People typically lie on opposite ends of the spectrum in their relationship with cardio exercise. Our physical therapists at Made 2 Move have a lot of clients that are avid runners and love their cardio! But then there are those who dread cardio. Common between both groups, however, is the boredom experienced with traditional cardio workouts. How can we make cardio enjoyable? Highlighted below are some favorite Made 2 Move tips on how to break up the monotony of traditional cardio.
First off, what is “cardio”?
Cardio is just any workout that makes me breathe hard and sweat a ton, right? Almost, but not quite. Let’s dive into what cardio actually is. “The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) defines cardio as “aerobic exercise as any activity that uses large muscle groups, can be maintained continuously and is rhythmic in nature” (Patel et. al 2017).
Cardio is used to describe any exercise that is aerobic, meaning it utilizes oxygen to produce energy for the body. The body uses energy to fuel the large muscle groups such as the quads and hamstrings, required for activities like running long distances. Traditional cardio is rhythmic, in terms of an athlete’s ability to sustain a pace and movement, what runners often describe as “getting in a groove” during a run. During cardio exercise, we are looking for an elevation in heart rate, breathing, and body temperature.
All forms of fitness have a cardiovascular component, just to varying degrees. Cardiovascular simply means working the heart and blood vessels, and when you exercise, aerobically or anaerobically, your heart rate increases which naturally provides this stimulus of cardiovascular work.
What if I dread doing cardio?
For our Made 2 Move athletes that do not enjoy aerobic exercise, there is good news. Research has shown a U-shaped curve between aerobic exercise and mortality rates. This U-shaped curve illustrates that you only need a little bit of cardio to reap the benefits!
A 2015 study found that 1-2.4 hours of moderate-low intensity jogging is an optimal dose for promoting longevity. The study states, “light and moderate joggers have lower mortality than sedentary nonjoggers, whereas strenuous joggers have a mortality rate not statistically different from that of the sedentary group” (Schnohr et. al 2015). 1-2.4 hours of jogging per week is a practical goal for someone struggling to be consistent with exercise and it can help promote greater cardiovascular fitness.
Ideas for aerobic conditioning if you can’t stand steady state cardio:
“But running is just SO BORING.” If this is the way you feel about steady state cardio, there is more good news! Cardio can be incorporated into almost any type of exercise format from weightlifting to swimming.
Love the weightroom? Barbell complexes, performed at a lower intensity (less weight) and higher volume (more reps), are a simple and effective way to incorporate cardio.
To be aerobic exercise, it just has to utilize large muscle groups, be maintained consistently, and be rhythmic in nature. Doesn’t a clean complex fulfill all of these requirements? An example barbell complex follows. The goal is to use a light enough weight that you can hold on to the barbell for the entire complex. There should be minimal rest time between sets.
4 deadlifts, 3 high pulls , 3 hang power cleans, 3 front squats, 2 jerks
Tabatas (working for 20 seconds, resting for 10 seconds for 8 rounds).
Intervals on the bike, row, ski erg or running are also great tools to improve cardiovascular fitness. Simply pick a work to rest ratio, a total workout time, and hop on the machine.
Learn a new skill
Activities like rollerblading, skateboarding, and frisbee are all cardio in nature. Plus, having to focus on learning a new skill will distract you from the fact that you’re even doing cardio!
If nothing else, just go on a walk outside. Run around with your dog or kids in the yard. Do some yard work!
What if I Enjoy Cardio and Want to Improve my Aerobic Endurance?
It is important to note that if you’re an avid runner or competitor, you will have to train at a higher intensity and duration than the above level of 1-2.4 hours per week mentioned for longevity. The higher frequency and duration of training required for competitive athletes follows the principle of progressive overload, utilized in most of our patient’s rehab at Made 2 Move Charleston, and which is necessary for physiological adaptation.
If the intensity is too low, the body will not be overloaded and thus won’t evoke muscular, cardiovascular, or physiological change. However, as with any physical activity it is important to differentiate between overloading and overtraining.
Overloading is placing a proper amount of stress on the body in order to cause adaptation, but also including adequate recovery times.
Overtraining encompasses too high of an intensity without adequate recovery time and can lead to fatigue, injury, illness, or burnout.
In addition to the activities recommended for our non-cardio lovers, there are a few modalities that are advantageous to incorporate into an aerobic training program. Most people who enjoy cardio are working towards a race, triathlon, or competition and varying training methods can assist in achieving those goals. The variations in training help to break up the monotony of steady state cardio and prevent overtraining when done in proper doses.
LSD (Long Slow Distance)
This is your typical “jog.” LSD is sometimes referred to as “conversation exercise” since the intensity is typically low enough that you can hold a conversation while doing it. Intensity is low and volume is moderate to high (30 minutes-2 hours) for an LSD.
Interval training utilizes fairly high intensity work, close to top speed, typically with a 1:1 work to rest ratio. This type of training is stressful on the body, so adequate recovery must be allowed between sessions.
Example interval training: 30 seconds all out sprint, 30 seconds jog for 10-20 minutes depending on fitness level. This could also be done with exercises like burpees or squats instead of running.
Tempo training can also be referred to as “lactate threshold training,” and thus aids in the development and maintenance of a “race pace” for athletes. As with interval training, this can be stressful on the body so adequate recovery is necessary.
A tempo workout would first require a time trial to obtain a baseline fitness measurement. The exact measurements can get complicated with the utilization of percentages and VO2 max measures, but the basic premise is as follows: First, run a time trial to determine your “race pace.” This could be a 5k. Then based upon your 5k time (say 21 minutes, or roughly a 7 minute mile), you could do a tempo run for 30 minutes at an 8 minute mile pace.
Combining resistance training and cardio
Regardless of whether you love or dread cardio, it is important to consider incorporating strength training into your programming. Strength training can complement or be the focus of any program and conclusive research supports its validity, a big reason we incorporate strength training into almost every Made 2 Move PT session.
Strength training not only promotes longevity but can also have short term benefits on your current training program. For example, a recent study found that strength training combined with aerobic training can enhance endurance capacity through a variety of mechanisms. These mechanisms include increases in maximal strength, neuromuscular connections, and recruitment of Type II fibers (“fast twitch”). Thus, nobody, not even our Made 2 Move marathon runners, have an excuse to exclude strength training from their workout program. Regardless of your goals, it is advantageous both long term and short term to include strength training in your exercise program.
At the end of the day, training comes down to doing something you enjoy and that you will do consistently. If you love cardio, there are many different ways you can vary your training to avoid boredom or plateau. If cardio isn’t your jam, you could arguably get by without it, as long as you are active in other ways. Non-cardio lovers could also utilize barbell complexes, interval work, learn a new athletic skill, or simply get outside for a walk. And as always, incorporating strength training into any workout program will provide many benefits, even at the aerobic level.
Do you want to incorporate strength training into your routine but struggle to put together your own strength training program? Here at Made 2 Move, we don’t just do physical therapy. We also develop training programs for athletes to help them reach their performance fitness goals. Whether you’re a marathon runner, triathlete, collegiate baseball player, or a weightlifter we can help you reach your goals and stay injury free while doing so. Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a consultation with one of our physical therapists.
Aagaard, P, and J L Andersen. “Effects of strength training on endurance capacity in top-level endurance athletes.” Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports vol. 20 Suppl 2 (2010): 39-47. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0838.2010.01197.x
Baechle, Thomas R, and Roger W. Earle. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. Leeds: Human Kinetics, 2008. Print.
Castaneda, Ruben, and K. Aleisha Petters. “4 Differences in How Cardio and Strength Affect Your Health.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, 24 Feb. 2020, 3:00 pm, health.usnews.com/wellness/fitness/articles/differences-in-how-cardio-and-strength-affect-your-health.
Patel, Harsh et al. “Aerobic vs anaerobic exercise training effects on the cardiovascular system.” World journal of cardiology vol. 9,2 (2017): 134-138. doi:10.4330/wjc.v9.i2.134
Schnohr, Peter, et al. “Dose of Jogging and Long-Term Mortality: The Copenhagen City Heart Study.” Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Elsevier, 2 Feb. 2015, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0735109714071745?via=ihub.
Sprouse, Sydney. “10 Reasons Why Being Outside Is Important.” Ask The Scientists, Sydney Sprouse, 26 Feb. 2018, askthescientists.com/outdoors/.
“What Are Tempo Runs and Why Will They Help My Running?” Runners Connect, 1 July 2020, runnersconnect.net/training-with-thresholds-in-the-right-zone/.