Fitness

Cardio

Your heart is a muscle and therefore you need to work it to make it stronger just like anything else. Cardiovascular exercise, or ‘cardio’ for short, is any activity that raises your heart rate and respiration while using large muscle groups repetitively and rhythmically. By providing training that progressively challenges your most vital internal life support network, cardio can improve both the function and the performance of your heart, lungs and circulatory system. It is also beneficial in fat loss and getting in shape.

Types of Cardio

Cardio can generally be categorised into two main types – HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) and LISS (Low Intensity Steady State). Both are very different, offer different results and have different roles to play in your fitness and fat loss efforts.

HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)

HIIT provides an intensive aerobic option which takes a fraction of the time to complete compared to the more traditional cardio methods. 15 minutes may seem too good to be true to lose weight, but it is not. However, you must keep in mind this is no walk in the park. HIIT is very demanding, but extremely rewarding and time-saving. It incorporates both high intensity aerobic work with a very high intensity component to provide a maximal fat burning effect, and an increased metabolic rate that can last for over 24 hours after training. Due to this is has been proven in many studies to be more effective in burning body fat than traditional, less intense, cardio. Other benefits include:

  • Raises fat burning hormones such as epinephrine and norepinephrine.
  • Suppresses insulin.
  • Raises the metabolic rate more so than other methods of cardio.
  • Can be performed on many different exercise machines, as well as outside or in a swimming pool.

A beginner example of HIIT: Cycling, 10 minutes

  • Interval One: 30 Seconds at 50 Percent intensity
  • Interval Two: 15 Seconds at 90 Percent intensity
  • Interval Three: 30 Seconds at 50 Percent intensity
  • Interval Four: 20 Seconds at 95 percent intensity
  • Interval Five: 30 Seconds at 50 Percent intensity
  • Interval Six: 20 Seconds at 100 Percent intensity
  • Interval Seven: 1 Minute at 50 Percent intensity
  • Interval Eight: 30 Seconds at 100 Percent intensity

An intermediate example of HIIT: Sprinting, 16 minutes

  • Interval One: 20 Seconds Sprints done at 100 percent maximum intensity
  • Interval Two: 40 Seconds light jog at 50 percent intensity
  • Interval three: 30 Seconds sprints done at 100 percent maximum intensity
  • Interval Four: 1 minute light jog at 50 percent intensity
  • Interval five: 30 seconds sprints done at 100 percent maximum intensity
  • Interval Six: 1 minute light jog at 50 percent intensity
  • Interval Seven: 45 Seconds sprint at 100 percent maximum intensity
  • Interval eight: 45 seconds light jog at 50 percent intensity
  • Interval nine: 1 Minute sprints done at 90 percent intensity
  • Interval Ten: 1 minute light jog at 50 percent intensity

LISS (Low Intensity Steady State Cardio)

LISS is the opposite of HIIT in that it is performed at a constant steady pace for between 30-60mins, often with a target heart rate zone (intensity) of between 50-65% of maximum heart rate. While the benefits may not be the same as HIIT, it does have benefits and a place in your cardio and exercise routine. Around 45 to 60 minutes of LISS can help the body become conditioned over time to use fat as a fuel source better in your next workout. In addition:

  • It’s great for those who haven’t exercised for some time to help build up your fitness.
  • It doesn’t place strain on your body and therefore has low risk of injury.
  • As recovery is quicker than other high intensity you can do it more often.
  • It’s great for active recovery or rest days.
  • It’s easier and more beneficial to do if you are sore after a few hard training sessions.

Having a combination of HIIT and LISS is best for maximum fitness and fat loss results. Doing LISS alone can start to break down your muscles as a source of fuel, so you will lean out but lose strength and slow your metabolism down. Also, as your body adapts over time if you only do LISS you will miss out on the adaptations that come with higher intensity bouts of cardio. However, as HIIT is more physically and psychologically taxing, only doing HIIT could lead to greater risk if injury and impact on recovery. So a combination is recommended.

Cardio Methods and Their Benefits

There are many different methods of cardio, and each with varying benefits.

  • Walking – burns 300-400 calories per hour. Walking is the least effective form of exercise for losing weight and achieving fitness, as it only raises the metabolism for 1-2 hours afterwards. However, benefits do include:
    • Low intensity so it’s good for beginners to build up to higher intensity methods.
    • Low impact so it’s good for those with injuries.
    • Can assist with fat burning for those who are heavily overweight and can’t use other methods.
  • Running – burns around 600 calories per hour. Although running is high impact it is an efficient way to lose body fat and improve cardiorespiratory fitness. Benefits include:
    • Recruits muscle fibres in the legs which can help add definition and enhance muscle shape.
    • A sport specific means to improving fitness and athletic performance.
    • Increases the metabolic rate for up to 24 hours.
    • Train aerobically at a higher intensity which burns more fat as a result.
    • Can help to prevent osteoporosis due to its high impact nature.
  • Cycling – burns around 600 calories per hour. Cycling involves the same muscles as running, but is lower impact which makes it ideal for almost anyone except those with certain injuries. Benefits include:
    • High intensity so it’s a great way to strip body fat.
    • A sport specific means to improving fitness and athletic performance.
    • Recruits muscle fibres in the legs which could add definition and enhance muscle shape.
  • Rowing – burns around 840 calories per hour. Rowing is considered the perfect exercise because it works all the main muscles of the body, making it a total body workout. Other benefits include:
    • Is of a higher intensity than walking and of lower impact that running.
    • Burns more calories per hour than any other commonly used cardio exercise.
    • A sport specific means to improving fitness and athletic performance.
  • Swimming – burns around 600 calories per hour. Swimming is similar to rowing in that it provides a great full body workout. Benefits include:
    • Is the lowest impact of all aerobic exercises as the body is working in a weightless environment, so it lessens the risk of injury.
    • The ability to use different stroke places different emphasis on different muscle groups, and therefore changes the intensity and amount of calories burned.
    • Is good for improving fitness and athletic performance.
  • Skipping – burns over 1000 calories per hour. While one of the harder cardio exercises and very high impact, skipping can provide a great aerobic workout if done correctly. Skipping burns a higher number of calories per hour than rowing or any other method, however it is best used for shorter periods as it might lead to impact injuries of the lower leg or hip if done continuously for too long. Benefits include:
    • Involves a tremendous amount of skill, strength, focus and patience.
    • Helps prevent osteoporosis due to its high impact nature.
    • Improves a wide range of skill components including explosive strength, stamina and speed.

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