The Importance of Cardiovascular Exercise and Heart Health
Welcome back! In my last article I discussed in detail the importance of becoming strong in the basic lifts first. This is necessary before pursuing any kind of high volume mass building routines.
You cannot underestimate the importance that strength plays in building a solid muscular physique. While it was emphasized over and over to perform compound lifts over isolation exercises, there is one specific muscle that you should isolate while you are training to get strong.
Related: 11 Heart Health Tips
I’m not talking about your metaphorical passion to train, although that is an important part of your training too. I am speaking about the hunk of muscle in your chest responsible for contracting over 100,000 times a day.
In the US cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death. Take care of your heart so your heart can take care of you.
Cardio training is more than just a way to burn some extra calories while you are trying to lean out, it’s a way to ensure that you have a long, healthy life that allows for you to pursue any sport or goal you desire. In other words, it’s important. Not only are you lowering your risk almost completely for cardiovascular disease but, you will be increasing your ability to recover from tough resistance training sessions as well as improving your ability to utilize fat as a fuel source instead of carbohydrates.
Most gym rats are guilty of skipping cardio and going straight towards the weights. I’m guilty of saying things like, “My cardio is loading and unloading plates off a bar” or, “The only time that I will run is if I am being chased by (insert any vicious animal).” Downplaying the importance of cardio is only holding you back in your training and physique goals especially if you are not among the genetically gifted.
Cardiovascular training is fundamental.
The Two Methods of Cardiovascular Exercise
There are two foundational methods of cardiovascular training to choose from and each have their own benefits and draw backs. Find a method that you enjoy doing and switch things up every couple of months to keep things fresh.
LISS – Low Intensity Steady State
The first most basic method of cardiovascular training is known as low intensity steady state (LISS) or long slow distance (LSD). This type of cardio is what most people think of when it comes to cardio training.
To utilize this training method you just pick out a piece of cardio equipment and get to work. You should be moving faster than a leisurely pace but you should be still be able to have a conversation while you are exercising.
The major benefits of LISS are the simplicity of the training method and the minimal intensity that you have to perform exercise. In other words, you don’t need a fancy interval timer or even a stop watch and, it is not super taxing on your body. In fact, LISS is a great way to recover from a particularly grueling weight training workout.
However, there are drawbacks to LISS, the main one being that it can be pretty boring. Another big one is that it is time consuming and it is easy for someone with a busy life to find better things to do for 45 minutes than walk around the park or on a treadmill. Additionally, your body adapts very rapidly to this type of training which means that you must continue to increase the amount of time you spend performing this type of cardio training or you will not see any additional improvements.
In other words, you become more efficient at LISS very quickly. Efficiency is not necessarily a bad thing unless you are performing cardio with the intention of losing fat. When it comes to fat loss you must be as inefficient as possible.
HIIT – High Intensity Interval Training
The second foundational method of cardiovascular training is known as interval training or commonly referred to as HIIT. Once again there are many different modes of exercise that you can choose when performing interval training from simple running, jumping rope, heavy bag work, or rowing to name a few.
Perform interval training by alternating periods of higher intensity exercise with periods of lower intensity exercise. An example of this method would be running the straightaways of a 400m track and walking or jogging the curves for a couple of miles.
Interval training can be modified for individuals with different fitness levels by altering the work to rest ratios when performing you chosen exercise. On one end of the spectrum you have common 1:3 work to rest ratio where a trainee performs one minute of intense exercise followed by three minutes of active rest.
Then on the other side of the spectrum you have the popular Tabata protocol (20 second of all out work followed by 10 seconds of rest eight times) where you perform a 2:1 work to rest ratio that is so grueling that it only lasts for four minutes.
One of the biggest benefits of interval training is the fact that it is very time efficient for people with busy schedules. Simply put, with an increase in intensity there is a decrease in the amount of time necessary to achieve results.
Another benefit is that this type of training has been shown to minimize muscle loss that is often associated with chronic cardio training. Finally, interval training breaks up the monotony of LISS which can be one of the biggest hurdles for most trainees when performing cardio.
Interval training does come with some down sides though. Often times these style cardio sessions can be difficult to recover from which can impact your weight training workouts if you are not careful. Additionally, they are just plain hard.
If you don’t get your mind right before one of these workouts, they tend to lack the necessary intensity to achieve optimum results. Interval training requires contrast between hard and easy intervals. Don’t turn your HIIT session into a medium interval followed by an easy interval.
A Strong Heart, a Strong Body
Take care of your heart so it can take care of you. A strong heart will aid in your quest for a great physique and optimal health.
A heart that is strong will be able to deliver more blood which contains all of the oxygen and nutrients that are necessary for your muscles to recover and rebuild themselves after a tough workout. Additionally, any metabolic waste is carried in the blood stream to be removed and having a heart that is efficient at pumping blood will speed this process up.
Starting a cardio training program can be very simple or as complex as you wish to make it. However, it’s always better to start simply and progress from there.
Begin training your heart by laying down a solid base of LISS cardio performed three to four times a week for 20-40 minutes and gradually add in one to two 12-20 minute HIIT sessions a week if you are short on time or in a hurry to lose fat. If you are just looking for a way to remain healthy and take care of your heart you can simply stay with LISS training for 20-40 minutes a week.
Finally, when beginning a cardiovascular program try to split up your weight training from your cardio and perform them in separate sessions. When you split up your cardio and weight training into separate sessions you will maximize the benefits of both sessions. If you must train both in the same session perform cardio after weight training to minimize the interference effect of training cardio and resistance training in the same session.
A heartrate monitor can keep you honest about the intensity for your training and be a valuable training aid. Find your target heart rate for a given workout by using a percentage of you age predicted heart rate (utilizing the formula 220-Age=APHR). Lastly consider taking your cardio training outside to get some sun and fresh air, enjoy spending some time outside this spring before the weather gets too hot! Get outside and get moving to get a strong heart.