Training cardio fitness

Published on April 14th, 2013 | by Joe Starks


Physical Fitness Types: Cardiovascular Fitness

Having a muscular body without training your heart is like having brand new wheels on your car without caring for the engine. It might look good, but it won’t be worth much in the practical sense. For your muscles to work optimally you need an excellent blood flow so that they can get as much oxygen and glucose as possible in the smallest amount of time possible. A strong heart can do exactly that, improving your performance way beyond your expectations.

The heart itself is mainly comprised of muscle tissues. This muscle differs from skeletal or smooth muscle in that it can work continuously throughout a person’s life without ever resting, this is why it has its own category: heart muscle. To train a muscle that already is constantly working is difficult, because the heart is careful not to waste energy or to work too much. The only way to achieve it is to cause our heart to work faster and harder.

Exercises that mainly aim to improve your cardiovascular health are generally called cardio exercises. These exercises aim to raise your heart rate. Dynamic movements of the body, which last for at least a minute can cause this quite easily. Dynamic exercises can be hazardous if you don’t use proper form while doing them. This is why it is best to ask both a physician and a licensed trainer for advice before you start serious cardio exercising.

People who have a history of heart disease or are obese should always get their doctor’s approval. Even healthy people must be careful though, as a very abrupt cardio regime can cause fainting and light headedness. When your heart pumps harder you also breathe faster. That happens because the increased blood flow needs an equally increased oxygen intake to have any effect on the muscles. The heart itself consumes a large amount of oxygen to work properly and even more when pumping harder during cardio.

Which exercises are cardio?

There is no specific exercise that is considered cardio. Some exercises are just better in raising your heart rate than others. Which exercise is best to improve your cardiovascular health is very personalized. If for instance you are a heavy person and lead a sedentary lifestyle then even a brisk walk around the block can be cardio, or simply walking up and down a few flights of stairs. For athletes cardio is usually a very intense exercise like sprinting. The average person benefits best from hour long sessions of moderate exercise like dancing or martial arts.

The exercise must be dynamic, which means that you should be moving your limbs a lot. While walking might be cardio for someone who is terribly out of shape, the average person needs more dynamic movements to get the heart rate up. Dancing and martial arts are ideal because you have very specific movements to be done in a specific timeframe, offering you an easy way to train in a dynamic way.

Jogging and running can be excellent cardio workouts as long as you do them for over 20 minutes and get a quicker heartbeat from them. People who often jog and run should end their run with a quick sprint, just to give their heart a little extra push.

If you don’t have time for one hour sessions, then you can go for high intensity workouts that only last a minute or two at a time. Such workouts include very tiring and dynamic exercises like burpies, push-ups, jumping jacks etc. Remember that something is better than nothing!

How should I begin my cardio?

If you never focused on your heart in your training before, then you should be cautious. Even professional athletes have to pace themselves when it comes to cardio, because if your heart rate rises too fast for too long you can experience extreme fatigue and even faint. Your reflexes also drop when you are exercising to the extreme, which mean you are prone to injuries due to clumsy movements or a delayed reaction.

Before you do your cardio, measure your pulse by placing your finger on your neck (right beneath the back corner of your jaw) or your wrist and counting how many beats you feel per minute. Then do a short burst of a simple exercise like push-ups, on-the-spot running or jumping jacks for 30 seconds. Measure your pulse again and see how much it rose. The larger the difference the less fit your heart is.

If your heart is unfit you should pace your exercise accordingly, starting with simple exercises and working yourself up as soon as you don’t feel your heart rate rising anymore while doing those exercises. Once something that made your pulse rise no longer does so your heart has reached a new level of fitness and you can move on to harder exercises.

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