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Finding Your Cardio Fit
We all know that cardiovascular exercise is a “must do” but the question is, what type of cardio is right for YOU.
Should you bike? Use an elliptical? Run? Walk?
Not all pieces of equipment or modes of activity are appropriate for all people. The benefits of any workout are moot, if you can’t make yourself do it or it injures you. The trick is to find YOUR FIT — i.e., the workout that works for YOU.
Find a workout that is convenient, that you’re comfortable doing, that is appropriate for your fitness needs and level (high impact vs low impact, etc), and that you enjoy (or at least don’t hate) so that you can do it consistently.
The stationary bike offers an excellent, convenient low impact cardio workout and is great rain or shine. Plus, the ability to watch TV while you cycle is often a huge motivator. Note – make sure to check bike set-up and form before you start.
Warm up for five minutes. For five minutes increase your resistance by one each minute. For three minutes increase your speed while staying at the same resistance. For two minutes decrease your resistance by three levels and lower your speed – this is your recovery. Repeat the above 10-minute set starting the build at the level you did your recovery at. (So, if during your first set you moved from level five through nine, during this next set build from six through 10.) Either cool down for five minutes or repeat the 10-minute set one more time and then cool down.
WALKING, RUNNING AND JOGGING
Running, jogging and walking are all excellent “do anywhere” options. Simply lace up your runners and “go”. Don’t love the snow or the sunshine? Use a treadmill. Walking, jogging and running are all familiar motions. Thus, the activities are fairly unintimidating, even for the “choreography challenged.”
Running and jogging can be hard on the body – your muscles and joints have to dissipate up to six times your body weight. This impact is fantastic for bone density – and thus preventing / managing osteoporosis – but not ideal if you have osteoarthritis, poor biomechanics, compromised joints and / or a history of injury.
Walking offers a more moderate impact cardio workout. Walking can be considered a “half way” point between an impact free activity such as swimming and high impact activities. Impact is typically positive for bone health, but not for joint integrity and osteoarthritis. Low impact options are typically positive for joint health, but not helpful for increasing bone density.
Sample Workout – Easy pick-ups
Warm up for 5 minutes. Do 10 minutes at regular speed and 0% to 0.5% incline. Then, cycle through the following for 10 minutes: alternate between 30 seconds at regular speed, 20 seconds slightly faster, and 10 seconds fast at 0% to 0.5% incline. Finish with 5 to 15 minutes at your regular speed and 0.5% to 1% incline. Cool down for 5 minutes.
The elliptical is an excellent option if you require a low-impact cardio option (arthritis, problem knees or hips, etc) and is fairly unintimidating — a plus if you are new to exercise and need a “friendly” introduction to cardio. Many elliptical machines involve both arm and leg movement. This is nice if you want a “full body” feel.
If you predominantly use the treadmill (or spin or row, etc), mixing things up with the elliptical is a good thing. Variety helps stave off boredom and the dreaded fitness plateau, and guards against overuse injuries.
For me, the main con is that the elliptical is not overly athletic. The elliptical makes me feel like a hamster — I despise the robotic, unnatural feel. When I am opting for a low-impact cardio option I bike or swim; both feel athletic and natural for me.
Progressive warm-up. For 10 minutes, increase your level every two minutes. Then, hold the final level for 10 minutes, alternating 30 seconds at an increased speed with 30 seconds at regular speed. Recover for three minutes at regular speed. Increase your speed one more time, then hold your fastest speed for two minutes. Cool down for five minutes.
Regardless of which mode of cardio you decide is your “fit”, there are two basic types of cardiovascular workouts: “steady-state workouts” and “intervals.” You need both.
With steady state your basic goal is to keep your heart rate between 60% and 85% of your max for 20-plus minutes. 20 minutes of any type of cardio will strengthen your cardiovascular system, improve mood, decrease stress and anxiety, improve circulation, give you a “little win” for the day, and help you establish and maintain the habit of exercise. Bike, swim, walk, elliptical or roller blade. Just move!
With intervals, you alternate between bouts of high- and low-intensity training. This places a high metabolic demand on the body, burns lots of calories in a short amount of time, produces a high EPOC (post-workout calorie burn), increases mitochondrial growth (mitochondria help to burn fat), and helps improve one’s fitness level. Plus, keeping track of the time and shifting speeds makes the workout go faster.
On days you can’t fit in a full cardio workout, make sure to pepper motion into your day; walk at lunch, pace on conference calls, take the stairs, and park slightly further away from your destination.
Kathleen Trotter holds an M.Sc. in Exercise Science from the University of Toronto and a nutrition diploma from the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition, and she is a C.H.E.K. Level 3 trainer, a Level 2 Fascial Stretch Therapist, and a certified Pilates Equipment Specialist. Kathleen is currently working through certification to become a life coach.
Kathleen’s recent highlights include being named one of Canada’s most influential fitness professionals (http://lornemarrfitafter45.ca/35-canadian-websites-and-influencers/), her Facebook page being voted fourth on Feedspot’s list of the “25 Best Fitness Blogs” (https://blog.feedspot.com/personal_trainer_blogs/), partnering with her friend and colleague Harry Scott on a series of YouTube videos called “He Said She Said Trainer Chats” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Vbb2x9Bz2o), and her second book Your Fittest Future Selfbeing slotted for release in January 2019.