Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Random Thoughts On "Cardio"

1. Cardiovascular conditioning is a critical part of any fitness program. What's the use of having strong glutes. lats and the rest if your heart is weak? It's the most important muscle in your body, and it needs to be kept strong! Some loss of cardiovascular capacity is inevitable as we age but with proper training a lot of that loss is preventable .... reversible, even. So, be sure your training program includes some sort of cardiovascular conditioning.

With apologies to Craig Ballantyne, just say "Yes!" to cardio :)

2. "Cardio" is any workout that's structured in such a way as to compel the heart to work at a certain percentage of capacity for a certain period of time. Many, many modalities work. If you like to run, you can run. If you'd rather use a stationary bike or elliptical, that works fine too. If you're like me and really don't enjoy that sort of thing, you can use kettlebell drills or bodyweight exercises or circuit weight training. Anything works as long as it elevates your heart rate to the appropriate level.

3. Peddling away on a recumbent bike at 50 rpm as you turn the pages of Us magazine and chat with your neighbors is not cardio. Don't kid yourself. At the risk of repeating myself, cardio is not a modality, it's a training effect. Unless you're working hard enough to elevate your heart rate to at least 65% of max, you're not performing cardio. I'm not going to say you're wasting your time because I tend to think any activity is better than none ... but you could certainly be putting your valuable time to better use. Put away the damn magazine, put on your headphones, and sweat a little. Save your tabloid-reading and socializing for the nail salon.

4. Get a heart rate monitor.

5. Don't assume that an impressive VO2 max is necessarily going to translate into outstanding performance in every endurance sport. You may have a heart of elastic steel thanks to your Viking Warrior Conditioning but it doesn't mean you can go out and compete in a triathlon without training for it. It's not enough to have a strong heart; you also need to prepare your other muscles to meet the particular demands of the sport. Lance Armstrong may be the greatest endurance athlete of all time, but almost 900 people finished the New York Marathon before he did. What held him up, obviously, was not cardiovascular weakness but failure to make the specific adaptations a distance runner needs.

6. If you choose to do some sort of cardiovascular training every day, be sure you cycle low, medium and high intensity days. If you try to do HIIT every day it won't be long before you simply can't elevate your heart rate to where it needs to be.

7. If you're a novice exerciser don't launch into HIIT right away. Follow a sensible progression, just as you do with your other training. If you've never done a barbell back squat in your life you wouldn't load up the bar with twice your bodyweight for your first attempt, would you? (Lord, I hope not!) You can do intervals--in fact, you should--but I recommend keeping them aerobic (75%-85% MHR, with recovery at 65%-75% MHR) at first.