Upping Your Cardiovascular Strength

woman working on a stationary bike

Let’s face it, cardio is a hard sell. It requires a lot of motivation. It’s hard to imagine that in one instance you can be a calm, cool, and collected member of society and in the next you will be a panting, suffering, hot mess in a soaking wet sports bra. What sane civilized person would willingly subject themselves to such monotonous torture?

But is cardio really so bad? One of the reasons cardio gets such a bad rap is because people tend to overdo it. Most of the benefits of exercise come not from the exercise itself, but from the way the body recovers from the exercise. If you are not giving your body enough recovery time, you may be pushing yourself too hard, unnecessarily and increasing your risk for heart disease. However, if you stick to the maxim, “Work smarter, not harder,” you may be able to make peace with cardio. The HIIT workout (high-intensity interval training) provides ways to keep the body out of the “inadequate recovery” danger zone while making your cardio a bit less repetitive.

High-Intensity Interval Training
HIIT is the combination of short bursts of high effort exercise alternation with short bursts of low-effort exercise. It burns fat and preserves muscle mass, can improve your cardiovascular capacity, increase the circulation of growth hormones and raise metabolic rates. And the biggest perk? You can do it in 20 minutes.

Sprint Walking
Going on a sprint walk is a great way to get HIIT training and can be done anywhere. If you are sprint walking on a track, you may want to sprint the straight portions and walk the curves. If you don’t have access to a track, just sprint for a certain distance and then walk back.  The general guidelines are as follows: Warm up by running at a moderate pace for about 5 minutes, sprint for 10- 20 seconds and walk for anywhere from 20 sends to tow minutes depending on your comfort level and how long you have been training.

Sprint going up, walk coming down
Locate a steep hill. Jog to it and run up it as quickly as possible and then walk down. Repeat as many times as you can. Be warned that hill sprints require tremendous energy and you may feel unable to do it too many times without your heart bursting. Don’t exceed your comfort level. Lightly jog back to your house as a cool down.

On Machines
On a stationary bike, choose the “Quick Start” option and set the resistance as high as it will go. Warm up for 5 minutes and then stand up and pedal as fast as you can for 30 seconds. Then sit down and pedal at a slow pace for 30 more seconds. Try to do about 20 minutes of the 30/30 routine. If you want to increase core activation and improve balance, you may want to let go of the bike handles. Do the 30/30 routine for 20 minutes or until you can’t feel your legs. (Just kidding.)

On an elliptical, again choose “Quick Start” and jack up the resistance. Do not move the handles, as this will decrease your speed. As with the bike, sprint for 30 seconds and them slow down for 30. You can also try reversing direction. You may not be able to sprint as quickly in reverse, but it will work out different leg muscles. Keep in mind that sprinting has been known to cause injuries. Most occur because our central nervous system triggers a muscle contraction at the wrong time. If you accelerate slowly, you can decrease your probability of limping home.

Good luck with your endeavors. For those about to sprint, we salute you!

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