Breaking Down The Cardio Story: What Kind, When To Do It, and Why

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After over a decade of questions I’ve addressed from a multitude of clients, I think the confusion about cardio is still the one that most people just can’t seem to figure out. 

Hey look, I used to be the same way too until I really started to deeply study the body, and what makes it tick when it comes to training.  So let’s take a moment to address the various forms of cardio there are as well as look at how, when, and why one form should be applied over the other.

What is cardio really?

Cardiovascular activity can be defined as any physical activity which raises the heart rate to around 60 to 85 percent of the heart’s maximum capacity for an extended period of time. We’ll stick with this definition for our purposes for today.

Cardio can be done in various forms from machines (treadmill, bike, row machine, step mill, versaclimber,etc), to actual movement that pits you against gravity and ground reaction forces (running, jump rope, swimming, dance classes to name a few), to even weight training if your heart rate is elevated enough and then sustained.

Now under the umbrella of types of cardio activity, you have various modes that can take place and that is all dependent upon the intensity and set up of the workout. For the context of our article today, let’s zone in on the three possible modes from the chosen types above: endurance, interval training, and HIIT.

Endurance Training – The Basis of Your Cardio Adventure

Here’s the good news, if you’re even remotely working out and doing SOME form of movement that you call cardio, then you’re already primed for Cardio 101.

When most people hit the gym, and talk about doing “cardio,” this is where they’re hanging 9.9 times out of 10. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, it’s recommended that you get about 150 mins per week (so about 30 mins, 5x a week) of cardio training.

Endurance training can be simply defined as exercising in a way to increase stamina and the body’s ability to work at an increased rate that taxes the heart and lungs, over a duration.

The biggest problem I see with this form of cardio training, as it relates to women, is that there is an over reliance on this type of work, often with the exclusion of other things that can bring just as much of a benefit, if not even more.

Skipping out on really establishing a good base for training while in this phase puts you at a greater disadvantage when it comes to incorporating more advanced workouts like weight training circuits or interval training cardio which we’ll address in a bit.

My advice to you, if you want to really get the best bang for your buck when it comes to endurance training, put the books and magazines away, and turn off the TV while on those machines.

Instead grab your headphones, your favorite playlist, and crank it up so you feel like you’re truly giving your heart and lungs a real kick butt workout. After all, “toning” happens from the inside out. Tone your heart and lungs, increase your capacity to do work, enable yourself to push harder in the gym, thus leading to a transformed body.

Interval Training – Endurance Training’s “Older Smarty Pants” Sister

Knowing my readers and clients, you’ve probably heard of this one before.

And maybe you’ve tried it, but you find that you like your regular cardio program because it’s easier to watch Basketball Wives while “gettin it IN”, or you can read your book better when you just go at a steady pace, or that you THINK you burn more calories when you just keep it nice and steady, whatever’s on your brain, you know what I mean. 

I can assure you that if you’re not hitting intervals a few times during your cardio program then you’re missing out on a SUPER effective way to get to your six pack a hell of a lot faster. 

With traditional interval training, you intersperse periods of high-intensity work with periods of low-intensity work. 

The period of time you spend in the high and low points is based on your fitness level, goals, and duration of the workout. 

All and all the most important, and SUPER COOL thing about interval training is that even though it may not burn as many calories in the short term while training (if you’re going by the numbers), the metabolic boost that occurs AFTER YOU’RE DONE is incredible. 

That boost can last up to 36 hours after training depending on the intensity

With endurance training, that boost drops off typically around 30 mins to an hour or so after you’re done.  Would you like to potentially burn an additional amount of calories post-workout while doing basically nothing for an hour or up to 36 hours… 

Kinda a no brainer right!?

HIIT Cardio – Where Real Life Superhumans Are Born

If you think interval training will leave you OWNED by your machine or exercise of choice, then you really need to meet its evil twin HIIT. 

HIIT stands for HIGH INTENSITY INTERVAL TRAINING. 

The emphasis needs to be on the HIGH INTENSITY portion of this type of work.  This is not your mother’s interval training workout, oooooh no, instead it’s a way of kicking things to the next level and really breaking the boundaries of what you THINK you can do. 

By definition, HIIT cardio falls in line with an attempt to train your lactate threshold. 

Basically what that means is that you’ll be training at the most upper levels of your cardiovascular capacity and lactic acid is the by product of the energy being burned up in your system.  It usually burns your lungs (among other body parts) like hell and feels like you’re going to die by the end. 

Yeah that would be classic HIIT! 

The duration of this kind of work cannot be sustained for more than about 20-30 secs if you’re really in the upper echelon of your limits.  The rest cycle is about twice as long, so you may take between 1-3 mins rest in between depending on how much you really push the work interval.

Typically doing about 20 mins of this kind of work is all you need as a general trainee to see some really great physical responses. 

The post-workout metabolic boost that you get from this type of training is even more through the roof than regular interval training.  So if fat loss is your main goal, YOU DEFINITELY WANT TO HANG OUT HERE A FEW WORKOUTS A WEEK!

4 replies on “Breaking Down The Cardio Story: What Kind, When To Do It, and Why

  • Chyyna Jennings

    Great info! Thanx! Would you consider workout DVD’s like insanity or P90X HIT or jst your average cardio? I use them on days I can’t get back to the gym after my a.m. weight train session.

  • Roxie

    You can do videos like that for sure, it’s just another way of getting it in. But what you have to take into consideration is how often you do them. Sometimes too much of a good thing can be just that… Too much. So being sure to do it a few times a week, like maybe 2-3 at most, and mixing in something of a lower intensity for other times, as well as REST DAYS is important for the overall longevity of your body and bring more focus on making all of this a lifestyle; as opposed to a blitz to a goal that will fall off once you get there. Great question!

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