I just received a note from Gina in Cleveland, Ohio and thought I’d share it with you…
“Hi Betty Rocker! I’ve been following your blog for a while, and I was wondering about cardio.
I typically do a lot of long treadmill workouts, but I don’t feel like I’m making much progress.
What’s the deal with cardio anyway? I hear so many different things.”
Great question Gina!
What is Cardio anyway?
Cardio- or cardiovascular training- is exercise that raises your heart rate. There are 2 types of exercise that can contribute to cardiovascular health and there is a time and place for both.
1. Aerobic exercise (“with oxygen”) is exercise that can be sustained for longer than 10 minutes. Your body has enough oxygen to sustain the energy required to carry out the work.
An example of aerobic exercise is “steady-state cardio” which is what it sounds like – your level of intensity doesn’t really fluctuate through a 20-60 minute workout.
There are many aerobic activities to enjoy, like cycling, jogging, swimming, hiking, walking, or any activity that you can sustain while elevating your heart rate.
The benefits are more than just the physical – it feels good to be outside running or hiking, breathing fresh air, getting sunshine, and seeing new sights.
2. Anaerobic exercise (“without oxygen”) is exercise that can only be sustained for a few moments and requires more oxygen supply than the body can support. While all of these fall under the umbrella term “high intensity interval training” or “HIIT” for short, I’ll break them down so you can see the variations in the formats.
- High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) – HIIT fluctuates between short bursts of intense activity and “recovery” periods of less intense activity.
For maximum fat burning results in minimum time, a high intensity workout is your best bet (1). This gets your heart working much harder for a short period of time. You can do HIIT and Tabata workouts with intense exercise circuits, or you can incorporate this format into one of the other styles previously mentioned (think sprints on a bike or short sprints while running).
This method of exercise burns fat faster (2), saves time (3), is simple to execute with no equipment, limits muscle loss, and trigger an ‘after burn’ effect which helps you keep burning fat long after you’ve finished working out (4).
In your HIIT session, the objective is to go as hard and as fast as you can during your work intervals to get the greatest health benefits you can (5). Your work period are short so this is not the time to pace yourself – give it your all and earn your rest.
- Tabata – Shorter in time, and more extreme than HIIT, a typical Tabata routine will alternate 20-second intervals of intense work with 10 seconds of recovery, eight different times, for a total of four minutes.
“Tabatas” got their name from the research done by physician and scientist Izumi Tabata, who found that short bursts of high intensity training gave far better results than steady state training.
Research indicated that Tabata-formatted workouts provide a greater increase in aerobic power than traditional aerobic (steady state) training and in a shorter period of time (6).
Tabatas can work any part of your body. I created a fun tabata series for you to check out and save:
- Plyometrics – Also known as “explosive cardio”, plyometrics are known as jump training and can be incorporated into HIIT to improve power, speed and agility but also increases fat loss, endurance and strength.
This type of training is exactly what the name says, explosive movements. For example, taking a traditional squat and turning it into a jump squat. Other examples are clapping push ups, jumping jacks, high skips, burpees, etc..
These workouts are also the most effective for reducing fat while building muscle and aerobic capacity (7).
Why Is Cardio So Important?
Our cardiovascular system (the heart, blood vessels, and blood) supplies our organs and tissues with oxygen and nutrients, transport hormones through the body, and is responsible for ridding the body of waste. The stronger your heart, the stronger your cardiovascular system, and the better your body functions (8)!
Like any muscle, the heart gets stronger and healthier the more regularly you work it. And as the name describes, cardiovascular training (cardio) is a great way to strengthen the cardiovascular system. Cardio training can improve the flow of oxygen through your entire body and strengthens your heart and blood vessels (9).
Cardio training also..
- improves your body’s metabolism (9)
- promotes fat loss (10)
- decreases the risk of chronic ailments like diabetes and heart disease (11)
- strengthens both your lungs and heart (12)
- increases bone density (13)
- elevates your mood (14)
- gives you that special glow that comes from taking care of yourself–inside and out!
Cardio alone won’t protect your heart.
Be sure you’re giving your body all the nourishment it needs to really reap the rewards of your workouts. To get the muscle-sculpting, fat-burning results you’re working for, pair your cardio sessions with resistance training and eat whole foods.
How often should I do Cardio?
Both aerobic and anaerobic training are effective in their own ways. Studies show that combining both of these types in your exercise regimen is the best way to get maximum benefits out of your workouts (15).
- To burn fat (while building or maintaining muscle): blend 2-4 days of HIIT or Tabata sessions with your strength (resistance) training. Studies show that combining HIIT and strength training elicits the greatest fat loss and muscle gain (16). Take a look at the 90 Day Challenge, Home Workout Domination or Lioness for some great workout plans that combine these 2 key elements!
- To maintain or add muscle (and not burn significant fat): combining steady-state cardio a few times a week with your strength training is the perfect set-up to support your heart and maintain muscle mass during training.
Whether you’re looking to lose, gain, or maintain, whether training for a marathon or just getting fit, combining HIIT and steady-state workouts is a great way to consistently challenge your muscles and improve your overall fitness.
Diversity in your fitness routine will train your cardiovascular system to perform well at different levels of intensity and increase the overall function of your body.
I most often combine resistance training with explosive cardio to reap the best of both types of training – for muscle sculpting and fat burning.
The great news is that you don’t need a gym membership to do cardio and reap all the rewards. You can run, hike, bike or walk outside. And you can #stopdropandbettyrock anywhere, anytime with one of my HIIT circuits!
Check out Rock Your Life for my best home workouts, and get fresh new classes every week, or choose a 30-day Challenge to take and Rock Your Body AND your life!
- Viana RB et al. “Is interval training the magic bullet for fat loss? A systematic review and meta-analysis comparing moderate-intensity continuous training with high-intensity interval training (HIIT).” British Journal of Sports Medicine 2019. https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/53/10/655
- Falcone, PH et al. “Caloric expenditure of aerobic, resistance, or combined high-intensity interval training using a hydraulic resistance system in healthy men.” Journal of Strength Conditioning Research. March 2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25162652
- Karlsen, Trine. “High Intensity Interval Training For Maximizing Health Outcomes”. Prog Cardiovasc Dis. April 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28385556
- Wingfield, Hailee et al. “The acute effect of exercise modality and nutrition manipulations on post-exercise resting energy expenditure and respiratory exchange ratio in women: a randomized trial.” Sports Med Open. Dec 2015 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27747847
- Bacon, Andrew et al. “VO2max Trainability and High Intensity Interval Training in Humans: A Meta-Analysis.” Sept 2013. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0073182
- Viana, Ricardo et al. “Tabata protocol: A review of its application, variations and outcomes.” Clinical Physiology and Functional Imaging. April 2018. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/324162086_Tabata_protocol_A_review_of_its_application_variations_and_outcomes
- Heydari, M, Freund, J, Boutcher, SH. “The Effect of High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise on Body Composition of Overweight Young Males.” Journal of Obesity. 2012. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22720138
- Meyers, J. “Exercise and Cardiovascular Health.” AHA Journals. January 2013. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/01.CIR.0000048890.59383.8D
- Agarwal, Shashi K. “Cardiovascular benefits of exercise.” International journal of general medicine. 2012. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3396114/
- Willis, Leslie H et al. “Effects of aerobic and/or resistance training on body mass and fat mass in overweight or obese adults.” Journal of applied physiology. 2012. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3544497/
- Shiroma, Eric J et al. “Strength Training and the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease.” Medicine and science in sports and exercise. 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5161704/
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. “Physical Activity and Your Heart.” 2019. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/physical-activity-and-your-heart
- Hinton, Pamela S et al. “Effectiveness of resistance training or jumping-exercise to increase bone mineral density in men with low bone mass: A 12-month randomized, clinical trial.” Bone. 2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4503233/
- Sharma, Ashish et al. “Exercise for mental health.” Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry. 2006. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1470658/
- Zhang, Haifeng et al. “Comparable Effects of High-Intensity Interval Training and Prolonged Continuous Exercise Training on Abdominal Visceral Fat Reduction in Obese Young Women.” Journal of diabetes research. 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5237463/
- Hunter, Gary et al. “Resistance training conserves fat-free mass and resting energy expenditure following weight loss.” Obesity. May 2008 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18356845