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Facts and tips on cardio workouts

A common sentence you will hear among amateur gym-goers is "I need more cardio to lose weight!

" However, whether cardio workouts are a good weight loss solution or not depends entirely on what kind of cardio workouts you do, for how long, and at what intensity. 

What is a cardio workout?

"The simplest explanation of a cardio workout would be any workout/exercise that gets your heart rate up, and keeps it elevated for a significant amount of time. Some good examples of exercises that can be considered cardio workouts are running, swimming, playing sports, circuit training, etc."

Why are cardio workouts important?

  •  To build stamina
  •  To boost energy
  •  To beat stress
  •  To lose weight
  •  Increases blood circulation
  •  Increases lung capacity
  •  Improves your alertness

How much cardio should you do every day?

The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of cardio everyday. But you might want to talk to an expert if you have any health complications. If you're a first timer with cardio, look to starting with 20-minutes-a-day cardio workouts, and increase the duration and intensity of exercise to improve your stamina and reach your weight loss targets.

Calories burnt with common cardio activities (on an average per hour)

  •  Aerobics: 240 calories
  •  Cycling 16km/hr: 240 calories
  •  Running: 780 calories
  •  Walking: 230 calories
  •  Swimming: 800 calories

Precautions for cardio workouts

Before you start huffing and puffing, did you know there are limits and precautions when you practice your cardio workouts? An Expert explains what you should keep in mind for cardio workouts, "Don't overdo it, especially the slow and long duration type. Good cardio training has a lot of benefits to offer, but overdoing it, which is very common, can soon lead to problems like aching knees, muscle loss, slower metabolism, etc. For most people, 10-20 minutes of intense cardio, and 25-45 minutes of low intensity cardio seems to work best without causing any overuse injuries."

How to include different workouts in cardio?

"What needs to be ensured is that cardio workout does not become boring. In HIIT the boredom factor should in itself be significantly lessened." says an Expert.  "In addition, you can eradicate boredom by using a variety of machines in your workout. For example, you can switch between the treadmill, elliptical machine, and recumbent or stationary bike during one cardio workout."

How to avoid boredom for low intensity cardio workouts?

Experts suggests ways to avoid boredom and complete you cardio workout, "A multitude of other tasks can be performed simultaneously to make the workout more productive and less boring. Listening to the music, having conversations be it work, family or anything can all be carried if the low intensity cardio workout in itself is less stressful."

Experts says, "With multiple tasks to keep one busy a good 45 mins can be clocked in before even realising it. I personally prefer reading the papers or some magazines on my recumbent bike. Sometimes I might even make a few calls, we can watch our favourite cricket match as we clock in minutes on the treadmill or go for a walk with friends. This is a great way to incorporate training as a lifestyle and maintain it."

The secret to perfect cardio workouts

An expert explains how to go about shifting the velocity of exercise. "High intensity cardio need not be sustained for the full duration of the workout which should not be extended beyond 15-20 minutes. High intensity periods will be punctuated with moderate intensity periods throughout the workout."

When you jump to low intensity cardio workouts, he says "You will want to spend a minute or two getting warmed up by working at a low intensity pace. Once you feel thoroughly warmed up you should increase the intensity of cardio to about 80% of your maximum heart rate for about 30 seconds before returning to a moderate to low pace for about a minute."

Cardio workouts and weight loss

 "Let's make a few things clear...NO amount of cardio workout or weight training is going to help you burn fat if you consume more calories than you burn. The basic formula is that energy output must exceed energy input." A point to note!

There are two basic styles of cardiovascular training

1. Low intensity steady
2. High Intensity Interval

Low intensity cardio:

"Cardio vascular training (cycling, walking, swimming) at low intensity (below 60-70% of your heart rate) provides most calories for energy from our fat reserves. Since it is rather low in intensity it can be sustained for longer duration. It is easier to perform, less stressful on joints and more conducive to lesser trained individuals." 

High intensity interval: 

"High Intensity Interval training has of late gained prominence among fitness enthusiasts who believe there as to be a blend of high intensity and low intensity training to create a post workout fat burning effect" Jivesh goes on to explain this point "Obviously since individuals will perform at intensity close to 80-90% of the max heart rate. It will be difficult to sustain this training for longer duration and there will/should be a brief period of low intensity training in between."

"Training in this style will keep the net duration much shorter and create a demand for continuous calorie output thereafter. Truly speaking this is nothing but an offshoot of how most strength athletes perform their weight training regime. Most classical weight training programmes involves performing straight sets where after an intense set the trainee takes an absolute rest for a few minutes to go and perform and all out intense next set."

How to avoid overtraining

"Many researchers have now incorporated this style of HIIT into cardiovascular training pitching it as superior in burning fat. However it must be taken into consideration that most such trainees unlike strength athletes do not have that degree of muscle mass to create a post training fat burn effect, cause it is these muscles that demand a continuous supply of calories". 

"On the contrary it may eat into precious muscle tissue if their diets are not optimal. Moreover most strength athletes who already train in HIIT with weights would not be too keen on performing another HIIT cardiovascular workout as it may cause overtraining."

Cardiovascular strength training

"Traditionally, we are told that certain exercises like jogging, walking, swimming, etc are forms of cardiovascular training, and exercises like push ups, squats, lunges, etc are strength training exercises. Cardiovascular strength training refers to doing your cardio workout by using strength training exercises instead of the traditional cardio exercises. For eg instead of doing a regular cardio workout like jogging for half an hour, you could do 10 minutes circuit training, where you use traditional strength training exercises. This type of training happens to be far more intense than regular cardio."

What are the advantages of a cardio strength training workout

Unlike regular cardio this form of training does not cause muscle loss. Not losing muscle is priceless when trying to drop bodyfat, as muscle loss slows down metabolism and makes further fat loss difficult. Besides better results, this form of training also happens to be very time efficient as such workouts generally last between 5-15 minutes. In this time frame a trainee goes through a very intense workout which ensures that he does not have to spend too much time doing it. Most people who do it find it to be a much more fun alternative compared to old cardio workouts which are more repetitive and can be boring.

Are there any limitations to this style of training? 

While most trainees out there can certainly do this form of training, it might not be ideal for beginners and those who are extremely deconditioned. For eg, if someone struggles to climb two storeys of stairs, then this form of training might be too intense for them. In this case traditional cardio may be better to begin with. As their fitness improves, such individuals can later on attempt the intense cardio version.

Cardio mistakes to avoid

"I'm bored and I couldn't care less about sitting up straight on the exercise cycle."Sitting up straight on the exercise cycle enables you to engage your core and preserve your abdominal strength, especially back muscles, when cycling at high speeds or against greater resistance. Hunching will lead to lower back aches and you'll find that you aren't really taxing yourself if your stance is hunched and slow.

"Cross ramp elevation and resistance on the elliptical? What's that?" The elliptical is meant to be a cross training cardio workout. If you'd like to maintain a slow to moderate pace, then increase the ramp's elevation or angle (it could be at a decline) to challenge more muscles in your lower body. Then increase resistance in order to work your muscles even more. At least one of these three must challenge you on the elliptical - speed, resistance, cross ramp angle.

"What running technique? We all ran as kids, right?" Right. But we didn't really run for speed, fitness, agility and most importantly - to avoid workout injuries. When running, most people tend to land on their heels. This, over time, will injure your ankles, shins and knees. Do your feet a favour and learn how to land on the balls of your feet. This adds momentum and makes your jog or run that much more challenging.

"Cycling is just about peddling, and the resistance bit is hyped and hard." If you're cycling out on the roads and regularly, at that, then yes - it is about peddling and maintaining speed. But by using the gym exercise cycle, you're already at a disadvantage - it's a lot easier on your muscles and cardio strength. So challenge yourself, and increase the cycle's resistance. Or select a programme that gives you hills and valleys and makes the cycling session tougher.

Cardio workouts differs from person-to-person

"Finally," "a workout is an individual preference as there are many factors to be taken into consideration-age, conditioning, goals, time constraints, diet, medical condition etc. A training style that cannot be participated in with enthusiasm will eventually be skipped all together. Hence be it low intensity, moderate or high intensity the important factor to remember here is that what matters most is the energy output must consistently exceed energy input."