Stop Spinning Your Wheels and Rev Up Your Cardio Workouts

This month we’re covering cardio. Our companion article discussed some of the theory behind cardiovascular exercise, including the World Health Organisation’s recommendation of getting between 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity activity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week. If you’d like to read that and how it satisfies physical activity guidelines, click here. Today let’s dive into the practical and talk how you can plan your cardio workouts.

Specific types of cardio workouts

Let’s discuss the types of aerobic training we’ll program. You might hear that certain cardio sessions are “steady state”. This can refer to Low Intensity Steady State (LISS) or Long Slow Distance (LSD) training. This simply means that your heart rate remains in a relatively consistent range (around 65-80% maximum heart rate) for a prolonged period of time. The pace should allow conversation (even if you have to take a breath or two between sentences). In contrast, you’ll hear that sessions are “high intensity”. This should refer to High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) however very often its used incorrectly to refer to light-load circuits.

Critical to planning your cardio workouts is considering the pace, duration and intensity. High intensity intervals require high levels of effort from somewhere between 30-90 second high intensity efforts above the lactate threshold and may require rest periods upwards of 5 times longer than your work periods. You will not be able to sustain a true high intensity effort for very long. Moreover, without more rest compared to effort, you will lose output as the rounds go on.

Are there benefits to any kind of cardio workout?

The principle of specificity dictates that we should train what we want to get good at. So, if your goal is to improve your long duration endurance for a distance event, it would make sense to prioritise LISS cardio. Conversely, if you are a combat athlete and need to work on your stamina for short bouts of high intensity efforts, HIIT intervals may be more appropriate. Team sport athletes might benefit from interval training where for instance a 5 minute hard run (around V02 max) is contrasted with a 5 minute walk. These longer intervals are harder than LISS but performed at an intensity lower than HIIT.

For general health purposes and for those who are looking at managing their body weight, all forms of cardio workouts are fine. We simply encourage people to perform what they will enjoy and stick to. Lastly, HIIT intervals, being rated as vigorous can be double weighted in your activity level calculations, which is convenient. LISS cardio is likely to require the least planning and lowest level of exertion but does require more total time.

Planning your weekly cardio workout schedule

To begin with let’s plan your week. We’ve discussed accumulating at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week. The following three examples demonstrate how you could split this up.

Cardio workout examples

Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. You can mix and match these or similar protocols throughout you week. If you do have specific sport outcomes, your programming will need to reflect that. As you perform these you may wish to track the following:

  • Average heart-rate
  • Pace, wattage, stroke-rate or other similar variables
  • Distance travelled
  • Estimated calories burned
  • Total time

Cardio Workout 1: for the person who likes low intensity cardio

  1. 40 minutes @ RPE 6 on an incline treadmill, or
  2. 30 minutes @ RPE 6-7 on the elliptical  

Tune into your favourite podcast or music playlist and keep a consistent pace.


Cardio Workout 2: for the person who wants to turn the intensity up a notch

  1. 20 seconds all-out effort @ RPE 10, followed by 100 seconds rest x 7 rounds, or
  2. 30 seconds all-out effort @ RPE 8-9, followed by 90 seconds rest x 10 rounds

These high-intensity intervals can be performed many different ways, including on the bike or rower.


Cardio Workout 3: for the person who enjoys longer intervals

  1. 3 minute run @ RPE 7-8, followed by 2 minutes of walking x 6 rounds, or
  2. 5 minutes running @ RPE 7-8, followed by 5 minutes walking x 5 rounds

Lace up your running shoes and start pounding that pavement!


You might be thinking what on earth does RPE mean. It’s an abbreviation for Rate of Perceived Exertion, and it’s a way that we measure our physical activity intensity level on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being light and 10 being very hard). Put simply, it indicates approximate effort relative to an individual’s maximum heart rate. Due to individual differences we can’t accurately prescribe a specific pace. The table below might help you further understand the different levels of intensity when exercising.

Today we covered some template cardiovascular and conditioning sessions. These are generic examples of how you might fulfil physical activity recommendations. They act as a complement to your strength training. If you’d like more in-depth information or personalised cardio recommendations, contact us here.

Don’t Skip a Heartbeat: Your Guide to Cardio

Cardio gets a bad rap. A quick Google search of “cardio memes” will have you thinking “Cardio? More like cardi-no!” However weight training alone won’t cut it. Physical fitness involves both cardiorespiratory and muscular adaptations. Let’s talk today about how much, how to do it and how it will benefit you.

How much cardio?

The World Health Organisation has two recommendations based on the aerobic exercise intensity [1]. It’s important to note that you can do more for “additional health benefits.” So, what are they?

  1. At least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity
  2. At least 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity

Intensity simply refers to how hard are you working. For aerobic exercise we can use METs or “metabolic equivalent of a task” to measure intensity. For example 1 MET is the rate of energy expenditure while sitting at rest. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends 500 to 1000 MET minutes per week [2]. To calculate this you simply take the MET score of an activity and multiply it by the duration. Conveniently, MET ratings correspond with aerobic intensities. In other words, you can use METs to tell if you’re working hard enough, long enough. Below is a table showing the conversion and some practical examples.

How to structure your cardio

Outside of hitting activity targets there are no hard and fast rules around structuring your aerobic exercise. Okay, there’s probably one – you want to maintain a metabolic output for at least 1 minute. In other words as long as your active at least for a minute, it doesn’t matter how you break it up. For instance you can walk for 25 minutes a day at around 5km an hour. This is equivalent to about 600 MET minutes a week. Check out this month’s complimentary article for some cardio workout examples that satisfy activity recommendations. In addition some other examples of activity that rank as moderate to vigorous include:

  • Jogging
  • Running
  • Carrying heavy groceries or other loads upstairs
  • Shovelling snow
  • Strenuous fitness classes
  • Walking briskly
  • Raking the yard

Benefits of cardio

Improving your cardiorespiratory fitness seems to confer health benefits. Physical activity (including cardio) contributes to managing noncommunicable diseases, frailty and mental health. For example this includes cardiovascular disease, diabetes, sarcopenia, and reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. There are also performance benefits. For instance increasing your aerobic fitness will increase your VO2 max or, the rate at which your heart, lungs and muscles can use oxygen during exercise. As as result you’ll increase your performance through increasing work capacity, your ability to train more and the actual cardio itself. One last note, don’t stress about whether or not a certain intensity is superior for weight loss [3]. Simply do what you can stick to and is appropriate for you.

Get moving!

Cardio doesn’t have to be a drag. Personally I’ve found ways in which I can incorporate it into my lifestyle that suits my schedule and needs. For yourself, that could include walking your dogs (or cats!), playing sport with friends or going on a hike with your family. However you decide, what matters most is that you’re consistent. If you’re currently stuck with your health and fitness goals, don’t be shy to reach out to the team at Ivy.

Resources

  1. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/physical-activity
  2. https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf
  3. https://www.u-cursos.cl/medicina/2017/0/DPPAEF/1/foro/r/(2017)_systematic_review_and_meta-analysis_of_interval_training_versus_moderate-intensity_continuous_training_on_body_adiposity.pdf

A Sneak Peek into Jake’s Training Week

We often have client’s ask us in their training session, “what does your training week look like?” So, we thought we’d show you!

As you may have noticed with your own training, you can’t always keep things the same. This doesn’t mean chopping and changing elements of your program day in and day out. However as time goes on your body will accommodate to the stresses imposed upon it, resulting in a plateau and inevitably, something will need to change (however small) to spur on future progress. 

Seeing how both Rachael and I have recently competed (you can see her blog post here and we’ll cover another competition in our most recent newsletter) and this month we’re talking about personal lifting equipment, I wanted to simply highlight what an “ordinary” week of training might look post-competition for myself and how equipment is factored into that. 

Considering my current goals

Currently my goal is to build more muscle mass for the purpose of getting stronger. With that in mind my current program involves the following key changes:

  1. High rep sets (average of 8-12 reps) and higher total training volume
  2. More exercise variation
  3. More isolation exercises
  4. Weak-point training

Higher training volumes generally (when all else is equal) provide a greater muscle-growth stimulus. Moreover, increased variation helps develop more overall musculature size and strength especially as hypertrophy and strength adaptations can be local to particular regions within a muscle belly. Isolation exercises are especially useful when trying to accumulate more volume. They allow you to better target a muscle group with less overall systemic fatigue.

That being said, the “skill” of lifting is still important to me. At least once a week I am performing some close form of the squat, bench press and deadlift. When considering exercise selection, we review how certain exercises can benefit an individual at a specific point in time. Below is an outline of my program which will also clarify the rationale behind certain exercises and uses of equipment.

Jake Overhead Pressing

What my training program looks like

Below is a sneak peek into a week of my training. You’ll see the specific exercises that I do on each training day, along with the sets and rep scheme and what lifting equipment I choose to use for each exercise. You’ll notice that on some exercises, I don’t use any lifting equipment at all! I am currently doing three “bigger” training sessions each week, paired with three smaller ones with some cardio, and of course a rest day.

Jake's Training Program

Let me explain that in more detail…

Day 1

Here is my hardest squat volume for the week. In particular I’m using the safety bar as I’ve had a peculiar habit of racking the bar incorrectly. By using the safety bar, I can squat for high-rep sets without having to worry about my bar placement. The incline press and snatch-grip RDL is simply there to develop more muscle mass. I’m using equipment across these three lifts to maximise load lifted and efficiency of this session. It’s also one of the sessions where I’ll move the most total weight.

Day 3

On this day I’m working on some more powerlifting specific work including tweaking my grip for the bench press and securing a better bottom position in my low-bar squat. Reps are still somewhat high for the second movement. Here I’m using equipment but the planned RPE is lower and the goal is technical.

Day 5

Here I’m performing deficit deadlifts as that’s where I’m currently weakest (off the floor). This is where I failed my third attempt deadlift at my latest meet. Reps are still somewhat high and I’m wearing equipment to maximise load moved. It is my main deadlift variation for the week. I’m also performing Larsen press and split squats, which are movements which load the muscles used in the squat and bench but at lighter weights. Even with a high RPE, I can’t move much total load due to how these exercises are set-up. This means I can accumulate more training volume but still be recovered by the time Monday comes around.

Days 2, 4 and 6

On these days I’ll be performing some lighter upper-back, arm exercises and cardio. Of most importance here would be cardio for my health and the upper back exercises to further develop the muscle group that supports all three major power lifts but isn’t directly targeted by them. Some of these exercises could be performed on the main days but I prefer not to train much longer than an hour across my main sessions (that’s just a personal preference). Finally, unless grip is an issue, I tend to not wear any personal lifting equipment on these sessions. I want the total load to be moved to be minimal.

Lifting Chalk

Training is about the individual

Training is specifically designed to get the most out of the individual. That being said, there are principles that underlie effective training. You will find there are more similarities than differences across well written training programs. As you get more advanced you’ll also have better awareness about what you will best benefit from. At Ivy you can be confident that Rachael and myself are passionate about the training process as both participants of a strength sport and personal trainers. To that end, we’re here to help you get the best out of your time spent training which involves not only what your program looks like, but also when and how you use lifting equipment.

AlphaFit Lat Pulldown

The Only Lifting Equipment You Need in Your Gym Bag

Introduction

If you were to spend any time on social media watching fitness related content you would quickly come across some incredibly strong people lifting heavy weights while wearing all sorts of personal lifting equipment including a belt, strange looking shoes, wraps or straps around their wrists and wraps or sleeves around their knees.

In fact, Rachael and I often use this equipment in our own training. In this article I’d like to explain the purposes of this equipment and perhaps answer some of the questions or address common misconceptions around the use of this equipment. This will include the following:

  • Is using lifting equipment necessary?
  • Does using lifting equipment help with injury prevention?
  • Isn’t lifting equipment expensive?
  • What piece of lifting equipment should I buy first?

Who can benefit from using lifting equipment?

So, who can benefit from using personal lifting equipment?

Simply put, everyone. This isn’t some kind of exclusive club where only once you’ve “earned” the right to use equipment once you’re lifting an arbitrary amount of weight. As you’ll see in the following sections, lifting equipment simply improves the return on investment into your time training. Everyone can benefit from using it. No one bats an eye when you suggest buying running shoes if you’d like to run more frequently and seriously. Think about using personal lifting equipment in the same way.

What, where and why?

What follows is a breakdown of the basic pieces of personal lifting equipment that you will most commonly come across and find recommended, listed in what we at Ivy Training believe are the order of priorities.

Shoes

Lifting shoes or weightlifting shoes are speciality-made shoes designed usually to have an elevated stiff heel, 1-2 shoe straps around mid-foot, a wider toe box (not always) and a higher boot around the ankle to provide the necessary stability, stiff contact with the floor and facilitate the range of motion someone would need to get more out of the very least, their squats and olympic lifts. They can often be used for other lifts based on the individual’s personal preference. Very often this is the first piece of equipment we recommend someone to purchase. For weightlifting shoes both Rachael and I have had experience with the Nike Romaleo series of shoes and recommend those.

For those who aren’t looking to purchase a more specialised shoe, Rachael and I also recommend the Nike Metcons. Although they lack some of the more specialised features of a weightlifting shoe, they have a relatively stiff sole and are stable but still have enough freedom of movement to be relatively comfortable for a variety of movements and conditioning modalities you might perform in a gym environment.

Belt

There are a variety of lifting belts available to buy but the most useful for our purposes of general strength training include belts made between 2” – 4” in width and 10-13mm thick and uniform in dimension all the way around. They will either be fastened with a single or double prong, or a lever mechanism. Belts facilitate a more powerful isometric contraction of the trunk musculature by way of proprioception. This occurs due to the physical feedback from the stiff belt secured tightly around your waist which in turn creates resistance for your abs, obliques and spinal erectors to contract against.

Despite popular belief, they are not for supporting your back directly for the purposes of mitigating pain. They will however facilitate the process of continually getting a stronger back which may influence tolerance to pain. Lastly, research shows belts seem to increase power output, reduce bar velocity and rating of perceived exertion in trainees [1], [2].

For lifting belts, we recommend anything from Pioneer, SBD or more easily acquired, Rogue.

Straps

Lifting straps are a useful lifting accessory made often from either nylon, leather or canvas. They wrap around the wrist and then onto the target implement such as a barbell, dumbbell or machine handle/cable attachment. They are used often in scenarios where a tension force is applied to the hand such as during pulling movements like deadlifts, rows, pulldowns and chin-ups. Lifting straps are most commonly single straps with a loop on the end or, figure 8 straps. There are also specialty olympic weightlifting straps. We recommend the basic strap variant. They prevent grip being a limiting factor and allow other muscle groups to continue to complete a movement for the desired load and volume. For lifting straps, brands are less of a concern but I’ve personally had good experience with Rogue straps.

Sleeves

Knee sleeves provide compression and support for the knee and should be relatively snug in their fit. They shouldn’t however limit movement in any way. Knee sleeves by way of proprioception might help a lifter feel more stable, and additionally, ascertain a more consistent depth by way of the material in contact with the knee and the back of the upper-thigh and calf and at the bottom of a squat. There is some evidence for reduced pain ratings in those with knee pain, especially from osteoarthritis [3]. Moreover, even though some of the benefits of the knee sleeves are placebo, it’s still beneficial nonetheless. At the very least your knees will feel more warm between sets of squats. There really aren’t any other options here we’d feel comfortable recommending other than SBD knee sleeves.

Wrist Wraps

Wrist wraps can come in stiff and soft varieties and at different lengths. Wraps are securely wrapped around the wrist joint and not set below the hand itself which would make them simply a fashion statement. Wrist wraps limit the amount of flexion and extension (or movement) that can occur at the wrist under load. Although there are a variety of wraps available the most commonly useful wraps will be soft wraps where you can usually get between 2 to 3 loops around the wrist joint up onto the base of the palm (these are somewhere between 12”-24” in length). Longer wraps means the ability to wrap tighter and create a stiffer hold. Some wraps themselves can be made out of incredibly stiff material. This does take some trial and error to figure out which kind is right for you.

They are not designed to prevent wrist pain but similar to the belt will increase stability under load. They therefore might influence someone’s perception of pain, at times. For wrist wraps, similar to the straps, Rogue and SBD are safe choices here – in particular flexible, non-stiff wraps.

When should I start using lifting equipment?

We’d suggest utilising lifting equipment as soon as you’re able and would like to. Regarding the particular details of training itself, here are some basic recommendations. Using them on your primary lifts which constitute the exercises that are most important to your goals can provide benefit. For many this includes wearing shoes, belt and sleeves during squats, a belt and maybe straps during deadlifts, wrist wraps and maybe a belt during bench press and shoes, a belt and wrist wraps during overhead presses. Regarding other exercises, that may depend on how your program is designed. It’s important to consider the particular goal of each exercise and how they factor into your week of training. Moreover, there are certain items like wrist straps that are always useful (such as not letting your grip become a limiting factor during Romanian deadlifts).

Lastly, you’ll want to make sure that by at least your last warm-up set, before your first working set, you have put your equipment on, so that you aren’t introducing any changes before starting your heaviest set/s of the day.

Is it going to break the bank?

One last note on cost. Buy expensive and most likely you’ll buy once. It’s very rare that you’ll wear your equipment down to dust. Most people are lifting inside in climate controlled conditions outside of the elements and most likely are not running, jumping or anything else in the shoes or other pieces of equipment (besides maybe the olympic lifts), so they should last the test of time.

Conclusion

So that wraps up our strapping post on using equipment while strength training. We hope you’re armed with the knowledge required to get the most out of your strength training sessions. If you’d like to know more about using equipment during sessions, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask.

Resources

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11710410/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35363215/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19467901/