You get to the gym, hop on a treadmill, turn on your headphones, turn off your brain, and just go.
It’s just that easy right?
(insert buzzer sound here)
You know exercise is good for you and that you should train with cardio to improve the health of your heart. But when done incorrectly it can be detrimental.
Over the last few years a new type of training called H.I.I.T. (high intensity interval training) has become popular as a replacement for traditional cardio. With short high intensity bursts and rest periods in between, H.I.I.T. taxes components of your cardiovascular system and shed calories fast.
HIIT is great but there is still a place for traditional cardiovascular exercise.
With that being said let’s address some concerns with traditional cardio exercise.
Long term exercise with sustained elevated heart rate may lead to, changes in the heart and irregular beats.
Chronic cardio puts your body into a stressed state called fight or flight. When this happens normal regulatory systems like your immune system, digestive system etc. are down regulated. Cortisol (the stress hormone) increases as well.
Finally most people train within the black hole. This is when the body is taxed hard enough to deplete energy stores but not enough to elicit a significant training response. This is the same exercise we do over and over because we feel comfortable doing it.
Anyone who has ever trained for a race or for health is guilty of this.
The main thing that you need to change and monitor with your cardio is your intensity. The way you monitor it is not done by speed, or incline but with heart rate.
The below principles should be used as a guideline whether you are on a stationary bike, treadmill, elliptical or training outside.
80-90% of cardio exercise should be done long and slow. A great book on this topic is called Primal Endurance. Their method is simple, and it builds your aerobic capacity but it won’t be at the expense of chronically depleting your energy and causing burn out.
To do this simply use this formula; 180 - your age = Heart rate threshold. This heart rate threshold is what you want to keep your heart rate under while you train.
The last 10-20% of your training should be done more intense than you would normally train ie. black hole training. This means sprints, HIIT training, hill work. Basically you will be doing short bursts with long breaks trying to spike your heart rate higher than your normal training. *Always check with your primary physician to make sure you are cleared to do this first.
Another way to monitor the toll your exercise is taking on your body with with Heart Rate Variability (HRV). If you are planning to train for any type of endurance race this year, you should consider measuring this consistently. I will be happy to give you more insight on HRV the next time I see you in person.