When I first started working out, about 2 years ago now, I thought working out as a woman meant going to the gym and only running on the treadmill – boy was I wrong! As women, I argue that we have more socially acceptable options for workouts than men do (i.e. people don’t question the types of workouts we do and positions we get into to exercise, e.g. barbell hip thrusts or donkey kicks).
“Anything you can do I can do better, I can do anything better than you”
Although women may not be able to lift as heavy as men, when it comes to cardio, it is a more even playing field. But what is cardio really? What are the different types? How do we benefit from these activities? Why should we even do it?
What is cardio? Why do it?
When it comes to working out we often split activities into cardio and non-cardio workouts. Cardio workouts are important because these activities raise your heart rate into a target heart rate zone. Each zone will help you achieve a targeted goal (e.g. burn the most fat and calories). In general, these activities are split into aerobic and anaerobic activities:
Sample HIIT routine:
1. Sprint as hard as you can for 30 seconds,
2. Walk for 30 seconds,
3. Sprint 30 seconds,
4. Walk 30 seconds, etc.
Repeat 3 to 6 times depending on fitness level.
Types and Intensities of Cardio Workouts
There are different types of cardio workouts for you depending on your fitness level. Of course, the effectiveness of these workouts depends on the intensity at which you do the workouts. Often we hear of terms such as “high intensity interval training (HIIT)” or “low intensity steady state (LISS)” cardio, but in general there are 3 types of cardio activity:
- Low Intensity Cardio: This aerobic training is slow, easy, long and continuous. It is good for people who are just starting out and is good for fat loss. Examples: walking, cycling, jogging, etc. If you are more advanced, this type of activity is good for a warm up. For beginners it is best to start with walking, cycling, step aerobics or stair climbing. These are “low intensity” workouts.
Ever try to workout and talk to your friend at the same time? In general, if you are able to engage in conversation during your workout, you have passed the “talk test” and are doing some low intensity cardio!
- Moderate Intensity Cardio: This activity requires moderate amount of effort and accelerates the heart rate – it is the next step up from low intensity workouts and cannot be done for quite as long (usually between 20 and 40 minutes). Moderate intensity workouts can be used for fat loss and increasing aerobic capacity. Some examples include jogging, dancing, and some sports.
- High Intensity Cardio: This activity requires a large amount of effort and causes rapid breathing. This exercise is meant to be challenging and leaves you breathless. Beginners often need to work up to this level of activity. Advanced activities include HITT workouts, running, fast swimming, kickboxing, rowing and other more strenuous activities.
TIP: Everything comes with practice, do not try to run before you can walk! In order to build up to high intensity workouts, be careful and get to know your body before pushing its limits.
How much cardio should I do?
Depending on your fitness level keep your workouts reasonable (3-6 days a week) and avoid overtraining. Too much cardio can backfire on you and cause injuries and strains.
Tips for cardio workouts:
* Do small bursts of cardio throughout the day
* Make the time
* Do something…anything
* Consider your intensity
Cardio is not the be all end all of fitness and working out – you cannot rely solely on cardio workouts to create any deficits. For effective gains remember to combine cardio with nutrition, strength training and rest.
In general, cardio activities are very good for heart health. Even though most of us dread these “boring” exercises, incorporating cardio into every training routine can yield some outstanding results. Pull some friends in, try some new workouts, mix it up,… and who knows, you might just learn to be creative and have fun with it!