By: Bryan Ball
As the air begins to warm and clouds part for sunshine a certain type of people emerges. The spring time runners can be seen on every sidewalk, trail, and paved walkway for miles around. This is no odd phenomenon nor the migration of a new species but rather people trying to “get in” or “get back in” to shape for the coming days. Or many that first step usually takes the form of cardio (in this example running).
It is no secret that cardio or cardiovascular training is one of the fastest ways to reach a calorie deficit. Whether it’s pounding on the pavement, playing basketball, or joining a spin class people find new and creative ways to work up a sweat and feel the burn. This is not the only way and a healthy lifestyle, for most people exercise is seen as two parts; weight lifting or cardio (usually running). One will focus solely on one and never work on the other which then leads to muscle imbalances, plateaus in progress and if not managed injury.
Before going into the different types of cardio training and their effect on the body let’s make sure we have a good understanding of what “cardiovascular training” is. Cardio exercise uses large muscle movement over a sustained period keeping your heart rate to at least 50% of its maximum level. The root “card,” or “heart,” provides a clue as to why this type of exercise is so important—by providing training that progressively challenges your most vital internal life support network, cardio can improve both the function and the performance of your heart, lungs and circulatory system. The American College of Sports medicine recommends 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity most, if not all, days of the week. This could be walking, jogging, cycling, playing a sport (basketball, soccer, etc.), or active hobbies like gardening.
Being able to do 30 minutes of moderate activity 5 days a week would put you in the “healthy” category. Some people may suffer from “stubborn belly fat”, all people have a place where they store the majority of their fat. It is different between genders and more so individually stomach, hips, and butt are the most common areas people experience. In the fitness world , this is also known as “the last fifteen” where you have been making quick progress to this point, but those last few pounds you want to lose won’t come off. This all that needs to change is the type of training you do and energy system you’re activating.
We will not be focusing on the difference in resistance and cardiovascular training in this blog, but rather just cardio, however, the principles can also be applied to resistance training regarding energy systems and how to activate them. First, let’s look at the muscles and energy system you would in 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise. For a jog around the neighborhood, your heart rate and breath, aerobic energy system. This system utilizes oxygen (hence aer-obic) and glucose to deliver energy known as ATP (adenosine triphosphate) to your muscle tissues. These muscle tissues are Type I tissues, which your body uses for any long-lasting efforts or movements. The reason why this type of cardio is best when you’re first starting out because it takes all the glucose your body has stored and turns it into energy when your stores are depleted it starts turning fat into energy for your muscles.
As odd as it sounds there is such a thing as a healthy level of fat, you have to remember your body is focused on keeping you alive, not how you want to look on summer vacation. Once you are in a healthy lifestyle and want to change your physique, a change will come from switching energy systems from aerobic to anaerobic. On the exercises such as sprints, maximal strength training, high-intensity bodyweight moves, or any other explosive moves that you can only do for a few moments.
Anaerobic energy comes from the glucose that is already stored in your muscle fibers create ATP from glucose like the aerobic system; however, due to the lack of oxygen they begt different results. Let’s just call ATP energy because that is its end purpose. Aerobic creates 38 energies slowly, where anaerobic creates two energies very quickly. The other consequence of this energy system is its byproduct lactate acid. Lactate acid is what causes your muscles to stiffen or feel “pumped” working out, to the point sometimes where some elite athletes will lose feeling/control of body parts. This byproduct is a buffer so that there is not a buildup of acid in the muscle. While both use the same fuel to make energy; the biggest difference comes from when you stop working out. Since aerobic requires increased levels of oxygen to burn fat, anaerobic does not so will continue to use as a fuel source even after a workout.
Type IIx and Type IIa muscle tissues rely on this energy system and are usually fatigued after a few seconds of high-intensity activity do to lactate acid build up and lack of oxygen to the muscles. With time and training, people can change their “lactate threshold” or how long the can go failure but won’t be beyond a few seconds do to the nature of the muscle.
Now that we have an understanding of the two different types of cardiovascular training and how they work let’s talk about how to activate them. With aerobic training, it is recommended to have your heart rate anywhere between 55-85% of your maximum heart rate for the best results (rough estimate of max heart rate is 220-your age). Pertaining to the example earlier this could be going out for runs, hikes, sports like basketball or soccer, anything that you could do consistently for 30 minutes. Anaerobic exercise is things you can only sustain for brief periods and need high levels of rest before attempting again. This can include weightlifting (in various forms), sprints, martial arts training, plyometric training, anything that requires high levels of muscle engagement or explosive movement.
To help prevent muscle imbalances it is best to find several different forms of each energy system to work all of the different muscle tissues. Many people will commit a whole day to just cardio the same way people commit entire days of lifting to just one body part allowing for a day of rest as to not overwork the muscle group. Others will change their patterns depending on where they live and how the seasons affect them. I know many people who live in the mountains where the bounce back and forth from high mountain trail running in summer skiing in the winter. A more common patter is people will flock to fitness centers and gyms when winter comes and when the summer finally rolls around the streets are filled with active fitness enthusiasts.
Fitness classes are a great way to stay active in the colder seasons because they are usually indoors, and help keep you consistent during the holidays with group support and a consistent schedule. This very from lifting cardio circuit sessions boring/martial arts classes spin classes. Then once the summer comes, you can either take your winter training and focus it on a sport, or switch your exercise to more weather-friendly activities.
Balancing low-high intensity exercise programs works to make you a more well-rounded athlete as well as a healthy individual. Fitness is a spectrum of either “too much” or “too little,” and the goal is to be somewhere in the middle. So be diverse in your activities and take advantage of the various programs your local gyms offer to have a better-structured routine and accountability.