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Cardio – Don’t Forget the Engine

A Primer on Aerobic Exercise

Cardiovascular training is another vital piece of the total fitness puzzle. Cardiovascular or aerobic exercise - exercise that elevates the heart rate and respiration - burns fat, improves performance and contributes to overall health and fitness. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that cardio is the most effective kind of exercise for keeping fit - although it should not be anyone's sole form of exercise.

We all know that fitness is a key component to living a longer, quality life, but we also know that it doesn’t always come easily. Many people lift, sweat, and diet their way to being fit. While this may seem like it’s all anyone needs, the truth is that if you don’t work your heart properly, you aren’t getting the full benefits of working out. Here are some things to consider.

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Cardio Should Be Done First

A great way to get fit is to perform your cardio first thing in the morning, before breakfast. Performing twenty minutes of cardio right away taps right into your fat stores because you haven't had anything to eat. This is one of the most effective ways to lose fat through cardio.

If you can’t get out for a walk or jog, a staircase will do. Increasing your speed challenges your body and your body loves challenges (although your mind might be telling you otherwise.) Add squats at the top and bottom of the staircase and you’ll get in some strength training as well.

Having said that, if you can’t get your cardio in until lunch time or until after 9 PM, that doesn’t mean you should skip it! The rewards are still greater than just about anything else you can do for your overall fitness. In fact, if you don’t have time for anything else, please get in some sort of aerobic workout.

Cardio Machines

Of course, there are tons of ways to get in a cardio workout. Indoor and outdoor cycling, walking, running, elliptical machines, swimming, treadmills, skiing, snowshoeing are all great ways to pump up your heart rate. If there’s an activity you love, you can get an aerobic workout. You say you love playing video games? Try adding Wii Fit Plus to your arsenal. You just want to watch TV? Swap out the couch for a recumbent bike. Hey, there’s a reason fitness centers have televisions in their cardio rooms.

Staying Aerobic

The one thing necessary for an effective workout is that your heart rate must stay above 65% of its maximum rate for at least 20 minutes but ideally, at least 45 minutes. If you have to split it up, so be it. As long as you are consistent with your workouts, your body will adapt and the workouts will get easier.

Make a playlist of songs that get you pumped up for your workout. Listening to fast, upbeat music while working out on the treadmill or elliptical will help you keep the pace needed to stay in the zone of a good aerobic workout. Find music that makes you want to get up and dance and move to keep your heart beat up and your mind focused. You’ll want to stay in the 130 beats per minute range for a solid workout.

When planning your exercise routine, put in resistance first and the aerobic exercise last. When exercising glycogen is used first and then fat is used for energy. Glycogen will be used for the energy for resistance exercises. Doing aerobic exercise next will help you to burn more fat because the stored glycogen has already been used.

Heart Rate

Finding your target heart rate can make your workouts more effective. The target heart rate is the heart rate at which your body is using the most oxygen, and therefore burning the most calories. Your most effective workouts will come when you are working in different zones.

The most accurate way of determining your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR) is by undergoing a clinically supervised stress test. The “down and dirty” method is 220 minus your age but another system being hailed as more accurate is 208 minus 0.7 times your age (from The Journal of the American College of Cardiology March, ’01 issue based on the research of Dr. Douglas Seals, an exercise physiologist at the University of Colorado).

Once you find your MHR, then you simply multiply it by the following percentages to determine your training zones.

Zone 1: Easy Day which is 60 – 64% of your Maximum HR. Pros use these days for recovering from an event.

Zone 2: 65-74% is a cruising cadence. This works your aerobic engine which is great for building endurance.

Zone 3: Steady Aerobic or “Tempo,” pace. Your heart rate stays between 75-84% of your MHR

Zone 4: Lactate Threshold – Race Pace is 85-94%. You should only find yourself in this zone about 20% of the time during the week. Any more than that and you risk injury or over-training.

Zone 5: Maximum Effort – 95-100%. You can only hold this for about 10 seconds.

This should give you a quick overview of the types of ways you can get in a cardio workout and the best heart rates to see lasting results.

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