Cardio is great, right? It improves your heart health, helps
prevent osteoporosis, helps you lose weight, and can help you to increase your
muscle mass. Cardiovascular exercise offers a wealth of benefits, and it can
make a big difference in your overall level of health. Here are five different
ways you can incorporate cardio into your fitness regime – and start seeing the
Hitting the Zone
Although it gets your heart pumping, simply sprinting a
block to catch a bus doesn’t really count as a full cardio workout. Experts
agree that for best results, you want to hit a certain level of cardiovascular
activity and stay there for some time. Typically, a cardio workout should last
at least 20 minutes. If you want to increase your endurance, your workout
should last longer: somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes.
Whether you check your pulse or use a heart rate monitor, your heart rate is a good way know whether you’re exercising intensely enough. To figure out your optimal workout zone, take your age and
subtract it from the number 220. That’s your maximum heart rate in beats per minute. You want to shoot for about 70% of that number.
So, if you’re 20, your optimal fat burning zone would be
about 140 beats per minute. If you’re 30, your zone would be about 133. At 40,
you want to shoot for about 126. At 50, it drops down to about 119. And at 60,
your optimal zone is about 112.
High Intensity Interval Training
Of course, using a stair-stepper for 45 minutes isn’t the
only way to get cardio. High intensity interval training (HIIT) is an awesome
way to get intense cardio – and great results – in a short amount of time. When
performing HIIT, you vary between periods of intense activity and less active
periods that allow you to recover. There are different ways to structure the
length of the rest and active periods, but one popular method is known as
Tabata. In Tabata, you operate at sprint pace for 20 seconds and follow that
with 10 seconds of rest. This is repeated a total of eight times. HIIT
can kick your butt in practically no time!
Mixing Cardio with Weights
There have been debates between fitness experts about the
benefits of cardio exercise as opposed weight-bearing exercise. The bottom line
is, they’re both good for you, and you get the most benefit if you do hem both.
Once you start doing weight lifting and cardio, you end up asking
yourself which you should do first. If your goal is to maximize muscle gain, it
seems that you should lift before doing cardio. After all, much of the benefit
of weight training is dependent on being able to give your all while lifting.
On the other hand, with many types of cardio, the benefits result from
improving your endurance. Because of this, entering weight lifting tired is a
definite detriment, while being tired when you start your cardio may actually
be helpful. Alternately, you can of course plan your cardio and lifting for
different days of the week.
Interestingly, there’s actually a way to get a cardio
workout while doing your strength training: circuit training. In circuit
training, you alternate quickly between different exercises. Once you’ve
completed a set of one exercise, instead of waiting through a rest period, you
move quickly into a new exercise that works a different part of your body.
Here’s an example of a bodyweight circuit you can perform at
a park: Start with a set of pushups, then move immediately into pull-ups. After
the pull-ups, you might drop to the ground to do crunches, then top it off with
a 30-second sprint. That would comprise one circuit, which you could repeat
There isn’t any one perfect way to get cardio, but if there were,
it just might be swimming. Whether you’re just getting into exercise or are a
seasoned veteran, swimming can challenge you in ways that will help you in the
end. Swimming is easy on the joints and, because it uses many of the major
muscles in the body, it’s great as a whole-body workout. Just as with land-based
cardio, you can either try to get into an optimal fat-burning zone and stay
there for a while, or you can vary it with bursts of high intensity sprints.