Training | POSTED May 30, 2022

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.