Fitness Pro: Cardio: The long and short of itBy Joe Mascia
Cardiorespiratory programming is a tough task for a lot of personal trainers, mainly due to the fact that many of our clientele just can’t stand it. They tell us that it’s strenuous, that it takes too long, and that it can be boring. But let’s be honest: They do have a pretty good argument there on all three fronts. Whichever way you slice it, getting on a treadmill or a stationary bike isn’t exactly the most exciting way to spend one’s time. I’m not sure if I should admit this publicly or not, but my own personal cardio routine isn’t number one on my “Things I Can’t Wait to Do Today” list. In fact, it’s probably down toward the lower end. For me, it’s those first few seconds after I have jumped on the treadmill and started to walk or jog — that sense of dread I have as I ask myself, “I have to do this for how long?” Thirty or 45 minutes later my legs are shot, I’m drenched in sweat, and I’ve seen my life flash before my eyes at least twice — and that’s before I realize I’ll probably have to do it all over again tomorrow.
All kidding aside, while it might not be the most enjoyable aspect of a fitness routine, cardio training is an important one, maybe even the most important. Diet and resistance training can only take you so far, but if you want to burn excess calories and lose fat, cardio has to be a part of your program. Other noted benefits of cardiorespiratory fitness include reduced blood pressure, increased HDL (“good”) cholesterol, increased energy levels, and improved sleep patterns. Not too shabby, right?
In its 2006 Guidelines for Cardiovascular Stimulus, the American College of Sports Medicine recommended cardio training three to five days a week for a duration of anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. Now, I’m sure some of you are saying that you don’t have time for that kind of commitment to a cardiovascular program, but hear me out. Those guidelines correspond to an entire day’s worth of activity, so don’t feel as though you have to set aside a huge block of time when you can split it up throughout your day.
If you’re a novice exerciser, work your way up to that 30, 40, or even 50-minute mark. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t reach your goals at first; they will come with time. Music always helps, so make sure you have your iPod or Walkman ready to go. And if you feel like you can’t do it alone then bring someone along. A walking group or club can do wonders because it not only gives you support in a group setting, but it will also make you accountable to get out there every day. Get your friends and family involved in your workout program; it might just be the spark of inspiration they need to start their own.
Also, make sure you’re physically ready for cardio, meaning you should be allowing yourself at least a few minutes to warm up (AFAA, the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America, recommends 8-12 minutes) and to get the blood flowing, as well as to do some static stretching. Cooling down afterwards is just as important: three to five minutes of decreasing intensity followed by more stretching at the end of your session. Make sure you’ve got on the proper footwear; if your running shoes are still products of the 80s or 90s then it’s time to head down to the sporting goods store for an upgrade.
If you’ve been making cardio a part of your routine but are getting bored doing the same old thing, then that’s a sign that it’s time for a change. If you’re a member of a gym or health club, try and include a few different machines in your routine each week. Stationary bikes, stair steppers, and elliptical can give you just as good of a workout as that dreaded treadmill can. You should never be bored with your workouts at the gym; throw yourself a curveball once in a while and see how your body responds. For example, I just took my first-ever spin class a couple of weeks ago. It was a tough workout (our instructor Andrea practically wiped the floor with me), but I felt great afterwards and am now going to try and fit a class into my weekly regimen.
All in all, while cardio can be a burden for many of us, it’s a burden that certainly does pay off with all sorts of benefits. Don’t make excuses when it comes to your routine; chances are you can find the time in your week to fit it in. Start slow at first, and eventually you’ll build up your endurance and it will become habit. Consistency is the key, and if you keep at it maybe cardio can become something you learn to love — or at least survive.
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