Cardio workouts were a thing long before dedicated “workouts” were.
After all, folks have for ages set out for a run, walk, bike ride or swim to increase their heart rate, improve their endurance or lose some weight. But as the health and fitness industry has learned about the importance of heart health — and its correlation with other muscles and systems in the body — newer and more advanced aerobic and cardio methods and programs have come into the spotlight.
We checked in with two local experts — Lisa F. Crowder, a personal trainer at Franciscan Health Fitness Centers, and Erica J. Hein, fitness services supervisor at Community Hospital Fitness Pointe — to get their thoughts on the state of the cardio workout.
Q: What are some of the best exercises to include in a cardio workout? How have these changed over the years?
Crowder: There are a variety of cardio exercises, and the choices vary with each individual. The best way to determine what a good cardio workout looks like is to see a fitness professional or doctor and have them take your resting heart rate, determine your max heart rate and do a fitness assessment.
For example, jogging was long seen as the best cardio exercise, but due to the increase in joint issues, it doesn’t always work for everyone. Group fitness classes, as well as a variety of new cardio equipment such as the Jacobs Ladder and Octane elliptical machine, have come along as other popular ways to do cardio.
Hein: All too often, people who walk, run or cycle neglect the upper body, but it’s important to include movements for the upper and lower body. Many exercise machines such as an elliptical trainer or arm bike will include the arms, but you don’t have to have expensive equipment to get an effective cardio workout. For example, you can climb the stairs, jump rope, do jumping jacks or march in place with vigorous arm movements. Many cardio exercises can even be modified to do while seated.
I think for many years we did just one exercise at a time, whether it was jogging in the 1970s or step aerobics and Jazzercise in the '80s. Over the past several years, exercise programs such as interval training, circuit training, Tabata, HIIT (high-intensity interval training) and Zumba have gained popularity. These training programs do not require a great deal of time for an effective workout (about 45-60 minutes).
Q: How does weight training figure into a cardio workout?
Crowder: The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association recommend doing a minimum of 150 minutes of cardiovascular training per week, along with two to three times of strength training each week. It is equally important to do strength and cardio training for our bodies to be totally healthy. Many newer group fitness classes and training regimens now offer both cardio and strength in each workout so participants can get everything incorporated in one setting.
Hein: A well-rounded and sound exercise program should include three components — cardio, strength training and flexibility/mobility. Many exercise professionals now incorporate strength training alongside cardio. For example, circuit training may be set up as several exercise stations, alternating between cardio and strength for a predetermined amount of time. Cardio exercise is great for the heart and lungs and has many benefits such as lowering blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar, but cardio alone will not improve muscular strength. For this reason, it is important to include some type of strength training for all the muscles using one’s own body weight, resistance bands, kettlebells, dumbbells, etc.
Q: What are some of the most important things to focus on when trying to establish a cardio regimen?
Crowder: Cardiovascular training is challenging, especially for someone who might be new to this type of exercise, so it is imperative to seek professional advice before beginning an exercise program. Too many times we see individuals trying to start cardio on their own or follow a program they found on Instagram, and fall or become injured because it was not done safely or correctly. A program needs to be individualized to be the most effective.
In the end, the best cardio workout anyone can do is one they really enjoy. There are many ways to increase your heart rate, but the best one to do is the one you will do for life because you enjoy it.
Hein: If you have any medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease, check with your doctor first to ensure it is safe to start a cardio program. From there, choose an exercise you like and enjoy, reduce barriers to participation and start slow. For example, you may want to set a goal of only five to 10 minutes of cardio at a time, and then increase the time a few minutes each week until you can do 150 minutes per week.
Starting too fast is one of the biggest pitfalls that people tend to hit — thinking they have to complete 60 minutes of cardio at a time for it to be beneficial. In fact, you can break up your cardio throughout the day. Research has shown that three 10-minute bouts of cardio can be just as effective as one 30-minute bout.