My first article addressed the components of a balanced fitness program. The next several articles will describe in detail each component starting with the cardiovascular component (cardio). Cardio is an activity which increases your heart rate and can be sustained for 30 minutes or more. It is important to understand that the heart is a muscle and cardiovascular exercise is the best way to keep your heart healthy.
F.I.T. is an easy way to organize your cardio program. The F (frequency) of your cardio program should be done, if not everyday, then most days of the week. Generally, I recommend if you are first starting an exercise program, begin with three days per week slowly increasing to at least five days per week. Outdoor exercise options include and are not limited to walking, biking, running, swimming, hiking, and rollerblading. Indoor options include treadmill, bicycle (recumbent or upright), stairmaster, elliptical, and swimming. Group classes, such as spinning, step, kickboxing, dance, and water aerobics are also great cardio activities.
There are several ways to monitor the I (intensity) of your cardio program. Target heart rate and the talk test are among the best ways. Target heart rate was never meant to be an industry standard, however, this method does provide a way to gauge how hard you are working. In order to figure out your target heart rate plug in your age to the following equation; 220 – age x 60% & 220 – age x 85%. For example: if you are 20 years of age, your target heart rate would be 120 beats per minute (bpm) to 170bpm. Locating your pulse on your neck is an easy way to monitor your heart rate. For some, a heart rate monitoring device may be an effective option and can be purchased at any local sporting goods store. If you are locating your heart rate on your neck, count how many times you feel the beat against your fingers for 10 seconds and multiply that number by six. For example: 25 beats x 6 = 150 bpm which is within the heart rate range calculated above. The talk test is an easier method to use. While you are working out, if asked, “HOW ARE YOU DOING?” You should be able to reply, “I’M DOING FINE”, before you take your next breath. If you are able to say more than three words, you are not working hard enough. However, if you find yourself taking a breath between these three words, you are working too hard.
T (time), is the minutes you should spend exercising during each cardio session. Start with 30 minutes per session. Slowly increase your time by five minutes each session for a total time of 45 to 60 minutes. The first three to five minutes should be used as a warm-up slowly increasing your heart and breathing rate. The last three to five minutes should be used as a cool-down to slowly decrease your heart and breathing rates to the level they were when you started your exercise session.
I suggest you create as much variety as possible during each workout session. For example, if you workout five days per week, walk one day, bike the next day, take an exercise class or do an exercise video on the third day, and so on. Interval training can also create variety in your program, as well as increase the difficulty level. One way to implement interval training into any cardio program is to create a six minute cycle of five & one (five minutes at one intensity, followed by one minute at a higher intensity). Repeat the cycle at least five times for a total of 30 minutes, adding more cycles to increase total workout time. Interval training is an effective way to add running into your program especially if you are training for a race. Start with a walk/run interval of five minutes at a brisk walk (which is at least 4mph on a treadmill or completing one mile in 15 minutes) followed by one minute of jogging (which is any speed over 5mph, however, speeds between 4mph and 5mph are a grey area, some people can continue to walk while others may need to run). Every two weeks subtract one minute off the walk time and add it to the run time. By the end of 12 weeks, you will be running for the entire time. To increase your run speed, set up an interval program as described above, using your current run speed followed by a slightly higher speed for 12 weeks.
Remember to stretch at the end of each workout. Stretching will keep your body flexible and help avoid injury. Make sure your heart and breathing rates are at resting levels before leaving the exercise area. Check for future articles and STAY HEALTHY!