Cardiovascular Workouts: How and Why?
This article will help exercisers maximize their health benefits through cardiovascular exercise.
Why do people want to participate in cardiovascular workouts?
- To strengthen their heart.
- To increase the number of small arteries that circulate blood.
- To stimulate growth of mitochondria in your muscles (energy producing component of a cell).
- To reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis.
- To live a longer life.
- To lose weight.
- To lower their stress levels.
- To improve their mood.
- To increase their cognitive function.
- To improve their performance at work, home, or sport.
What do you need to know about cardiovascular exercise?
It is important that you know about the three basic zones of cardiovascular exercise:
1) The Aerobic Zone: this zone is the lowest intensity of the three. Your heart and lungs are able to deliver enough oxygen to your muscles to keep them moving. In this zone, you can easily string together sentences during a talk test.
2) The Threshold Zone: this is the in between zone. During time in this zone your muscles are beginning to cope with insufficient oxygen. You’re able to say a few words at a time will training in this zone. An exerciser should typically have bursts between 3 minutes to 10 minutes in this zone (depending on fitness level).
3) The Anaerobic Zone: this zone is the highest intensity. In this zone, your muscles can’t get enough oxygen. You are working at 90% or higher of your maximum abilities. A human can only last for up to 3 minutes while training at this zone. A person can spit out one word at a time while training at this intensity.
What is the optimal amount of time and intensity for cardiovascular exercise?
A general guideline based on studies of elite endurance athletes, is to aim to spend 70% in the aerobic zone, 20% in the threshold zone, and 10% in the anaerobic zone. These numbers are shown to bring the largest and swiftest gains in fitness with easier efforts that allow them to recover while continuing to improve. For many novices, the high portion of “easy” efforts is a surprise- but it’s simply not possible to hammer all the time. Make sure that your cardiovascular workouts reach 20 minutes in time. Anything above 20 minutes is a bonus (keep this mentality for consistency).
How do you find out what cardiovascular zone you are in?
There are a few options you have:
1) A heart rate monitor: discover your maximum heart rate by taking 208 minus .7 times your age (this is the most effective method at predicting maximum heart rate through age). Compare your heart rate with your maximum heart rate to discover what level of intensity you are working at.
2) The talk test: if you can easily hold a conversation while doing cardiovascular work, you are in the aerobic zone. You’ll know when you are in the threshold zone when you are only able to say a few words at a time. If you are able to only able to spit out one word at a time, then you are in the anaerobic zone.
3) Perceived exertion (the most practical option): discover what zone you are on by rating your intensity on a scale of 1 to 10. On this scale, the aerobic zone corresponds to about a 3 (moderate); threshold is a 5 to 6 (hard) and anaerobic is a 7 to 9 (very hard). This is a very accurate way to measure your intensity level. For research information on this topic, scroll to the bottom.
Yes, perceived exertion is a valid way of gauging intensity:
University of Liverpool found that instructing cyclist to pedal with vague descriptions like “somewhat hard” or “hard” was just as good as heart rate at producing repeatable effort. Since them, many studies have confirmed that “perceived exertion” is a reliable way of gauging intensity. For example, on a scale of 1 to 10, the aerobic zone corresponds to about a 3 (moderate); threshold is 5 to 6 (hard) and anerobic is 7 to 9 (very hard). ). Only about 10 percent of people struggle with perceived effort according to University of Wisconsin-La Crosse researcher Carl Foster- mostly control oriented people (often lawyers or surgeons) who don’t like to admit anything as difficult. “They’re on the treadmill saying, ‘This is easy, this is pretty easy this is sort of moderate’ – and then they’re going backward off the treadmill” he says.
Become consistent with your cardiovascular workouts by training at the right intensity. Research supports training at 20+ minutes. A good general standard to go by: 70% aerobic, 20% threshold, and 10% anaerobic.
People often start at too high of an intensity to maintain over time. Start at a pace that challenges you, and allow your body to adapt to the stress before increasing intensity. You’ll become encouraged to continue your workouts when your body makes physiological adaptations. The adaptations made from cardiovascular activity make life stresses (at home, work, and sport) easier to handle.
Owner of Bieman Fitness and Personal Trainer