How To Supercharge your Heart: The Ultimate Guide To Cardio Training For The Everyday Athlete (Part 1)

 In The Everyday Athlete

Here’s a brief summary of what we’re going to cover in this article: –

  • What is cardiovascular training?
  • What are the benefits?
  • How do you know if you’re doing enough cardio?
  • Busting cardio myths.
  • General standards of cardiovascular capacity.

What is it?

Cardio = heart
Vascular = blood vessels

Cardiovascular training is an intentional exercise that improves the ability of the heart, lungs and blood vessels to deliver oxygen to the rest of the body.

Benefits of Regular Cardiovascular Training

Cardiovascular capacity is one of the ten components of complete athleticism for good reason. A stronger, more elastic heart improves the function of just about everything else that goes on in the body.

  • Cardiovascular training has a huge positive impact on the density of mitochondria within our cells. Mitochondria are like little machines that create energy. More mitochondria = more energy = higher metabolism = better body composition
  • A higher cardiovascular capacity improves your rate of recovery in all forms of activity and exercise, including strength and power training. Would you like to recover faster between sets and be able to fit more volume into your training sessions and therefore reach goals faster? Would you like not to be out of breath after climbing a hill or staircase?
  • To burn fat oxygen must be present. Cardiovascular training increases your blood and muscles’ capacity to hold oxygen. The more oxygen that is being pumped through your blood vessels, the more fat you’ll utilize for energy without having to exercise.
  • A cardiovascular (aerobic) training session performed in the morning boosts your metabolism for the entire day. Higher metabolism means more calories burned. Couple this with a standing workstation and take your daily calorie expenditure to a whole new level.
A stronger, more elastic heart improves the function of just about everything else that goes on in the body.Click To Tweet

Other benefits include:

  • Improved emotional and psychological wellbeing
  • Increases muscles’ ability to store glycogen
  • Increased left ventricular hypertrophy (bigger heart muscle)
  • Improved brain function
  • Increased level of oxygen consumed with each breath
  • Reduced resting heart rate
  • Increased safe maximal heart rate
  • Increased stroke volume (more blood pumped per heart beat)
  • Increased oxygen uptake (more oxygen delivered to working muscles)
  • Increased bone density

Cardio Myth Busting

  1. “Any activity that raises my heart rate is cardio training.”

Afraid not. Several sets of pull-ups super-setted with push-ups and minimal rest between sets will bring your heart rate up very quickly. Twenty barbell back squats with 50% of your max on the bar will bring you to a near maximal heart rate in less than 90 seconds. Several sets of 5-10 double kettlebell snatches with 10-15 seconds rest between sets will make your heart bang against the inside of your chest like an angry caged bear. However, in all these activities, the muscles hold so much tension that blood flow is restricted on its way back to the heart. Because less blood is entering the heart it must pump faster to continue providing the required amount of oxygen to all organs. Less blood entering the heart also reduces its need for elasticity.

“Any activity that raises my heart rate is cardio training.” - No! Share To Bust This MythClick To Tweet

Let’s look at blood pressure in cardiovascular training versus resistance training. During CV training, the systolic pressure increases a lot, yet diastolic pressure remains the same. This is because blood is being pumped back into the heart by contracting and relaxing muscle movements. During resistance training, systolic pressure increases even more and diastolic pressure also significantly increases. This is because the blood remains in the arteries due to the tense muscles restricting blood flow and preventing it from returning to the heart.

When resistance training (bodyweight, kettlebells, barbells), keep moving between sets. This allows blood flow back to the heart. The worst thing you can do is just sit or stand in place. Walk or shake it off. If you absolutely must rest then lie on the floor with your legs in the air so the blood finds its way back to its source.

Long-term “cardio” training using only resistance decreases your cardiovascular capacity. In my experience, along with drug taking, this is a contributing factor for a high rate of heart attacks and heart failure in the senior bodybuilding demographic.

Resistance and strength training are critical factors to long-term health but should be complemented with regular proper cardiovascular training, (refer to part two).

  1. “I can figure out my maximum heart rate and heart rate training zones by using a formula.”

There is no formula that comes close to accurately estimating an individual’s maximum heart rate or any heart rate training zones. The only way is to go out and test it. If a 40-year-old uses the Age-Adjusted Formula (220 minus age), in theory, their max heart rate should be 180. This was tested on thousands of non-elite everyday 40-year-olds and the range was found to be between 160-200. The Karvonen formula is almost as inaccurate. Therefore, all calculations used to figure out one’s optimal training zones, based on these formulas, are nothing short of BS. (refer to the self-testing method in part two).

  1. “Cardio makes you skinny-fat.”

No, it doesn’t. Eating processed, food-like substances, sitting in chairs, being dehydrated or stressed and never doing any resistance training makes you skinny-fat (and fat-fat). Performing smart cardiovascular training only has positive effects.

  1. “If I want to get better at a certain event (2,000m row, run a half marathon, 1,500m swim, run 1 mile, etc.), I should replicate that event in training.”

It’ll help a little bit, but not much. The SAID (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand) principle basically means that you should train the way you want to perform. This is a fundamental and essential training principle that applies to everything. Many people who train for events such as triathlons, marathons or rowing competitions take the SAID principle a little too literally. They think that the best way to train for a half marathon, for instance, is by running half marathons. This approach will surely get you there eventually provided you don’t have technique or injury restrictions, but there are much faster ways to skin the cat. (These are covered thoroughly in part two of this blog.)

How do you know if you’re doing enough cardiovascular training?

Do you walk at least 10,000 steps every day? Do you row, run, swim or cycle as intentional exercise or as a part of playing sports at least once per week?

This is a general health baseline for all humans. If the answer was no to either of those, you don’t do enough cardiovascular exercise.

You’ll find a plethora of methods for self-testing your own oxygen uptake and getting a ballpark figure with a quick internet search so I won’t go into that. As a basic test, I would ask someone to either row 2,000m or run one mile, as quickly as possible and compare the time to these standards:

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Concept 2 Row 2,000m Guidelines (in minutes and seconds)

Terrible Bad Good Ninja
Women under 50 Over 10:40 Over 9:40 Under 8:45 Under 7:50
Women aged 70-79 Over 12:10 Over 11:10 Under 10:10 Under 9:10
Men under 50 Over 9:00 Over 8:15 Under 7:30 Under 6:45
Men aged 70-79 Over 10:40 Over 9:40 Under 8:40 Under 8:00


One Mile Run Guidelines (in minutes and seconds)

Terrible Bad Good Ninja
Women under 50 Over 9:30 Over 8:30 Under 7:30 Under 6:30
Women aged 70-79 Over 12:30 Over 11:30 Under 10:00 Under 9:30
Men under 50 Over 9:00 Over 8:00 Under 7:00 Under 6:00
Men aged 70-79 Over 12:00 Over 11:00 Under 9:30 Under 9:00

The above standards are only guideline and a matter of opinion. I’ve formed these opinions after six years of frequently taking everyday people of all ages and abilities for one-mile test runs. The rowing standards, taken from the Concept 2 website, are based on the results of thousands of 2,000m rowing stats from all over the world. And the categories are my opinion after testing it on numerous everyday people.

Obviously, there are other factors besides cardiovascular capacity that affect one’s times such as running gait efficiency or rowing technique. Again, these are just guidelines for general everyday exercisers (AKA Everyday Athletes).

Rowing technique is very easy for most people to pick up and reach a good level, but takes a lot of intelligent practice to master and excel at. Running gait efficiency, however, is much more complicated to improve. Inefficient running gait is caused by years of sitting in chairs and/or wearing bad footwear. It can be coached to a small degree, but I’ve found that changing an individual’s gait pattern requires months and often years of postural work and lifestyle changes. I’m sure gait gurus such as Anatomy-In-Motion practitioners can get there a little faster than I can. If you fall into the bad category for the one-mile run but score well in the 2,000m row, this indicates that your cardiovascular system is in good shape, but your posture and locomotion mechanics need some TLC.

In part two, you’ll learn about some basic principles of cardiovascular training for beginners and some training secrets for intermediates and advanced Everyday Athletes.

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Showing 2 comments
  • Danielle
    Reply

    What about women aged between 50 and 70?!

    • James Breese
      Reply

      More input to follow! Watch this space…

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