Cardiovascular (cardio) training, which falls under aerobic exercise, is the first thing that comes to most people’s mind when they think about physical exercise or “getting in shape”.
Put simply, cardio is exercise that increases your heart rate and maintains it at an elevated level during the training. When this happens, your body needs more oxygen and more energy than it would if it were sitting still, thus resulting in increased energy expenditure.
Note that resistance training (or anaerobic exercise), such as low-rep heavy weight lifting, does not fall within this category.
Remember that weight loss comes primarily from a properly managed diet.
So the question is: why bother sweating? Apart from any specific benefits for fat loss or muscle growth, cardio is something that should be done by pretty much everyone looking to improve their health and quality of life.
Benefits of Cardio Exercise
- Improved heart health – the heart, just like any muscle, gets better at its job with training.
- Increased endurance and energy levels – every so often an occasion arises when you need to chase something, be a it a bus, a dog or a child (preferably yours). Be prepared!
- Improved state of mind – exercise has positive psychological effects, such as fighting depression.
- Increased energy needs – yep, cardio burns calories and every little bit helps. But calorie burning should be an intrinsic benefit of doing cardio, not the primary goal.
- It’s fun – cardio doesn’t have to be a chore. Pick the right exercise and you just might enjoy it.
Simple Cardio Exercise Guide
- Do something you enjoy – the idea is to do some form of cardio training for the rest of your life, so there’s no point in loathing it. Mix it up, try something new and pick an exercise that you actually like.
- Start slow and build up over time – allow your body to adapt to this new-found function called movement. Start with 30 minutes a week and increase duration and frequency to whatever suits your ability and lifestyle.
- Be consistent – whatever you do, stick to it. Make exercise a part of your life, not just a seasonal or occasional endeavor.
- Don’t run to burn calories! – putting down a Snickers bar is a more effective calorie control method than running for 30 minutes. The energy expenditure will happen as you exercise, but that shouldn’t be your primary motivator.
Implications of Aerobic Exercise for Muscle Growth
Some gym goers fear that performing cardio during a bulking (muscle building) period will reduce or make their muscle gains disappear. Overtraining can certainly take you down the dark road of catabolism, but when properly managed, you only stand to benefit from adding cardio to your workouts.
Tips for Doing Cardio on a Bulk
- Make sure that the added calorie burning from cardio isn’t dipping you below your TDEE. You need to be at an energy surplus to gain muscle.
- As you exercise, you are putting stress not only on your muscles, but also your central nervous system (CNS). Unless you’re doing cardio immediately after weight lifting, rest for at least 24 hours between any two workouts. When just starting out you would do well to rest for 48 hours and reduce from there depending on how well you recover. Learn to listen to your body.
In addition to the above listed benefits, cardio can also help your recovery by reducing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) after weight lifting.
Don’t run a marathon. Stick to moderate intensity cardio sessions of 20-30 minutes and perform them 2-3 times each week.
Ideas for Cardio Exercises
Most people imagine cardio to be jogging into infinity, preferably on a treadmill. Personally, I find it mind-numbing and you should rethink whether you have the running technique, build and joints to run in the first place. It’s a great exercise, but it may not be for everyone. Mix it up a little:
- Cycling – stationary is practical, but outdoors is even better. Take up bike commuting and kill 2 first-world-problems with one stone.
- Walking – low intensity by default, until you up the speed and the incline. Now you’re getting somewhere.
- Jump rope – my personal favorite. It might seem tough to get into, but it provides variation and intensity as you get better at it.
- Sports – options are countless from individual sports like tennis and skiing to team sports such as basketball and field hockey.
- Sex – counts only if you break a sweat.
- Swimming – low impact and an excellent exercise for those of us prone to injuries.