“Cardio Sucks… Do it Anyway!” … Says Sarah Sweeney
A blueprint of how you can incorporate cardio to see faster results.
Yes, cardio sucks; especially when you can watch binge watch just about anything on Netflix instead. Whole industries have been built around getting people fit without cardio, or at least creating a setting where they forget they’re doing it. Soul Cycle blares house music so you feel like you’re in a night club, CrossFit gives you dozens of different exercises to prevent boredom, hot yoga classes make you sweat so much that you forget how much pain you’re in and just marvel at your body’s ability to perspire. But strategic cardio sessions are important.
Why do cardio? Because it will:
• Increases fat metabolism
• Reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease
• Improve mental health by decreasing stress, depression, and increasing cognitive ability
Essentially, cardio makes you smarter, thinner, and happier.
When, where and how you do cardio is just as important as actually doing it. Running until you pass out every day is rarely productive. Below is a blueprint of how you can incorporate aerobic exercise into your routine and see faster results.
Your Goal: Increase Strength
Circuit Training: Full-body workout alternating between different muscle groups for each set. You want to hit every muscle in your body by doing compound exercises, (exercises that work multiple muscle groups at the same time). This is full-body cardio, unlike running or biking where you’re utilizing just one muscle group, this workout incorporates everything. Have you seen the movie 300? Those guys were doing circuit training, and their 1,800 ab muscles came from bursts of intense exercise followed by brief rest periods. I typically have my clients using this type of cardio at least once a week.
Below is a list of 8 exercises. Once you complete each exercise, take a 90 second break, and then repeat FOUR times. High intensity is key, don’t stop moving during your sets. If you already have a preferred strength training routine, you can replace the recommended exercises below with your personal favorites. But don’t forget the circuit training formula: no rest in between exercises, 90 second break in between sets, and repeat at least four times.
1. Push-ups: 15
3. Pull-Ups: 5–10
4. Jump rope: 2 minutes
5. Plank: 40 Seconds
6. Wall-sits: 30 Seconds
7. Single-leg bridges 10 (on each leg)
8. Inverted rows: 10
Your Goal: Increase Muscle Mass
HIIT(High Intensity Interval Training): Sprinting has been scientifically proven to increase testosterone and human growth hormone, which in turn leads to faster muscle growth. Not to mention it takes a fraction of the time that endurance training does, giving you more time for Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and other productive activities.
The most effective way to achieve muscle growth is to add a two-day split. One day dedicated to HIIT, and another to strength training. I provide an example of Day 2 strength-training below, but feel free to replace it with your current strength training regiment. Usually, I only want to see this style of cardio done 2-3 times a week. It can be extremely taxing and actually “eat” your muscle if overdone.
• Day 1 = HIIT Example: Run 400 meter sprint x8 with 60 second rest period in between each sprint. HIIT Option-2: Swim 50 meter sprint x8 with 45 second rest period.
• Day 2 = Upper body exercise:
o Push-ups 4×15
o Pull-ups 4×7
o Sit-ups 4×15
o Jump rope: 10 minutes
o Inverted Rows 4×10
o Tricep dips 4×7
o Swiss Ball Jacknife w/ Push-up: 4×8
After Day 2, take one day off, and then start again on Day 1. Your workout schedule should be two days on, and one rest day in between.
Your Goal: Decrease Body Fat
Endurance training: There’s a sweet spot when doing long distance aerobic exercise that maximizes fat metabolism. WARNING: Endurance training tends to be the most mind-numbing workout out there is, but it’s the best way to lose weight. That being said, I find it easy to zone out to music on my iPod the whole time. It’s kind of like meditating but with Drake in the background.
Pro endurance athletes know this level of training as Zone 2, and it can be achieved by getting your heart rate between 60%-70% of your max heart rate. To do this, first:
1. Identify your favorite aerobic exercise (spinning, swimming, running, rowing, etc.)
2. Calculate your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR) = 220 — your age, and multiply by 0.6 and 0.7. (For example, if you’re 32 years-old, your MHR is 188 bpm. Multiplied by 0.6 and 0.7, you get a range from 113 bpm-131 bpm)
3. When you exercise, stop and check your pulse 2–3 times throughout the workout. Count your pulse for a timed 30 seconds and then multiply by two to get your beats per minute. In the example mentioned above, if your heart rate falls between 133 bpm-131bpm, you’re in optimal fat burning mode.
As a general rule, effective cardio will last anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours in Zone 2. Unlike HIIT, this style of cardio can be done in tandem with strength training days. This is can be done daily if needed to meet your goals.
Follow these rules to get the most out of your cardio session
Here are a couple principles to help you get the most out of your cardio session:
• Cool Down => Stretch, stretch, stretch! Flexibility and range of motion are vital for muscle growth and injury prevention. Unless you’re someone who thinks walking with a cane looks cool when you’re older, be sure to stretch after every workout. Here is an effective stretching routine that will help:
a. Hip Flexor/Quad Stretch
b. Supported Forward Fold
d. Shoulder Pull
e. Back Twist
• Diet: All this physical activity is rendered useless without a proper diet. Adequate protein intake is necessary for muscle repair. Therefore, men should (more is fine if you know that works for you already) shoot for 1 gram of protein/pound of body weight, and women should get 0.7 grams of protein/pound of bodyweight every day. Good sources include chicken breast, egg whites, fish, lean beef, hard cheeses, and just about anything else from animal sources. Vegan and Vegetarian options are great as well.
• Sleep/Rest: Muscle repair takes time. Do not work out the same muscle group two days in a row. You need a minimum of one day of rest in between each exercise and eight hours of sleep every night. Non-negotiable.
Here’s your guide, now it’s up to you to use it. The beautiful thing about cardiovascular exercise is it only takes one session before your body starts adapting. Within a few weeks you’ll see the profound effect aerobic exercise can have on your body composition and performance.
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