Getting started with cardio

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It's time for me to wake up. I seem to remember writing that I don't like doing cardio. While that is still true, I now see the need to do it. My motivation here is twofold.  Number one is my lack of endurance is affecting my Muay Thai training as I keep sucking wind during intense pad sessions, and two just to burn some more calories to get rid of that stubborn fat around my middle. What I don't want is too lose my hard earned strength gains. I hate hitting a wall.. And maybe you do too. So In order to get started I thought I would begin by researching the topic and share with you. Lets see how this works. 

As you probably already know is that your heart pumps blood around your body, carrying oxygen and nutrients to your various muscles and organs and also bringing waste products back. Your heart has two main trainable components, strength and efficiency. The stronger your heart, the more blood it pumps per beat maximising the flow of oxygen known as stroke volume. To train this you simply increase your heart rate and hold it there over a period of time. This is the basis of all cardiovascular fitness, so that's where I'll start.. For other types of cardio, I will deal with them in future articles.

There are several relevant terms you need to know as it relates to cardio training effectiveness. After all I am not going to waste time, so I will base this in science.

1. Resting Heart Rate (RHR)

 Your heart rate at complete rest measured in beats per minute (bpm). The best time to take this is in the morning before (or just after) you get out of bed, This will go down as your cardio fitness levels increase. My current resting heart rate is 65 bpm.

2. Max Heart Rate (MHR)

Theoretically your maximum your heart rate, (also measured in bpm) is the fastest your heart can beat based on your age. There are several methods to do this, but the easiest (if not the most accurate) is to subtract your age from 220.

MHR = 220 - (your age)

For me, this would equal 176. 

Why do you need this? To be able to figure out the intensity of your workout as expressed as a percentage of your MHR, Which is also referred to as the Training Zone. Different intensities will train different aspects of your cardiovascular system.

3. Heart Rate Training Zones

There are 2 major ways to figure this out. 

The first way is the Max HR where you simply set an intensity as a percentage

Training HR = MHR x Training Intensity Percentage

 So for me it if I wanted to have a 60 - 70% intensity:

Training HR = 176 times 60% or 176 x 0.6 = 105

Training HR2 = 176 x 0.7 =123

So you would say that your training zone at 60-70% intensity is between 105  and 123 bpm, Note you always need to bracket the number because it is impossible to keep an exact heart rate, and the law of averages will always kick in. 

The more complicated method (and more accurate) is to use what is called the Heart Rate Reserve Method.

Heart Rate Reserve (HRR) = MHR - RHR or for me HRR = 176-65 = 111

For intensity the formula looks like this:

Training HR = (HRR x Training Intensity Percentage) + RHR

For me this looks like:

Training HR = (111 x 0,6) + 65 = 131 

Training HR2 = (111 x .07) + 65 = 142

So at 60% intensity I would target between 131 - 142 bpm for the same reasons as listed above.

Note: In order to extract the maximum benefits from your cardio, you are going to need a heart monitor, It will make it easier and more effective to track your training. 

Now before we hit the road,  that we need to talk about some other issues. If you are just starting out, as in haven't done cardio for years, you should start out at 50-60% of your Heart Rate Reserve. If you are already healthy and quite fit, feel free to up that to 60-80%. (I'm personally aiming for 70%). According to research, the bare minimum for any cardiovascular adaptations is 40% Intensity.

Duration and Frequency

Now when it comes to what is called steady state cardio training, which focuses on stroke volume, ie. how much blood your heart pumps per beat, the recommendation is simple. Your heart is like any other muscle, so increasing the work performed will cause positive adaptations in strength and endurance. 

At the beginning aim for 30 minutes of uninterrupted steady state cardio training at your desired intensity. Lower than 30 minutes will not cause enough overload to cause any adaptation. If you cannot do 30 minutes you can lower the intensity to 40%, which should be attainable for most people. Once you build up your endurance you can up the intensity.

For frequency, as in training times per week, the minimum recommendation is 3 times. If you are severely out of shape than 2 times may help you get accustomed to the training, but bump it up to 3 as soon as you can. Do note that as you get stronger you need to up the intensity.

Now to progressively overload your training (up the intensity) you have two basic options, either increase the time duration or increase the HR target training zone percentage. Out of the 2, the better option is to increase the time duration due to the fact you will only be training your stroke volume. If you up the HR training zone, you will begin to train other aspects such as max power, so it is best to focus on steady state. So to increase your duration you simply add 5 minutes of HR zone training to your session. The max time here is about 90 minutes, but I think 60 is quite enough, after all I am not training for a marathon. Muay Thai requires explosive busts of energy. 

In terms of a timeline and goal, it means I should be running 60 minutes at 70% intensity within 2 months. I'll keep you posted on my progress.

Ready to commit to a program? Got a comment? Hit me up below.

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