Cardio. I feel like we’ve all been told to do cardio at one point in our lives, whether for weight loss, performance, or health reasons. But there are so many different types of cardio with different uses and benefits. Let’s look at what cardio really is, it’s types, uses, and benefits.
What is cardio?
Technically it is cardiorespiratory training; you are training your cardiorespiratory system. What is your cardiorespiratory system? Well it is a combination of the cardiovascular system (heart, blood and blood vessels) and the respiratory system (lungs and vessels that transport oxygen).
Why train cardio?
There are a variety of reasons to train cardio. A major one is weight loss or management. Cardio burns calories, sometimes in excess. As we know, general weight loss (not fat loss) comes down to calories in versus calories out. For people new to exercise or with only a weight loss goal (only seeing the scale go down) cardio can be beneficial. A second factor is cardiovascular training is improving overall health. Training your heart and lungs can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by potentially lowering blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar. A third reason for cardiorespiratory training is performance based. This can be sport, work, and general life related performance. A life performance goal would include walking up the stairs easier at work. There’s plenty of reasons to train cardio, let’s look at the different types of cardio next!
Types of Cardio (and their uses!)
Low Intensity Steady State or Base Training
This type of cardio is pretty self-explanatory. You are steadily moving at a low intensity for longer amounts of time. In this case, the heart rate should remain in a 65-80% of your max heart rate. Someone who is newer to exercise should remain in that lower range as longer periods here will help build a base for cardiorespiratory training. This can be walking on a treadmill or riding the stationary bike for 30-45 minutes. Athletes will use this type of training usually in the off season depending on the base needed for the sport or if they need some sort of weight loss. Some body builders and bikini competitors swear by this type of cardiorespiratory training when they are close to a competition as a way of burning fat without losing muscle mass.
Interval training will alternate between bouts of higher intensity exercise and either rest or lower intensity exercise. During interval training the timing for intervals are usually equal, i.e. 30 seconds of work and 30 seconds of rest. It can be done in rounds as well, similar to circuit training, i.e. 30 seconds of work and 30 seconds of rest for 5 rounds, followed by 2-3 minutes of low intensity movement, repeat. This type of training will tend to lead to greater improvements in the cardiorespiratory system. This is because the workload is higher than normal or low intensity steady state cardio. Athlete’s use this type of training to build up cardiorespiratory strength for a season of high intensity sports. Interval training is a good weight loss tool as well; higher the heart rate for longer periods of time is more calorie burn.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
HIIT is often confused with general interval training, especially in group fitness classes. HIIT is a form of interval training, but there is one main difference. This difference is the intensity level. During HIIT the bout of exercise is at least in the 80-95% max heart rate and usually for a significantly shorter time. We’re talking as short as 8-10 seconds. With this interval being so high in intensity, the rest or recovery time is usually longer than the work time. This type of training tends to be better at increasing VO2max (maximum oxygen consumption). This improvement makes HIIT popular and useful with athletes, specifically power athletes. Bottom line, your HIIT group fitness class is actually just an interval or circuit class. Still good, still beneficial, but not the same.
There we have it. Three common cardiovascular training styles and their general uses. Like anything else all cardiovascular training has a time and a place. Finding what works best for you and aligns with your goals will be best. As always, we want this to be sustainable as well. If you love your interval class and it’s something you will continue with, by all means use it! If you love going on 45-minute walks with your dogs as low intensity steady steady state cardio, then do it! Either way, you got this!
NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training, Fifth Edition
NASM Essentials of Sports Performance Training