Paying attention to exercise intensity will not only give you a positive training result and help you prevent injury, but will also help you stick to your plan and prevent boredom. There are many ways to blast past plateaus and achieve gains in mental, physical, and cardiovascular strength. I structure cardiovascular training into 3 main categories:
Long Slow Distance
Steady State Training
When it comes to cardiovascular training, more isn’t always better. Understanding the importance of training smarter rather than harder is illustrated here:
Long Slow Distance – Working at a heart rate intensity of 60-70% of your max heart has long been touted as the “Fat-burning zone” and while true, it isn’t the most effective way to burn fat and boost cardiovascular fitness. It’s still important to your weekly mix as a way to create and maintain an aerobic base. The goal in completing long slow distance cardio is to increase your ability to burn fat while you sleep. That’s right; have great cardiovascular fitness, and your body burns fat all day long! You will know that you are working aerobically and at a heart rate range of 60-70% of your max heart rate if you can easily carry on a conversation, or if you can easily breathe through your nose with a closed mouth. Perform LSD training 1-3x/week (depending on your weekly total it should make up 25%).
For most people LSD training is a great beginning, but it quickly becomes the ‘comfort zone’ that is hard to break out of. This is where Interval training comes in.
Interval Training – This is quickly becoming the most popular “get fit quick, burn fat, and blast calories” form of training, and for good reason. Interval training will not only challenge your body to work at a higher heart rate for short periods and boost cardiovascular fitness most quickly, but also have a lingering effect on calorie burn – upwards of 30%! That means that after an interval training workout, you can burn 30% more calories than you would normally burn throughout the day.
The downside of interval training (and doing ONLY Interval training), is that you also burn more sugars (stored muscle glycogen) rather than fat during your workout. Do too much interval training and you run the risk of burning that hard earned muscle. Interval training consists of working at or above 85% of max heart rate for a period of time, followed by a recovery period at 60-70% of max heart rate. You’ll know when you are at or above 85% max heart rate when you can longer breathe through your nose, and you actually have to breathe through your mouth. For Interval Training, stick to 1-3x/week or 50% of your overall cardio training.
Steady State Training: - This is one of my personal favorites. Here, you challenge your body to work just at or slightly below anaerobic threshold (roughly 75-85% of max heart rate). Studies show that working here has a maximum effect on improving cardiovascular health and fitness. The challenge in working at a steady state as compared to LSD or Intervals is this: LSD is easier to maintain and generally feels good, where intervals are far tougher but only last a short while. Steady state on the other hand is tough and the goal is to stretch the intensity out to 5-20 min bouts at a higher heart rate. Challenge yourself to work Steady State Training 1-3x/week or 25% of your overall cardio training.
Most cardiovascular equipment pieces do a great job of providing examples of these three types of training. So try a program and challenge yourself to vary your heart rate based on the parameters above. Your cardiovascular fitness, fat-burning potential and overall health will thank you.