How To Vary Your Cardiovascular Training
Posted on Jul 9, 2008 3:16:00 AM
How To Vary Your Cardiovascular Training

All cardio & little to no strength:

“I don’t want to get too big or bulky” is a statement that is common with many female participants. This statement is made on the unfounded fear that setting foot in the weight room must certainly lead to the overnight development of bulging muscles and a loss of femininity. For most people, it requires a near Herculean effort to gain muscle mass. In short, a “muscular explosion” is simply not naturally possible without really trying for it. The fact is that appropriate strength training will speed exercisers along the road to a beautifully feminine and athletic physique. The costs of avoiding strength training all together include poor muscle tone, increased % body fat, a weak muscular system and an increase in risk of injuries.

Cardiovascular training is always done at the same intensity:

Always training at the same intensity is a very common mistake. Time and intensity define what the end result of any exercise is. The important things here are:

  1. Each intensity has different benefits associated to it.
  2. Some training intensities are much more effective than others.

For the best overall cardiovascular development, equal time should be spent trying to train at every intensity. This ensures the most complete development.

In cardiovascular training, we can simplify things into three basic categories:

  1. Aerobic Efficiency Training (AE): Performed at a VERY easy intensity and held steadily for a minimum of 45 min. This type of workout has 3 main benefits:
    • Release fuel faster (caused by an increased efficiency of enzymatic response releasing free fatty acids into the blood stream)
    • Deliver fuel and oxygen to the working muscles faster (caused by an increase in the number of capillaries that bring oxygen and fuel rich blood to the muscles)
    • Convert fuel into energy faster (caused by an increase in the number of mitochondria in each muscle fiber)
  2. Threshold Training (TT): Involves challenging intervals that are 5 to 10 min long at an intensity that we can hold steadily, but just! Rest at an easy pace for 5 to 10 min between each interval. It also has a number of important benefits.
    • Causes an increase in threshold aerobic power Example (Before TT: 160 beats per min / 200 Watts, After TT: 160 beats per min / 220 Watts)
    • Increases our ability to exercise at threshold allowing us to hit higher intensities (Before TT lactate threshold was 160 beats per min, After TT threshold was 165 beats per min)
    • Increase exercise efficiency This means that our ability to exercise at a higher steady state such as a 10k running pace will improve overall. As our fitness improves due to this type of training, we will be able to do more work at the same exercise intensity, burn more calories and generally increase our cardiovascular abilities.
  3. Super Threshold Training (ST): Intervals in VO2 Max training are shorter, 1.5 to 3 minutes but very, very intense. 100% effort is required to produce an intensity that would not be possible to continue for any length of time. Though extremely difficult, the benefits from this type of training are significant.
    • Increase the power of the heart by increasing stroke volume
    • Increased aerobic power at threshold and maximum aerobic power overall (VO2 Max)
    • Increased ability to remove and tolerate lactic acid

This training will increase your top-end cardiovascular ability and will also enhace your capacity to work at lower intensities. Remember to rest for at least 5 minutes between each of these intervals and pay attention to how you feel. If you can’t continue then do not force the issue. Cool-down and come back to it another day.

There is an additional intensity that is less efficient, but much more commonly used than the three described above. This is the moderate intensity or “comfort zone” that the vast majority of exercisers stay within. It lies somewhere between the Aerobic Efficiency and Threshold Training intensities but effects neither element significantly. It is too intense to help with aerobic efficiency and too easy to do much for threshold training. It is the “no man’s land” of cardiovascular exercise and should be generally avoided other than in the base building period.

Use both speed and incline to add intensity to workouts for the best overall development. If you increase intensity with resistance you will be emphasizing strength. Increasing rate will emphasize technique and speed. Play and have fun and remember to target your weaknesses not your strengths.

It is clear that the use of all three types of intervals described above will best develop your cardiovascular system. The best way to organize these training categories to get the most from our cardiovascular training plan is described briefly next. Spend 4 to 6 weeks targeting each one individually. Begin with Aerobic Efficiency workouts and then move up through Threshold Training and then to VO2 Max intervals. Make sure to rest appropriately and watch to make sure that you are recovering week to week. One workout per week should always have an aerobic efficiency element to it.

All cardiovascular training is done using the same exercise or machine

Many people find an exercise they like and that is the end of it. Whether it be running or aerobics, Stairmaster or step class, this approach will not maximize general conditioning. Mix your cardiovascular activities up. Use swimming, rowing, cycling, x-country skiing or any combination of activity you can think of. If you are not training for one sport specifically then you are not limited in any way. Try to choose activities that compliment each other. This will help you avoid overuse injuries associated with one type of repetitive activity and help your overall muscular balance. The key here is not to get stuck in a rut of a single activity that will cause uneven development and increase the risk of overuse injuries down the line.


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