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PostHeaderIcon Enhance Your Cardio. (It’s not just aerobics anymore)

Sports science has taught us that we become faster, stronger, lose weight and basically get more results when we mix up our workouts. Unfortunately, we are creatures of habit and unless someone steps in to stir things up, we tend to fall into our regular routines.

Today, I want to give you tips on how to add spice to your cardio workout. Also, these tips will help you get faster, increase your endurance, lose weight quicker, increase your metabolism, and help you improve your race times if you like to compete in 5ks, marathons, triathlons, mud runs or other similar events.

I will describe five cardio workouts. Then I will explain a typical week of training so you understand how to mix up your cardio routine to facilitate results and prevent injuries.

Aerobic or endurance workout: This workout strengthens the heart, creates stamina, and burns fat. It consists of moving at a steady pace that is intense enough to increase heart rate, but not so intense that you are breathing hard through the mouth or have to stop. This workout can continue for a long period of time. It’s great for conditioning, increasing stamina and endurance, pacing, tempo and controlling your breath.

Examples of an endurance workout include a nonstop aerobics class, a long, nonstop bike ride, long distance walk, run, swim, or session on any cardio machine. While this workout is great for the reasons mentioned above, it is not as successful in building speed or power.

If you are a beginner at this type of workout, I suggest you start learning how to pace yourself. See if you can go for fifteen minutes without stopping. Then try going for twenty minutes. Build up your endurance until you can go for a half hour or more. The key is not to push too hard that you burn out after a few seconds or minutes. Learn to slow down so you will last the full workout. You’re body will start creating more blood vessels in your body and mitochondria  in the cells so, over time, you will be able to do more without running out of gas.

Fartleg: This workout also builds endurance but it helps you add some speed and it challenges your heart a bit more. It’s great if you are trying to increase your marathon or 5K time or if you just want to train your body to go harder for a long distance. In this workout, you will go at an aerobic pace (a pace you can keep for a long distance at a tempo that is challenging but doesn’t wear you out) for a timed interval, ie. 1 to 5 minutes. Then, pick up your pace and bring your heart rate up for another timed interval ie., 1 to 2 minutes. Then go back to the endurance pace.

This workout is great for increasing your pace. It is NOT the same as anaerobic or interval training because you DO NOT STOP. You simply change the rhythm and pacing of your workout. It still works your stamina.

Examples of a fartleg might be that you go on an elliptical machine for 5 minutes at a pace you are comfortable in. Then you pick up your RPMs and go faster for 1 minute. Then you go back to the original pace for 5 minutes. This can be done while running, walking, dancing, cycling, swimming or any other cardio workout. You can mix up the times. For example, on another day, you can go at the slower rhythm for only 3 minutes and do the faster rhythm for 2 minutes. You can do the slower rhythm for 1 minute and the faster rhythm for 30 seconds. Once you get used to one way of timing it, mix it up.

Beginners will find that the hardest part of this workout is to keep the timing. After a surge of harder work, you will want to stop. Learning to slow down without stopping is part of increasing endurance and teaching the body to be more efficient so you can go harder for longer periods of time and even improve your long distance race times.

VO2 max: This workout consists of going as hard as you can for a long period of time. You still have to pace yourself, but you are breathing hard and at some point, you will burn out. Think of this workout as going at a competitive race speed. It burns a ton of calories but you don’t want to do this every day because you want to avoid burn out or overuse injuries.

At first, you may only be able to do a couple of minutes at this maximum pace but as your body adapts, you can add more and more time. A champion marathon runner is going at his or her VO2 max when they are racing. At the end of the race, they are done for. Some collapse to the ground. It is very intense.

Examples of a VO2 max workout would be running a race, swimming a race or just going your all for a certain amount of time, non-stop.

Some beginners will have a hard time finding a pace that they can keep that is challenging but that will not make them burn out after a few seconds. Others may just have a hard time getting their heart rates up to a max capacity. I do not recommend this workout for beginners. I recommend they spend the first few weeks starting a cardiovascular program with just endurance and fartlegs before they attempt this. I do not recommend this to people who have heart problems. But if you have been doing the same aerobic workout for a while and you are ready to go to the next level, try this as a test, to see where you are or as an intense workout once or twice a week. I do not recommend you do it every day. Think of this workout as a test run to see how much you have improved.

Intervals: Interval training has become very popular lately because of its proof of effectiveness due to many studies purporting that only a few minutes of interval training a week leads to massive results in all realms of fitness. This workout consists of short bursts of highly intense intervals, followed by a timed rest period.  This workout burns the most calories so it doesn’t have to be done for a long period of time. A ten to twenty minute interval workout burns as much or more than an endurance workout that is an hour long.

Examples of an interval workout would be doing a 100 yard sprint at max capacity, then taking a thirty second break and repeating that eight times. Another example would be to do burpees for thirty seconds and take a twenty second break. Another example would be to run 200 or 400 or 800 meters at max capacity and take a two minute break and repeat that six times. Another example would be to go at a faster or harder level on your cardio machine for one minute, then rest for thirty seconds and repeat. You can mix up the intervals and rest periods as your body adapts to this method.

The biggest challenge for beginners will be repeating the intervals. You might find that after going all out for the first or second interval, you’ll have nothing left for the third or fourth. I suggest you start with only a few intervals or make the rest periods longer. Then add more intervals and shorten the rest periods as you get better.  If you eat and recover properly, your body will adapt by building more muscle and power. Over time, you will be able to recover from the initial bursts quicker.

Hills: Hills add resistance to a cardiovascular workout. It is harder to go up a hill due to gravity pushing on our body. This workout challenges our heart and makes our workout more intense. You can run a course on hills non-stop or you can do intervals up a hill. You can simulate hills on a treadmill, bike, elliptical and other cardio machine. You can simulate hills in a studio class by using steps or inclines. Going up a hill can burn a lot more calories and work your heart and muscles harder without you having to increase speed.

The greatest challenge to doing hills is the fact that it engages more muscles and requires more strength. Do not do hills several days in a row. You want to let your muscles recover between days of hills. There is also a greater risk of knee pain. Listen to your body. If your joints are not sore, you are probably fine but if your knees, hips or ankles start to warn you by sending you pain signals, ease off on your training. Hills are comparable to weight training. Do not do a steep hill if you can barely run a flat. Simulate hills slowly, adding a greater incline after you get used to the level below that.

A simulated workout: If you plan to run four days a week, your workouts might look like this:

Monday: endurance workout, 4 miles at aerobic pace

Tuesday: Intervals, three 400 yard runs with 1 minute rest between each interval followed by five 100 meter sprints with 30 second rest between each of them

Wednesday: rest day

Thursday: fartleg, jog at aerobic pace for 5 minutes. Pick up tempo for 1 minute. Keep doing that for 30 minutes

Friday: VO2Max, time trial. Run a 5k course as fast as you can.

You might want to mix up two different types of workouts in one day. Here’s an example of a program where you do cardio three times a week:

Monday: 20 minute endurance workout, non-stop. Followed by eight 100 meter sprints with 20 second rest between them (a mix of intervals and endurance)

Wednesday: fartleg, jog at aerobic pace for 3 minutes. Pick up tempo for 2 minutes. Keep doing that for 30 minutes

Friday: VO2Max, time trial. Run a 5k course as fast as you can. Then run at endurance pace for 10 minutes

You can mix up all four workouts in one workout. I often do this when I teach cycle. Here’s an example of this on a treadmill:

15 minutes at an aerobic tempo, followed by a five minute hill hard as you can (VO2Max) followed by high intensity intervals of adding speed and hills for 30 seconds, then rest for 20 seconds. Repeat intervals five times. End with 10 minutes at aerobic tempo.

All of these workouts will help you break your plateaus, create more speed, power, stamina, and will burn more calories. It will also break you out of your rut and make endurance less boring. All of these workouts can be simulated on a cardio machine or in an aerobics class, can be done running or walking and can be done swimming (with the exception of hills.)

If you would like to know how many calories these workouts burn, check out this post:

HOW MANY CALORIES DID I JUST BURN