Cardio is pretty simple unless you want to activate particular energy systems. In which case you need to know a few things. I’ll get into that in a bit but I will start with the basics.
STEADY STATE TRAINING
Steady state training is going for a jog, or using a piece of cardio equipment set at a specific speed, or other cardio that doesn’t change intensity. For optimization, you want to do about 30 minutes, at 80% of your perceived maximum intensity with maximum being all out like sprinting as fast as you can. 80% should be as fast as you can for the whole 30 minutes without having to take a break. Of course you will start out with less intensity and going for less time and work your way up; say 15 minutes at 50% exertion. Increase intensity first then increase the time.
Doing cardio twice a week is significantly better than once a week and three times a week is significantly better than twice a week and 4 times a week is substantially better than 3 times a week. The difference between doing cardio 4 times a week and 6 times a week is smaller and the difference between doing steady state cardio 5 times a week and 6 times a week is almost irrelevant. Doing cardio 7 times a week is about as effective as doing it 5 times a week. Having said that, 6 times a week is optimum and if you are in it for weight loss then 7 times a week is fine.
One of the things that cardio does is it increases your metabolism. Depending on the text book you read the effects last up to 8 hours after your workout. If you are in it for the weight loss benefits then maybe break up your workout to twice a day. Instead of doing a half hour in the morning do 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening to keep your metabolism high.
There is another strategy for weight loss called frequency training. You do 4 minutes of cardio once every hour to keep your metabolism high all-day long. What Timothy Ferris, author of "The 4-Hour Body" did was he did a quick workout before and after each meal. I like this method. He did squats for legs, band pulls for back, and push-ups for chest before and after each meal. This way he could eat what he wanted without gaining weight.
What this type of frequency training does is number one it burns calories and increases metabolism. However, number two, it produces chemicals in the body that store energy as glycogen in the muscles. In other words, it redirects calories away from fat cells into muscle cells. If you do this before and after each meal you’ll have energy in the muscles and likely lose weight.
HIGH INTENSITY INTERVAL TRAINING
HIIT training or high intensity interval training is a little bit more complicated but it can be simple. Just increase the intensity of the workout and break it up with rest periods. The variables are the exercises you choose, the intensity, and how long you workout for in-between your rests. The last variable will be how long you rest for.
The most intense HIIT training is called Tabata. Your intensity is as high as you can, or 100% of you perceived exertion for 20 seconds, then rest periods of 10 seconds. Pick 4 intense exercises like jump squats or burpees and do 4 sets of each exercise for a total of 16 sets. 20 seconds on 10 seconds off.
Obviously, you wouldn’t start with Tabata. You would do a less intense exercise regime with longer rest periods. You might start with 30 seconds of jumping rope followed by a minute rest. The intensity would get higher and the time you worked out for might go up by 5 seconds at a time to 35 seconds and then 40 until you got to your goal. The rest periods might get shorter and you might change exercises and how many intervals too.
You want to break up your intervals with rest periods depending on the energy system you want to work on. Long distance runners use the aerobic system, hockey players use the creatine phosphate system and anaerobic system, and football players use the stored ATP in their muscle cells. The long-distance runner is going to need the endurance and his intervals will be long. The hockey player will use all 3 systems and the interval will be about the same as one shift in hockey which should be about 2 minutes.
In any case, you want to mimic the sport you are training for with your interval training. You should only do HIIT training once a week because it's hard on the nervous system and if you do it more than once a week you won’t be improving your cardio. It’ll get worse and you'll be wondering why. When done once a week, HIIT training is an excellent way to bust through plateaus with your cardio and it's one of the best exercise you can do to increase your BDNF.
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