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September 25, 2007

Cardiovascular Exercise: Intensity Or Length?

By Lori Ryan

It has been a long-debated issue in the fitness field and although many studies have been conducted, the question still remains: Should you do long bouts of cardiovascular exercise, or is intensity key?

Well, the answer actually depends on what it is you want to accomplish via your cardiovascular exercise. If you’re objective is to improve your heart, you’d do one type of cardiovascular exercise, whereas if you’re aim is to burn calories from fat, you’d likely opt for something quite different.

Well, I’m here to help you figure out what type of cardiovascular exercise I think would be optimal for you, depending on what it is you’d like to achieve.

People who do intense cardio training, such as running for a prolonged period of time or cycling at maximum capacity, would be doing a great service to their heart, but not much in the way of optimal fat burning. Although they are burning fat, no doubt, they are not burning calories from fat stores alone – they are also taking a chunk of calories from their carbohydrate and protein stores.

Prolonged, steady-paced cardiovascular exercise is usually recommended for those who prefer to burn more calories from fat. It is important to note, however, that doing cardio for an extended period of time means that your pace should be steady and not very intense. The intensity usually remains just high enough that you would be breathing heavy.

Now that you understand the difference between length and intensity, let’s focus on what you need to do if you wanted to achieve any of the following:

Weight loss
If you want to lose weight, you would need to complete prolonged cardio sessions, as aforementioned, at a steady, somewhat easy pace.

How much time? Because fat burning only begins after the first 20 minutes of a cardio session, it’s optimal to do between 30 and 60 minutes of cardio, anywhere from three to five times a week.

How fast? There is no one given speed at which every woman should work, since we are all built differently. What you want to do is work hard enough to build up a sweat and move quickly enough that you would have a difficult time carrying on a conversation. Essentially, you want to work at 65% of your maximum heart rate (220 - age x .65).

Or you can opt to complete an HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training. This involves moving at a normal pace for two minutes and then moving as quickly as you can for one, repeating this for anywhere between 30 to 60 minutes.

Recommended cardio: Speed walking, uphill walking, cycling, elliptical machine, skipping rope

Muscle tone
To increase muscle tone in general, strength training is the first step. Then you need to integrate muscle-working exercises into your cardiovascular exercise in order to achieve results. For instance, strapping on a body weight (a weight that you wear like a vest) would be helpful in achieving results.

How much time? Typically, you want to do anywhere between 20 to 30 minutes, three to five times a week.

How fast? You want to move quickly enough that you have a hard time speaking. You want to work at about 70% of your maximum heart rate.

Recommended exercise: Jogging uphill, walking stairs, cycling with resistance, kickboxing, power yoga

Strengthen heart
To keep your heart working its best, start an HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training, program. Keep in mind that this form of exercise is for those in advanced stages of training. If you are not an advanced trainer, elevating your heart rate for brief durations during cardiovascular exercise is recommended (HIIT).

How much time? Working 20 to 30 minutes a day, three to five times a week is optimal. Keep in mind that if you’re working at a very quick pace, doing it for any longer than that will exhaust you.

How fast? Depending on your level of fitness, you can opt to work at 75% to 85% of your maximum heart rate, or you can simply raise your heart rate to the 75% to 85% for short bouts of time.

Recommended exercises: Running, rowing, swimming, running up stairs, rigorous dancing

Improve endurance
If you want to be able to complete a triathlon, there’s no doubt you’ll need to improve your endurance. Doing so requires the willingness to do long sets of cardiovascular exercise, and often.

How much time? Improving endurance will not happen overnight so I advise starting out slowly and working your way up to higher bouts. Start off by doing 30 minutes, three times a week, and eventually work your way up to 60 minutes, five times a week.

How fast? HIIT is your best option for endurance improvement. Again, keep up a consistent movement for three minutes, then move as quickly as you can for one.

Recommended exercises: Walk to run, stair climbing (slow and fast), cycling (slow and fast)

Cardiovascular exercise for you

Now that you know what it takes to achieve your goals, get out there and get to work.

Good luck.

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