficient but not always ideal for beginners. Often you’ll hear all about the ‘afterburn effect’ which makes this form of cardio vastly superior to lower intensity training, but unfortunately you must have a genuinely intense session to get a meaningful elevation in metabolic rate after your training sessions. Most people would be better off training a bit longer instead.

I think misinterpretation of Tabata’s work has glorified HIIT and made it appear to be something that it isn’t. When done right, it is very effective for improving anaerobic and aerobic fitness simultaneously, but it isn’t going to get you ripped.

Intervals mix things up and keep your cardio from getting too boring, so I would advise adding at least some intervals into your training to keep it interesting.

Fartlek

More than just a funny sounding word, Fartlek is Swedish for ‘speedplay’. It is a blend of steady state and interval training done within a longer duration effort. While it is unstructured by its nature, it burns calories, improves fitness and is only as boring as you make it. You can combine the above-mentioned methods into a fartlek session to keep things interesting.

The Secrets To Enjoying Cardio

Cardio can seem a bit mundane to many but everyone knows a runner who just loves it. The difference is in the mentality. If you’re on a treadmill just watching the clock then of course you’re going to get bored. If you’re challenging yourself and aiming to beat your past time, or go further than you did last time then you’re going to be more engaged with what you’re doing.

Make A Challenge Of It

Set yourself little targets or milestones and you’ll enjoy cardio a lot more. Cardio is the most efficient way to burn calories, but it doesn’t just have to be burning calories.

Run With Friends

If you’re doing cardio purely for fat loss and have little aspiration for building an incredible aerobic base, then the best advice I can give you is to do cardio with other people (who aren’t wusses). Time flies by when you’re run, cycle, swim or walk, if you have someone else with you.

Common Cardio Questions

How often should I do cardio?

Generally, more often is better. I’d suggest twice per week as the minimum. There’s no harm in doing cardio daily, you may just need to vary the exercise every so often to give your joints a break.

How long should I rest between cardio sessions?

This all depends on how long it takes you to recover from cardio, meaning it could be a day or less, or it could be as long as three or four days. When you start out, you may find that you experience DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) which you’ll have to get out of the way before you can do another high intensity cardio session, but the short answers is this: rest as long as you need to, but not longer.

Should I do cardio on an empty stomach?

You can do cardio on an empty stomach. This may facilitate better fat loss as your body is already in a fasted state. You won’t lose muscle either. It will not be a night and day difference however, consistently doing cardiovascular work is most important.

I hear that cardio will make me lose muscle, is it true?

Nope. Not using your muscles will cause you to lose muscle. Inadequate protein intake, or excessive calorie restriction will cause you to lose muscle. Cardio will not cause you to lose muscle. If you’re worried about muscle loss, you can take some amino acids to make doubly sure. Honestly though, even with cardio when fasted, like I’ll do when intermittent fasting, I’ve never noticed any muscle loss. Lack of sleep will do it, prolonged stress can do it, but unless you’re doing a ton of cardiovascular activity, you needn’t worry.

Should I do cardio before or after weight training?

You can do a short amount of cardio before weight training sessions to warm yourself up, but you should aim to be mostly fresh for weight training sessions because you’ll be weaker if you’ve already fatigued your muscles. When you lift weights, you release a bunch of hormones that are very conducive to fat burning, but weight training doesn’t burn a huge number of calories. Lift then follow with cardio for the best results.

If your goals are centred on endurance training, then this isn’t as clear cut. Even then, a low volume weight training routine would be best placed before running or cycling.

Is running bad for you?

No and yes, like all forms of exercise running can take a toll on your body. If you have weak knees or lower back and hip problems, then running might not be the best option for you. Think of yourself like a car, and your individual parts like parts of a car. The more mileage you put on yourself without proper servicing, the more likely you are to run into problems.

You’re much better to run than to sit down all day, but listen to your body and adjust your approach accordingly. If you experience pain or you are starting out overweight, then lower impact forms of cardio, such as cycling, or using the crosstrainer, are better alternatives.

Can I Do Cardio At Home?

You can do plenty of cardio workouts at home, but you can’t do all cardio exercises at home. If you’re uncomfortable exercising in public, you can start off with something as simple as walking. Stepping up and down the bottom step of your stairs is another option. As your confidence grows you’ll then be more comfortable exercising in gyms or outdoors. Even if you’d prefer to exercise at home for other reasons, you can still make good progress. Don’t isolate yourself if your efforts however, people with social support nearly always do better.

Does yoga count as cardio?

Nope.

What should my heart rate be?

Typically it’s recommended that you train at 60-80% of your heart rate. You can put your age into the calculator below to work out what that should be.

 

 

That concludes the ultimate guide to cardio!

Until next time,

Theo

Theo Whittington